Ivor Abrahams

Nereids II


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Ivor Abrahams 1935–2015
Screenprint and felt-tip pen on paper
Image: 1008 × 750 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.

P11196 Nereids II 1986

Screenprint and gold felt pen 1008 × 750 (39 5/8 × 29 1/2) on wove paper, same size; printed by Brad Faine at Coriander Studio and published by the artist and Coriander Studio; one of ?5 artist's proofs aside from the edition of 35
Inscribed ‘Ivor Abrahams 86’ b.l. and ‘Artist Proof.’ b.r. and stamped with the printer's stamp ‘CORIANDER STUDIO LONDON’ in a circular device b.r.

P11195 and P11196 depict two swimmers in the sea, which is represented by a patterned area of blues, greens and purples. Their bodies, which are seen from below, are copper coloured. In places the artist added lines to define the contours of their bodies using a gold felt pen (in conversation with the compiler on 4 October 1994 he explained that it had proved impossible to achieve the desired effect through printing). The reference to water nymphs in the title adds a classical allusion to these otherwise modern depictions of the female body.

In conversation with the compiler on 28 September 1994 the artist said that these two prints were based on a monotype, eight feet square, that he had printed with Alan Cox and Jack Sherif at Sky Editions. He added that the works were inspired in part by ‘Woman Swimming Underwater’, 1941 by the Italian sculptor Arturo Martini (repr. Fortunato Bellonzi, Arturo Martini, Rome 1975, no.173). Abrahams had long been a great admirer of Martini, and in 1955 had stayed in Anticoli Corrrado where the latter had lived and worked for a period.

The emphasis on movement in these images may be seen as heralding Abrahams' interest in dance. In conversation he explained that, from the period when he reintroduced the figure, there had been a quite logical progression in his work from bathers to swimmers, leading finally to dancers. In the same year as he executed the two ‘Nereid’ prints he began to use dancers as models, drawing and taking photographs of their often acrobatic movements. At the same time he worked with stills from videos of Olympic gymnasts. Reviewing Abrahams' later works, David Cohen wrote that the artist would ‘work over these [photographs] by hand, cutting, photocopying, collaging, always in search of the formal essentials of the dynamic movement which he has made the subject of his art’ (‘Trente-Six’, in Ivor Abrahams, exh. cat., Bernard Jacobson Gallery 1990, [p.5]).

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

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