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

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.

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.

Josef Albers

Earlier this month Vogue Australia contacted us for permission to use two of our fabulous Josef Albers prints for their January 2013 issue. This got us thinking about the unique relationship that Kenneth Tyler shared with Albers, and below we have compiled some candid shots to accompany a brief history of the artist and master printer’s working relationship. 

 

Tyler and Albers first worked together at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop. When Tyler moved to Los Angeles in 1965 to set up his own print workshop and publishing house – Gemini GEL – Albers’ White line squares was the first print project. This series develops Albers’ colour theories and his unique application of the colour spectrum to images of geometric abstraction. The addition of a precise, white line creates the appearance of four-colours, although only three inks are used. The perfectly registered, luminous lithographs became Tyler’s ‘calling card’ to attract other major artists to the studio, and Albers generously donated a large percentage of the proceeds to fund further projects.

 

 

When, in 1973, Tyler moved to the east coast to establish Tyler Graphics Ltd in BedfordVillage, the inaugural project was again devoted to Albers. Gray instrumentation I, a portfolio of colour screenprints interspersed with text pages written by Albers, was produced in 1974. The series was a remarkable feat, achieving a level of precision that had not been seen in screen-printing before. The crisp, clear colours were inspired by leaves, twigs, scraps of paper and other found materials that Albers requested Tyler match in ink, exactly. The subtle tonal differences in each print required hours of laboured colour-proofing: each of the inks was printed directly onto white paper with no overlap or overprinting. The exercise required a perfect system of colour-matching and a perfect system of registration, which Tyler turned to photographic techniques to achieve.

In the two years that followed, Tyler and Albers collaborated on three further screenprint portfolios: Gray instrumentation II; Mitered squares; and Never before. Never before, which develops ideas that Albers had started exploring twenty-seven years earlier in the 1949 painting Indicating solids, was completed in 1976, just weeks before his death.

Word pictures

To celebrate the National Year of Reading the children’s gallery here at the NGA is showing Word Pictures, an exhibition that focuses on the use of text in works of art. Four artists from the Tyler Collection – Jasper Johns, Bruce Nauman, Claes Oldenburg and Robert Rauschenberg – are represented. Below we have compiled a selection of  images showing these important artists at work on projects featured – or related to those featured – in the exhibition. Hover your cursor over the images to read descriptions.

Jasper Johns

Alphabet  1969

Johns created a series of works involving the letters of the alphabet at Gemini GEL in 1969. Letters and numbers are a recurring theme in Johns’ art – check out his Color numeral series here: http://tylerblogs.com/2011/03/09/jasper-johns-the-color-numeral-series/

        

Bruce Nauman

Clear vision  1973

In Clear vision Nauman juxtaposes the words ‘clear’ and ‘vision’ with vigorous marks that, ironically, blur the text and render it unclear. We looked at another or Nauman’s text-based works recently: http://tylerblogs.com/?s=bruce+nauman. Below you can see an image of the artist working on a similar project at Gemini GEL.

Claes Oldenburg

The letter Q as beach house, with sailboat  1972

Oldenburg’s  quirky work is one of several created during the same period in which letters take on the characteristics of objects: here the letter Q becomes a beach house, situated idylically on the shores of a tranquil stretch of water. Like Johns, Oldenburg’s work often features letters and numbers. The image below shows him at work on a later print Chicago stuffed with numbers, that demonstrates this preoccupation.

      

Robert Rauschenberg

Cardbird III  1971

Rauschenberg’s Cardbird series plays with language in different ways. Aside from the obvious inclusion of the text printed on the works themselves, the title ‘cardbird’ is a play on ‘cardboard’, the material used to create the works. You can read more about the work here: http://nga.gov.au/Rauschenberg/

The Word pictures exhibition runs until February 10, 2013 – don’t miss it!

In memory of Robert Hughes, 1938 – 2012

The International Print collection at the National Gallery of Australia has a special, historic connection to Robert Hughes. In 1973 – almost a decade before the Gallery opened its doors to the public – Hughes alerted then director James Mollison to the fact that master-printer Kenneth Tyler was looking to sell his collection of printers’ proofs. Tyler, who set up the Gemini GEL workshop in Los Angeles, had decided to move to the east coast and was looking for a buyer to help fund a new workshop there. Hughes was aware that the National Gallery in Canberra was committed to building a world class collection of international works, and that Tyler wanted to see his works kept together – preferably in a public museum. The National Gallery was a perfect fit.

Details of this important acquisition, which laid the foundations for the Kenneth Tyler printmaking collection, are recounted on our website by Senior Curator Jane Kinsman, who interviewed Hughes about the acquisition in 2002: http://nga.gov.au/InternationalPrints/Tyler/Default.cfm?MnuID=5

Hughes’ death will be felt throughout the international art world, and particularly here in his native Australia.

Hardy Hanson, 1934-2012

We are saddened to report the death of another artist from the Tyler collection.  Hardy Hanson passed away in Santa Cruz, California, on January 26.

Hanson worked with Ken Tyler at Gemini GEL in 1965 to produce four print editions: Vault for the deposit of justice, The prophet of justice, Peculiar evolution, Crusadist and Holy One. Throughout his life Hanson maintained his art practice in print and in painting. He taught visual art to many generations of students at several universities in the United States and was Professor Emeritus in art at the University of California’s Santa Cruz campus.

We extend our sympathies to Hanson’s family and friends.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 673 other followers

%d bloggers like this: