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

  

The prints of Anni Albers: line involvements

  Julia Greenstreet, Curatorial Assistant, Kenneth Tyler Collection, reflects on the prints of Anni Albers – one of the 20th century’s most influential textile artists and a brilliant printmaker.

Anni Albers (1899 – 1994) began her career as a weaver and only turned to printmaking when she was in her sixties. At the core of both her textiles and prints are a set of fundamental principles established during her years at the Bauhaus Weaving Workshop which guide her creative process and approach to making. Albers’s is an art based on the pursuit of universality and timelessness, anonymity rather than individualism, an intimate knowledge of and respect for materials and techniques, and a playful sense of order and balance.

Much like her introduction to weaving as a young artist, Albers’s first encounter with printmaking was not planned. Her career in the graphic arts began with a serendipitous visit in 1963 to Tamarind Lithography Workshop, Los Angeles, an institution at the forefront of a revival in fine art printmaking which was taking place in the United States at that time. It was not an interest in lithography that brought Albers there, but rather her husband Josef, who was working at Tamarind as a Fellow and whom she would often accompany. Aware of Albers’s talents as a textile artist, Tamarind’s Director June Wayne encouraged her to try lithography for herself.

This proved to be a watershed moment in the artist’s career; Albers was instantly seduced by the possibilities of printmaking. After 40 years of weaving, Albers could ‘take a line for a walk’[1] like never before. She said of this period, ‘I found that, in lithography, the image of threads could project a freedom I had never suspected.’[2] The artist’s joy in this newfound freedom is evident in her first print edition, the Line involvements suite of six lithographs. These works are uncharacteristically painterly and loose in structure, featuring billowing washes for the ground and dynamic arabesques created by thread-like forms. With the flourish of a painter the ground was created by etching with acid, applying crayon with a rag, or streaking with lithographic tusche.

After 1963, Albers never again worked on a weaving herself (although she did occasionally design textiles).[3] Over the course of a prolific career spanning 40 years, textile design and appreciation had blossomed at her hands, however for Albers it was time to take on a new challenge and she focussed solely on printmaking until her death in 1994. She worked with Ken Tyler for the first time at Gemini GEL in 1970, marking the beginning of what was to become a fruitful, close collaborative relationship with the master printer.
    

A central tenet of Albers’s artistic philosophy is a Bauhausian commitment to anonymity over individualism. The reasoning behind this was that by denying the presence of the artist to create a ‘form unburdened by dominantly individual traits of the planner,’[4] and not dictated by fashions or trends, universal and timeless beauty could be attained. This is what Albers wanted for her art and design, whether in weaving or print. Lasting art is located in the process, an idea she articulated best in 1947 when she wrote:

The more we avoid standing in the way of the material and in the way of tools and machines, the better chance we have that our work will not be dated, will not bear the stamp of too limited a period of time and be old-fashioned some day…And it will outlast fashions only if it embodies lasting, together with transitory, qualities.[5]

Albers’s pursuit of anonymous form and her fascination with machines and technology was perfectly aligned with the mechanical processes of print, which could produce works of a highly polished, industrial aesthetic. Ken Tyler had a reputation for ‘technical wizardry’ and for producing prints of the highest quality; his workshop was a state-of-the-art facility with the best presses and expert staff, and his in-depth knowledge of print technology combined with his sense of adventure made him the perfect printer for Albers.

The first series Albers made with Tyler was Triadic. These works feature the triangle, a key, recurring motif in Albers’s oeuvre. All three are made from the same master design, but printed in different colour palettes, or in the case of TR III, embossed onto a silkscreened gold ground. Lithography allowed Albers to create triangles of perfect linearity, which must have given her quite a kick after years of employing not-quite-straight triangles in her weavings.
    

As a student Albers was greatly influenced by Goethe’s Metamorphosis of plants,[6] which explains the structure of organisms as being made up by repeated yet varied like units. Albers came to define weaving as the ‘building up out of a single element, to building a whole out of single elements,’[7] much like architecture. She utilised this approach in her printmaking too; in the Triadic series triangles function as individual units from which a whole composition is built.

These works are interesting for the way in which they achieve balance and harmony without relying on formula or symmetry. Taking her cue from structures of the natural world, Albers ultimately aims to create order in her art, but an order, ‘in a not too obvious way, an order puzzling to the onlooker, so that he will return again and again […] mystery is what draws us to art.’[8] It is this mystery that intrigues and makes us want to take another look.

