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.

Happy Easter!

For many, Easter conjures up memories of early morning egg hunts and gorging on chocolate. To celebrate we thought we’d share these charming Polaroids from the Kenneth Tyler Photographic Collection which show the Tyler Graphics team and their children mid-hunt on a sunny morning in 1986.

Wishing everyone a happy Easter and a great long-weekend.

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Japan’s Center for Contemporary Graphic Art turns 20

This month the Center for Contemporary Graphic Art and Tyler Graphics Archive Collection (CCGA and TGAC) celebrates its 20th anniversary. Located in the Japanese city of Sukagawa, Fukushima Prefecture, the CCGA is an exhibition, study, and storage facility which houses a collection of more than 100,000 items. This includes a complete collection of prints produced at Tyler Graphics Ltd. from 1974 until 2001. The Center thus belongs to an international family of institutions holding significant collections of prints from Ken Tyler’s workshops, including the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Singapore, National Gallery of Art, Washington, and of course the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

CCGA Opening Ceremony, 20 April 1995

Based on a triangular motif, the CCGA building was designed by ED2 International as an artwork in its own right, harmoniously placed in the landscape. To the left of the entranceway is John Newman’s sculpture Upward turn, commissioned by Dai Nippon Printing Company (DNP) for the new building. At almost 4 metres high, the patinated bronze and glass construction with gold-leafing is a striking contrast to the stark white building. The 9-colour lithograph Upward turn (study) created at Tyler Graphics was similarly commissioned by DNP to commemorate the opening of the CCGA.

John Newman, ‘Upward turn’, 1995, bronze with patina, slumped glass with gold leaf and granite, Center for Contemporary Graphic Arts, Fukushima, Japan

John Newman, ‘Upward turn (study)’, 1995, lithograph, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Purchased with the assistance of the Orde Poynton Fund 2002

To mark their 20-year milestone CCGA is currently showing 21st Century Graphic Vision, an exhibition of 90 works – American and Japanese – drawn from both the Tyler Archive and the DNP Archives of Graphic Design. Find out more on their website.

In addition to its regular exhibition and research programs, the Center now offers a small but well-equipped print studio open to both the general public and experienced printmakers. In this way CCGA has moved one step closer to realising Tyler’s vision that ‘Works of great quality will continually be created…marvellous images born out of layers of ink, paper, techniques, and creative personalities.’[1]

We look forward to seeing what the next 20 years will bring!

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See a post from 2011 about CCGA and TGAC here.

[1] Ken Tyler quoted in Walking through, Mount Kisco: Tyler Graphics Ltd., 1995.

Sid Avery: stars on camera

The 1976 documentary film Reaching out: Ken Tyler, master printer takes viewers into renowned print workshop Gemini GEL, Los Angeles, providing us with behind-the-scenes footage of master printer Ken Tyler at work with Roy Lichtenstein and David Hockney. Along with author Michael Crichton, they discuss artistic philosophies and Tyler’s collaborations with major contemporary American artists.

One half of the film’s directorial team,[1] Sid Avery (1918-2002), also happened to be a celebrity photographer notable for his ability to capture some of Hollywood’s biggest stars – Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra – in refreshingly intimate, candid moments. An article by Michael Callahan in Vanity Fair last year titled ‘Hollywood’s private eye’ paid homage to Avery’s achievements and shared some of the intriguing stories behind his celebrated shots. Be sure to have a read.

The Tyler Photographic Collection is fortunate to have a number of photographs taken in 1973 by Avery during the filming of Reaching out, some highlights of which we share here. Not only important visual records of the printmaking process, the photos give us a glimpse of the unique relationship between Tyler and Hockney; a collaboration which spanned almost three decades.

       

[1] Lee Tirce and Sid Avery of Avery/Tirce Productions.

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.

    

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