Richard Artschwager

Interior II


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Richard Artschwager 1923–2013
Etching and drypoint on paper
Image: 250 × 302 mm
Purchased 1986

Display caption

Interior I plays with our expectations about particular types of media: it was based on a magazine photograph, but the exaggerated brush-strokes on the surface echo painterly gestures. Interior II relates to a series of drawings in which Artschwager presented the same six objects (a basket, table, door, window, mirror and rug), each time varying their surface, appearance and scale. In this work, the perspective has been exaggerated, so that the basket seems much larger than the door or table.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

P77155 Interior II 1977

Drypoint 250 × 302 (9 7/8 × 11 7/8) on wove Arches paper 572 × 502 (22 1/2 × 19 3/4); plate-mark 250 × 302 (9 7/8 × 11 7/8); printed by Anthony Kirk at Aeropress, New York and published by Multiples, New York in an edition of 35
Inscribed 'Artschwager ‘77’ and ‘17/35’ below image b.r.
Purchased from Marian Goodman Gallery, New York (Grant-in-Aid) 1986
Lit: ichard Artschwager and Catherine Kord, Basket Table Door Window Mirror Rug: 53 Drawings by Richard Artschwager, New York 1976, p.53

In P77155 six objects are depicted within a sparely delineated interior. The objects are a basket and a rug in the centre of the composition, a mirror and a table on the far wall, and a door and a window on the right-hand wall. Four of the objects - the basket, rug, table and door - can be identified easily. In a letter to the compiler post-marked 17 May 1993, Artschwager wrote that ‘the form on the right wishes to be a window’. This indicates that the object on the far wall on the left should be read as the mirror. All six objects are printed in black and are linked by the wood-grain surface pattern that they all share.

In a conversation with the compiler in New York on 2 April 1990, Artschwager said that he had used a ruler to draw the two lines representing the far wall, but had drawn the two lines on the right freehand. He explained that the orthogonal lines related more ‘to the act of walking through’, while the parallel lines delineating the far wall were ‘for the eye only’. ‘Because they are too far to reach, you cannot reach over and touch them, but you can almost reach over. You can at least make a connection down your body to your feet, across the floor to where they are.’

P77155 belongs to a group of three etchings of interiors (see entry on P77154) made in 1977. In his letter Artschwager wrote that P77155 was the second print of the group to be made and that he had chosen etching for this group of prints ‘because it looked to be a medium that promised complexity on a par with painting and sculpture’. The image was drawn on transfer paper and twelve artist's proofs were made in addition to the numbered edition. P77155 is closely related to the third print of the group, ‘Interior III’ (no reproduction known). This depicts the same six types of object, although differently combined, without a wood-grain patterning, and within a different perspectivally drawn interior setting.

P77155 and ‘Interior III’ are based on two images in a series of fifty-three ink drawings entitled ‘Basket, Table, Door, Window, Mirror, Rug’. The line drawings, which depict different configurations of the same six types of object in an interior, were made over six months in 1974. The series was exhibited in March 1975 at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, and a book illustrating the series was published in 1976 with an introductory essay by Catherine Kord. The image in P77155 is based on the drawing reproduced on p.53, while the drawing illustrated on p.22 is the source for ‘Interior III’. Both images were reversed in the printing process.

The fifty-three ‘Basket, Table, Door, Window, Mirror, Rug’ drawings were an extended investigation into pictorial representation. The six objects, their surface, appearance, scale and relation to one another, formed a theme with potentially infinite variations. In an unsystematic, highly varied and exaggerated manner, Artschwager employed dramatic changes of scale and shifts in the viewpoint to distort the pictorial space and destabilise the relationships between the objects. In conversation with the compiler he characterised the images as belonging to ‘the uncountable series of the universe of six objects’ and likened the process of combining them to filling a sketchbook with variations. P77155, he said, ‘could be the last page in the notebook of the permutations of the six things, which are [in themselves] simple enough’. In her introduction to Basket Table Door Window Mirror Rug: 53 Drawings by Richard Artschwager, Kord writes [pp.2–3]:

This is a book about objects seen in the context of other objects; the objects lean on each other; they prop up each others' sagging reality.

