In with the new

Happy New Year!! We hope you’ve all had a fantastic, restorative break with family and friends and are looking forward to 2015 as much as we are.

In the spirit of new beginnings, today we celebrate the 28th anniversary of the opening of the Tyler Graphics workshop and gallery at Mount Kisco, New York in 1987. Featuring a custom-built paper mill, gallery space, artist studio and press room, the new facilities paved the way for projects of unprecedented scale and complexity. Learn more about the Mount Kisco shop on our website.

Wonderfully evocative photographs taken at the opening party show artists such as James Rosenquist, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, and Steven Sorman (all of whom enjoyed long and fruitful collaborations with Tyler) celebrating alongside workshop staff and other peers.

As always we encourage you to contact us with any questions or comments you might have regarding the collection, via the blog, Facebook, Twitter or email.

    

Season’s Greetings!

We wish all our readers a safe and happy festive season and best wishes for the coming year. We look forward to bringing you more news and information from the Kenneth Tyler Printmaking Collection in 2015.

        

Page turners: artists’ books

A recent morning spent at a book fair saw me trawling through old exhibition catalogues and artist biographies, emerging an hour later with an armful of pre-loved volumes and a sudden desire to learn more about a different kind of art book – the artists’ book. The focus of much debate over the years, in the context of this post the term is used to signify those books which are made or conceived by artists,[1] and that are ‘dependent upon the book structure to articulate its content.’[2] Here we look at a few key examples from the Tyler Collection.

Accustomed to large-scale print production, the particularities of the artists’ book presented a new challenge for Tyler, and he engaged in numerous ambitious book projects over the course of his career. Volumes produced in Tyler’s workshops featured fine art printmaking techniques, handmade papers, and were released in small editions, recalling the European tradition of illustrated books of the early 20th century known as livres d’artiste or livres de luxe. They thus stand in contrast to the modest, mass-produced, cheap booklets championed by Ed Ruscha and American conceptual artists in the 1960s and 1970s, which were designed to be ‘something that you would ideally be able to buy at a train station for little cost, read in the train, and leave behind on your seat with no regrets’[3] (ironically, many such publications are now housed in the world’s leading museums).

About women 1966

Tyler made an early foray into the medium with John Altoon, a brash Los Angeles artist who lived next door to Gemini Ltd. Altoon drew inspiration from the poetry of friend Robert Creeley to create 10 boldly coloured lithographs which feature his distinctive lexicon of ambiguous amorphous forms, phallic references and fluid line. Indeed, the emotionally charged content of Creeley’s poems (‘Anger’, ‘The Woman’, and ‘Distance’) created an ideal context for Altoon’s ongoing exploration of sex and women to unfold, with text and image echoing rather than illustrating one another. Consisting of loose-leaf lithographs interspersed with pages of text, About women 1966 breaks from traditional book form. It nevertheless achieves a bookish quality, with sheets sequentially arranged within a box, which opens like a book cover.

    

El Negro 1983

Robert Motherwell’s lifelong obsession with literature made the artists’ book a natural conduit for his creative vision; El Negro – published by TGL in 1983 – is the second of four volumes produced during his lifetime and stands as one of the most ambitious. The idea for the project emerged in 1980 at an exhibition opening of Motherwell’s paintings in Madrid, during which Spanish poet Rafael Alberti read ‘El Negro Motherwell’, a poem honouring the artist’s use of black. Meeting for the first time, Motherwell and Alberti acknowledged their mutual admiration and agreed to collaborate on an artists’ book. Poetry such as Alberti’s connected with Motherwell’s approach to image making:

My vocabulary works only with poetry, that is to say with non-narrative writing to which my visual metaphors can be matched with verbal metaphors springing from the same kind of source…not illustration, but a series of explosions or fireworks, or oppositely, a kind of restrained silence.[4]

To illuminate Alberti’s verse, Motherwell created 19 gestural lithographs reflecting on the physicality of black, the weight and depth of which was augmented by layering a number of black inks. Tyler’s design for the book abandoned a uniform format in favour of gatefold pages of varying horizontal lengths, accommodating the spectrum of Motherwell’s imagery. Image and text coalesce to form a harmonious whole, emphasised by Motherwell’s incorporation of handwriting in several compositions.

