Marabeth Cohen-Tyler has played a major role in the story of Tyler Graphics Ltd. After starting at TGL in 1985, she quickly became an indispensable team member. As well as being involved with artist projects and doing curatorial work, Cohen-Tyler used her skills as a photographer to document artists in the studio. Her candid photographs provide us with a valuable record and significant insight into the dynamic creative environment that existed behind-the-scenes at TGL.
What was your role at the workshop, and can you tell us a little about what that role entailed?
I was first employed in 1985, while Hockney’s Moving Focus series was in progress, as well as Alan Shields’ Raggedy Circumnavigation series. My first tasks in the workshop were helping in Shields’ papermaking, and cutting and collaging printed elements for Hockney’s An image of Gregory. I wrote about these projects in our little TGL newsletter, and also wrote descriptive entries in our various new publications announcements, and for gallery exhibitions.
Back in 1985, I also helped Ken inventory and put together a large shipment of Gemini prints, which we sent to NGA. In that first year, I also fitted all the edition prints for Hockney’s Pembroke studio interior into his hand-painted frames. This led to diverse and continuous curating jobs, handling prints, wrapping, organizing, and storing them, as well as helping with the artists’ signing sessions. In those days, we ordered all our frames from Jerry Solomon Enterprises in Los Angeles, and it was my job to place frame orders and keep track of framing deadlines, deliveries, etc.
My transition from collaborating in the workshop to the office occurred as I got involved in the catalogue raisonné, assisting Barbara Delano , Kim and Ken Tyler in documenting projects, and helping to write and proofread the short histories we prepared for that compilation. Fortunately, I did not stay in the office, since Ken could see that I enjoyed documenting the goings-on photographically. Hence, he gave me his Nikon, and I happily became the in-house photographer. It was then that I began to research and contact all previous Tyler-related workshop photographers, going back to Tamarind of the 1960s, building up the photo archive with images from as many sources as I could locate.
Can you outline some of the technical processes involved in your work?
Ken referred to me as a ‘trouble-shooter.’ I still work and live in that capacity, basically attending to solving this-that-and-the-other trouble as it occurs, whether it be food-related, or mechanical or technical...I have always liked ‘fixing’ what breaks down and getting it to run again, whenever possible. Often, I am seen as a sous-chef to Ken in the kitchen: chopping, cleaning, prepping, assisting. We do this also with written material, as well as what I like to call ‘sparring’ with ideas, objects, and design. Ken alternately calls me his right hand, his left foot, and when life is especially joyous, ‘Mi media naranja,’ an expression we learned while working together in Spain on Motherwell and Stella expositions.
Ken and I have traveled extensively as a team; he refers to this as the ‘TGL Satellite Duo.’ Our journeys began when the catalogue raisonné went to press in 1987, outside of Milan, where I helped in color proofing. Most recently/intensively, we labored to make the Singapore Tyler Print Institute ( STPI ) a reality – a process that entailed over nine years of commuting back and forth to Singapore. Before that, we concentrated on frequent trips to Japan, first in working out the details for the Yokohama Museum of Art TGL retrospective in 1992. That same year, the United States Information Agency (USIA), under its ‘Speakers and Specialists Program,’ organized a lecturing tour with Ken, me, John Newman, and Steven Sorman. We made presentations in Yokohama, Tokyo, Kyoto, Fukushima, Tokushima, Nagoya, and Obihiro. Ken and I then dedicated years to our close alliance with Dai Nippon and the creation of the Centre for Contemporary Graphic Art and Tyler Graphics Archive Collection ( CCGA ), which opened in 1995. Concurrently, as you know, we continued to cultivate our wonderful friendship with NGA!
Can you tell us about the atmosphere at the studio? What did you enjoy most about working there?
I enjoyed how no one was pigeon-holed into a single job or skill set. The best collaborators moved across disciplines: from clerical work (such as documentation), to inking plates, to papermaking, and printing, to schmoozing with clients in the gallery at openings. There was no rigid hierarchical ladder. Instead, at Tyler Graphics, we were like humming birds fluttering with bees in an overgrown flower garden.
Do you still work in the arts? How did your time at TGL affect your career path?
Each day at Tyler Graphics was filled with the wildly unexpected. Even if I drew a precise outline of what I hoped to accomplish in the morning, it was dramatically altered by mid-day. Being able to adapt to ever-changing circumstances remains part of my life. I grew to love this tumult (most of the time) and also to pay attention to how things evolved. You had to be fast on your feet, diplomatically aware, and accurate in trying to chronicle this confluence for ‘documentation sheets’, basic record-keeping, and simply to hold onto these rich memories.
Do you have a favorite project from TGL?
I felt that each project was exciting, but that Frank Stella stood out, since his work was continuously unfolding and always over-the-top. Even when he completed a series of prints, there were still others in development – oftentimes as research endeavors leading to uncharted technical areas. Research and development truly corralled years of experimentation at Tyler Graphics. One ambitious feat-of-daring overlapped with others, so that it seemed as if we had Stella revolutions perpetually in progress. There was constantly more to discover and more waiting in the wings to astound us and propel further works.
Did you have a particularly memorable experience with a specific artist?
I have had so many memorable experiences with artists that I cannot begin to write about them. I consider myself very fortunate to have become friends with the people I worked with. I was happy visiting artists in their studios and watching as projects developed, including projects outside of Tyler Graphics (such as David Hockney’s opera sets).
Can you share your favorite memory of the workshop with us?
One of my favorite moments (of many!) was when we celebrated the opening of the Mount Kisco workshop. It was a rare moment when all participants from past and present, from universally recognized to obscure (often behind-the-scenes) participants, from artists to artisans, historians, dealers, framers, collectors, friends and family, came together and celebrated. Helen Frankenthaler ribbed Ken that day, winking and telling him that ‘finally he had a real workshop’, so much juicier than the converted carriage house in Bedford Village.