Catalogue entry

Group of ninety-eight screenprints, lithographs and etchings, various sizes [P11099-P11196; incomplete]

Presented by Evelyne Abrahams, the artist's wife 1986

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] Pathways 1975 [P11120-P11125]

Suite of six lithographs, various sizes, on wove paper 610 × 608 (24 × 23 7/8); printed by Alan Cox at Sky Editions and published by Bernard Jacobson Ltd in an edition of 55 plus 11 sets of artist's proofs of which this is one
Each inscribed ‘Ivor Abrahams 75’ below image b.r. and ‘AP’ below image b.l.

The suite focuses on pathways in a variety of garden settings. The notion of a pathway implies the attempt to regulate nature, and relates to Abrahams' continuing concern with the relationship between art, artifice and nature.

The images are partly based on photographic images, taken from gardening magazines and similar material, which were then greatly enlarged and transferred to aluminium plates. The photographic images were printed on top of the images printed from handworked zinc plates, creating a subtle interplay between the two types of imagery. The irregular outlines of the images indicate that they have been cropped from another source, heightening the irreality of the scenes.

The series is printed in generally naturalistic colours but, devoid of human life, the images have a cheerless, disquieting quality. In conversation with the compiler on 13 September 1994 the artist commented that the paths in his images did not lead anywhere and that this was deliberate. This, he said, ‘had some personal meaning for me’. In notes written on a draft of this entry he added, ‘These prints did not achieve the power of earlier work but create an eerie uncertain feeling’.

The portfolio cover has an embossed inset, designed by the artist, showing a receding stone path, which is printed in silver, gold and white.

P11121 Pathways II 1975

Lithograph 460 × 350 (18 1/8 × 13 3/4)

This pathway is partly edged with paving stones and leads to a set of stairs.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996