Josef Albers and Kenneth Tyler in Albers's Connecticut studio, 1969. Photographer: William Crutchfield.
Reaching out: Ken Tyler/ Master printer (transcript)
Ken Tyler: Each time you reach out and get another artist, or touch another situation, be involved in another activity, in spite of yourself, you’re moving.
And I think timing in the art world is very important. My wife and I were at the right desperate moment in our lives to gamble everything we had, which wasn’t a hell of a lot, to try to make one more stand, to get me independent, when [William S] Lieberman came to the University of Southern California and gave a lecture, back in 1964 as I believe, and made a statement that just shocked me to no end. He said that great art is made by great artists. Therefore, great prints are only made by great artists.
We wanted to go to the very top. Having picked [Josef] Albers as our first one as a publisher, we wanted to see what the very top would do. And that was one of my smart moves. I went to Albers and I said, ‘Here! For two years I couldn’t solve White Line Squares in my brain, but now I want to publish and that’s all I want to do. And if I can solve that, then you and I can get involved.’ But that set the whole tone. I mean, those were the first notes on the piano, whatever symphony there is today is because of that.
Josef Albers 'White line square III' 1966, right to print, colour lithograph printed from aluminium plates, purchased 1973
Now, you’re not going to get four or five of my artists in this group to agree that Albers is a great artist and that that was worthwhile. Except that when I went to Johns and Rauschenberg that’s all I had to carry, were those 16 White Line Squares. Even though I had done other prints, that’s what I chose to carry, because that was innovation, that was reaching out, that was putting some sort of clamp on the outside world and shutting them out, and saying ‘Goddamn it, no print has ever been registered that tightly before, in hand lithography. No print has had that kind of hygienic look before. Now if I can go that far for Albers, just think how far I’ll go for you!’
I was able to get David Hockney to make lithographs, and I was able to present to David Hockney a range that was even fuller than any range graphically he has ever received from any etcher he has ever worked with: that was colour, a complete palette of colour. And knowing how David draws, also a complete palette of drawing techniques.
David Hockney: The thing is, first of all, anybody who draws on plates or stones, anybody, would soon find out that it’s much better to draw on a stone. It’s more responsive to what you do on it. It’s somehow, it’s just much more sympathetic.
David Hockney drawing 'Study of Lightening' from the 'Weather' series on lithographic stone in artist's studio, Gemini GEL, Los Angeles, California, 1973. Photographer: Dan Freeman
Ken Tyler: Lithography is autographic. Every nuance, spit, fingerprint, dirt […], anything that falls on that stone, or is placed on that stone, is capable, in the hands of a master printer, to go to ink, to go to paper, and therefore live.
For the first time, and perhaps over a hundred years, somebody had gone to artists and said, ‘Here! Here’s a workshop, here are no rules, no restrictions, do what you want to do that really spells studio activity’—which I think is a clue to why it happened.
We were quite willing to go to the artist’s studio, to get information from there, come back, do research, do any development work we had to in terms of the mechanics of the machines, repairing them, elongating them, inventing certain systems, and then going back with these tests and these trials and the proof of what we did to the artists in the studio again and saying, ‘Now look, if you came back here, in a reasonable time, you should be able to develop these ideas perfectly to your satisfaction, graphically.’
But we certainly are investigating more and more possibilities of putting together such things as linecuts, lithography and silkscreen, as we did in Roy Lichtenstein’s Bull series.
Roy Lichtenstein 'Bull head II' from the 'Bull head' series 1973, right to print lithograph, screenprint, line-cut, purchased 1973
Roy Lichtenstein: […] For the prints, partly serigraph, partly lithograph, and partly linecut […] I do my own work mostly through collage, but sometimes, I mean you print certain things, and then I work on the print, and then maybe we go further. I mean, I may start with a collage, and then he’ll do a lithograph or whatever medium it’s going to be done in from the collage, and then I’ll work on top of that thing and change it some more.
