Ellsworth Kelly, 1923–2015

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Ellsworth Kelly at Tyler Graphics Ltd., Bedford Village, New York, 1976. Photo: Barbara Crutchfield

 

 

The art world mourns the loss of American abstractionist Ellsworth Kelly, who passed away on 27 December 2015 at the age of 92.

Amongst the many print editions Kelly produced with Ken Tyler between 1970 and 1980, the Colored paper images of 1976 are unique for their richly textured surfaces and nuanced fields of colour. Here we share Assistant Curator Julia Greenstreet’s discussion of this landmark project, recently published in Workshop: The Kenneth Tyler Collection.

 

My work has always been about vision, the process of seeing … I’ve always been interested in things that I see that don’t make sense out of context, that lead you into something else.[i]

For six decades across painting, sculpture and print, Ellsworth Kelly has explored and elucidated a fundamental pillar of the human experience—our perception of the world around us. Despite its abstract vocabulary of flat, simple shapes and prismatic colour, Kelly’s art is grounded in observed form; a distillation of unassuming sources such as barn doors, shadows falling on a flight of stairs, or a crushed paper cup, into their essential shapes.

From 1970 to 1980 Kelly worked with Tyler at both Gemini GEL and TGL to produce editions in a range of new techniques that extended his distinctive vocabulary. However it was with the Colored paper images—made entirely of coloured, pressed paper pulp—that Kelly truly broke new ground. When he decided he no longer wanted to make an edition of collage aquatints as originally planned, Tyler was quick to propose an alternative, taking the artist on a visit to the HMP paper mill and providing him with samples from his treasured collection of handmade Japanese papers. As Tyler recalls, ‘the rest was up to Kelly … We began very modestly. Kelly brought these samples home, and we played’.[ii] What began as ‘play’ developed into an eight-month long collaboration between Kelly, Tyler and HMP’s John and Kathleen Koller, resulting in a series of 23 variant editions.

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Ellsworth Kelly and Kenneth Tyler during the ‘Colored paper images’ project, Tyler Graphics Ltd., Bedford Village, New York, 1976. Photos: Betty Fiske

 

Colored paper images was the first TGL project executed exclusively in paper pulp[iii] and Kelly’s first foray into the medium. Tyler wanted to extend beyond standard manufactured dyes in order to provide Kelly with ‘a new palette of colors for papermaking’[iv] and proceeded to research various types of colouring agents and their properties, from powdered pigments to acrylic gouaches. Of the 75 colours Tyler developed, Kelly used 50. Images were created by spooning cotton pulp onto a wet base sheet through image moulds constructed from bent metal rulers, strips of wood and plexiglass. When placed under pressure in the press the coloured pulp shapes and white base sheet fused together, causing dyes to seep beyond the boundaries of form in diaphanous veils of colour.

65353      40438(left) Ellsworth Kelly, ‘Colored paper image II (dark green curves)’, 1976, paper pulp, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1979 © Ellsworth Kelly (right) Ellsworth Kelly, ‘Colored paper image X (blue with gray)’, 1976, paper pulp, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1977 © Ellsworth Kelly

 

This marked an astonishing departure from the rigorous linearity characteristic of Kelly’s oeuvre. Pristine finishes were relinquished in favour of the richly textured surfaces of pressed paper pulp. Loosely hand-mixed pulps transformed into nuanced colour fields, as in the delicate amorphous clouds of Colored paper image X (blue with grey) and Colored paper image II (dark green curves). While this emphasis on textured surfaces was unprecedented in Kelly’s print oeuvre, curator Richard Axsom notes that it was connected to ideas of random surface effects the artist had been exploring in weathering steel and wood sculptures.[v]

The Colored paper images stand as a landmark in both Kelly’s practice and that of TGL. In addition, they played a significant role in encouraging other artists to experiment with paper pulp; David Hockney, for example, was inspired to produce his influential series of paper works, Paper pools, after seeing Kelly’s ‘stunningly beautiful’[vi] pieces. Appearing on the cover of an American Artist issue dedicated to ‘the revolution in paper’, the Colored paper images were hailed as representing ‘a new mode of expression’.[vii]

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Ellsworth Kelly, ‘Colored paper image XVI (blue/yellow/red)’, 1976, paper pulp, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1977 © Ellsworth Kelly

 

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Workshop: The Kenneth Tyler Collection is available from the NGA shop and online.

