Michael Mueller was the primary screen printer at Tyler Graphics for over a decade and worked with Tyler to develop innovative uses for the screen printing process on major projects by Frank Stella. In the years since TGL closed, Mueller set up and ran his own print studio and is now an art teacher.
What was your role at the workshop, and can you tell us a little about what that role entailed?
I was TGL’s primary Screen Printer from 1988 to 2000. I was responsible for the screen preparation, proofing and edition printing of all screen printed projects. I managed the Screen Department; my assistants, equipment, supplies, etc.
Most of my time was spent in the screen printing room. Often working solo, I’d create color separations, mix ink, prep screens and print trial proofs. When it was time to print the editions I was usually assisted by someone. Thanks very much to everyone that assisted me, especially Rolf, Henry, Scott, Chris and Nancy!
As was the case with most of us in the workshop we helped out, as needed, in areas other than our own particular area of expertise. I occasionally assisted in the Papermaking, Wood Cut, Intaglio, Curating and Shipping Departments.
Can you outline some of the technical processes involved in your work?
The screen printing processes used at TGL generally conformed to industry standards. There was a conscious effort to expand the capabilities of the medium.
Screens: The screen stencils were made with direct, duel cure, photo emulsion. I occasionally experimented with capillary films and the old tusche and glue method. The screen frames were usually self-tensioning aluminium. The screen mesh was monofilament polyester. Various mesh counts were used. I would stretch the mesh myself.
Film work: The color separations were often hand drawn or painted onto sheets of plastic film. Sometimes the artist would do this, other times I would do it. Some of the film work was created photographically, digitally or using hand cut Rubylith.
Inks: Most of the time I used solvent based flat poster ink. Over the years many other types of inks were tried or used for specific projects, including water based and enamel inks. For Frank Stella’s Imaginary Places series Ken wanted a thicker ink deposit to create a 3-dimensional effect. I suggested using puff ink. Puff ink swells when heated and is typically printed on clothing. I printed and heated several layers of puff ink on top of each other to achieve maximum thickness on the prints.
Screen printing Equipment: We had two flatbed vacuum tables for printing. Both were manual units each equipped with ‘one arm’ squeegees. One of the presses was custom and very large, over 8 feet wide. During the workshop’s final year I used a new semi-automatic press for a couple of projects.
Can you tell us about the atmosphere at the studio? What did you enjoy most about working there?
The atmosphere was often, exciting, energized and complex. There was always a lot going on. Each department was busy working on projects. Meanwhile, the artists, (Motherwell, Lichtenstein, Stella et al.), were working in the studio, tours of people would come through and all of the action was constantly documented with photos and films.
There was a lot of pressure, external and internal, on all of us to produce the best work possible. Competition, tension, drama, pride, enthusiasm and teamwork were all a part of the mix.
Do you still work in the arts? How did your time at TGL affect your career path?
After TGL closed I operated my own fine art screen printing business; Michael Mueller Studio, in Cold Spring, NY, from 2001 – 2007. This was the natural next step for me. My time at TGL made this possible. TGL gave me the skills, confidence and template for operating my own printmaking studio.
Next, I transitioned into teaching. I now work full time as a High School art teacher. I teach Studio Art and of course include printmaking in my curriculum. When the right project comes along I, periodically, work as a freelance screen printer and consultant.
Do you have a favorite project from TGL, or did you have a particularly memorable experience with a specific artist? Can you explain a little about what made that project or person special?
The artist I worked with the most was Frank Stella. My favourite thing to do at TGL was creating collage material for Frank. I would print pieces and sections of Stella prints, combining images and experimenting with colors. Some of the collage material was created during and after edition printing or proofing, using ‘start up’ and ‘clean up’ sheets of paper. Some of the most exciting material was created spontaneously or ‘accidentally’. There were also some days specifically devoted to printing collage pieces. For these occasions I would plan the image and color combinations in advance. If I knew Frank was coming, I’d leave a pile of material out for him. He would sort through it and pick out some things. This would sometimes be the genesis of a new Stella print. I enjoyed the freedom to experiment and be creative while trying to preserve Stella’s ‘vision’ for his work. It felt like true collaboration.
Stella’s 1999 print Stranz was another high point for me. Most of the projects at TGL combined printmaking techniques. Stranz was entirely screen printed. It measures 77" x 43.5" and contains approximately 88 colors. I worked on it for several months. It’s a beautiful print!
Another artist I have to mention is Sam Posey. Sam came to TGL during 2000, the workshop’s final year of operation. Sam and I worked together on three prints. We developed a great working relationship. We continued our collaboration in my own studio where we created several more prints. Many thanks to both Ken and Sam!
Can you share your favorite memory of the workshop with us?
Occasionally I would work on research and development projects, I loved that. My favourite R&D assignment was creating large sausage-like sculptures. I used balloons that were approximately five feet long and coated them with different kinds of liquid rubber and plastic. They were suspended from the ceiling in the screen room. There was a drying fan on which made the sculptures move ever so slightly back and forth. It was a very interesting scene. Actually my favourite TGL memories are of working together with other members of the team; small moments, jokes, conversations, friendships and camaraderie.