View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
This group of prints was bequeathed to Evelyne Abrahams by the artist's parents, Harry and Rachel Abrahams, on the understanding that she would present it to the Tate Gallery on their behalf. It represents the greater part of the artist's printmaking to date. Other works by Abrahams in the collection are a sculpture entitled ‘Lady in a Niche’, 1973 (T03369), a work on paper entitled ‘Winter Sundial’, 1975 (T02330), and a small number of prints: ‘The Garden Suite’, 1970 (P04001-P04005), ‘Sundial I (Summer)’, 1975 (P07384) and ‘Untitled’ [from the artist's book Oxford Gardens: A Sketchbook], 1977 (P08150).
Abrahams is primarily a sculptor, and many of his prints relate to particular sculptures. In the period 1967–79 Abrahams focused on garden imagery, exploring the relationship between art, artifice and nature. Many of the images used in early prints were based on small, relatively poor quality photographs of gardens reproduced in gardening magazines, such as the weekly Amateur Gardening and Popular Gardening, or, less frequently, better quality illustrations found in the series of volumes on gardens published by Country Life in the 1920s. This use of second-hand source material gives much of his printed output a conceptual quality, and links his work to Pop art. Abrahams has presented a large amount of source material relating to his printmaking of this period, including magazine clippings, photographs and sketches and acetate stencils, to the Tate Gallery Archive (TGA 8315).
The critical and commercial success of ‘The Garden Suite’ (P04001-P040054), published in 1970, helped establish Abrahams' name internationally, and in the following decade he went on to produce a significant body of prints, making approximately one print a month. The dealer Bernard Jacobson published many of his portfolios, and the Mayor Gallery organised a series of touring shows of prints and sculptures. In this period Abrahams was based in London, working at a studio in Leonard Street, EC2, from 1969 to 1982, and at the A & A Foundry in Bow from 1982 to 1992, with a second studio at Butler's Wharf from 1974 to 1979.
In 1979 Abrahams abandoned the garden theme for which he had become well known and focused instead on water-based imagery, using bathers and nymphs which were inspired in part by the landscape, myths and folk customs associated with the South of France. Abrahams and his French wife bought a home in Pézenas, in the Languedoc, in 1973, where he used the cellar as a studio. In 1988 they bought a house in the small village, Castelnau de Guers, in the same region, and have lived there on a full-time basis since 1992.
Unless otherwise stated, all quotations by the artist in the following entries are taken from a taped interview with the compiler held on 18 August 1994. The entries have been approved by the artist.
[from] Arches 1971 [P11106-P11109]
Suite of four lithographs on J. Green H.P. Waterleaf wove paper, various sizes; printed by Ian Lawson and published by Bernard Jacobson Ltd; one of 15 sets of artist's proofs aside from the edition of 50
Repr: Ivor Abrahams: Environments, Skulpturen, Zeichnungen, Komplette Graphiken, exh. cat., Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne 1973, p.86
P11106 Arch I 1971
Lithograph 600 × 792 (23 5/8 × 31 1/8) on J. Green H.P. Waterleaf wove paper, same size; watermark ‘JG’ monogram
Inscribed ‘Ivor Abrahams 71.’ b.r. and ‘Artists Proof.’ b.l.
Repr: Cologne exh. cat., 1973, p.86, fig.18 as ‘Arches IV’ (unspecified impression)
The suite represents two shrubs shaped to form an incomplete arch. Behind is a pathway and through the arch can be seen a grouping of conical shrubs or small trees. In each of the four prints the two shrubs differ slightly in relative size. The direction of the path also varies, as does the positioning and degree of detail of the distant shrubs or trees.
In conversation Abrahams said that the motivation behind this suite was a desire to work within the restrictions of black and white. He drew directly onto the plates using lithographic crayon. In the first and fourth prints he used a comb to create a rough texture in the two main shrubs. In the third print, the darkest of the suite, he used large quantities of liquid tusche to create the wavy lines in the main shrubs, suggestive of waterfalls or geological formations. In conversation Abrahams said that he may have overworked this image, and that the plates may have been overbitten, reducing the variation of tone he had sought.
Abrahams said that the numbering of the prints implied ‘a kind of progression’ but he did not feel that the order of the prints was important: there were simply two light and two darks prints which, he said, could be displayed in any order. He felt that the shrubs had a certain animalistic quality, and agreed that the archway could be seen as suggesting certain psychological or sexual tropes.
In the same year Abrahams made a related collage, using pieces of flocked cardboard to represent the arch (‘Little Arch’, 1971, repr. Cologne exh. cat., 1973, p.58). In conversation the artist said that the image of the arch was very much ‘a sculptural image’, and one which pointed the way to the first of his thorough-going relief prints, the pair of works entitled ‘For a Time, For a Season’, made in April–June 1971 (repr. Cologne exh. cat., 1973, p.87). Each work shows an archway formed by two, slightly overgrown, shrubs, through which can be seen a view of a pathway through a lawned garden. The relationship between the two halves of the arch, and, in particular, the impression that the two parts seem to be reaching towards each other, echoes the imagery of ‘Arches’. Abrahams said that he took the image of the shrubs in the relief works from one of his source books on topiary, but that he invented the more generalised arch image used in the suite of prints. Three unique works, entitled ‘Arch’ and dated 1974, are reproduced in Ivor Abrahams: Oeuvres de 1970 à 1975, exh. cat., Galerie Bonnier, Geneva 1975, [pp.8–10]. In these images the two parts of the arch are combined into a continuous whole.
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996