[i] Ellsworth Kelly quoted in Siri Engberg, ‘Ellsworth Kelly’, in Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter (eds), Bits & pieces put together to present a semblance of a whole: Walker Art Center collections, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2005, p 315, originally published in Mark Rosenthal (ed), Artists at Gemini GEL, Harry N Abrams Inc, New York, 1993, p 83.

[ii] Ken Tyler quoted in Marlene Schiller, ‘Footnotes: the cover’, American Artist, August 1977, p 12.

[iii] Ronald Davis’s 1975 Intaglio print series combined handmade and coloured paper with intaglio printing, while Frank Stella’s Paper reliefs series of paper pulp reliefs of the same year incorporated collage and handcolouring.

[iv] Ellsworth Kelly: Colored paper images, Tyler Graphics Ltd, Bedford Village, 1976, unpaginated.

[v] Richard Axsom, The prints of Ellsworth Kelly: a catalogue raisonné 1949–1985, Hudson Hills Press, New York, in association with the American Federation of Arts, 1987, p 116.

[vi] David Hockney quoted in Jane Kinsman, The art of collaboration: the big Americans, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002, p 57, originally published in Nikos Stangos (ed), David Hockney: Paper pools, Thames and Hudson, London, 1980, p 100.

[vii] Schiller, p 6.

Behind the scenes: Tyler Graphics at work

We are very excited to announce that our new show Behind the scenes: Tyler Graphics at work is now open!

The exhibition presents elaborate graphic artworks from a diverse range of artists in the context of their making. Through candid photographs and a series of specially produced short films, we are transported behind the scenes at Tyler Graphics Ltd, investigating the processes of printmaking, and illuminating the collaborative relationships between artist and printmaker.

Behind the scenes has been months in the making and is only made possible through the hard work of staff across the Gallery, from Curatorial to Mountcutting & Framing, Conservation, Installations, Registration and Exhibition Design. Here are some snapshots of the show in progress, from inspecting works, choosing framing, hanging large-scale pieces, to wall graphics.

Visit the exhibition website for more info.

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Claes Oldenburg’s ‘Profile Airflow’ gets some TLC

       

Claes Oldenburg’s Profile Airflow 1969 was the first of numerous innovative multiples (three-dimensional sculptural editions) the artist created in collaboration with Gemini GEL in the early 1970s. Inspired by original drawings of the iconic 1936 Chrysler Airflow, Oldenburg created a lithograph over which sits a translucent plastic relief of the car. Achieving Oldenburg’s desire for a relief that was ‘transparent like a swimming pool, but of a consistency like flesh’[1] was no easy task and required considerable research and experimentation.[2] Complex to produce, the work has also proved complex and time-consuming to conserve, as today’s post reveals. Objects Conservator Sarah Mchugh shares with us the painstaking process of treating Profile Airflow, which took two years to complete.

The work consists of a lithograph on paper stretched onto a wooden strainer, over the front of which sits a moulded relief in elastomeric (rubbery), translucent green polyurethane. It has two main problems. Firstly, the polyurethane is attached to the strainer by screws that are close to the edge and it has torn at these points due to the pull of its own weight, meaning the work couldn’t hang vertically as it’s supposed to.

Secondly, the polyurethane is deteriorating and the surface has become extremely sticky, with a layer of dust consequently adhering to it. Plastic is often thought to last forever but from a conservation perspective it actually doesn’t last long at all. Plastics are also quite difficult to clean as components of the plastic may be dissolved in different solvents, causing further problems.

       

I began by examining and documenting the work, and undertaking research to find the best method of repair. One technique I used was to test the polymer using FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy) to confirm its composition.

I found a private conservator in the U.S. who had cleaned another Profile Airflow (the work was produced in an edition of 75) with the same sticky surface problem. She had undertaken extensive research and testing and very generously shared her results with me. I cleaned the work with an isopropanol solution, which removed the dust, but the surface remained sticky. To prevent dust adhering again, it was decided in consultation with Senior Curator Jane Kinsman to commission a custom frame with a Perspex front.

To repair and re-secure the polyurethane to the strainer I developed a method that would require the least amount of permanent change to the object and be least visually obtrusive. I sourced a clear elastomeric polyurethane and made a sample which I artificially aged with UV light to give an indication of how long it would last. Finding that it was acceptable I then used the adhesive to repair tears in the polyurethane and to attach large tabs of Mylar™ (polyester film) to the underside of the polyurethane that wraps around the strainer. The tabs are now taking the weight of the relief.

