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.

Paper: the next frontier

Following our recent look at Anthony Caro’s paper sculptures produced at Tyler Graphics we wanted to discuss the importance of papermaking in Tyler’s workshops and the innovative ways in which handmade papers were used. As this story spans almost four decades we’ve just touched on a few things here and hope to explore it further in the new year with a dedicated ‘paper page’ on our website.

Upon opening his own workshop in 1965, Tyler began a long and involved investigation into handmade paper. The American ‘print renaissance’ of the 1960s – which saw graphics increase in both complexity and size – necessitated a more diverse range of paper that could accommodate the needs of the new generation of prints. True to his reputation as an innovator, Tyler played a key role in researching and developing new papers and creative ways of using them.

It became clear to Tyler that if prints were going to gain recognition as significant contemporary works, they needed to be produced on a scale to rival that of painting. Robert Rauschenberg’s Booster of 1967 added urgency to Tyler’s ‘paper chase’, requiring sheets of sufficient size to print a life-size X-ray image of the artist. Tyler initially looked to American industry for the solution, but when this proved fruitless (due to poor commercial return), he cast his eye further afield towards European paper mills. It was at Arjomari Prioux, a fine art paper manufacturer in Epinal, France that Tyler discovered continuous rolls of mouldmade paper which could be cut to size. The prohibitive costs of importing such products made this a short-term solution only, and prompted Tyler to forge connections with paper makers closer to home – such as John Koller of HMP – before setting up his own facilities.

                    

A particularly significant milestone in Tyler’s handmade paper journey occurred in August 1973. Inspired by his previous visits to France, Tyler decided to hire a paper mill and take an artist with him to embark on his first major foray into papermaking. Who better to collaborate with Tyler on this project than Rauschenberg, who ‘could invent on the spot, had a lot of ideas and loved the challenge’[1]? Furthermore, as a darling of the American art scene, Rauschenberg had the necessary clout to fuel publicity around the project.

And so, Rauschenberg, Tyler and a small team from Gemini GEL visited the 14th century Richard de Bas paper mill, nestled in the picturesque countryside of southern France, with the aim of producing a body of work over the course of four days. Rauschenberg brought two key ideas with him, to ‘allow the form to become the print’ and to ‘paint in paper’.[2] The resultant Pages and Fuses series of works are highly experimental investigations into the possibilities of paper pulp. Composed of natural fibres, the Pages were created by pouring pulp directly onto the mesh in a free-flowing form, or by using shaped moulds that had been made by a tinsmith to Rauschenberg’s specifications. The artist then embedded rags and string in the wet pulp to add further texture.

In contrast to the subtle neutrals of the five Pages, the Fuses burst with vibrant colour, imparted by concentrated Swiss dyes. Clashing the handmade with the commercial, Rauschenberg incorporated magazine imagery printed on Japanese tissue onto the surface of the wet pulp, such as a bird and telegraph pole in Link.

The success of the Richard de Bas project triggered a renewed interest in handmade paper across America, in what has been dubbed ‘the paper revolution’[3] of the 1970s. A crucial shift was occurring in the way that paper was perceived by the artistic community: it would no longer be limited to its traditional supporting role, but rather was embraced as an independent medium.

A lovely photo album full of candid shots documenting Tyler and Rauschenberg’s time in France was put together by fellow collaborator and master papermaker Marius Peraudeau. Here are a few pages for you!

    

    

With the establishment of Tyler Graphics in 1974, papermaking became a key focus of the workshop’s activities. The garage at Bedford Village was converted into a paper studio, kitted out with a beater, press, couching table, plastic pails, rubber aprons and gumboots. Here, Tyler collaborated on major paper pulp projects with Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland and David Hockney, wherein the very substance of paper was transformed into unique works of art.

Interest in handmade paper snowballed and the activities of the workshop soon outgrew the garage-cum-paper studio. A custom-built paper mill at Mount Kisco superseded it and spectacular projects with artists such as James Rosenquist and David Hockney followed. We look forward to investigating these in future posts!


[1] Quoted in Pat Gilmour, Ken Tyler: Master Printer and the American Print Renaissance, Canberra: Australian National Gallery, 1986, p.87.

[2] Quoted in Pat Gilmour and Anne Willsford, Paperwork, Canberra: Australian National Gallery, 1982, p.49.

[3] Pat Gilmour, Ken Tyler: Master Printer and the American Print Renaissance, Canberra: Australian National Gallery, 1986, p.88.

David Hockney: art and technology

David Hockney has always pushed the limits of technology in his art and his latest exhibition David Hockney: a bigger exhibition at the de Young in San Francisco contains works that clearly demonstrate this tendency. In addition to more traditional media, the exhibition includes example of paintings that Hockney created using the ‘Brushes’ application on his iPad, as well as digital films displayed over multiple screens. You can see some examples of this kind of work on Hockney’s website: http://www.hockneypictures.com/home.php.

Long before the iPad, way back in 1988, Hockney was experimenting with the then cutting-edge-technology of the fax machine as a means of printmaking. The NGA’s Tyler Collection contains over 200 faxes sent by Hockney to Ken Tyler in the years 1988-89. The faxes range from mischievous musings:

to portraits of friends, both human and animal:

Complex images made up of sixteen or more sheets, similar to his later panel paintings – like the NGA’s A bigger Grand Canyonwere sent with a key showing how to assemble the overall image: a kind of jigsaw puzzle for the recipient.

Key

Abstract landscape

Check out our website for more on David Hockney: http://bit.ly/IeAOkJ

Anthony Caro, 1924-2013

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It is with regret that we report the death of Anthony Caro, who passed away on October 23 at the age of 89. Caro was one of the great modernist sculptors; an artist whose explorations of space, form and materials continued throughout his distinguished career.

Caro was best known for his abstract sculptures in steel and other metals. Duccio variations no.7 – a generous donation to the American Friends of the National Gallery of Australia by Ken and Marabeth Tyler – is currently on display in the NAB Sculpture Gallery. A monumental work in sandstone and steel, the sculpture is one of seven created as a response to Duccio’s The Annunciation in association with the Encounters exhibition staged by the National Gallery, London in Summer 2000.

As well as his work in metal, Caro explored the medium of paper pulp at Tyler Graphics Ltd. Caro enjoyed working with paper pulp as it allowed him “…to get closer to the graphic idea, to painting ideas and away from being so sculptural.” By manipulating sheets of Tyler’s handmade paper while still damp, Caro created soft, undulating curves which he embellished with intaglio printing processes, drawing and painting. The resulting works are delicate explorations of the sculptural possibilities of paper that blur the boundaries between painting, drawing and sculpture.

The Gallery has recently received a thoughtful donation of one such sculpture – #4 Big white – by Penelope Seidler AM. This work is a significant addition to the Gallery’s International Prints, Drawings, and Illustrated Books Department and exemplifies a unique moment in Caro’s oeuvre. The piece will complement three sculptural pieces from the paper pulp series held in the Kenneth Tyler Printmaking Collection.

Below you will find a series of links to articles and tributes that chronicle the life of this extraordinary artist:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/25/arts/design/anthony-caro-sculptor-who-discovered-a-path-to-abstraction-dies-at-89.html?_r=0

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/oct/24/sir-anthony-caro-dies

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-24654484

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/10401828/Sir-Anthony-Caro-British-sculptor-dies-aged-89.html

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