The fifty-three drawings herein contained constitute an investigation (open-ended) of the possible forms into which six objects can be lugged, shoved, squeezed and generally contorted, while still keeping their individual identities. Since the objects originate conceptually rather than perceptually ... their malleability is rather tremendous.

The series draws attention to the difference between an object, a representation of it and the language used to describe and identify it. In his letter, Artschwager wrote about the simple descriptive title he had given P77155, ‘sometimes one doesn't want to push the thing with the title. It assumes that I don't know any better, but the title has its own special flavour’.

The appearance of each object in P77155 has been unified by a wood-grain pattern. The common surface pattern changes the character of the objects, as well as their relationship to one another. Artschwager first used painted wood-grain surfaces and wood-grain patterned formica in his sculptures of the early 1960s. The employment of similar methods to highlight the ambiguities between real objects or materials and representations of them in works of art can be found in some Surrealist paintings by Magritte and, before that, in the use of simulated or mass-produced wood-grain patterns in Cubist paintings by Braque and Picasso. According to the artist, the unifying surface pattern extends the relationship between the objects by adding an unexpected common classification: ‘If everything is made of the same material, I suppose it stops being wood. If everything is wood grain, then something has happened to the wood grain, which has become a vehicle rather than a description.’

The series of fifty-three drawings, which followed an intense period of painting, became centrally important to Artschwager in the following years. According to Richard Armstrong (Richard Armstrong, Artschwager, Richard, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1988, p.40), ‘Artschwager turned to a protracted suite of imaginary drawings that featured similar basic elements from his previous work - door, window, table, basket, mirror, and rug. For the next few years these six things constituted Artschwager's entire vocabulary, as he combined them in an amazing display of playful invention’. Armstrong suggests that an important precursor for this group of works was the painting ‘Chair, Chair, Sofa, Table, Table, Rug’, 1965 (repr. ibid., p.77, no.34). In this, ‘the rug is a simple rhomboid that neatly re-frames and situates the furniture in an easily comprehended space’. This single painting, he added, remained ‘an isolated and stable lexicon of idealized meaning amid the shifting subjects that Artschwager subsequently addressed’.

Artschwager made several works in different media, based on the fifty-three drawings. They include a series of ink and graphite drawings which can be distinguished from the original series by Artschwager's use of hatching and shading. ‘Door, Window, Table, Basket, Mirror, Rug No.33’, 1974, is reproduced in Richard Artschwager: Drawings, exh. cat., Nolan/Eckman Gallery, New York 1993, p.20. ‘Door, Window, Table, Basket, Mirror, Rug No.18’ and ‘Door, Window, Table, Basket, Mirror, Rug No.20’, are illustrated in Richard Artschwager, Chuck Close, Joe Zucker, exh. cat., Daniel Weinberg Gallery, San Francisco 1976, nos.4–5. Two related sculptures from the 1970s, ‘Six Mirror Images’, 1975–9, and ‘Pyramid’, 1979, which extend Artschwager's exploration of objects drawn in perspectival space into three dimensions, are reproduced in the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, catalogue (1988, pp.128–9, pls.85–6, in col.). Three paintings based on the fifty-three drawings were made a decade later: ‘Basket, Mirror, Window, Rug, Table, Door’, 1985, ‘D.M.B.R.T.W. I’, 1985 and ‘D.M.B.R.T.W. II’, 1985, are reproduced in the same catalogue (pls.107–9, in col.).

In the series of fifty-three drawings and in the related prints, drawings and paintings, Artschwager demonstrated that a rational model for representing three-dimensional forms in a flat picture plane, such as the one-point perspective model used since the Renaissance, can produce irrational results when applied in an extreme manner. Artschwager's use of this model was the subject of Werner Ochslin's essay about the laws of perspective, ‘On the Fantastic Products of Ratio’ in the issue on Artschwager published by the Swiss periodical, Parkett (no.23, March 1990, pp.68–79).

The artist has approved this entry.

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

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