As a result the original look of the work as the artist intended has been restored, and it is now displayable – the surface isn’t obscured by a layer of dust and it can hang vertically on the wall. It looks gorgeous!

We can’t wait to see the refreshed Profile Airflow in the new displays of International Art opening at the National Gallery of Australia in December.

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Visit the website for photographs of this and other Oldenburg multiples in production.

In 2010 Oldenburg’s Ice bag – scale B also underwent conservation treatment: read more.

[1] Claes Oldenburg, in David Platzker, Claes Oldenburg: Multiples in retrospect 1964-1990, New York: Rizzoli, 1991, p.84.

[2] Read Emilie Owens’ discussion of Profile Airflow in the newly released publication Workshop: The Kenneth Tyler Collection, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 2015, p.171.

If this chair could talk

Spanning nearly four decades, the history of the Tyler workshops is a rich and complex one, weaving together artists, printers, papermakers, industry collaborators, photographers, writers, film makers, curators, family and friends. Over the years, many of these people sat, mused and even worked in an antique barber’s chair carefully selected by Ken Tyler for the studio. In today’s post, Tyler reveals the story of this unusual workshop fixture.

     

     

In 1965, when I set up the Gemini Ltd. artist’s studio, I decided to have an antique Koken barber’s chair.  It’s an ingenious throne-like device, levitating hydraulically and swiveling, as well as reclining.  In classic barbershop lore from the turn of the century, it was considered the pinnacle of innovation (1892 was when the pedaled version of the hydraulic lift device was introduced), elegance, comfort, and outstanding craftsmanship…an achievement in industrial design.  Like the Eiffel Tower, it celebrates Viollet-le-Duc’s ideas of ‘honest structural expression and the embracing of modern technology.’  For me, it is the ideal place from which an artist can contemplate their work as it is pinned on the studio walls and scattered across the floor, within a workshop that also embraces modern technology.

The antique dealer I originally spoke with informed me that Teddy Roosevelt had his hair cut in the chair I was purchasing.  He demonstrated the hydraulics by having me sit, relax, and listen to him as he intoned,‘Going u-uu-uuu-uuup, 1st floor: shoes, booze, and nothing to lose. 2nd floor: pants, endless lessons in dance, wild romance.  3rd floor: tops, cigars right-outta-the-box, lookout for da cops.  4th floor: hats and crowns, place one upon your head to astound.’

Sure enough, the chair made me feel like a potentate…or a President.  After all, the chair itself is a work of art, made from enameled cast iron parts, and nickeled steel.  It has a spring cushion on the seat, covered in fine leather.  There is a headrest that is adjustable, as well as a sophisticated articulated foot rest, that ornately carries the KOKEN name in its design.  In fact, the President model of the chair from 1910, which is the chair I chose, is pictured in the 1912 Koken Barber Supply catalogue in color, with The White House in the background.

When I found myself setting up another artist’s studio upon opening Tyler Graphics in 1974, I once again decided to provide the ‘inner sanctum’ of the workshop with another Koken barber’s chair.  This time, the antique dealer waxed poetic about how the model I was purchasing was more elegant by far than the one made famous in 1957, when the infamous mobster, Albert Anastasia, was groomed and then abruptly riddled with bullets while seated in one in the then swanky barbershop at the Park Sheraton Hotel in New York City.  That particular ‘well ventilated’ chair became part of a mob memorabilia collection in St. Louis, until it was then purchased by legendary comedian Henny Youngman.  Youngman sold the chair eventually to Artie Nash, a noted New York mob artifact collector.  (By the way, I recently discovered that Nash was instrumental in placing the chair in the Las Vegas Mob Museum.)
Thankfully, the model gracing Tyler Graphics was from a gentler era, and carried curvilinear Art Nouveau ornamentation inspired by nature, including the pedestal, which gracefully carried the chair like a lotus blossom.  Every artist working at Tyler Graphics gravitated to the chair, spending hours and days, and in Frank Stella’s case, years contemplating their artwork as it evolved.

After we moved all operations to Singapore in 2001 and set up the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (which opened in 2002), the Tyler Graphics barber chair was re-installed there.  Now it resides in Singapore.

