P77190 Man in the Street (Large Version) 1976
Lithograph 615 × 540 (24 1/4 × 21 1/4) on wove Arches paper 833 × 606 (32 3/4 × 23 7/8); printed by Arte, Paris and published by Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris and Gallery Pierre Matisse, New York in an edition of 75; artist's proof aside from the edition
Inscribed ‘Raymond Mason 1976.’ below image b.r., and ‘a.p./1’ and ‘Man in the Street’ below image b.l.
Purchased from Marlborough Graphics (Grant-in-Aid) 1987
At several points in his career Mason has produced groups of prints based on black and white pen and ink drawings done in the open air. A number of such prints were produced in 1968, in 1976 and in 1986. This print is one of several made in 1976. It substantially reproduces, in composition and detail, although in reverse, a small pen and ink drawing from a series of six entitled ‘Faces of the City’, executed in 1962 (private collection, each 660 × 420, repr. Raymond Mason: Sculptures and Drawings, exh. cat., Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery 1989, p.79). The same drawing inspired a second lithograph (paper size 650 × 480 mm, edition of seventy-five, repr. Raymond Mason: Sculpture et dessins, exh. cat., Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris 1978, [p.29]). Smaller in size, it shows an almost identical head in front of a less expansive background which duplicates the area immediately adjacent to the head in P77190.
Mason's black and white prints are produced in the simplest way, using lithographic transfer paper. The technique was suggested to him by Giacometti who produced hundreds of editions in this way. In conversation with the compiler, on 9 December 1988, the artist said that lithography is the only printmaking technique with which he feels happy:
The graphic side of my career is more or less nil although people who see my drawing always feel that I should be the ideal etcher. In fact, etching is out of the question because of my eyes. I used to etch when I was a boy at art school but that was one of the things that ruined my eyesight. However, the main reason why I am not an etcher is that I can't stand the inverted image and my graphic style seems to fall over when seen backwards.
Mason is not interested so much in the craft of printmaking as in the act of drawing. Mason has always devoted much time to drawing in streets and public places - making drawings both allied to and independent of sculptures. He creates drawings very swiftly using black Indian ink and white paper.
The title of P77190, ‘Man in the Street’, is also that of the artist's first low relief, which was executed in 1952 (Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris, repr. Raymond Mason: Coloured Sculptures, Bronzes and Drawings 1952–1982, exh. cat., Serpentine Gallery 1983, p.22). This was made in plaster and cast in bronze. Unlike his epoxy resin casts from the late 1960s, this relief was not coloured. The print and the bronze have much in common. Both show single heads in relation to an architectural background, and in both there is an acute contrast between the monolithic massing of the head and the complex articulation of the architecture. However, at least two decades separate these treatments of the same theme, and in the later work the stark and confrontational stance of the early figure is replaced by the anonymity of the face seen from the side, seemingly glimpsed in passing, a head above a crowd. The artist has described the 1952 subject as ‘existential’ in intention, and explained that it was influenced by Giacometti's single head pieces. ‘Man in Street’, 1952, was, in part, an attempt to emulate the older artist.
The ‘man in the street’ is an important and complex figure for Mason. When in 1952 he first explored the theme, Mason had been living precariously in Paris for six years and was literally spending much of his time on the streets (he was not to have a permanent studio until 1953). Perhaps for this reason, the artist described ‘Man in Street’, 1952, as ‘the simplest possible description of the artist himself’ (quoted by Michael Peppiatt, introduction to Serpentine Gallery exh. cat. 1983, p.22). In conversation with the compiler, Mason spoke of childhood memories of evenings and weekends and holidays spent playing (and drawing) on the street:
I am the man in the street and as a boy I was the man in the street in Birmingham. It's a fact of living in a working class area: the only place we could play was in the street and as there were no such things as holidays, our holidays were just playing a little more in the street. Then there is just the physical business of liking the street; liking this mantel of light falling on my shoulders when I stand out in the street.
The title also refers to common humanity, the subject and projected audience of so much of Mason's work. The man in the street is simply one component of the other major theme of his oeuvre: the crowd, often described by Mason as ‘myself multiplied’ (letter to the cataloguer dated 16 September 1989). The crowd, as a theme, preoccupied Mason from 1963 to 1968 and culminated in a large free-standing bronze (repr. Serpentine Gallery exh. cat. 1983, p.33). Crowd scenes also feature in other major works including the relief ‘The Month of May in Paris’, 1968–74 (repr., ibid., p.44), which is closely related to P77191 (see following entry).
The whole background of P77190 is dominated by the strict linear pattern of the architectural facade. The elevation is located on the north side of boulevard St Germain, between the Carrefour de l'Odéon and boulevard St Michel. P77190 and the other lithograph of the same subject and title show close but not literal renderings of the facades. The same stretch of Boulevard St Germain, features obliquely in the relief ‘Boulevard St Germain’ 1958 (Galerie Claude Bernard, repr. ibid., p.27). Both boulevard St Germain and boulevard St Michel are major arteries through central Paris and important thoroughfares in the Latin quarter. This area, where Mason settled in 1948, provided the artist with many of his earliest subjects. A series of Paris street scenes absorbed Mason for the ten years following ‘Man in Street’, 1952, and has continued to provide a rich source of imagery. For Mason the intrinsic interest of the area lies not simply in the diverse human community but in the particular architectural structure of the boulevards. According to Mason, this architecture shares qualities with black and white line drawing, and for him its impact is primarily graphic. Baron Haussmann's late nineteenth-century facades embody strict and fluent patterns of doors and windows on a massive and imposing scale. Mason's attachment to this architecture is complex: ‘facades with windows and doors describe space itself and denote the trace of humanity spread everywhere throughout the city’. They also perform more purely pictorial roles like describing movement because ‘by their very regularity they [doors and windows] capture the movement of my figures in front’. Most importantly, and particularly in relation to his low relief works, this architecture assists in the description or creation of space. Mason's large free-standing sculptures are usually conceived for a real architectural setting and thus function in real space. However, in his sculptural low and high reliefs Mason's almost always builds in a architectural background as a structural device, as he explained in conversation with the compiler:
When you move around these facades, when you look at them front on, or when you look at them from the side, you get a perfect description of space. When you are facing this form [building] its openings [doors and windows] are amply spaced and when the lines group together in a particular way you know that this form is slipping away sharply - I use this recipe to give depth and space to my reliefs:
it's all linked with the laws of perspective but its not based on them. It's based on the laws of optics - of moving around because it's a city scene, and you are surrounded by a decor of houses and streets and windows and doors. In all my work there is an attempt to try and organise space by the spreading out or closing up of lines and forms. In this lithograph called ‘The Man in the Street’, if you imagine that background without the movement of those windows, there would be no space.
This entry has been approved by the artist.
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996