But I think that’s what’s interesting about printing, is that you can try another colour on the same shape. It’s a fairly simple thing to do. And it’s all that kind of very quick changes that you can do, you can see it immediately in a variety of colours and print it in different ways.
Ken Tyler: Michael Crichton as a writer has been very important to me, because what he does is he investigates, and through that process he’s been able to look at some of the people that I’ve worked with, and some of what I do, and get these opinions, and this has developed into a very rewarding relationship for me. Because the frustrations in my business run somewhat like a Wall Street curve. And there are moments when you have to trust somebody, and it can’t be your artist, it can’t be your dealers, it can’t be your close friends, it can’t be your wife, it has to be it’s somebody who is outside of your business area, but is in another area that is very creative also.
Ken Tyler: The art world is constantly trying to take the foundation away, so something new will happen … testing, because the boredom is quite heavy in that area.
People say to me, ‘Why do you do this?’ Well, I love to print, I love to sell, I believe in the free enterprise system, I think it’s a fine way to support artists, and art—good art; I love to be involved with artists, they’re my favourite kind of people, I think they are constantly educating you, if you want to be.
David Hockney: Well, when I came this time the only thing I had in my head was, I chose a subject, I thought, I’ll do the weather. And I had the rain, for instance; I had done a painting in London very similar to it, which I had called The Japanese Rain on Canvas. This was stained on to the canvas on the floor, first, and the rain is painted on later.
David Hockney 'Rain' 1973 right to print colour lithograph, screenprint from 3 stones, 1 aluminium plate, screen, tusche, purchased 1973
Voice: You made the drips in […] the same way.
David Hockney: I did, but that was kind of once I’d got it going. I mean I did it kind of as a joke really. I loved the idea of the rain as it hit the ink it would make the ink run. The moment I thought of the idea I couldn’t resist it. So I was sort of […].
The point really was that as the prints grew, the subject matter which on the surface is the weather, but the other subject matter is really the weather drawn. Because in each one the problem was, not just making a representation of the weather, but how to draw it.
I liked the problem of how to draw a mist. The one thing I didn’t really want to do was spray it: you know, it’s too easy … At first I wanted to do it with light, just ruling the light. And it didn’t really quite work. In the end we designed some ways to do it. But it was finding out just ways of doing it. It means that the subject of the prints is not just the weather: the subject matter is drawing.
The prints here of the wind, for instance, I couldn’t quite figure out how to do wind, make a visual representation of wind, because normally only the effects of wind show themselves. So I kept thinking of palm trees bending and everything, and it all seemed just a little bit corny or ordinary or something, and I was just on the beach at Malibu one day and suddenly a piece of paper blew by, and it suddenly dawned on me, I’ll simply do all the other prints I’ve done blowing away across Melrose Avenue.
I wanted to do it across Melrose Avenue because then I could quote in one print all the other prints. And if I put in the sign of Melrose Avenue, I could quote one previous print that I’d made here, which was simply a townscape in a collection of pictures with different subjects. And I’d done Melrose Avenue simply because the workshop is on Melrose Avenue, and I’d just walked outside and looked at the sign—and now it’s moved a bit further down the street, and it’s a different sign—and I thought, ‘Why not use it?’
Frank Stella and Kenneth Tyler inspecting a proof in the print room, Gemini GEL, Los Angeles, California, 1968. Unknown photographer
Ken Tyler: I remember having a conversation very early with Frank Stella, who said No, he could never make a print. There was just no way he could make his kind of art graphically. And the reason why he said that was that every time he saw a school situation, or every time he saw a print, it didn’t give him a clue as to how he could rationalise his images into that medium.
So … we just kept telling Frank that all he had to do is draw one part as an experiment. In those days he was working on the Vees, and The Star of Persia was a drawing that he had made, but he couldn’t make the painting because he hadn’t gotten that large a canvas stretched yet. So I said, why don’t you make the Vee, just one section of The Star of Persia, and just work it, as a trial, and if it works out, we could always just keep repeating the Vees all the way around, and you would have a Star of Persia.