This is not a book 1997

Helen Frankenthaler’s desire to create an artists’ book stemmed not from a beloved text, but rather from the physicality of the book form itself. She had long wanted to make prints for a bound volume but struggled to find an appropriate text, and eventually proceeded without one. Through its omission of written word, This is not a book challenges traditional constructs of the book as an inherently text-dependent form, and reveals the potential of the serial format as a site for visual exploration.

Frankenthaler harnessed this new framework to experiment with form and materials, working in an intuitive, playful manner: ‘I had to do it my way and make it up as I went along … I used pastels, crayons, inks and paints of all kinds. I poured, rubbed, smeared.’[5] She worked closely with Tyler and etcher Anthony Kirk over a two year period, continuously proofing and reworking plates until the desired result was achieved. As Kirk explains, printing the edition proved enormously challenging, as multiple works had to be printed on the front and back of the same sheet of paper to avoid a series of blank pages.

Despite the difficulties they encountered, Frankenthaler has said of their collaboration, ‘The three of us worked together in a beautiful dialogue filled with feeling and invention.’[6] The 9 lyrical intaglios contained within the book’s 36 bound pages attest Frankenthaler’s mastery of painterly printmaking.

**

Other books in the Tyler Collection include: Steven Sorman’s Lessons from the Russian 1999, Joan Mitchell’s Poems 1992 and Helen Frankenthaler’s Valentine for Mr Wonderful 1995.

[1] Clive Phillpot, Booktrek: selected essays on artists’ books (1972-2010) (Zurich: JRP/Ringier; Dijon: Les presses du reel 2013) p.83.

[2] Ibid., p.149.

[3] Christophe Cherix quoted in Phillpot, Booktrek, p.4.

[4] Robert Motherwell to Andrew Hoyem, 30 March 1987, reprinted in Stephanie Terenzio (ed.), The collected writings of Robert Motherwell (New York: Oxford University Press 1992) p.283.

[5] Helen Frankenthaler, ‘Notes’ in This is not a book (Mount Kisco, New York: Tyler Graphics Ltd. 1997)

[6] Ibid.

Robert Motherwell: collage

Collage was a Surrealist inspired art practice adopted by Motherwell. Originally invented by Cubist artists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, collage combines different visual elements together to create multi-faceted compositions. Motherwell first made collages with Jackson Pollock for a 1943 exhibition, and later compared the process to creating a personal journal:

Collage somehow came to be my joy, and has been ever since. Also it has another function: sometimes I get stuck in painting … and often, after shifting to collage for a time, I may resolve the painting problem when I return to it.

               

For Motherwell collage was also problematic:

Given these disparate and conflicting elements, how ultimately to unify them. It’s a painful, precarious way of making order. The separate elements tend to carry on guerrilla warfare with each other.

Despite these difficulties, Motherwell rated collage highly and was one of the very few American artists to pursue this practice consistently during his lifetime. Motherwell’s printed collages, such as the America-La France variations series, reveal the painstaking process he undertook to develop his compositions in a step-by-step manner. The title for this body of work was derived from the name of the company that made American fire engines, rather than some cultural salute to France by the artist.

      

Robert Motherwell: At five in the afternoon is on display in the Orde Poynton Gallery until 6 October 2014.

Robert Motherwell: Elegies

Of all the works in Robert Motherwell’s oeuvre, no series is so consistent in its exploration of a singular motif, so instantly recognisable, so deep in the artist’s character, as the Elegies.

Robert Motherwell, ‘Elegy black black’, 1983, lithograph, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Purchased with the assistance of the Orde Poynton Fund, 2002 © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA. Licensed by Viscopy

Constructed of ovoid forms balanced between vertical rectangles, a ‘massing of black against white’, the elegy motif first emerged in 1948 in an ink drawing illuminating a poem by Harold Rosenberg, the ‘brutality and aggression’ of which Motherwell hoped to give visual expression. The abstract forms resonated with Motherwell and he soon returned to them in the painting At five in the afternoon 1949, titled after the refrain of Federico Garcia Lorca’s poem dedicated to a fallen matador, Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias. For Motherwell, Lorca’s poetry and the events surrounding the Spanish Civil War were ‘general metaphors of the contrast between life and death and their interrelation’, themes which he would explore in endless variations through the archetypal image of the elegy.

Late prints made with Ken Tyler, such as Three figures 1989 and Burning elegy 1991, introduced colour to the motif by way of dyed and pressed paper pulp. The characteristic palette of blacks, whites and earth colours was abandoned in favour of brilliant reds, turquoise blues and citrus yellows, resulting in works of a markedly different character. No longer imbued with grief and loss, they speak of the light and air of the Mediterranean.

Robert Motherwell, ‘Burning elegy’, 1991, lithograph, hand dyed paper, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Purchased with the assistance of the Orde Poynton Fund 2002 © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA. Licensed by Viscopy

These works and many more are featured in Robert Motherwell: At five in the afternoon, on display in the Orde Poynton Gallery until 6 October 2014.

Robert Motherwell, ‘Blue elegy’, 1987, relief, lithograph, hand dyed paper, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Purchased with the assistance of the Orde Poynton Fund 2002 © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA. Licensed by Viscopy

Robert Motherwell, ‘Three figures’, 1989, lithograph, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Purchased with the assistance of the Orde Poynton Fund 2002 © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA. Licensed by Viscopy

Installing ‘Robert Motherwell: At five in the afternoon’

This week we’ve been busy installing Robert Motherwell: At five in the afternoon, which opens on Saturday. It has been wonderful to see the show come together – from wall colours to framing to lighting – after months of preparation. Thank you to everyone who has made the exhibition possible, it really is a team effort.

In the coming months we will look more in-depth at the artist and the works on display, so keep an eye out. Here are some behind-the-scenes shots of our install team in action.

Works from the ‘America-La France variations’ series waiting patiently on their blocks to be hung

The install team measure up before hanging ‘Elegy study I’

                                 

                                 

                                

Suction grips assist the install team to carefully place the glass top of the showcase

Robert Motherwell: At five in the afternoon is on display at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra from 12 July – 6 October. Exhibition site: http://nga.gov.au/Motherwell/Default.cfm

 

 

Insiders: a printer’s perspective – John Hutcheson

As curators we have a tendency to focus on the artwork, the finished product; however this is only ever part of the equation. The technical nature of printmaking often necessitates collaboration and team work in order to successfully execute a print. Indeed, the prodigious output of the Tyler workshops was reliant on the efforts of a dedicated and hard-working team of talented printers and staff, a fact which we have endeavoured to reflect on the Team page of our website. The page features interviews with former staff, through which audiences can gain a greater understanding of the people and atmosphere of the workshops, enriching our understanding of a significant period in the history of printmaking.

Over the coming months we will present excerpts from these interviews here on the blog. Let’s start with John Hutcheson, an invaluable member of the TGL team for over 16 years (1975-1978; 1987-2001). As workshop manager, printer and papermaker, Hutcheson was Ken Tyler’s right-hand-man in matters of research and devising innovative solutions to realise ambitious projects.

Portrait of John Hutcheson. Photographer: Marabeth Cohen-Tyler

What was your role at the workshop, and can you tell us a little bit about what that role entailed?

My title was Workshop Manager during the last five years or more of the Tyler Graphics workshop in Mt. Kisco. At the same time while managing the production efforts, I was also one of the team of printers and papermakers.

When Ken sent the operation to Singapore in 2000 I went there for three years as the Master Printer/Workshop Manager. I am a Tamarind Master Printer in Stone Litho. Plus I have about 40 years of experience in all of the traditional printmaking media as well as hand papermaking and am one of the best in the use of Indirect (Offset) Litho for artist’s work.

At TGL my role was to support Ken’s creative printmaking by ensuring that we always had the necessary materials, manpower, and machinery no matter what new direction he took. One of the hallmarks of Ken’s collaborations with famous artists was his technological developments and his attitude of ‘thinking large.’ He was continually re-inventing the traditional methods and offering his new, improved version to his artists. This meant that we were constantly re-working our machines and searching for exotic materials to support Ken’s vision. Although everybody got involved in the innovations, I was Ken’s main ‘go to’ guy in the workshop for that research. And, once we had a new technique running smoothly enough, I would re-join the team to use the new method to make the editions of prints.

