John Hutcheson worked at Tyler Graphics for over sixteen years, from 1975 – 1978 and then from September 1987 until the workshop closed in March 2001. John was a key member of the team: he was the Workshop Manager for several years and was responsible for the set up of the print workshop at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute.
What was your role at the workshop, and can you tell us a little bit about what that role entailed?
My title was Workshop Manager during the last five years or more of the Tyler Graphics workshop in Mt. Kisco. At the same time while managing the production efforts, I was also one of the team of printers and papermakers. I had begun working for Ken in 1975 as a Stone Lithographer at the Tyler Workshop in Bedford Village and stayed there for about three years. I returned to work for him as Workshop Manager at the new Mt. Kisco shop in the late 1980's.
When Ken sent the operation to Singapore in 2000 I went there for three years as the Master Printer/Workshop Manager. I am a Tamarind Master Printer in Stone Litho. Plus I have about 40 years of experience in all of the traditional printmaking media as well as hand papermaking and am one of the best in the use of Indirect (Offset) Litho for artist's work.
At TGL my role was to support Ken's creative printmaking by ensuring that we always had the necessary materials, manpower, and machinery no matter what new direction he took. Every day there were new pits to steer the shop around in order to keep it running smoothly for his high expectations. One of the hallmarks of Ken's collaborations with famous artists was his technological developments and his attitude of "thinking large." He was continually re-inventing the traditional methods and offering his new, improved version to his artists. This meant that we were constantly re-working our machines and searching for exotic materials to support Ken's vision. Although everybody got involved in the innovations, I was Ken's main "go to" guy in the workshop for that research. And, once we had a new technique running smoothly enough, I would rejoin the team to use the new method to make the editions of prints.
Ken himself is a master inventor and is perfectly capable in this kind of design and research. But at that time, he really wanted to be "making art" with the artists. Also, at that time, he really wanted his line printers to keep to their printing tasks and not get side-tracked. So he would often hand the backup tasks for a new invention to me and to outside consultants.
My typical day at TGL would start early with a check of the printer's “Time Record Sheets” to see if everybody was on schedule and if they might be needing new supplies ordered to prevent any slow-down. Ken was always there early and we would have a chance to get the marching orders set for that day. Once those overall shop concerns were settled I would start my own printing or papermaking task for that day. By then the rest of the production team would be arriving. I was always teamed with one or more of them in a leading or supporting role. For instance I was one of the lead Litho printers on repeated projects for Stella, Frankenthaler, Motherwell and Rosenquist. I was a lead Relief printer on repeated projects for Lichtenstein and Stella. And I was the papermaker to make shaped paper for Stella's Egyplosis as well as an assistant on many other papermaking projects. Ken and his artists often used mixed media to create their prints. Therefore, we all teamed up to help wherever the action was.
It was rare for any printer to work alone all the way through a project. About 1/3 of the days we had VIP guests in the shop and I would help host them. If an artist was in residence or a team of film-makers was at work, I would race around behind the scenes to ensure that everything went smoothly. It takes a great deal of ahead-of-time prep mixed with inspired ad-libbing to make this heroic printing work look effortless in front of the cameras. Ken is a master at entertaining the world-famous guests even while he is inking and pulling the most brilliant prints right there in front of them. We did all we could to assist him during those magic moments.
By this time in my career I had worked with Ken and with most of his artists for decades both at Ken's shops and at other ateliers. Everybody was doing things never seen before. And, because of Ken's high profile in the art world, we were in the spotlight all the time. Famous artists, curators, and collectors were hanging around. It was pressurized and satisfying beyond compare. I had the best printing job in the world.
Can you outline some of the technical processes involved in your work?
- Lithography: Etching, inking, and printing stones, hand-drawn plates, photo-plates on Direct and on Indirect Litho presses.
- Relief Printing: Cutting, inking, and printing woodblocks, polymer relief, collagraph.
- Intaglio: Etching, inking and printing multi-piece wiped plates.
- Papermaking: Making pulp and forming sheets by hand and with shaped mould processes.