Well, the very funny part of that is that that’s exactly how The Star of Persia was created. He got the Vee down pat, and then by reproducing it all the way round, he was able to construct The Star of Persia.
Frank Stella 'Star of Persia II' 1967, right to print colour lithograph, purchased 1973
All these things seem to be the way in which we visualise getting the contemporary artist involved in our cooking, at the same time expanding his horizon and giving him a new dimension.
And each time I work with an artist I’m very uptight. Now, I have to perform as an actor on the stage. The artist is doing the same thing. He has to do his best work, better if he can. I can’t blow that.
Roy Lichtenstein: Well, I think I just know what the possibilities are, and well, the Mirror prints that I did with the embossing and all that, without the embossing press and the ability to make those plates, those prints just wouldn’t have been possible, that way anyway.
Roy Lichtenstein 'Mirror #1' 1973, right to print line-cut, screenprint, embossing, collage, purchased 1973
Ken Tyler: As a printmaker you look at those things [Lichtenstein’s Mirror prints] and it’s like a lexicon of the print technology. A little bit of silkscreen, a little bit of linecut, a little bit of lithography, a little bit of embossing, a little bit of foil. That’s where the reward is the greatest. And with Roy it’s brilliant.
Michael Crichton: When I got to Ken I found that Ken was into certain kinds of strange things as well, which was the whole situation where some of the printers worked well with some artists, which was the personality thing, and some of the artists worked well with certain kinds of stone, or certain particular stones, and some of the particular stones were saved for particular artists, because the particular artist had a particular relationship with a particular stone.
Now you’re talking about a stone, right? I mean, you’re not talking about—it’s a thing that comes out of the ground, you know, it’s a natural object. It had all these connotations he was clearly welcome to. I mean, he knew this stone, he’d worked with it, he’d spent evenings with it, he’d gotten up early Sunday morning to go visit it, to see how it was going—it was very unusual.
The perceptual worlds of the artists who are working on these stones is almost inaccessible. Rauschenberg, I guess, has very strong feelings about the stones …
Lithography stones used by Helen Frankenthaler, Tyler Graphics Ltd workshop, Mount Kisco, New York, 1993. Photographer: Marrabeth Cohen-Tyler
Voice: He calls it the skin …
Michael Crichton: Which is nice … very sexy … The thing about the fact that they’re so big, so heavy, and they have that velvety surface, and it’s wonderful … It’s hard to get into to the extent that he’s into it, and the only way to sense it is to listen to him talk about it and to realise—it’s like the psychological space that he manoeuvres through: walking around that room is totally different from what you see, or what I see, or what somebody coming in off the street sees, because they all look at the thing that he doesn’t talk about. They look at the presses … whereas the press is just a device to get the stuff off the stone, off the surface of the stone.
David Hockney: Well, I very rarely draw people I don’t know. Sometimes I do. It’s more difficult drawing people you don’t know. It’s more difficult in a pointless way I think, because first of all I feel obliged to get a likeness, which in a sense is easy to do, it’s easy to draw a likeness, but it may not be that easy to capture a certain mood of somebody or things like that, which in a way is more interesting ... You know all you need to do to draw a likeness is to be able to measure the proportion of the face accurately with your eyes, that’s all. It’s not that difficult. Celia I’ve drawn … I must have drawn her a hundred times I suppose.
