Flower-piece B, like Flower-piece B – cyan separation (P12105) and Flower-piece B – crayon study (P12107), belongs to a series of prints Hamilton made from three paintings, Flower-piece I, 1971-4, Flower-piece II, 1973 and Flower-piece III, 1973-4, each based on one of three laminated three-dimensional postcards (Flower-piece postcards a–c, 1971-3, Collection Bombelli, Cadaqués). In his translation of postcard to painting, the artist tampered with the original image, adding a toilet roll to the foreground of one (Flower-piece I), a turd to the foreground of another (Flower-piece II) and abstracting the third into washes of colour (Flower-piece III). Hamilton had previously introduced a toilet roll to the cliché of a romantic landscape in his painting Soft pink landscape, 1971-2 (Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest; see P07447 for a 1980 print based on this painting), where he was motivated by the association of ‘girls and toilet paper – glamour and shit’ (the artist quoted in Collected Words, p.100). In Flower-piece I the toilet roll is painted realistically so that it appears a solid presence, next to flowers and fruit painted with very thinned-down oils on a white canvas, suggestive of the texture of watercolour. On his treatment of flowers, Hamilton wrote:
Nothing is more likely to stimulate my interest in a new subject than to notice a major pictorial genre that I have left unexplored ... flowery allure is an irrelevant anachronism in the context of cultural ideas in our period. It takes perversity and a touch of irony to make it tolerable ... [my] compulsion to defile a sentimental cliché was perhaps, though unconscious initially, a conformity with a well-established tradition in the flower-piece – the convention of placing, often lower right a memento mori: an insect, a crab, a skull – some sinister motif which suggests that life is not all prettiness and fragrance ... the flower-piece genre should be, above all, about colour. Using paint to create colour effects, in this sense, is something that I have rarely found worthwhile, here it was to be the raison d’être.
(Quoted in Collected Words, p.100.)
As the use of colour in depicting flowers could be relatively arbitrary, the subject offered Hamilton an ideal motif for a technical exploration of the difficulties of printing colour using different processes. Having experimented with the possibilities of etching and collotype in the Trichromatic flower-pieces, 1973-4 and Flower-piece A, 1974, in 1975 Hamilton took Flower-piece B to the workshop of master-printer Ken Tyler in Bedford Village, New York State, to try his luck with lithography. Tyler had invited him to work on any project he chose. He had made two preparatory studies for Flower-piece B: Flower-piece B – trichromatic study, in colour pencils and wash and Trichromatic study, in pencil, wash, pastel and gouache (both Collection Bombelli, Cadaqués). With Tyler, he planned to make a lithograph in three colours and black. He had not been happy with the results he had previously achieved in lithography, finding them ‘coarse and contrasty’ (quoted in Lullin, p.136). He believed this was a result of the acid used to sponge the stone after it has had colour applied eating into the softer tones of the colour. In order to avoid this problem and achieve the widest possible range of gradation, Hamilton decided to apply the duotone process used by professional printers to improve the range of tones in black-and-white reproduction to his three-colour lithograph. With two stones for each colour – cyan, magenta and yellow – he could ensure that both dark and light tones could be applied. However this still did not achieve the desired quality. In the end he applied the three colours, very diluted, using zinc plates to the duotone image. Instead of using a black plate to enhance definition, he drew highlights on a further zinc plate and printed a white ink. Thus to achieve a satisfactory print, a total of ten ‘colours’ or layers had to be printed. Hamilton and Tyler disagree on how to define the final print Flower-piece B. For Tyler it is a ten colour print, but for Hamilton, ‘it uses only three colours. It is a tripletone-trichromatic, plus white’ (the artist quoted in Lullin, p.136).
Flower-piece B is a lithograph in three colours and white, printed from six stones and four zinc plates on Arches Cover mould-made paper. Eight stage proofs and six coloured trial proofs, plus two additional sets of fifteen trial proofs, were created in the process of making it. It was produced in an edition of seventy-five plus sixteen artist’s proofs. Tate’s copy is the sixteenth artist’s proof. Each copy is titled, signed and numbered by the artist in graphite below the image. Tyler’s blind stamp appears on the lower right corner and his workshop number is inscribed in graphite on the verso, lower left corner: RH75-201.
Etienne Lullin, Richard Hamilton: Prints and Multiples 1939-2002, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Winterthur and Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 2003, pp.126-37, reproduced p.137 in colour.
Elizabeth Armstrong, Pat Gilmour, Kenneth E.Tyler, Tyler Graphics: Catalogue Raisonné 1974-1985, Minneapolis 1987, p.150, reproduced pp.148 and 150 in colour.
Richard Hamilton: Collected Words 1953-1982, London and New York, 1982, pp.100-103, reproduced p.103 in colour.