View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
Seven screenprints printed by H.M. Buchi, Basel, and six etchings printed by Robert Aull and Leslie Sutcliffe, Los Angeles, the portfolio published by Peter Blum, Zurich and New York, in an edition of 50
Purchased from Peter Blum Editions (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
P07827 [from] 2740475 1942 [P07817-P07829; complete]
Screenprint on grey paper 30 1/8 × 22 1/8 (765 × 562)
Inscribed ‘Jonathan Borofsky’ along right side and ‘39/50’ b.l.; printed inscription ‘2740396’
In 1969 Borofsky started writing numbers in sequence, starting with 1 and covering both sides of his sheets; he has continued this sequence at intervals ever since. In the early 1970s he found little drawings and scribbles intruding into the count and he began to make paintings of these images. He decided to identify them and all his subsequent works with the number he was on in his counting - hence the title of this portfolio is ‘2740475’. It contains seven screenprints and six etchings placed alternately (starting and finishing with a screenprint), thus creating a counterpoint of imagery from the flat silhouette of a figure wearing a hat and carrying a briefcase to the tiny etching plates on which a variety of images are drawn. Borofsky uses imagery developed from his own dreams and unconscious thoughts or fantasies and by repeated use some of his images become symbolic, as in the case of the silhouette figure used in the screenprints. It is based on a man Borofsky glimpsed in the street outside his house in New York City, and who he thought might be the man who had been putting sheets of paper through his letterbox anonymously. The sheets were covered in written names and addresses (mostly of well-known Black men) and Borofsky found in this presumably subconsciously motivated or psychotic behaviour an echo of his own written count. He has used the figure as it appears in these prints in a number of other works; here it appears first alone, then in two pairs, then in a group, then in two scattered groups and finally, alone again and upside-down. Each of these screenprints is numbered in the print, indicating the order in which they were done. The numbers are: 2739987, 2740152, 2740184, 2740225, 2740287, 2740396 and 2740474; the portfolio's title number is therefore the very next in sequence.
The first of the etchings (the second print) is on a triangular plate and includes a head with long animal ears which the artist has described as being a self-portrait as an animal, with a reference to the heightened sensitivity of animal ears. It and the sixth and tenth prints are all of heads enmeshed by wiry lines, planetary rings or other marks denoting mental turmoil. The second etching is related to Borofsky's ‘Thought Book’ drawings of 1968–9 and the third is another head. Borofsky is interested in the art of the mentally ill and of prisoners and frequently uses graphic conventions characteristic of such work, including opening up or adding to the crown of the head to denote the mental anguish within. The fourth etching is a repeated image of a head in a soft conical hat and with shoulders draped, related to a drawing made on the back of an envelope in about 1978–80 (see Jonathon Borofsky Drawings 1960–83, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum, Basel, June–July 1983, no.131). The first four etchings have numbers, drawn on the plate and therefore printed backwards, which show they were not made in the sequence in which they appear: the first etching is 2739992, the second 2738104, the third 2738105 and the fourth, having two plates, is 2739976 and 2739977. The fifth etching contains columns of numbers like those of Borofsky's count with another head; the sixth contains only columns of numbers.
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986