Catalogue entry

P77159 Untitled 1986
Ohne Titel

Brush etching, aquatint and lift ground process 1683 × 997 (66 3/8 × 39 1/8) on three overlapping sheets of wove Zerkall-Butten paper 607 × 1070 (23 7/8 × 42 1/8), 604 × 1073 (23 3/4 × 42 1/8) and 638 × 1070 (25 1/8 × 42 1/8), overall size 1777 × 1070 (69 3/4 × 42 1/8); printed by Peter Kneubühler, Zürich and published by Galerie Eric Franck, Geneva, in an edition of 7
Inscribed ‘disler 86’ and ‘1/7’ below image b.r.
Purchased from Galerie Eric Franck, Geneva (Grant-in-Aid) 1986
Lit: Juliane Willi-Cosandier and Rainer Michael Mason, Martin Disler: L'Oeuvre gravé. Die Druckgraphik. The Prints 1979–1988, I, Geneva 1989, no.123, repr. in col., as ‘Gravure W’

Printed on three overlapping sheets of paper, P77159 depicts two figures superimposed over an elliptical shape suggestive of a ship seen from above or a vagina. The brown figure on the left is male and has a multitude of small figures emanating from his mouth and head. He is reaching across to the genitals of the red female figure on the right. She holds a red cross that extends from between her eyes to the man's chest. This motif, which appears in other works by Disler as a double cross, similar to a Maltese cross, relates to the artist's memories of attending church as a boy. Above the woman's head is a red snake which may be understood as a symbol of sexual transgression. Erotic contact between male and female figures is a recurrent subject in Disler's paintings and prints of the mid-1980s. The ship/vagina form, here printed in blue, appeared in many of Disler's drawings of the 1970s. He drew the figures on the plate with his fingers but used a brush to draw the ship/vagina form.

In conversation with the compiler on 6 June 1991, the artist described the lift ground process by which he produced the grainy surface of the male figure as a ‘wonderful print effect’. Disler said that he discerned figures in the smallest particles of the bistre texture and compared the texture to the structure of the world where ‘everything is made of atoms’. He saw ‘a whole population’ of tiny figures on the man's head, and continued, ‘if you study my paintings you can see little scenes which from far away look like drops or fingerprints. When you look at them closely you see realistic images coming out’.

P77159 is the last and most complex of three large tripartite etchings completed in two weeks in 1986. They were the first colour etchings made by Disler. The first of the group, ‘Gravure S’, was made using bistre on white paper and depicts a male and female figure intertwined. Disler added blue to the bistre in ‘Gravure U’, which depicts three faces in the blue layer and the bodies of two naked, sexually aroused figures in the bistre layer. Disler added a further layer of red to these colours in P77159. ‘Gravure S’ and‘Gravure U’ are reproduced in Willi-Cosandier and Mason 1989, pp.69–70, pls.120, 122 (col.). Disler said ‘Untitled’ was the correct title for P77159, rather than ‘Gravure W’, given in Willi-Cosandier and Mason (ibid., p.70). He had worked on the three etchings concurrently and explained, ‘when I have just one plate, I feel like I am starting to understand what I have to do, after two, I am more involved, after three I am really involved. That is why I always work on different pieces at the same time’. He compared the plates on the floor: ‘On the left was the blue and in the middle, the red, and on the right was the bistre. I stood on a desk looking down and putting them together in my head. That is what I like, and it also makes up part of the surprise, seeing how the three colours mix’. Disler said that printmaking required a special discipline as it involved working away from his studio. However, he was able sometimes to recapture the sense of intimacy of working at night, which is his normal practice, when ‘in a good moment’, he forgot that he was working in a printmaking studio. He acknowledged that working in ways that were untypical for him had been a challenge.

Disler described his introduction to different printmaking techniques in a passage from his notebook cited in the foreword to the catalogue raisonné of his prints (ibid., [pp.9–10]):

Printmaking, in all its forms, was foreign territory to me [until the late 1970s] and I embarked in its techniques - shimmering, alchemistic - hesitantly and not without anxiety, although my prejudices soon melted away. As the 1980s wore on, I found myself gradually drawn in, until these practices turned into an addiction. I am now at the beginning of a long journey, which I hope will take me deeper into the invisible. Passion began with etching. I have been drawing so much on paper that working on a copperplate seemed like a ‘metaphysical scratching’ of the surface, like acid burning deep into my eyes and leaving deep retinal scars which then cast themselves in the image ... After every period of working on woodcuts, etchings or lithographs, I have returned to painting with the feeling of being purified, impelled by a new motion, driven by a new élan. Printmaking became a need, a challenge of the new drawing I was seeking.

The artist has approved this entry.

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