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.

Insiders: a printer’s perspective – John Hutcheson

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.

Portrait of John Hutcheson. Photographer: Marabeth Cohen-Tyler

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

  

Frank Stella: Recent work

Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm

June 4 – July 5 2013

http://www.wetterlinggallery.com/

On June 4 the Wetterling Gallery in Stockholm opened a new exhibition of Frank Stella’s recent sculptures. The large brightly coloured works are a continuation of the Scarlatti Sonata Kilpatric series that Stella began in 2006, which explores the dynamic sense of movement achieved in music. You can read more about the sculptures and the exhibition here: http://www.wetterlinggallery.com/exhibitions/frank-stella-recent-work

Ken and Marabeth Tyler joined Stella in Stockholm for the opening of the exhibition, and took the images below to share with us:

Frank Stella at the opening of his exhibition in Stockholm

Frank Stella at the opening of his ‘Recent work’ exhibition in Stockholm on June 4

Per Inge and Ask Bjorlo with Ken Tyler

Ken Tyler with Per Inge and Ask Bjørlo at the opening of ‘Frank Stella: Recent work’ on June 4. Like Stella, Per Inge Bjørlo created prints with Tyler, which you can read about here: http://bit.ly/112M7PU

Kenneth Tyler honoured at IPCNY

The IPCNY's spring benefit

Each year the International Print Center New York (IPCNY), an institution ‘dedicated to the appreciation and understanding of fine art prints’ holds a spring benefit honouring luminaries of the print world. This year art writer Faye Hirsch, artist Robert Mangold and master-printer Ken Tyler were the honourees celebrated at a function on May 15.

Frank Stella, Tyler’s long-time friend and collaborator, presented Tyler with his award and gave a presentation discussing Tyler’s unique printmaking career. These images were taken during the evening by  Liam Alexander for IPCNY.

Frank Stella talking about Ken Tyler's career at the IPCNY's spring benefit

Frank Stella discussing Ken Tyler’s career at the IPCNY’s spring benefit. On the screen is an image of Tyler at the Gemini Ltd studios in the 1960s.

Frank Stella & Ken Tyler embrace at IPCNY's spring benefit

Frank Stella and Ken Tyler embrace as Stella presents Tyler with his award.

Kenneth Tyler at IPCNY's spring benefit

Ken Tyler giving his acceptance speech at the IPCNY’s spring benefit. On screen is an image of an impression of Robert Motherwell’s Elegy study I lithograph being pulled at the Tyler Graphics Ltd studio in Mount Kisco.

You can read about Tyler and Stella’s working relationship here http://bit.ly/16XqoR0 in a lecture that Tyler gave last year when Stella was awarded the International Sculpture Center’s ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’.

New look Tyler Collection website

Over the past few months we have been compiling new information for the Gallery’s Kenneth Tyler printmaking collection website, and working to make the site easier to use. The results are now online for you to explore here: http://nga.gov.au/InternationalPrints/Tyler/Default.cfm?MnuID=12

An important addition to the site is the new Tyler Graphics Ltd (TGL) team page, dedicated to the immensely talented group of printers and workshop staff that made the astonishing print projects produced at TGL possible. This page reveals the truly collaborative nature of the Tyler workshops and the unique working environment that existed there. To bring you this information we contacted several former staff members and asked them to share with us their memories of the TGL workshops – with some fascinating insights and often amusing recollections.

Yasu Shibata speaks of the excitement surrounding the production of Frank Stella’s The Fountain; the breadth of John Hutcheson’s printmaking knowledge and experience is truly staggering; and Barbara Delano recalls Saturdays with Robert Motherwell. Mark Mahaffey’s recollection of David Hockney’s 1984 visit to the workshop involves a pet rabbit; Kim Halliday reminisces about the camaraderie of the shop; and Duane Mitch remembers burgers and beers after the Chicago Art Fair. More of this valuable background information around the workings of a major print workshop will be added as we continue to make contact with TGL staff members.

We hope you will take a moment to explore the wealth of material available on the website and would love to hear your comments and feedback either here on the blog, or via the Tyler Collection email address: TylerCollection@nga.gov.au

Mark Mahaffey’s pet rabbit, Stones, alongside a Christmas message from David Hockney – just one of the stories that emerged from our discussions with TGL staff members.

Sneak peek…

As promised, a short clip from our newly digitised film and sound collection is ready and waiting for you to watch through Vimeo. This footage shows Frank Stella discussing the making of his epic print The fountain, 1992. More material will be made available as we identify and catalogue our large holdings: you can expect to see artists in action as well as Ken Tyler and his staff inking plates, operating the presses, making paper and much, much more. Stay tuned!

                               CLICK HERE FOR A SNEAK PEEK: http://vimeo.com/28181634

COMING SOON: Tyler film & sound collection

To those of us unfamiliar with printmaking, its technical processes can seem mysterious. Especially in the workshops of Kenneth Tyler, where 500-tonne printing presses were housed alongside antique Bavarian lithography stones; where staff in white overalls and rubber boots sprayed paper pulp from moving platforms above works of art; and where traditional Japanese woodblock and papermaking methods were employed in the same rooms as photo-mechanical techniques, the engineering of kinetic sculptures, and the making of vast, colourful mixed-media prints in three dimensions.

Since 2009 the Tyler Collection website has given visitors a unique, behind-the-scenes look at these processes through photographs taken in the workshop as artists created their prints. In addition to these valuable photographs, the Tyler Collection contains a comprehensive group of film and sound material. The International Prints department has been working with DAMSmart! preservation services to digitise the film and sound holdings, and the results so far have been very exciting. Rare footage of artists at work reveals in detail the complexities of printmaking processes, while candid discussions with Ken Tyler and artists offer new perspectives on the collection that we can’t wait to share.

Film and sound will be featured in exhibitions and published here on the blog and on our website as we identify and catalogue the material. Stay tuned for a sneak-preview…you can follow us on Twitter so you’re the first to know!

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