Insiders: a printer’s perspective – Anthony Kirk

Anthony Kirk was head of the etching department at Tyler Graphics from 1988 until 2000. During this time he worked on major projects by artists such as Frank Stella and Helen Frankenthaler. After the closure of TGL, Kirk’s talent for printmaking led him to the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk, Connecticut, where he was the Artistic Director and Master Printer for 13 years. Here, Kirk reflects on his experiences at TGL:

I joined a team of three intaglio printers who had already begun editioning Frank Stella’s La penna di hu which was the largest print that I had ever worked on. This print consisted of several large copper aquatinted plates that were inserted in to a large magnesium plate and printed simultaneously onto a large sheet of handmade paper. The printing was done on a large hydraulic press. Therefore in the first days of working at TGL I was learning several new concepts. First of all team work was essential and this became the hallmark of every project thereafter that included paper making, lithography, screen printing and intaglio. Each printer was assigned to ink and wipe the same plates to ensure consistency and to finish the task at the same time as the other printers to keep to the schedule of printing two impressions per day. Stella’s visits to TGL to work in the artist’s studio usually ended with heaps of cut up printed sheets on the floor everywhere but with brand new collaged maquettes hanging on the studio walls. Armed with only a staple gun and a pair of sharp scissors, Frank would create new images that would keep us busy for months.

One of my favourite projects was my collaboration with John Walker on his portfolio Passing bells. He could draw. His draftsmanship was among the finest of any artist that I had ever worked with. There was never any need for revision, scraping or burnishing. There were no mistakes with either under-etching or over-etching any of the aquatints. His brush marks of stop-out varnish combined with white ground are so well integrated with the original etched line drawing. One day I went in to the artist’s studio to pick up the next plate for etching and witnessed John’s seven year old son Harry with a fine sable brush in hand loaded with varnish, carefully stopping out an area of a copper plate. I heard John caution his son to make sure and keep to the line.

I also have very good memories of working with Joan Mitchell on a series of sugar lift aquatints. Ken suggested that I introduce the carborundum aquatint technique to her. In presenting it to her in the way of samples with test plates and proofs, I mentioned that Juan Miró had done some great work with it. She acerbically replied, ‘Oh did he now?’ She did use it in her diptych print Trees V-A, combining this technique with traditional sugar lift.

My favourite memories of the workshop are the conviviality of the staff when it came to individual birthdays. This was a rare moment when the staff could put production schedules and deadlines aside for about twenty minutes. At 3 o’clock we would all congregate in the kitchen and sing happy birthday and enjoy cake, ice-cream and coffee. On one of my birthdays, Frank Stella was working in the studio and someone invited him back for ice-cream and cake. He appeared with a small card of collaged print elements on which he had written, ‘Happy Birthday, Tony, Frank Stella.’ It was very thoughtful of him.

[Since leaving the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk] I have begun to focus my career solely as a master printer. I continue to give lectures and demonstrations and still enjoy invitations to teach. When I speak publicly about my life as a master printer I usually start a lecture by removing from my pocket a small copper plate covered with a hard ground wax coating and telling the audience that if Rembrandt, Goya, Piranesi or Dürer were to come alive before me now they would each recognise what I am holding, and then they would ask me for etching needles and acid. This ancient technology still holds currency for the contemporary artist and I have never lost my enthusiasm for sharing my passion for the medium.

Read Kirk’s full account here.

Vale William Crutchfield (1932–2015)

Ken Tyler reflects on William Crutchfield – teacher, friend, confidant and collaborator

As a close friend, I’ve been exceptionally fortunate to have known Bill for fifty two years. We collaborated on various print and sculptural projects from 1963 to 2000. He was a talented artist, excelling as a draftsman, sculptor and printmaker. His witty, warm and inimitable personality is evident in his work and personal relationships.

I first met Bill in 1963, on my first day at John Herron School of Art in Indianapolis, Indiana, as a newly-enrolled graduate student. He was assisting Garo Antreasian with printing a large lithography stone in the printmaking studio. Bill had just returned from Germany as a Fulbright Scholar at the State Art Academy in Hamburg and had joined the faculty of Herron as a drawing instructor. During my year at Herron, earning a Masters degree, I studied lithography and painting with Antreasian and drawing with Crutchfield. Bill and I immediately recognized our shared interests in many creative areas as well as our similarities; we both were from the Midwest and were born weeks apart.

         

After graduating from Herron and receiving a Ford Foundation grant to The Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles in June of 1963, we met again when Bill did a guest lithography print, titled Mr. No at Tamarind. Our paths were destined to continue crossing. From 1963 to 2000, we collaborated on prints and sculptural multiples in my four workshops, Gemini Ltd, Gemini GEL in Los Angeles, and Tyler Graphics Ltd. in Bedford and Mt. Kisco, New York.