It was rare for any printer to work alone all the way through a project. About one third of the days we had VIP guests in the shop and I would help host them. If an artist was in residence or a team of film-makers was at work, I would race around behind the scenes to ensure that everything went smoothly. It takes a great deal of ahead-of-time prep mixed with inspired ad-libbing to make this heroic printing work look effortless in front of the cameras. Ken is a master at entertaining the world-famous guests even while he is inking and pulling the most brilliant prints right there in front of them. We did all we could to assist him during those magic moments.

By this time in my career I had worked with Ken and with most of his artists for decades both at Ken’s shops and at other ateliers. Everybody was doing things never seen before. And, because of Ken’s high profile in the art world, we were in the spotlight all the time. Famous artists, curators, and collectors were hanging around. It was pressurized and satisfying beyond compare. I had the best printing job in the world.

Can you tell us about the atmosphere in the studio? What did you enjoy most about working there?

We were always shooting for the stars. Ken led us in that with his relentless drive. But each individual printer had also made their own personal commitment to seek perfection in their printing and papermaking. It could get pretty intense with each person’s expertise and ethics involved. At the same time we had to remain open to accept direction from the artist and from Ken. No matter how much any printer knows his or her technique, we still have to serve the art’s needs.

What I enjoyed the most was working at the highest level in the world of prints. Because Ken invited artists from the ‘top ten’ tier worldwide, the finances justified a feeling of unlimited commitment of time and materials. Within that ‘sky’s the limit’ theme, Ken ran a tight and efficient operation. But it still was the most inspiring and well-supported atmosphere that any creative printer could ever hope for.

Do you still work in the arts? How did your time with TGL affect your career path?

Now I am teaching Printmaking at the college level at the University of North Florida. It is the perfect time and place for me to hand over some of my collected experience and knowledge to the next generation.

My time at TGL was my career path. Who could have imagined a better life as a printer? My Dad instilled the love of the craft of fine printing in me. And I was able to follow that trail all over the world and to practice it with the absolute best artists and printers who also love their craft.

Do you have a favourite project from TGL, or did you have a particularly memorable experience with a specific artist? Can you explain what made that project or person so special?

My early projects with Frank Stella are probably my favourites. It was my earliest opportunity to really test my printing skills against the world. Over the following decades I was able to work on many Stella print projects in several different shop locations. Stella continues to be my favourite. But during those first few years at Tyler Workshop we also did thrilling projects with Oldenburg, Kelly, Frankenthaler, Lichtenstein, Noland, and Hockney.

                                        

This was the Big Time stage and I was young and ambitious. This was the reason I had left home to dedicate my life to printing.  In addition to working in an inspiring group of pioneer-printers I was also collaborating with the young and charismatic Ken Tyler for the young and famous Frank Stella. Ken led Frank and the team of printers to use traditional old methods but to use them in a brand-new way. Ken was breaking new ground technically and also philosophically. My ability to ad-lib with exotic methods and to respond quickly to Ken’s and Frank’s ground-breaking ideas was essential. I loved being a vital part of such important art. We were flying by the seat of our pants and it worked!

Can you share your favourite memory of the workshop with us?

In the midst of our high-profile artist’s projects, Ken was still redesigning and rebuilding the physical plant. He kept a complete crew of builders, electricians, and plumbers on full-time retainer. It was a workshop building under constant revision. On a Fall day one of the most admired New York dealers arrived and parked in their usual spot. We could see them through the multi-paned windows. This art world hotshot smoothed his elegant hair, shot his shirt-cuffs and strode up to the front door. But there was no door. It had been moved to a different location. There followed an embarrassing scramble outside with the dealer running back and forth on the porch trying to prove that he was a familiar friend and the door must be here somewhere. It had been there last week. Finally we helped the rattled dealer in through the back. But the inside arrangement of rooms and openings had also been changed so that this poor dealer never did regain a sense of belonging.

Read the full interview here

  

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