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.

Happy New Year!

We can hardly believe that 2014 has arrived! Team Tyler had a wonderfully busy, productive year in 2013. Roy Lichtenstein: Pop remix travelled to the red centre of Australia, opening at Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs in April. In an emphatic end to its successful national tour, the exhibition returned to the National Gallery of Australia in July, where it has been on display since. The opening night – a buzzing, Pop-inspired party with vodka POPtails, WHAAM burgers, and Ray Ban-toting waiters – was made all the more memorable thanks to the presence of Ken Tyler and Marabeth Cohen-Tyler, who travelled from the U.S. especially for the occasion. During his visit to the Gallery Ken also delivered an insightful public lecture illuminating his collaboration with Roy Lichtenstein, which spanned a 30 year period.

 

Assistant Curator Emilie Owens went to Dundee in Scotland for the 8th Impact International Printmaking Conference, where she presented a paper on the collection’s rare film and sound archive. Along with other eager NGA staff we visited Megalo Print Studio for demonstrations of lithography, etching, screenprinting and relief. We welcomed Julia Greenstreet to her new role as Curatorial Assistant for the Kenneth Tyler Collection, added to the website’s ‘Team’ page, digitised hundreds of artworks, archival photographs and film, displayed important collection items such as David Hockney’s A diver from the ‘Paper pools’ series in the International Galleries, and in the children’s exhibition Word pictures. However there were also occasions for sadness, as we learnt of the deaths of artists Anthony Caro and Sam Amato.

Looking ahead to 2014, it’s bound to be another jam-packed year. Pop remix closes at the end of the month (if you haven’t seen it yet then come by for a visit!), after which it will have a chance to rest before travelling to venues in Asia. Major projects include a new exhibition drawn from the collection to be opened mid-year (watch this space for the big reveal in the next couple of months), researching and writing a comprehensive catalogue of the collection, as well as further enriching the website and engaging with audiences on social media.

We hope everyone has had a wonderful, restful break and we look forward to sharing more of the collection and all things print with you as the year unfolds.

Anthony Caro, 1924-2013

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It is with regret that we report the death of Anthony Caro, who passed away on October 23 at the age of 89. Caro was one of the great modernist sculptors; an artist whose explorations of space, form and materials continued throughout his distinguished career.

Caro was best known for his abstract sculptures in steel and other metals. Duccio variations no.7 – a generous donation to the American Friends of the National Gallery of Australia by Ken and Marabeth Tyler – is currently on display in the NAB Sculpture Gallery. A monumental work in sandstone and steel, the sculpture is one of seven created as a response to Duccio’s The Annunciation in association with the Encounters exhibition staged by the National Gallery, London in Summer 2000.

As well as his work in metal, Caro explored the medium of paper pulp at Tyler Graphics Ltd. Caro enjoyed working with paper pulp as it allowed him “…to get closer to the graphic idea, to painting ideas and away from being so sculptural.” By manipulating sheets of Tyler’s handmade paper while still damp, Caro created soft, undulating curves which he embellished with intaglio printing processes, drawing and painting. The resulting works are delicate explorations of the sculptural possibilities of paper that blur the boundaries between painting, drawing and sculpture.

The Gallery has recently received a thoughtful donation of one such sculpture – #4 Big white – by Penelope Seidler AM. This work is a significant addition to the Gallery’s International Prints, Drawings, and Illustrated Books Department and exemplifies a unique moment in Caro’s oeuvre. The piece will complement three sculptural pieces from the paper pulp series held in the Kenneth Tyler Printmaking Collection.

Below you will find a series of links to articles and tributes that chronicle the life of this extraordinary artist:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/25/arts/design/anthony-caro-sculptor-who-discovered-a-path-to-abstraction-dies-at-89.html?_r=0

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/oct/24/sir-anthony-caro-dies

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-24654484

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/10401828/Sir-Anthony-Caro-British-sculptor-dies-aged-89.html

Remembering Walasse Ting

In 1964 Roy Lichtenstein was joined by 27 of his contemporaries in contributing lithographic illustrations to One Cent Life, a volume of poems by Walasse Ting. Visitors to Roy Lichtenstein: Pop remix have the rare opportunity to view sections of this significant publication, in which Ting’s ‘raunchy Pidgin English’[1] is united with the work of key artists including Joan Mitchell, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg. Ting, a Chinese-American poet, printer and painter, produced several illustrated portfolios over the course of his career; however One Cent Life stands apart for bringing together European and American artists working within disparate frameworks, effectively signposting the seismic shift occurring at the time from the dominance of Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art.

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Pages from “1 Cent Life” by Walasse Ting, 1964, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1983. Top left: Roy Lichtenstein. Top right: Robert Rauschenberg
Bottom left: Jim Dine. Bottom right: Claes Oldenburg

Born in 1929, Ting was raised in Shanghai where he studied briefly at the Shanghai Art Academy. The young artist left China in 1949 before settling in Paris for a six year period, during which he met members of the avant-garde group COBRA. When Ting arrived in New York in 1958, Abstract Expressionism was in full swing and he quickly immersed himself in the buzzing American art scene, painting large gestural canvases and meeting artists who would come to have a great influence on his work, such as Sam Francis.

