Welcome to the Water Planet
Paperworks by James Rosenquist
10 June – 12 September 2006
Interview with master printer Kenneth Tyler, Connecticut, May 2006.
Tyler is responding to questions proposed to him by curator Jane Kinsman.
Q: Could you outline when you first met Rosenquist?
Kenneth Tyler: I remember my meeting Jim at my workshop in Los Angeles, and later having dinner with him at my house in January of 1971. What transpired was a very lively and animated exchange of ideas. Jim was, as usual, very difficult to pin down as to the exact nature of a project he would be interested in doing at my workshop. So we talked about his interest in video and moving images and his thoughts on space and about scale for his images.
We discussed the Art and Technology exhibition at the LA County Museum of Art, which took place in 1970, and why he didn’t participate in it as one of the artists, since he was so interested in aerospace. It turned out that he didn’t come up with a project to present in time to be a part of the program. I talked about the giant ice bag sculpture by Claes Oldenburg that I worked on for this show and where I thought dimensional multiples were going.
We seemed to have a lot in common about our thoughts and he left me with the feeling that we would develop a print project some time in the near future, but he would have to schedule it after he got back to Florida. Unfortunately, shortly upon his return to Florida while driving with his wife and son he got into a terrible automobile accident where they were seriously injured. As I recall, Jim escaped with a punctured lung and broken ribs.
For the next 17 years we stayed in contact but didn’t come close to fixing a date for collaboration. I moved to the East Coast in 1974 and opened a small workshop, that I kept enlarging, as you know. The resulting growing pains limited my ability to take on projects, other than those I had scheduled well in advance, and Jim’s life seem to reflect the same situation as he too moved to a new studio home and life changed.
When he visited me in the late seventies at my Bedford studio he gave me hope that we soon would get together, but soon was not until I moved into my new workshop, Mount Kisco, in the mid-eighties.
He came to the grand opening of the workshop, hobnobbed with all the artists and staff, and afterwards told me that he enjoyed the space and would like to work in the new facility, and asked me how large my papermaking could be. I said, ‘How large would you like?’, and he said, ‘Around 5 by 10 feet’. I told him I would make 5 by 10 foot papers if he gave me a few months to devil up the equipment and refit the paper mill.
As it worked out, we agreed that he would come and make work using the new scale paper some time in September. The Welcome to the water planet series started in the fall of 1988 and Jim spent over 100 days in the workshop creating the 10 works in the Water planet series and the largest mural work the shop ever created, measuring 85 x 420 inches, titled Time Dust.
Q: Make an assessment of this work in the context of late twentieth century printmaking.
Kenneth Tyler: Okay, this papermaking and printmaking project, I think, pushed coloured handmade paper to a new dimension and added to the rich tradition of collage in printmaking. As I look back upon this ambitious project it becomes apparent to me, however, that major projects like this one leave their mark as art statements and technical achievements.
But the costly involvement of having a large work space and a staff of 29 printers and collaborators, and creating the process and techniques to accomplish a project of this magnitude, is too intimidating and expensive for the general print world. The chances of this information in the short term entering the mainstream of printmaking and having an influence on the average printmaker or publisher is limited.
Nevertheless, it does change the way people think about the process of making handmade paper and colouring it. Eventually I believe more and more parts of the processes and techniques from these projects do become widely recycled and used.
One must remember that these projects could only be made with the creative talents of those artists who made them, and major statements like these are rare. I think they go down in history as being rare. I think only somebody with a big idea for this kind of image making could benefit from our inventions and collaborations. Unfortunately, there aren’t many artists out there with big ideas for printmaking at the moment.
Q: Describe briefly Jim’s working procedure
Kenneth Tyler: The great joy of working with Jim, a very talented artist, was his professional discipline and organisation. Once he set his mind to making a particular image he would carefully select the colours and scales for the drawing and during this process the workshop created the necessary colour pulp test as approved by Jim.
Sufficient amounts of colour pulp would be mixed and tested for correct colour, then Jim would spray small sheets to sample out the effects he wanted. After the first full-scale five by 10 foot sheet was made he would lay out his lithographed collaged elements on the newly made sheets and make his final adjustments for colour pulp and colour lithograph printing.
I would make a step-by-step chart for making the colour pulp and as the sheets were made a job record sheet was kept, detailing and breaking down the sequence of colouring.
Occasionally during the papermaking process Jim would have us alter the sequence in colours to see if he preferred another combination. The resulting proofs became the colour trial proofs. He made the litho elements with the same attention to colour and drawing detail, all of which were also recorded on our job record sheets. Jim mixed almost all the litho colours or stood by as one of the printers mixed the colours to his direction.
Q: Describe collaboration with Jim
Kenneth Tyler: I think collaboration with Jim was a mixture of hard work, long hours, good camaraderie and a lot of storytelling. Jim loves to tell stories. He had the rare ability to be one of the workers in the workshop and also the artist. I found that Jim and I had in common many mid-west work ethics and we enjoyed tools, machinery, invention and the challenge of making things with our hands.
There wasn’t any task in the workshop that Jim would not take upon himself to do when the moment came. We pushed each other in the collaboration with mutual friendship and respect. After all, you wouldn’t last doing this serious labour for more than 100 tense days if you were not having fun, and fun we did have.