Ken Tyler: I invaded David’s very private world and took it upon myself to offer a suggestion at a very critical moment, because (a) it is brilliant work, and (b) it happens to be somebody who put a tremendous amount of effort into making the best [work] we could, and he’s capable of doing just a simple drawing and it’s brilliant … He really struggled with that thing, made it the most colossal thing that he could do for three months of his life …
Kenneth Tyler counter etching 'Image of Celia Smoking' stone with David Hockney and various 'Weather' series and portrait lithographic proofs of his on walls, Gemini GEL artist's studio, Los Angeles, California, 1973. Photographer: Sid Avery
And in the case of David drawing Celia he just has to figure out something may go wrong very early, and you start thinking of what to do if that happens, and pray that it doesn’t happen. On this particular day it happened. So what you do is you just pull out your reservoir of techniques and say, ‘Wash it off, because we can add it here, we can do this, you can do that, we can cut the shoulder-blade off because you can redraw it again five times if you want to.’ You know, there’s a lot of things that you can do … I just had to volunteer the information, regardless of how he was going to accept it.
He’s got a terrific sense of what is right and wrong in his own art, and it was obviously wrong for David at that moment. You know, life for us, the way people look in art, liking what we saw, but not what David was trying to do.
And unless we did that little surgical operation, I don’t think there would have been a Celia Smoking. Nor would Celia Smoking have looked like that, and that’s what I love about the business, is that you always have this opportunity to help.
David Hockney [of the Celias] I think they always got better. They got better as art, not just necessarily as a likeness. Also I got to know her from having drawn her so many times. You do get to know their face, you get to know how it changes: one day it looks one way, and the next day it looks like something else. It depends how they feel, and so you draw that.
Ken Tyler: And we put it out, at a price that we felt everybody could come in and afford. Now that’s all you can possibly do as a publisher.
David Hockney drawing nude Henry Geldzahler on lithographic stone (print never editioned), Tyler Workshop Ltd artist studio, Bedford Village, New York, 1974. Photogrpaher: Kenneth Tyler
David Hockney: Well, the first portrait I did [...] was Henry Geldzahler, and that took about an hour and a half to do, it’s just a very small … And I think that Ken thought that I’d do him in an hour and a half. But when he sat down he looked so keen, and willing to sit still, that that’s what the drawing is of, really.
Roy Lichtenstein: From […] working the idea out in print, I think possibly because the source of it is either the Picasso bull lithograph (it gets abstract), or the Van Doesburg cows that get abstract. And because the series idea, and particularly the Picasso bull, which is done over a series of lithographs, and it relates to that, I just feel that it’s much better to work it out in print, to make the analogy closer.
I didn’t want to destroy the bull in doing it, you know, because whatever else I was doing, it had to look like a bull. I mean, all of the marks that are made are made for other reasons, but it can’t look unlike a bull, it would be inconsistent with the idea.
It is really more that I’m doing this from the preceding one. It’s like taking the theme of the one in front of it, and using it and changing it a bit, and making it less realistic.
Michael Crichton: He [Ken Tyler] once described finding the first of the stones, which he was doing a long time, as ‘stone hunts’ that he was having. He would hear that there were some stones in somebody’s basement or somebody’s garage and he would arrive and there they all were, like buried treasure or something, stones all stacked up …
Ken Tyler: … like all those I lost in Cincinnati became the foundation piers for the new Port Cincinnati Freeway. I didn’t have any money, I was a student at the time, so we went back there, with the Volkswagen with the broken spring, because I decided there was one stone that was fifty-two inches and was grey—the sucker was so gorgeous—that I had to have that, even if I broke everything in the Volkswagen. It was worth more than the Volkswagen to me. So that by just getting the Volkswagen out of the parking lot, at least it was ours.
And we ran to the room where this beautiful grey stone was, and they hadn’t gotten to that room yet, so we got this stone. But then we were in the way of all the movers, and the movers wouldn’t move, you know, they couldn’t care less about who these young kids were, so we took this stone, and we were kind of huddled around it, three bodies, protecting this rock from these madmen with their sledgehammers.
So finally the president of the company came down, who originally gave me entrance into the stone quarry, which was downstairs, the storage area, and he says, ‘I’ll let the men move that stone for you, because you really have to get out of this area, you know, insurance blah blah blah.’