Following a recommendation by Francis, Ting worked at Tamarind Lithography Workshop as an Artist-fellow from September to October 1964, producing two lithographic suites, Fortune Kookie and Hollywood Honeymoon. It was during this period that Ting met Kenneth Tyler, Tamarind’s then Technical Director. Tyler recalls that Ting ‘showed me his poetry publications and gave me a verbal window to Paris printmaking. This was my first exposure to contemporary artists from NYC and Europe. I gleamed a great deal from all of them when we met outside of work.[2] A lasting friendship formed between the two, with Ting one of a number of artists who encouraged Tyler to open his own workshop.[3]

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Tamarind’s Technical Director Kenneth Tyler, with Artist-fellow Walasse Ting, in front of Ting’s lithographic suite, 1964. Image courtesy Tamarind Institute Collection, Center for Southwest Research, General Library, University of New Mexico.

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James Rosenquist and Walasse Ting at Wetterling Teo Gallery, Singapore, at the opening of ‘James Rosenquist: Paintings,’ 1994. Photo: Marabeth Cohen-Tyler

In memory of Ting, who sadly passed away in 2010, and inspired by the inclusion of One Cent Life in Roy Lichtenstein: Pop remix, Ken and Marabeth Tyler have kindly gifted three of his unique publications to the Tyler collection: My Shit and My Love (1961), Hot and Sour Soup (1969) and Fresh Air School (1972-73).

Within the pages of the latter – an exhibition catalogue of paintings by Ting, Francis and Mitchell – Ting condensed his remarkable life into the following autobiographical passage:

WALASSE TING by WALASSE TING

Born in Shanghai, China, 1929
4 years old paint in sidewalk. 10 years
old draw on wall. 20 years old left
China to traveling after reading the
book of I-Ching. In 1953 arrived in
Paris. Six months later meet Pierre
Alechinsky. Six months later meet
Asger Jorn. Six months later meet
Karel Appel; drink coffee with them
in Paris-Café. Working all kinds of job
to making a very simple living. Living
in a six inches window room. Paint
there, eat there. In 1963 arrived in
New York City. Six months later meet
Sam Francis. Six months later meet
Tom Wesselmann. Six months later
meet Claes Oldenburg. Eat hot & sour
soup with them in Chinese restaurant.
Not working any kinds job. Sleeping
all day living in a sixty feet window
loft. Eat there, paint there. Self-
taught. Individual. Not belong to any
group.


[1] Riva Castleman, A century of artists books, New York : Museum of Modern Art, 1994, p.40.

[2]  Ken Tyler, in correspondence with Jane Kinsman 21 September 2004.

[3] Ken Tyler, in correspondence with Jane Kinsman 21 September 2004.

Lichtenstein opening party

After weeks of anticipation, Roy Lichtenstein: Pop remix opened at the National Gallery of Australia with a BANG! (or should we say POP!?) on 19 July.

Ken Tyler opened the exhibition with a quirky speech channelling Walasse Ting’s poetry, while NGA Director Ron Radford cheekily drew our attention to the catalogue’s centrefold of the gorgeous Nude with yellow pillow.

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Vodka POPtails were flowing as guests jumped into a photo booth to create their own Lichtenstein mashups, with props such as feather boas and speech bubbles on hand to liven things up.

Tasty treats like WHAAM burgers, POW dogs and French fries kept everyone going, as did the overflowing Lolly Bar. Champagne was never short thanks to attentive waiters wearing brightly coloured wigs and fluoro Ray Bans.

ImageKenneth Tyler AO and Jane Kinsman, Senior Curator, International Prints, Drawings & Illustrated Books

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Positioned at the heart of the pulsating party was an original performance piece by Sydney-based artists Penelope Benton and Alexandra Clapham. Seeing Dots performers Penelope Benton, Jasmina Black and Marni Jackson sat solemnly at a Pop-inspired structure bejewelled with stacks of lollies, which they slowly turned this way and that over the course of the night. Intrigued guests couldn’t help but wonder as they observed the three ladies in canary yellow spotted dresses and sculptural wigs.

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For those not quite ready to go home, an after party held at Palace Electric Cinema in New Acton (courtesy of our sponsors the Molonglo Group) was a welcome addition to the night’s festivities…

‘Roy Lichtenstein: Pop remix’ media launch

Media and staff gathered last Friday at the National Gallery of Australia for the media preview of ‘Roy Lichtenstein: Pop remix’, which opened to the public on Saturday 20 July.

The excitement was palpable as Ken Tyler– who travelled to Canberra specially to open the show–recounted some of his unique experiences of working with Roy Lichtenstein. Thank you to both Ken and Marabeth Tyler for making the long trip from the U.S. to be here.

ImageMarabeth Cohen-Tyler, NGA Director Ron Radford AM, Kenneth Tyler AO

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Exhibition Curator Jaklyn Babington in conversation with ABC reporter Anna Morozow

ImageLouise Maher from 666 ABC Canberra interviews Ken Tyler

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Ken Tyler discusses a series close to his heart: the Entablatures of 1976.

Did you know?

  • Curator Jaklyn Babington spent over 12 months selecting the works that would form the Lichtenstein exhibition; considerations included the period of the artist’s career to be covered, followed by an in-depth analysis of each work and series.
  • The first room of the exhibition features a group of rare 1950s woodcut prints by Lichtenstein, displaying his transition from an expressionistic style into Pop Art. Originally forming part of the artist’s personal collection, these works have never before been displayed in Australia.
  • The works in the exhibition make reference to and remix no less than nine different art movements or styles: Impressionism, Pointillism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Op Art, Cubism, Art Deco, Classicism and Constructivism.
  • Roy Lichtenstein: Pop remix returns to the National Gallery of Australia after touring for over 12 months and covering 8,800 kilometres across three states as part of the Gallery’s Travelling Exhibitions Program.  A total of 21,084 people saw the exhibition at three venues: Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, Mornington (VIC), QUT Art Museum, Brisbane (QLD) and Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs (NT).

Media coverage:

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