Ivor Abrahams



In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Ivor Abrahams 1935–2015
Lithograph on paper
Image: 648 × 500 mm
Presented by Evelyne Abrahams, the artist's wife 1986

Catalogue entry

Group of ninety-eight screenprints, lithographs and etchings, various sizes [P11099-P11196; incomplete]

Presented by Evelyne Abrahams, the artist's wife 1986

This group of prints was bequeathed to Evelyne Abrahams by the artist's parents, Harry and Rachel Abrahams, on the understanding that she would present it to the Tate Gallery on their behalf. It represents the greater part of the artist's printmaking to date. Other works by Abrahams in the collection are a sculpture entitled ‘Lady in a Niche’, 1973 (T03369), a work on paper entitled ‘Winter Sundial’, 1975 (T02330), and a small number of prints: ‘The Garden Suite’, 1970 (P04001-P04005), ‘Sundial I (Summer)’, 1975 (P07384) and ‘Untitled’ [from the artist's book Oxford Gardens: A Sketchbook], 1977 (P08150).

Abrahams is primarily a sculptor, and many of his prints relate to particular sculptures. In the period 1967–79 Abrahams focused on garden imagery, exploring the relationship between art, artifice and nature. Many of the images used in early prints were based on small, relatively poor quality photographs of gardens reproduced in gardening magazines, such as the weekly Amateur Gardening and Popular Gardening, or, less frequently, better quality illustrations found in the series of volumes on gardens published by Country Life in the 1920s. This use of second-hand source material gives much of his printed output a conceptual quality, and links his work to Pop art. Abrahams has presented a large amount of source material relating to his printmaking of this period, including magazine clippings, photographs and sketches and acetate stencils, to the Tate Gallery Archive (TGA 8315).

The critical and commercial success of ‘The Garden Suite’ (P04001-P040054), published in 1970, helped establish Abrahams' name internationally, and in the following decade he went on to produce a significant body of prints, making approximately one print a month. The dealer Bernard Jacobson published many of his portfolios, and the Mayor Gallery organised a series of touring shows of prints and sculptures. In this period Abrahams was based in London, working at a studio in Leonard Street, EC2, from 1969 to 1982, and at the A & A Foundry in Bow from 1982 to 1992, with a second studio at Butler's Wharf from 1974 to 1979.

In 1979 Abrahams abandoned the garden theme for which he had become well known and focused instead on water-based imagery, using bathers and nymphs which were inspired in part by the landscape, myths and folk customs associated with the South of France. Abrahams and his French wife bought a home in Pézenas, in the Languedoc, in 1973, where he used the cellar as a studio. In 1988 they bought a house in the small village, Castelnau de Guers, in the same region, and have lived there on a full-time basis since 1992.

Unless otherwise stated, all quotations by the artist in the following entries are taken from a taped interview with the compiler held on 18 August 1994. The entries have been approved by the artist.

P11192 Baigneuses 1983

Offset lithograph 648 × 500 (25 1/2 × 9 3/4) on wove paper, same size; printed by the technicians at the Royal College of Art and published by the Royal College of Art; one of 5 proofs on different papers
Inscribed ‘Ivor Abrahams 83’ b.r.

This lithograph depicts three brown-limbed bathers against a blue sea. The reclining figure in the foreground wears a black swimsuit. the standing figure wears a red swimsuit. Like the figures in ‘Diptych’, 1981 (see entry on P11191), these women are represented by their torsos and legs only. The third figure, all arms and legs, appears to dive. the style of drawing is apparently rapid and free, while spatters of blue ink inside and outside the central image suggests vitality.

Abrahams made this offset lithograph to help raise money for the Royal College of Art. In conversation with the compiler on 28 September 1994 the artist said that he had first developed this image in the first of a series of ten monotypes entitled ‘Bathers’ (no repr. known) which he made with the printer Alan Cox in 1980.

‘Baigneuses’ proved the basis for a number of monotypes and sculptures. A group of small unique bronzes produced in 1986, for example, ‘Sea Figures’, ‘The Foutain - Nereids’, ‘Figure Group I’ and ‘Figure Group II’ (repr. Ivor Abrahams: An Exhibition of Sculpture. Models for Projects 1986, exh. cat., Mayor Gallery 1986, [pp.10–13], nos.3–6), echoes the positions of the three bathers in P 11192. The lithograph also directly inspired a large bronze sculpture of 1988, ‘Ocean Gate’ (repr. Ivor Abrahams: Polychrome Sculpture, exh. cat., Mayor Gallery 1989, [p.17] in col.), as well as two smaller works, the polychromed bronze ‘Trois Baigneuses Maquette’, 1987 and ‘Naiades’, 1988, made of galvanised steel painted with enamel (repr. ibid., [pp.9, 15] in col.). In the same Mayor Gallery catalogue ([pp.4–5]) Norbert Lynton wrote about Abrahams' preoccupation with the female figure:

We have to grasp the nettle, or perhaps accept the kind fact, that he seized on the figure in one of its most time-honoured, resonant but also routinely devalued formulations, the female figure, nude or nearly nude, as bather, dancer, acrobat: the whole precious spectrum of imagery that signals the pain of desire as well as gratitude for life and physical wholeness, doubts of one's own desirability as well as a response to bodily attraction, and that springs from ancient personifications of mankind's ideals and needs. Venus, Diana and her Maidens, naiads and dryads, the long-lost Golden Age pictured as naked humanity at peace amid benign nature-these are of course essentially religious... In devoting himself to what is at once one of the great themes of western poetic invention and the most demeaned in contemporary life, Abrahams is making what I see as his characteristic choice, compounded of humour as well as admiration for the instinct that drives mankind to art, mockery of as well as a sympathy for what amounts to a sort of forced vox populi in mass imagery, and a deep, passionate romanticism relating to the female figure as fact and mystery.

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

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