These remarkable abstract printings are Werkman’s unique contribution to Dutch art. They are the result of the artistic application of the printing technique he developed in 1923, using materials from his commercial printing business. They differ from normal art prints because they are always unique items. It was for this reason that Werkman introduced the term ‘printings’, to distinguish them from his serially produced prints.
Werkman’s printings first gained renown in the nine issues of the magazine The Next Call (1923-1926). This magazine, published by Werkman himself, was filled with typographic experiments, printings, and texts he largely composed himself, which tended to be rather expressionist, lyrical and Dadaist in their nature. Werkman distributed The Next Call internationally, bringing him into contact with all kinds of avant-garde figures throughout Europe, such as Michel Seuphor, Jean Arp, Antoine Pevsner, and Wassily Kandinsky.
His most famous work includes the Chassidic Legends series, inspired by Die Legende des Baalschem (1932) by Martin Buber. In the period 1942-1943, Werkman depicted these Jewish narratives in twenty printings. They formed part of the series of illegal publications that appeared under the name ‘De Blauwe Schuit’ (Blue Boat), representing a kind of intellectual resistance against the Nazi occupation.
In the last few years of his life, Werkman created more abstract printings, which differ from his earlier abstract work in as much as they feature organic, more fluent forms. By this time, his form language and technique had become much more comprehensive, partly due to his work with templates. The abstract printings now displayed in the Print Gallery are clear evidence of the high level he had achieved.
In 2002 and 2003, two extensive exhibitions of Werkman’s work were presented in the De Ploeg Pavilion of the Groninger Museum under the title Werkman terug in Groningen (Werkman back in Groningen). The direct cause of this was the transfer of the Werkman archives and the long-term loan of the Werkman collection from the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum to the Groninger Museum.