Ivor Abrahams

Suburban Shrub II (Dusk)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Ivor Abrahams 1935–2015
Lithograph on paper
Image: 831 × 630 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.

P11111 Suburban Shrub II (Dusk) 1972

Lithograph 831 × 630 (32 3/4 × 24 3/4) on Japanese Hosho laid paper, same size; printed by Alan Cox at Grafik and published by Bernard Jacobson Ltd; one of 5 artist's proofs aside from the edition of 30
Inscribed ‘Ivor Abrahams 72’ b.r. and ‘AP’ b.l.
Repr: Ivor Abrahams: Environments, Skulpturen, Zeichnungen, Komplette Graphiken, exh. cat., Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne 1973, p.91 in col. (unspecified impression)

These two prints [P11110 and P11111] depict a large green shrub or tree in an area of lawn in front of a building facade. Neither the building nor the shrub have particular identifying features. In this way attention focuses on relationship of the shapes and on the fall of light and shade in the prints.

The source image for these works was a small black and white illustration of what appears to be a fir tree in a garden setting, with a suburban house in the background. The neatly clipped illustration, now in the collection of the Tate Gallery Archive (TGA 8315), measures 100 × 90 mm, and is one of a large number of images stuck into a reporter's notepad, used by the artist for storing potentially useful images. Abrahams painted over the house with a wash of black ink, indicating how he wished to eliminate detail behind the central image. All that remains of the house in the final prints is the line of the roof and the corner of the building: what was an ordinary house, complete with a pitched roof and windows, becomes a monolithic, prison-like structure in the final prints.

In conversation Abrahams described these two works as his ‘first thorough-going attempt with a lithographer’, adding ‘I always work better with [the printer] Alan Cox than anyone else’. He said that he had probably worked on the two images at the same time, developing one with a light range of colours, the other with a darker tonality. He suggested that the subtitles ‘dawn’ and ‘dusk’ were added to underscore the different qualities of light in the prints.

‘Suburban Shrub I (Dawn)’ has a rich variety of light greens and yellows, and the shrub has a textured surface. In the second print, however, the shrub has a pointillist patterning, the range of colours is more subdued and the building behind is more in shadow. Although the two prints shared at least one of the zinc plates used in printing, the artist recalled that he had generally used separate plates for the two works. The Cologne catalogue specifies that eleven colours were used to print the second print. It also reproduces a preliminary work, which has flocking, ‘Drawings for Suburban Shrub’, 1971 (ibid., p.70).

Although the images have a painterly, naturalistic quality, the fall of light within them is deliberately illogical, creating an air of mystery.

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


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