Albers experiments with texture in TR III, where embossing is used to create a sculptural surface of raised and lowered planes. In doing so the artist brings some of the tactility and texture of her woven work to screenprinting, which is an inherently flat medium. She continued this idea in the 1978 series Mountainous, produced by embossing white paper with incised copper plates. These works have an airy, open quality which is emphasised by the absence of colour. A hallmark of Albers’s graphic work is an ambiguous relationship between figure and ground and these works are wonderful examples of that push and pull.

While Albers always maintained a self-effacing approach to art making, her works are nevertheless personal expressions reflecting a reality, and in the title of this series – Mountainous – she evokes the Andean mountains or monumental ancient sites in Mexico which she had visited so many times. Rather than relying on representational imagery to convey meaning, Albers uses abstract visual forms.

In 1976 Albers visited Ken Tyler at his new workshop in Bedford Village, New York. At Tyler’s suggestion, Albers – now in her late seventies – tried etching for the first time. The resultant Triangulated intaglios series features etching and aquatint, two common intaglio techniques. Triangulated intaglio III uses both, with solid black triangles in aquatint balanced against subtle areas of etched dots. Albers organises these elements within the pictorial field contained by the embossed edge, which is created during the printing process. This edge was a feature of intaglio that Albers particularly liked as it provided a process-based solution as to how to focus and contain her designs. She has stated that the printing was as important to her artwork as the initial design concept,[9] emphasising the significance of process to her work.
          

          

Triangulated intaglio IV and Triangulated intaglio II are based on the same design but IV was printed in red ink in the opposite areas to where black appears in II, switching the figure-ground relationship entirely and consequently producing two distinct results. In Triangulated intaglio VI the tessellated shapes of the other works are replaced by a maze-like line design, showing just how versatile and inventive Albers could be within the confines of the grid.

   

[1] Paul Klee, quoted in Nicholas Fox Weber, ‘Anni Albers to date’ The woven and graphic art of Anni Albers (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press 1985) p 19.

[2] Anni Albers, from an interview with Gene Baro, Anni Albers (Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Museum 1977) p 7

[3] Richard S. Field, ‘Anni Albers: prints and drawings’ The woven and graphic art of Anni Albers (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press 1985) p 131

[4] Anni Albers, On weaving (London: Studio Vista Ltd. 1966) p 78

[5] Anni Albers, ‘Design: anonymous and timeless’ Magazine of Art vol.40 no.2 February 1947, pp 51-53.

[6] Nicholas Fox Weber, Anni Albers’ Anni Albers (Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Museum 1977) p 12

[7] Oral history interview with Anni Albers, 1968 July 5, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[8] Anni Albers, from an interview with Gene Baro, Anni Albers (Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Museum 1977) p 8-9

[9] Nicholas Fox Weber, ‘Anni Albers as a printmaker’ The prints of Anni Albers: a catalogue raisonné, 1963-1984 (Bethany, Connecticut: The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation 2009) p 18

International Women’s Day: celebrating female artists

Anni Albers at the artist’s studio, Tyler Graphics Ltd, Bedford Village, New York, 1976. Photographer: Betty Fiske

On the eve of International Women’s Day, what better time to celebrate and recognise the significant achievements of the women artists represented in the Tyler Collection. Of the collection’s 77 artists, only 6 are female – in part a reflection of an art world long dominated by men. However, while they may have been outnumbered by their male contemporaries, these women – Anni Albers, Helen Frankenthaler, Nancy Graves, Joan Mitchell, Altoon Sultan and Gina Tomao – were not overshadowed. They share an unwavering commitment to the visual arts and have left legacies of innovation and creativity. Below, we take a closer look at three of them:

Anni Albers (1899-1994) first collaborated with Ken Tyler at Gemini GEL in 1970, having recently discovered printmaking after a career in weaving spanning 40 years. A student of the Bauhaus and long-time teacher at Black Mountain College, Albers was unequivocally modern in her approach to art and design, establishing herself as one of the most influential textile designers of the 20th century. She brought to printmaking the same eye for order, balance and beauty as she did textile design, creating numerous graphic editions in which she explored relationships of form and colour in geometric abstractions.

