View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
Stanley Boxer is best known for his large scale abstract paintings which have a rich sculptural quality produced by thick, impasto brushwork. Boxer’s paintings were championed by American modernist critic Clement Greenberg (1906-1994), famous for his insistence that painters should eliminate subject matter in their work, aiming instead for the purity of abstraction. When considered in relation to his paintings, the prints Boxer produced at Tyler Graphics between 1975 and 1979 seem somewhat of an anomaly. Over this period, he created several series of figurative works, illustrating whimsical scenes featuring animals and winged figures. Boxer had, however, been making drawings of this nature throughout his career, and he insisted they were closely connected to his abstracts, made with similar gestures and motivation.
Tate received twenty-five of Stanley Boxer’s prints as part of the Tyler gift, comprising a complete portfolio of Ring of Dust in Bloom, 1976, an incomplete portfolio of Carnival of Animals, 1979, and two individual prints.
This print is from Ring of Dust in Bloom, a portfolio of twelve intaglio prints Boxer produced at the Tyler Graphics studios between September 1975 and July 1976. Copper plates were cut into shapes (circles, half circles, ovals, triangles) onto which Boxer drew his images, utilising a number of techniques, including aquatint (where acid was applied to the plate with a brush), drypoint and etching with both hard and soft ground. The composition of each print was dictated by the shape of the plate. Boxer applied inks from a fifteen-colour palette to the processed plates using his hands and these were printed by a technician at the studio. Boxer then painted each of the dry prints using watercolours, which he allowed to bleed over the edges of the print onto the large white border.
The images in this series, with their distortions of size and fantastical characters, have a surrealist sensibility. Boxer’s nudes appear to be nymphs, angels, or earth goddesses, but do not refer to any specific mythology. Animals, plants and figures appear to metamorphose into one another, emphasised by Boxer’s use of surface patterning and texture. In Argumentofnoavail 1976, what could be either a snake or part of a tree appears to be taking on the form of the female figure in the lower left corner. A second figure leads a group of African antelope down the other side of the image.
The prints in this series are produced in an edition of twenty-eight with nine artist’s proofs. While Tate holds all twelve prints in the series, each is differently numbered. This work is numbered 17/28.
Sean Rainbird (ed.), Print Matters: The Kenneth E. Tyler Gift, exhibition catalogue, Tate, 2004.
Tyler Graphics Catalogue Raisonné, 1974-1985, Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis, USA, 1987, pp.66-77, reproduced p.83 in colour.
Stanley Boxer: Ring of Dust in Bloom, Tyler Graphics, New York, 1973, reproduced in colour, unpaginated.