Stephen Bann

Orange

1964

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Stephen Bann born 1942
Medium
Screenprint on paper; collaboration with David Maclagan
Dimensions
Support: 680 x 480 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the artist 2017
Reference
P20831

Summary

Orange 1964 is a portrait-format silkscreen print on paper. An orange square, positioned centrally on the sheet, has the word ‘ORANGE’ in capital letters printed over it – some of the letters running over into the unprinted sheet. This complete word appears four times: horizontally inside the top edge of the square (ranged from the left with the letters ‘GE’ to the right of the square) and its bottom edge (ranged from the right with the letters ‘OR’ to the left of the square); and vertically reading down inside the left edge of the square (with the letters ‘NGE’ running down beneath the square) and reading down into the bottom right hand corner of the square (with the letters ‘ORA’ running down above the square). In addition the word ‘RANG’ is repeated three times, horizontally as the middle row of letters within the square and running vertically to form the two middle rows of the square – the left hand column with its ‘G’ below the square and the right hand column with the ‘R’ above the square. The print was silkscreened in an edition of six by David Maclagan, a friend of Bann’s who was at that time studying at the Royal College of Art, London. It was produced for the First International Exhibition of Concrete, Phonetic and Kinetic Poetry, held at St Catherine’s College, Cambridge in 1964. Tate’s copy is number one in the edition of six.

The intention of the poem – using colour and word – is to communicate a range of meanings from one word that is grounded and framed by a graphic image (here a square) that provides a resolution to any apparent contradiction. Orange here is both a colour and a thing – a fruit perhaps (although the orange square confounds a reading of it as an orange). The splitting up of the word ‘ORANGE’ into component parts, such as ‘RANG’ (describing an action associated with a sound), ‘ANGE’ (the French for angel) or ‘OR’ (a word used to explain or correct another word), further complicates how this initially simple poem may be read.

In 1964 Bann was introduced by his friend Mike Weaver to the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925–2006), and together they visited him in Edinburgh that August; Bann has explained that the visit to Finlay ‘resulted in a frequent exchange of letters. Rapel (1963), his first major collection of concrete poetry, appeared to me to hold the promise of a new kind of poetic art, at once deconstructing language and reassembling its component terms to create a visual expression.’ (Stephen Bann, artist’s statement, 2016, for the website of the exhibition Design and the Concrete Poem, Lighthouse, Glasgow 2016, https://designandconcretepoem.wordpress.com/texts/, accessed 9 August 2017.) Bann engaged with this idea of deconstruction and reassembly that he had perceived in Finlay’s work, and this can be recognised in Orange, which he described as drawing ‘a few discordant meanings out of a word of six letters, which were then (so to speak) reconciled through participating in the square of vivid colour’ (ibid.).

Orange is one of a group of Bann’s ‘poem/prints’ in Tate’s collection that reflect at first his discovery of concrete poetry through his friendship with Finlay after 1964, and then the subsequent development of his own poetic language (see, for example, Fleece 1967 [Tate P20832]). The historian Deborah Cherry has concluded, ‘Bann is ever attentive to the image, its “generative force” and analytical power, to the ways in which visual media offer not a record of the past, but “historical culture in the making”.’ (Cherry 2006, p.1.) In 1967 Bann produced the first anthology of concrete poetry to be published in Britain, concrete poetry: an international anthology. Bann included both himself and Finlay in the anthology and this relationship grew to one of collaboration and exchange over the years, so that Bann became Finlay’s major facilitator and interpreter.

Further reading
Stephen Bann (ed.), concrete poetry, an international anthology, London 1967.
Bob Chaplin & Stephen Bann, A Mythic Topography, exhibition catalogue, Royal Museum, Canterbury 1982.
Deborah Cherry (ed.), About Stephen Bann, Oxford 2006.

Andrew Wilson
August 2017

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