Ulla Fries is one of the big names in Swedish fine art prints. With a nearly fifty-year career behind her, many people recognize her pictures. Pictures that, according to herself, often come to her ready, just to be fixed to the plate using the very precise and time-consuming technique of copper engraving. For the sake of the clean line and precision, Ulla Fries has – above all – chosen this way of expression.

Ulla Fries' toolbox

An entire artist’s life is packed into the small, terraced house in Uppsala. The move from the big villa happened quite recently, and in the new, small study, not everything has found its new place. But in the midst of the chaos, order prevails: The small notebook contains careful notes on each edition, in Ulla Fries' delicate, slanted handwriting. The toolbox contains all the well-used burins, the tools with which Ulla Fries patiently has carved her motifs into the copper plates. All the plates are saved, wrapped in cotton paper with the motif printed on the outside. Stacked folders contain prints from a lifetime; proofs, unnumbered prints and prints from the editions.

The copper plates are shiny and reflective before printing with them. When working, she rests the plate on a small leather cushion, so she can work with both her right and left hand. The right controls the burin and the left turns the copper plate.

The work of copper engraving is slow and precise, each image takes months to complete. So despite her long career, Ulla Fries hasn't made a large amount of pictures. She has always set the editions at 90. Some are sold out and of others, there are only a few prints left. Ulla Fries has saved some prints for her own archive, but now she is clearing them out.

If the images are sufficiently poignant, incomprehensible or for some other reason cannot be avoided, that is when they take the long detour via Ulla Fries' steady hand and the engraving burin, and are thus forever preserved in the shiny copper plate. "But sometimes what wants to reach the plate has no form and I have to find something that offers itself to be a body for my thought", Ulla Fries has said."This borrowing someone else's figure, whether it happens to be a stone, a lizard or a shriveled leaf, in order to show off one's own, requires great respect for this someone. I must be attentive and show loyalty and care to thank for the loan.”

The motifs are often taken from nature, lizards, bats and dried leaves, but also fantasy creations from the artist's own imagination. Surfaces and structures are closely examined with the curiosity of a child, precisely depicted with the blackness of the engraving.

Ulla Fries has a long and successful career behind her. She has been president of the Royal Academy of Arts and her work can be found in all the most important Swedish art collections, as well as in the collections of Helsinki's Kiasma and Oslo's National Gallery.

The prints that we are presenting online are what's left in some of Ulla Fries' editions. You can find them all here.