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.


Season’s Greetings!

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.


Page turners: artists’ books

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,[1] and that are ‘dependent upon the book structure to articulate its content.’[2] 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’[3] (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.[4]

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.’[5] 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.’[6] The 9 lyrical intaglios contained within the book’s 36 bound pages attest Frankenthaler’s mastery of painterly printmaking.


Other books in the Tyler Collection include: Steven Sorman’s Lessons from the Russian 1999, Joan Mitchell’s Poems 1992 and Helen Frankenthaler’s Valentine for Mr Wonderful 1995.

[1] Clive Phillpot, Booktrek: selected essays on artists’ books (1972-2010) (Zurich: JRP/Ringier; Dijon: Les presses du reel 2013) p.83.

[2] Ibid., p.149.

[3] Christophe Cherix quoted in Phillpot, Booktrek, p.4.

[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.

[5] Helen Frankenthaler, ‘Notes’ in This is not a book (Mount Kisco, New York: Tyler Graphics Ltd. 1997)

[6] Ibid.

Robert Motherwell: collage

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.

Robert Motherwell: Elegies

Of all the works in Robert Motherwell’s oeuvre, no series is so consistent in its exploration of a singular motif, so instantly recognisable, so deep in the artist’s character, as the Elegies.

Robert Motherwell, ‘Elegy black black’, 1983, lithograph, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Purchased with the assistance of the Orde Poynton Fund, 2002 © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA. Licensed by Viscopy

Constructed of ovoid forms balanced between vertical rectangles, a ‘massing of black against white’, the elegy motif first emerged in 1948 in an ink drawing illuminating a poem by Harold Rosenberg, the ‘brutality and aggression’ of which Motherwell hoped to give visual expression. The abstract forms resonated with Motherwell and he soon returned to them in the painting At five in the afternoon 1949, titled after the refrain of Federico Garcia Lorca’s poem dedicated to a fallen matador, Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias. For Motherwell, Lorca’s poetry and the events surrounding the Spanish Civil War were ‘general metaphors of the contrast between life and death and their interrelation’, themes which he would explore in endless variations through the archetypal image of the elegy.

Late prints made with Ken Tyler, such as Three figures 1989 and Burning elegy 1991, introduced colour to the motif by way of dyed and pressed paper pulp. The characteristic palette of blacks, whites and earth colours was abandoned in favour of brilliant reds, turquoise blues and citrus yellows, resulting in works of a markedly different character. No longer imbued with grief and loss, they speak of the light and air of the Mediterranean.

Robert Motherwell, ‘Burning elegy’, 1991, lithograph, hand dyed paper, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Purchased with the assistance of the Orde Poynton Fund 2002 © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA. Licensed by Viscopy

These works and many more are featured in Robert Motherwell: At five in the afternoon, on display in the Orde Poynton Gallery until 6 October 2014.

Robert Motherwell, ‘Blue elegy’, 1987, relief, lithograph, hand dyed paper, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Purchased with the assistance of the Orde Poynton Fund 2002 © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA. Licensed by Viscopy

Robert Motherwell, ‘Three figures’, 1989, lithograph, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Purchased with the assistance of the Orde Poynton Fund 2002 © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA. Licensed by Viscopy

Installing ‘Robert Motherwell: At five in the afternoon’

This week we’ve been busy installing Robert Motherwell: At five in the afternoon, which opens on Saturday. It has been wonderful to see the show come together – from wall colours to framing to lighting – after months of preparation. Thank you to everyone who has made the exhibition possible, it really is a team effort.

In the coming months we will look more in-depth at the artist and the works on display, so keep an eye out. Here are some behind-the-scenes shots of our install team in action.

Works from the ‘America-La France variations’ series waiting patiently on their blocks to be hung

The install team measure up before hanging ‘Elegy study I’




Suction grips assist the install team to carefully place the glass top of the showcase

Robert Motherwell: At five in the afternoon is on display at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra from 12 July – 6 October. Exhibition site:




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