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] Schemes for Summer Borders 1972 [P11112-P11115]
Four screenprints with varnish and flock fibre, various sizes, on Schoellers Hammer card 1020 × 730 (40 1/4 × 28 3/4), from a suite of five; printed by Chris Betambeau at Advanced Graphics and published by Hans Hoeppner, Graphische Editionen, Kunstverlag, Hamburg in an edition of 75 plus 10 sets of artist's proofs
Each inscribed ‘Ivor Abrahams 72.’ below image b.r. and ‘Artist's Proof’ below image b.l. and stamped with the cardmaker's stamp ‘SHUTZMARLE SCHOELLERSHAMMER’ in circular device with ‘HAMMER | 4 g DICK’ below, t.r.
Repr: Ivor Abrahams: Environments, Skulpturen, Zeichnungen, Komplette Graphiken, exh. cat., Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne 1973, pp.92–3, figs.24–7
‘Schemes for Summer Borders’ depicts different varieties of summer-flowering plants in brick-built or stone-built raised beds of different shapes. The fifth print of the series, missing from this set, is ‘Delphiniums’ (repr. Cologne exh. cat., 1973, p.92, fig.23). Abrahams was commissioned to make this suite by the German publisher Hans Hoeppner.
The images are based upon plastic versions of these flowers and beds taken from a toy model kit. Abrahams had first made use of such kits in making ‘Garden Model’, 1968 (repr. ibid., p.24), which he subsequently used as a setting for an animated film entitled ‘By Leafy Ways’, 1971. The flowers and beds were photographed by a professional photographer employed by the printing firm Advanced Graphics (see entry on ‘Privacy Plots’, P11101-P11105). Using an overhead projector, the images were enlarged to create a monumental effect, and various stencils based on the images were created. In conversation Abrahams said the large format of the works and the large amount of blank space surrounding the images related to old-fashioned botanical illustrations.
The bricks or stones in the beds, printed in shades of brown, red and yellow, are varnished. In contrast to the surrounding black mortar, which is left mat, the varnished bricks appear to advance towards the viewer. The contrasting varnished, mat and flocked surfaces, as well as the use of invented and photographic images, emphasise the contrived artificiality of the scenes.
The title ‘Schemes for Summer Borders’ is redolent of the gardening magazines and books that Abrahams frequently used as sources for his works. In a text published in the Cologne catalogue Abrahams said that he drew on ‘recipes and instruction manuals’ and ‘prescriptions for the nouveau bourgeoisie’, saying that he was interested in ‘the rules behind the rules’ (‘Ivor Abrahams in Conversation with R.J. Rees’, p.18). The phrase ‘schemes for summer borders’, with all its aesthetic and social associations, can be seen as indicative of such a prescriptive approach to nature. In this connection it is relevant that the plants represented in the suite have particular social and historical connotations. Hollyhocks and sunflowers, although traditionally associated with Victorian cottage gardens, are also popular in modern suburban gardens, as are blue hydrangeas and modern standard roses. The rustic-looking bricks or stones used in the raised beds are again a recurrent feature of suburban gardens, and evoke the efforts of the do-it-yourself gardener.
P11112 Sunflowers 1972
Screenprint with varnish and flock fibre 565 × 610 (22 1/4 × 24) on Schoellers Hammer card 1020 × 730 (40 1/4 × 28 3/4)
Repr: Cologne exh. cat, 1973, p.93, fig.27 (unspecified impression)
This depicts three sunflowers in a brick-edged raised bed. The centres of the flowers and the petals are flocked in red and yellow respectively. The stems and the small plants at the front of the bed are flocked in green and have had patterns in contrasting shades of green printed on top. The rocks towards the back of the bed are printed as a black and white photographic image. The Cologne catalogue describes the work as having had four printings, four flockings and four printings on top of the flocking.
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996