Ian Tyson



View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Ian Tyson born 1933
Screenprint on paper
Image: 416 x 417 mm
Presented by the artist 1998


Untitled 1975 is a screenprint by the British artist Ian Tyson. Sixteen small squares in grey, orange, red and blue are arranged in four rows and four columns, with intervals between them that are approximately the height and width of the squares themselves. These shapes appear against a square black background which itself sits within a dark grey border. Although the arrangement of the shapes and their outlines are geometrically precise, the colours in each row and column do not follow a regular pattern. However, the placing of squares in the complementary colours of orange and blue next to one other and their contrast to the darker colours and black background mean that the composition appears to pulse with a rhythmic energy. The screenprint is mounted on thick white card and its right margin bears the artist’s name and the edition number, which is nine in an edition of thirty artist’s proofs.

Untitled was published in 1975, most likely by the Tetrad Press in London that Tyson had founded in 1970. It is possible that this image was printed at the Kelpra Press, London, a leading printing studio for silkscreen artists working in the 1960s and 1970s. The work was built up in several layers using multiple stencils, which required careful and precise registration as each was laid onto the paper.

This print is unusual among Tyson’s work for its non-specific title. His grid prints and their titles have been more commonly produced in direct response to literary texts, with their colour and, as Tyson stated in a recording made at various times between February 1997 and April 1998, their ‘disposition … taken partly from the text and partly from the way I wanted to compose it’ (quoted in Courtney 1999, p.31). It is not known whether Untitled was constructed as a visual response to a particular text. Tetrad Press was set up to allow Tyson to explore the links between visual art and literature and many of his prints are collaborations with contemporary poets. In the recording made by Courtney in 1997–8 Tyson reflected on his motives for establishing the Tetrad Press: ‘I was searching for writing that had an astringency that paralleled what I was interested in visually and I wanted to have a total rapport with the poets, not just take a text and use it’ (quoted in Courtney 1999, p.30). Several prints that are also held in Tate’s collection have titles referencing these collaborations, such as 23rd Light Poem 7th Poem for Larry Eigner 15 January 1969 1970 (Tate P01697) published in association with the American experimental poet Larry Eigner.

Although it is unclear whether or not Untitled was produced as part of a similar collaboration, the work reflects the geometric style that characterised Tyson’s work of this period. In the 1997–8 recording he described how his early interest in the grid as a typographic convention had given way to something ‘more complex’:

Paintings would hang around for months and I would constantly alter them, feeling immense frustration because I had no idea whether they were complete … I used the grid in a primitive, naïve way to start with, but it wasn’t long before I realised I’d opened up the doors on something much more complex than anything I had envisaged. The frustration of not knowing when a work was finished was supplanted by knowing there were infinite variations of whatever mathematical progression I was using.
(Quoted in Courtney 1999, p.28.)

The placing of coloured squares or rectangles in a grid format against a black background can be seen in Tyson’s screenprints Knights Eminence 1970 (Tate P01695) and Mask Masque 1970 (Tate P01696). The subtle tonal range of the smaller coloured squares of Untitled are also evident in prints such as Letter II (Fountain Music) 1971 (Tate P05267) and Roof Structure [illustration for ‘Folio 4, Dances 20-23] 1971 (Tate P05276).

Untitled was produced when Tyson was establishing his practice as a painter, printmaker and book artist. As a medium screenprinting had been widely popularised in the previous decade in America by the artist Andy Warhol. Tyson and fellow British printmakers including Bridget Riley and Patrick Caulfield were celebrated in exhibitions such as British Artists’ Books 1970–1983 (Atlantis Gallery, London, and Wingfield College, Suffolk 1984) and the British Council’s British Artists’ Prints 1972–1977 (held in 1977–89 in venues across Africa, Asia, Europe and North America). The geometric formalism of Untitled also shows the impact of minimalist artists such as Donald Judd (1928–1994) and Carl Andre (born 1935). Tyson has outlined a wide variety of other influences including the woodcuts of Joan Miró (1893–1983) and Henri Matisse’s (1869–1954) Jazz 1947 (see Tyson quoted in Courtney 1999, p.27).

Further reading
Sylvie Turner, British Artists’ Books 1970–1983, London 1984.
Sylvie Turner, ‘Printmaking Studios in Britain: The Continuing Condition’, Print Quarterly, vol.7, no.4, December 1990, pp.397–413.
Cathy Courtney, Speaking of Book Art, Los Altos Hills 1999, pp.22–37.

Jo Kear
July 2015

Supported by Christie’s.

Technique and condition

A screenprint on thick white card. It is signed with the edition number AP 9/30/ inscribed in the margin. The print is in mint condition and is stored mounted.

Calvin Winner
September 1998