Helen Frankenthaler painting on wood panels for preliminary image for Tales of Genji III, Tyler Graphics, Mount Kisco, New York, 1995. Photographer: Marabeth Cohen-Tyler

Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) emerged as one of the key second generation Abstract Expressionist painters with the development of her unique ‘soak stain’ technique, in which she thinned oil paint with turpentine and painted with the diluted wash directly onto unprimed canvas. In an art scene dominated by men the likes of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Frankenthaler’s unique creative vision was widely celebrated. Never one to shy from a challenge, Frankenthaler joined Tyler in 1977 to translate her language of abstraction into print. Read Ken Tyler’s personal account of working with Frankenthaler here.

187875 Nancy Graves (1939-1995) worked at Tyler Graphics in 1977 and 1981, completing several hand-coloured multimedia prints and a series of monoprints. Graves is known for her cross-disciplinary approach to art making, combining the visual and natural world in media such as drawing, painting, print, installation, sculpture and film. She was the first woman artist to have a solo retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art and was recently the subject of a major exhibition at the Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen, Germany – ‘Nancy Graves project & special guests’

For more information on other female artists in the collection see our website.

Direct from the source: Ken Tyler on Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein: Pop remix may have shut its doors but for those interested in the Pop master and his working methods, there’s more! Ken Tyler and Marabeth Cohen-Tyler’s visit to the National Gallery of Australia in July last year presented a significant opportunity to learn more about Roy Lichtenstein and his print projects direct from Tyler, the master printer with whom he had a long and fruitful collaboration. Video and audio content captured during this visit is now available on the website, giving audiences access to a first-hand perspective on Lichtenstein and the Tyler workshops.

In conjunction with the opening of Pop remix, Ken presented a rich and insightful lecture elucidating his experiences of working with the artist, fondly titled ‘Reflections on Roy the happy art maker 1969-1994’. Audio and supporting material from this lecture can be accessed here.

   

A highlight of Pop remix was undoubtedly the 1976 Entablature series of mixed-media prints in which Lichtenstein put classical architectural elements through his own unique Pop Art filter. Produced over two years, the series incorporates screenprinting, lithography, collage and embossing and represents the pinnacle of technical complexity in Lichtenstein’s collaboration with Tyler and the staff at Tyler Graphics. In the video below, Ken outlines some of the many challenges the team encountered during the making of these ground-breaking prints.

Happy New Year!

We can hardly believe that 2014 has arrived! Team Tyler had a wonderfully busy, productive year in 2013. Roy Lichtenstein: Pop remix travelled to the red centre of Australia, opening at Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs in April. In an emphatic end to its successful national tour, the exhibition returned to the National Gallery of Australia in July, where it has been on display since. The opening night – a buzzing, Pop-inspired party with vodka POPtails, WHAAM burgers, and Ray Ban-toting waiters – was made all the more memorable thanks to the presence of Ken Tyler and Marabeth Cohen-Tyler, who travelled from the U.S. especially for the occasion. During his visit to the Gallery Ken also delivered an insightful public lecture illuminating his collaboration with Roy Lichtenstein, which spanned a 30 year period.

 

Assistant Curator Emilie Owens went to Dundee in Scotland for the 8th Impact International Printmaking Conference, where she presented a paper on the collection’s rare film and sound archive. Along with other eager NGA staff we visited Megalo Print Studio for demonstrations of lithography, etching, screenprinting and relief. We welcomed Julia Greenstreet to her new role as Curatorial Assistant for the Kenneth Tyler Collection, added to the website’s ‘Team’ page, digitised hundreds of artworks, archival photographs and film, displayed important collection items such as David Hockney’s A diver from the ‘Paper pools’ series in the International Galleries, and in the children’s exhibition Word pictures. However there were also occasions for sadness, as we learnt of the deaths of artists Anthony Caro and Sam Amato.

Looking ahead to 2014, it’s bound to be another jam-packed year. Pop remix closes at the end of the month (if you haven’t seen it yet then come by for a visit!), after which it will have a chance to rest before travelling to venues in Asia. Major projects include a new exhibition drawn from the collection to be opened mid-year (watch this space for the big reveal in the next couple of months), researching and writing a comprehensive catalogue of the collection, as well as further enriching the website and engaging with audiences on social media.

We hope everyone has had a wonderful, restful break and we look forward to sharing more of the collection and all things print with you as the year unfolds.

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