Catalogue entryNaum Gabo 1890-1977
P02001 Opus 1 1950
Inscribed 'Gabo' b.r., 'op 1' b.l. and stamped with monogram 'NG' at extreme b.r.
Wood engraving, 2 3/4 x 2 3/4 (7.2 x 7.2) on paper 9 x 6 (22.8 x 15.2)
Presented by the artist through the American Federation of Arts 1967
Lit: Michael Mazur, 'The Monoprints of Naum Gabo' in Print Collector's Newsletter, IX, No.5, 1978, pp.148-50
Repr: Herbert Read and Leslie Martin, Gabo: Constructions, Sculpture, Paintings, Drawings, Engravings (London 1957), pl.132 (a different impression, set at a different angle)
The artist wrote of this and the four prints P02002-5: 'All the five prints in question were done during the winter and part of the summer of 1950. Only for one of them, 'Opus 3' [P02003], is there a drawing in existence, in the possession of my wife, Miriam Gabo. It is actually much smaller than the engraving and was done in water-colour. I have drawn the others straight on to the wood with a very hard and fine pencil.
'Not all the prints you have are done on the same paper; but they are all on Japanese paper. If some that you have are printed on a very transparent paper with a glitter in it; this paper was a present to me from the late William Ivins Jr., Curator of Prints and later Acting Director of the Metropolitan Museum. ...
'I owe the origin of my prints to him. We were neighbors in Woodbury, Conn. very soon after I came to America and we became intimate friends in spite of our different views and his extreme contentiousness about non-objective art - in theory. He was always after me to make prints - he was sure "they would be good". I resisted as long as I could; I had never done anything in that medium. But one day he arrived with a pocket full of engraving tools and a piece of wood and forced me to sit down, thrust into my hands the tools and the wood and guided me in how to engrave. He told me to "Make one", and left me without further explanations.
'The mere touch of the engraving tool on wood evoked in me the feeling that I was doing carving and I was unexpectedly in my own element. The very next day I had engraved "Opus 1" on a round piece of redwood sawed off from an old furniture leg.
'At his next visit I showed him the engraving on the wood and told him that I had no paper. His second lesson was how to make the prints - he gave me a roller and also a tube of ink and on my complaint that I had no paper, he reminded me that "You have the paper in the toilet". (That was typical of his attitude). I did so and on his next visit showed him the prints. He said nothing except, "Go on".
'During that winter I did "Opus 2" on paper which he brought me - again he said, "Go on", without any comment. When I did "Opus 3", he examined it for quite a while and said, "Give it to me".
'When I told him he could have it, he insisted that I write on it and that he will tell me what to write. His dictation was, "Dear Bill, I am now on to that racket". He took the print carefully and left me and my wife told me, "You will never get any better praise from Bill!" - and I never did. This print he has bequeathed to the Metropolitan where it now is' (letter of 28 April 1968).
According to Michael Mazur, whose article is the principal source of information about these prints, the earliest proofs of 'Opus 1' are numbered in the traditional manner, but from perhaps midway in the proofing of his first block Gabo began to create deliberate variations by subtle changes in the printing pressure, by experimenting with different methods of printing, with different inks and colours and so on, so that each print from then on was unique (though he often repeated one type of printing several times before moving on to the next). All the printing was done by himself, mainly with his hands, but sometimes using a roller and a variety of tools such as sticks or spoons. From about 1970 he had the idea in mind of eventually producing a portfolio of prints to be published in an edition of 25. The block for this print was cut in January-February 1950, and, like all Gabo's other wood blocks, has been presented to the Tate Archive by Nina S. Gabo.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.254-5, reproduced p.254