- Press Mechanic: Skills to repair, maintain, and move heavy, antique and custom-made machinery.
Can you tell us about the atmosphere in the studio? What did you enjoy most about working there?
We were always shooting for the stars. Ken led us in that with his relentless drive. But each individual printer had also made their own personal commitment to seek perfection in their printing and papermaking. It could get pretty intense with each person's expertise and ethics involved. At the same time we had to remain open to accept direction from the artist and from Ken. No matter how much any printer knows his or her technique, we still have to serve the art's needs.
This activity is something like Formula I racing in which everybody involved – from the designers and engineers to the drivers – have all imagined the absolute extreme best that might be theoretically possible. And they are all engaged in attempting to build the best car and then use that best car to make the fastest race. And to do it all in front of the adoring fans.
In Ken's various workshops from Gemini to Tyler Workshop to TGL, he was the sole "Master Printer." He alone would collaborate directly with the artist and then he would instruct each part of the shop what he wanted for the whole project. We were supposed to be extensions of his creative hand. And, because each one of us was a master of our craft, we did very well – also because Ken is a master at leading individuals. But, you can well imagine that we were also proud and creative individuals. There were egos involved. There were printers who had a better idea. It worked best when people could communicate.
What I enjoyed the most was working at the highest level in the world of prints. Because Ken invited artists from the "top ten" tier worldwide, the finances justified a feeling of unlimited commitment of time and materials. Within that "sky's the limit" theme, Ken ran a tight and efficient operation. But it still was the most inspiring and well-supported atmosphere that any creative printer could ever hope for.
Ken is the best. He demands the best efforts from us and also from his artists. At the same time, he worked harder and smarter than any of us. We were supported in our attempts to be the best printers. And the reward was that the world recognized us and our work.
Do you still work in the arts? How did your time with TGL affect your career path?
Now I am teaching Printmaking at the college level at the University of North Florida. It is the perfect time and place for me to hand over some of my collected experience and knowledge to the next generation. I was hired specifically because of my fame as a Tyler printer. Plus my charm and positive work ethic of course.
My time at TGL was my career path. Who could have imagined a better life as a printer? My Dad instilled the love of the craft of fine printing in me. And I was able to follow that trail all over the world and to practice it with the absolute best artists and printers who also love their craft.
Ken's mentorship continues to inspire me. He has such a depth of skill and leadership in so many areas that it can be annoying at times. But he is always a loyal and true friend as well as providing an impossible goal to reach for.
Do you have a favorite project from TGL, or did you have a particularly memorable experience with a specific artist? Can you explain what made that project or person so special?
My early projects with Frank Stella are probably my favorites. It was my earliest opportunity to really test my printing skills against the world. By that time I had apprenticed to the Master Printer, Herb Fox in Boston and had completed my Tamarind training in Albuquerque. I had run the Litho Workshop in Nova Scotia. My opportunity to step up to the next professional level came when Ken Tyler moved to the East Coast where I wanted to stay because of my young son and our extended family.
Ken's announced change of venue caused huge ripples in the continuum of the print world at that time. His move to the NYC area caused several printers around the North America to shift jobs. Some followed him eastward. Others jumped in to fill those vacancies. My opportunity to work for Ken came because of my rare set of printing skills that included offset litho as well as stone litho. Ken liked my resume because one of his new interests was to use a flatbed offset press to make original prints. He had bought and experimented with a Mailander proofing press but he needed an experienced pressman to really make it sing. My Dad was really proud. At the beginning of my printing career he had taught me the craft and skills of offset litho on rotary presses plus he always had a personal vision for the use of flatbed presses to do finer quality short-run commercial work. Suddenly I was invited to work for the most famous printer in the world and to collaborate with the most famous artists. It was a chance to actually try out all the hypothetical "what if" ideas.
