December 19, 2014 Leave a comment
We wish all our readers a safe and happy festive season and best wishes for the coming year. We look forward to bringing you more news and information from the Kenneth Tyler Printmaking Collection in 2015.
Documenting the living history of the NGA's Kenneth Tyler Printmaking Collection
December 5, 2014 Leave a comment
A recent morning spent at a book fair saw me trawling through old exhibition catalogues and artist biographies, emerging an hour later with an armful of pre-loved volumes and a sudden desire to learn more about a different kind of art book – the artists’ book. The focus of much debate over the years, in the context of this post the term is used to signify those books which are made or conceived by artists, and that are ‘dependent upon the book structure to articulate its content.’ Here we look at a few key examples from the Tyler Collection.
Accustomed to large-scale print production, the particularities of the artists’ book presented a new challenge for Tyler, and he engaged in numerous ambitious book projects over the course of his career. Volumes produced in Tyler’s workshops featured fine art printmaking techniques, handmade papers, and were released in small editions, recalling the European tradition of illustrated books of the early 20th century known as livres d’artiste or livres de luxe. They thus stand in contrast to the modest, mass-produced, cheap booklets championed by Ed Ruscha and American conceptual artists in the 1960s and 1970s, which were designed to be ‘something that you would ideally be able to buy at a train station for little cost, read in the train, and leave behind on your seat with no regrets’ (ironically, many such publications are now housed in the world’s leading museums).
About women 1966
Tyler made an early foray into the medium with John Altoon, a brash Los Angeles artist who lived next door to Gemini Ltd. Altoon drew inspiration from the poetry of friend Robert Creeley to create 10 boldly coloured lithographs which feature his distinctive lexicon of ambiguous amorphous forms, phallic references and fluid line. Indeed, the emotionally charged content of Creeley’s poems (‘Anger’, ‘The Woman’, and ‘Distance’) created an ideal context for Altoon’s ongoing exploration of sex and women to unfold, with text and image echoing rather than illustrating one another. Consisting of loose-leaf lithographs interspersed with pages of text, About women 1966 breaks from traditional book form. It nevertheless achieves a bookish quality, with sheets sequentially arranged within a box, which opens like a book cover.
El Negro 1983
Robert Motherwell’s lifelong obsession with literature made the artists’ book a natural conduit for his creative vision; El Negro – published by TGL in 1983 – is the second of four volumes produced during his lifetime and stands as one of the most ambitious. The idea for the project emerged in 1980 at an exhibition opening of Motherwell’s paintings in Madrid, during which Spanish poet Rafael Alberti read ‘El Negro Motherwell’, a poem honouring the artist’s use of black. Meeting for the first time, Motherwell and Alberti acknowledged their mutual admiration and agreed to collaborate on an artists’ book. Poetry such as Alberti’s connected with Motherwell’s approach to image making:
My vocabulary works only with poetry, that is to say with non-narrative writing to which my visual metaphors can be matched with verbal metaphors springing from the same kind of source…not illustration, but a series of explosions or fireworks, or oppositely, a kind of restrained silence.
To illuminate Alberti’s verse, Motherwell created 19 gestural lithographs reflecting on the physicality of black, the weight and depth of which was augmented by layering a number of black inks. Tyler’s design for the book abandoned a uniform format in favour of gatefold pages of varying horizontal lengths, accommodating the spectrum of Motherwell’s imagery. Image and text coalesce to form a harmonious whole, emphasised by Motherwell’s incorporation of handwriting in several compositions.
This is not a book 1997
Helen Frankenthaler’s desire to create an artists’ book stemmed not from a beloved text, but rather from the physicality of the book form itself. She had long wanted to make prints for a bound volume but struggled to find an appropriate text, and eventually proceeded without one. Through its omission of written word, This is not a book challenges traditional constructs of the book as an inherently text-dependent form, and reveals the potential of the serial format as a site for visual exploration.
Frankenthaler harnessed this new framework to experiment with form and materials, working in an intuitive, playful manner: ‘I had to do it my way and make it up as I went along … I used pastels, crayons, inks and paints of all kinds. I poured, rubbed, smeared.’ She worked closely with Tyler and etcher Anthony Kirk over a two year period, continuously proofing and reworking plates until the desired result was achieved. As Kirk explains, printing the edition proved enormously challenging, as multiple works had to be printed on the front and back of the same sheet of paper to avoid a series of blank pages.
Despite the difficulties they encountered, Frankenthaler has said of their collaboration, ‘The three of us worked together in a beautiful dialogue filled with feeling and invention.’ The 9 lyrical intaglios contained within the book’s 36 bound pages attest Frankenthaler’s mastery of painterly printmaking.
 Clive Phillpot, Booktrek: selected essays on artists’ books (1972-2010) (Zurich: JRP/Ringier; Dijon: Les presses du reel 2013) p.83.
 Ibid., p.149.
 Christophe Cherix quoted in Phillpot, Booktrek, p.4.
 Robert Motherwell to Andrew Hoyem, 30 March 1987, reprinted in Stephanie Terenzio (ed.), The collected writings of Robert Motherwell (New York: Oxford University Press 1992) p.283.
 Helen Frankenthaler, ‘Notes’ in This is not a book (Mount Kisco, New York: Tyler Graphics Ltd. 1997)
September 15, 2014 Leave a comment
Collage was a Surrealist inspired art practice adopted by Motherwell. Originally invented by Cubist artists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, collage combines different visual elements together to create multi-faceted compositions. Motherwell first made collages with Jackson Pollock for a 1943 exhibition, and later compared the process to creating a personal journal:
Collage somehow came to be my joy, and has been ever since. Also it has another function: sometimes I get stuck in painting … and often, after shifting to collage for a time, I may resolve the painting problem when I return to it.
For Motherwell collage was also problematic:
Given these disparate and conflicting elements, how ultimately to unify them. It’s a painful, precarious way of making order. The separate elements tend to carry on guerrilla warfare with each other.
Despite these difficulties, Motherwell rated collage highly and was one of the very few American artists to pursue this practice consistently during his lifetime. Motherwell’s printed collages, such as the America-La France variations series, reveal the painstaking process he undertook to develop his compositions in a step-by-step manner. The title for this body of work was derived from the name of the company that made American fire engines, rather than some cultural salute to France by the artist.
Robert Motherwell: At five in the afternoon is on display in the Orde Poynton Gallery until 6 October 2014.
August 22, 2014 Leave a comment
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.
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.
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.
July 9, 2014 2 Comments
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.
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
May 15, 2014 Leave a comment
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.
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
April 17, 2014 5 Comments
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’ 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.’ 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). 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,’ 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.
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, 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,’ 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.’ 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, 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.
 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.
 Anni Albers, from an interview with Gene Baro, Anni Albers (Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Museum 1977) p 7
 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
 Anni Albers, On weaving (London: Studio Vista Ltd. 1966) p 78
 Anni Albers, ‘Design: anonymous and timeless’ Magazine of Art vol.40 no.2 February 1947, pp 51-53.
 Nicholas Fox Weber, ‘Anni Albers’ Anni Albers (Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Museum 1977) p 12
 Oral history interview with Anni Albers, 1968 July 5, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
 Anni Albers, from an interview with Gene Baro, Anni Albers (Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Museum 1977) p 8-9
 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