In 1966, I invited Bill to Gemini to do a series of thirteen lithos, which were very successful and made it possible for him and his wife, Barbara to move to L.A. Bill frequently visited the workshop, photographing and socializing with other visiting artists while continuing to make prints with me. For example, he documented many exciting collaborations in his drawings that he made for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Art and Technology catalog. We travelled to the East Coast together, meeting with Josef and Anni Albers and other artists with whom I was publishing. He accompanied me on many of my visits to manufacturing firms that I was working with on artist projects. Bill was able to use some of these firms for his own sculptural works. As a trusted confidant, we exchanged many views on collaboration and the state of printmaking at the time. During even light-hearted chats, he always had insight, adding depth and his unique, often whimsical viewpoint.

After I left L.A. in 1974 and started my new workshop, TGL, in Bedford, NY, we kept in close touch. On several visits to Bedford in the 70s, Bill made large color lithographs of trains and ships and worked with pattern makers for making bronze castings of sculptures of numerals and letters.

When Marabeth and I started work on the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI) project in the late 90s, I had many conversations with Bill about the project. In 1999 I commissioned Bill to commemorate the planned opening in 2000 of STPI with a color lithograph. With his usual satirical style, he composed an image of all the workshop presses and equipment being towed by a series of barges across the ocean from NYC to Singapore, with Marabeth and I at the helm of the ship and dolphins swimming at our side, welcoming us into the Singapore harbor.

I wish I could draw a similar image of all of Bill’s works being towed to some place for all to see the wonderful body of work he joyfully made in his lifetime. For those of us who were fortunate to have known and worked with William Crutchfield, we will continue to be rewarded by enjoying his art and our wealth of memories.

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ARTIST IN FOCUS: Robert Zakanitch

Robert Zakanitch – a key exponent of the 1970s Pattern and Decoration movement – arrived at Tyler Graphics in 1979 with little printmaking experience. Despite this, by 1981 he had produced six editions and two large series of unique paper pulp works featuring floral motifs and curvilinear forms in vibrant colours. The works continued Zakanitch’s exploration of ornamentation as a new subject matter, a framework he developed in opposition to the restrictive formal and conceptual concerns of contemporary painting. In excerpts from an interview with Curatorial Assistant Julia Greenstreet, Zakanitch reflects on his embrace of ornamentation in the 1970s and his experiences of working at TGL.

On ornamentation as subject matter…

I was rebelling against formalism. Ornamentation to me meant sensations, and rhythms and movements, and it was an extraordinary world to go into. I always thought there were only two doors to painting up to that point, and that was representationalism and in the 20th century, abstraction. They were the two basic things that all painting came out of.  I was looking for a third alternative or a third subject matter. I was going crazy at the time because [trying to find an alternative] was like trying to find another colour, it just didn’t exist. But I stumbled on it [ornamentation] and it became a very natural thing, to start thinking about ornamentation as a complete entity and a third door. Once that hit, all kinds of imagery started coming into the work. I stopped going to galleries and museums and instead visited flea markets and paint stores, wallpaper stores and linoleum stores, garage sales.

On working with paper pulp…

Paper pulp took away the precision of printmaking; you can do whatever you want, there are no mistakes. The idea of painting with your hands was so immediate. Once I started it felt very much like painting, you could smear it, throw one colour onto another, move it around. It was very flexible, which was important. I never planned those works [Double peacock series and Paper pulp series], that’s what I really loved. I wanted to extend the parameters of what to make and still make them beautiful. I wanted to be true to the fact that it was paper pulp and not a painting, not fool anyone. The works had holes and raw edges so you could see the process…I didn’t want a square piece of paper.

         

           

Memories of Ken Tyler…

Tyler was so great to work with because everything was at your fingertips; you never had to think about any kind of mixing, ‘where do I get paint’ etc. You could be totally focused on the image and the end result, it made it so simple.

I’m sorry that I never got back to work with Tyler again, it was such an awakening. I was scratching the surface with him. I didn’t know who Ken Tyler was [before working at TGL], I was so naïve. But I quickly got to know who he was. He’s brilliant. When you went to Tyler, you were it; he made you feel that everything was there for you. It was an extraordinary atmosphere that he created; I understand why everyone wanted to go there.

Learn more about Zakanitch on the Tyler website or the artist’s site.

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