This was the Big Time stage and I was young and ambitious. This was the reason I had left home to dedicate my life to printing. The Exotic Birds series by Frank Stella was printed at the original Tyler Workshop in Bedford Village which was a smaller and more intimate shop, populated by a core group of real, idealistic, pioneer-printers. In addition to working in that inspiring group I was also collaborating with the young and charismatic Ken Tyler for the young and famous Frank Stella. Ken led Frank and the team of printers to use traditional old methods but to use them in a brand-new way. Ken was breaking new ground technically and also philosophically. During those days he coined new print terminology like "Indirect Litho and Variant Edition." We were challenging the rules of original prints but doing it in a well-reasoned and well-supported manner. Alongside the technical wizardry, Ken also engaged artists, curators and writers to discuss the issues we were raising. The work was controversial at the time. But it affected and changed the entire world's attitudes towards creative printmaking. Our work stirred up the whole print scene with comments and contributions both pro and con. Those prints used techniques of Stone Litho, hand drawn Plate Litho, and Silk-screen. They included metallics and glitter. These days this sounds so simple but at the time we were inventing unheard of variations of these techniques. My skills with Indirect Litho presses and stone printing were a key element. My ability to ad-lib with exotic methods and to respond quickly to Ken's and Frank's groundbreaking ideas was essential. I loved being a vital part of such important art. We were flying by the seat of our pants and it worked!
Over the following decades I was able to work on many Stella print projects in several different shop locations. Stella will always be my favorite artist. But I must say that it is nearly impossible for me to choose only one artist. Stella continues to be my favorite. But during those first few years at Tyler Workshop we also did thrilling projects with Oldenburg, Kelly, Frankenthaler, Lichtenstein, Noland, and Hockney. And in later years my repeated projects with Lichtenstein, Frankenthaler and Rosenquist are also equal in my "favorite" category. I love all of these artists and love my work with them equally and the best, Stella, Frankenthaler, and Rosenquist.
Can you share your favorite memory of the workshop with us?
There are a million memories. Everything that we ever did was so wound up with strong commitments and strong feelings that it is hard to simply laugh and enjoy most of them without filling the page with back stories and disclaimers. So I will simply tell one story which is really not my best but which does represent one of the many shop adventures.
This story will address some of the unintended consequences from building modifications to the original Bedford Village workshop. Ken is a restless man who must never sleep. He is always changing things. In fact, his daughter Kim once told me that "the only constant in life is change." I gathered from her comment that this subject of change must have been dinner-table talk in the Tyler household.
Anyway, the Bedford workshop was a wonderful group of New England-style, clapboard-sided and stone outbuildings that had been joined together under one big roof. From the outside it looked like a quiet cottage, or a garage, or a root cellar ....depending on which side you were facing. Inside was another story.
In there was filled with new and old printing machines and was anything but quiet. In the midst of our high-profile artist's projects, Ken was still redesigning and rebuilding the physical plant. He kept a complete crew of builders, electricians, and plumbers on full-time retainer. One of them once remarked that they had shifted the window positions so often that he was afraid there was not a single vertical framing stud remaining to hold up the wall. When the garage became the new Papermaking Studio, Ken's family cars had to park outside in the snow. And the builders nailed the original garage doors back onto the outside of the new wall so that it looked like it could still house the cars.
Meanwhile, the entire art world was fascinated by the famous artists and projects going on at Tyler Workshop. Ken had really shaken up the staid New York dealer network. Their limousines would pull up and the chic art mavens would stride imperiously in to meet the young Master Printer who was challenging their turf. Most of them wanted to dominate but Ken would disarm them and have them eating out of his hand. Besides what they really wanted was an inside line to purchase the great prints at a discount. So, some of these dealers and collectors became regular visitors to the workshop. But it was a workshop building under constant revision
On a Fall day one of the most admired dealers arrived and parked in their usual spot. We could see them through the multi-paned windows. This art world hotshot smoothed his elegant hair, shot his shirt-cuffs and strode up to the front door. But there was no door. It had been moved to a different location. There followed an embarrassing scramble outside with the dealer running back and forth on the porch trying to prove that he was a familiar friend and the door must be here somewhere. It had been there last week. Finally we helped the rattled dealer in through the back. But the inside arrangement of rooms and openings had also been changed so that this poor dealer never did regain a sense of belonging.