Robert Motherwell in the studio at Tyler Graphics Ltd., Mount Kisco, New York, 1988
Gift of Kenneth Tyler 2002
Photographer: Renate PONSOLD

Over the years, Ken Tyler has worked with the divergent styles of many artists, adapting to the particular requirements of each one. Producing ‘painterly prints’ for the major Abstract Expressionist artist Robert Motherwell (1915–1991) was a considerable challenge. For Motherwell, who worked in an intuitive, automatic manner, the technicalities of printmaking could be seen as a constraint. Yet, in his collaborative work with Tyler, his works maintained the freshness of their expression, despite the rigours of production.

One method favoured by Motherwell was collage, which he considered as an equivalent to a modern still life. ‘Collage somehow became 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.’ But collage had its difficulties too.

Motherwell’s collage prints, such as the America–La France variations series of 1984, reveal the multiple changes made to each image over time. Motherwell proceeded back and forth with the collages, adding, subtracting, altering and sometimes almost beginning again. The process of collage making and proofing was exploratory, with the artist seeking the perfect resolution.

Another of Motherwell’s methods of working was derived from the Surrealist theory of psychic automatism, or free association—but working on a large scale using dynamic forms.

From 1948, he began his Elegies to the Spanish Republic, first in painting and later in printmaking. The black images, evoking the tragic past, and the defeat of the democratically elected Republicans by the Monarchists in the 1930s civil war in his much–loved Spain, would stay with him for his lifetime, remaining an ‘endless challenge’ for the artist.

The final group of works Motherwell made with Tyler at the Mount Kisco workshop reflects his increasing interest in the use of colour, and the printer’s keenness for this to happen.

Jane Kinsman

Further information will be added to this site as the National Gallery proceeds with its research and documentation.

Last updated July 2014