Robert Zakanitch – a key exponent of the 1970s Pattern and Decoration movement – arrived at Tyler Graphics in 1979 with little printmaking experience. Despite this, by 1981 he had produced six editions and two large series of unique paper pulp works featuring floral motifs and curvilinear forms in vibrant colours. The works continued Zakanitch’s exploration of ornamentation as a new subject matter, a framework he developed in opposition to the restrictive formal and conceptual concerns of contemporary painting. In excerpts from an interview with Curatorial Assistant Julia Greenstreet, Zakanitch reflects on his embrace of ornamentation in the 1970s and his experiences of working at TGL.

On ornamentation as subject matter…

I was rebelling against formalism. Ornamentation to me meant sensations, and rhythms and movements, and it was an extraordinary world to go into. I always thought there were only two doors to painting up to that point, and that was representationalism and in the 20th century, abstraction. They were the two basic things that all painting came out of.  I was looking for a third alternative or a third subject matter. I was going crazy at the time because [trying to find an alternative] was like trying to find another colour, it just didn’t exist. But I stumbled on it [ornamentation] and it became a very natural thing, to start thinking about ornamentation as a complete entity and a third door. Once that hit, all kinds of imagery started coming into the work. I stopped going to galleries and museums and instead visited flea markets and paint stores, wallpaper stores and linoleum stores, garage sales.

On working with paper pulp…

Paper pulp took away the precision of printmaking; you can do whatever you want, there are no mistakes. The idea of painting with your hands was so immediate. Once I started it felt very much like painting, you could smear it, throw one colour onto another, move it around. It was very flexible, which was important. I never planned those works [Double peacock series and Paper pulp series], that’s what I really loved. I wanted to extend the parameters of what to make and still make them beautiful. I wanted to be true to the fact that it was paper pulp and not a painting, not fool anyone. The works had holes and raw edges so you could see the process…I didn’t want a square piece of paper.

         

           

Memories of Ken Tyler…

Tyler was so great to work with because everything was at your fingertips; you never had to think about any kind of mixing, ‘where do I get paint’ etc. You could be totally focused on the image and the end result, it made it so simple.

I’m sorry that I never got back to work with Tyler again, it was such an awakening. I was scratching the surface with him. I didn’t know who Ken Tyler was [before working at TGL], I was so naïve. But I quickly got to know who he was. He’s brilliant. When you went to Tyler, you were it; he made you feel that everything was there for you. It was an extraordinary atmosphere that he created; I understand why everyone wanted to go there.

Learn more about Zakanitch on the Tyler website or the artist’s site.