So they moved this stone, and they chipped one little corner as they were doing it, which made me just really uptight. So I thought, well then, I have to have another one. So we found another stone, and we took that stone and we had one metal pipe, that was all we could find, that was lying around, and we put the metal pipe and we rolled the metal pipe as far as the stone would go, and we would tilt the stone back, put the metal pipe underneath it, would roll it again … But it took us an hour and a half to go around 30 feet, weaving in and out of this little alleyway that was made. We got the second stone, which turned out to be even more beautiful than the first one.
Then, to make this story very brief, is that grey stone was the first stone that I showed Rauschenberg when he came to work, and that’s what he made Booster on. The second stone that I got, which I thought was the better one, was the second part of Booster, because Booster was made with two stones and run through the press singly.
Robert Rauschenberg 'Booster' 1967, right to print colour lithograph, screenprint printed from two stones, two aluminium plates and one screen, purchased 1973
And they were also the stones I showed Jasper [Johns] when he came in. So they have kind of been my diamonds, you know, the ones I really show off, and I’m quite proud of them.
… Rauschenberg in 1967 … he wanted to make a large print, and we wanted to make a large print, and yet we only had a press that was 52 inches long. So we came upon the idea of doing it in two sections, which goes back to my stone story, we had those two beautiful grey stones.
The top part of the image, from this line up, was drawn on one stone, and from this point, down below, was drawn on another stone. And during the printing cycle we ran this [the top half] through the press first, and then we took the other stone and placed it on the press and then ran the paper from the back side through the press.
This [the blue chair] was silkscreened on as a flat, and the red grid, and the whole thing was put together creating the five-colour print. This created quite a stir, because up to this moment nothing larger than this had been made in hand lithography. No paper was available, and this was made by Curtis Rag Company, as an experimental piece of paper.
… One of the most important projects that we had completed with Robert Rauschenberg, it was called Stoned Moon, and this is the largest print from that series, called Sky Garden.
In order to create this print in the first place we had to laminate three stones together to get a size that would be 89 inches by 42. You can see the seam line that runs across there [one-third of the way down] and across here [two-thirds of the way down].
I think the print is significant for more reasons than just its size. In order to do this project we worked around the clock for about four weeks. We produced some 30 prints in that series, and each time Bob made a print he kept making one larger, and larger, and larger. So this became the crescendo, this was the big blast at the end, like the 1812 Overture when the cannons go off.
This print probably represents the largest we are ever going to print a lithograph, because of the human problems involved. The printer can only reach so far when he is leaning over the press bed, and on this particular print I had to have two spongers on one side, two spongers on the other side of the press, and I had to use a second printer that had a charged roller ready for me at all times, so that we could get the volume of red that was required on this print, to give the richness that you see in these areas along the right and the left.
Robert Rauschenberg observes Daniel Freeman, Andrew Vlady, Bob Petersen, Tim Ifsham, Charles Ritt and Ron McPherson move laminated lithography stone for 'Waves' print from 'Stoned moon' lithographic series onto lithography press bed, in workshop, Gemini GEL, Los Angeles, 1969. Photographer: Malcolm Lubliner
The top part, of course, is photographically done from Rauschenberg’s original collages, and then touched up by the artist himself. And I think it represents just how far you can push the medium, and it represents one of the things we always wanted to do and that was give the artist a scale that would command a position on the wall as paintings do.
I think the goals now are really to study the prints we’ve created, the artists we’ve worked with, the kind of relationships we have with these people, the areas in which the new artists would like to go into, which would be in this case the younger artists, and in some cases the senior artists, the artists we’ve been working with right from the very beginning.
I think the artists will constantly innovate, and I think therefore we’ll constantly innovate, and I think that was our primary purpose in life, was to work directly with the artists on a one to one basis, so that that could happen, and that we can all kind of have a richness, because that contemporary artist was generous enough to share his ideas with us, so that we could do the thing we do.
Last updated November 2015