John Cage

Déreau No. 33


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Not on display

John Cage 1912–1992
Etching on paper
Image: 460 × 630 mm
frame: 615 × 860 × 20 mm
Purchased 1983

Catalogue entry

P07903 Déreau No 33 1982

Etching, engraving, drypoint and aquatint 18 1/4 × 24 3/4 (463 × 629) on Japanese paper, printed by Lilah Toland at Crown Point Press, Oakland, California and published by them
Inscribed ‘John Cage 1982’ bottom centre and ‘Déreau 33 two of two impressions’; impressed with the printer's and publisher's stamp
Purchased from Crown Point Press (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Lit: Lilah Toland, ‘Déreau, 1982’, John Cage Etchings 1978–1982, Oakland, California, 1982, pp.20–1

The ‘Déreau’ portfolio consists of thirty-eight related works printed in two impressions each. P07903 is the second impression of no.33 in the portfolio. They were printed by Lilah Toland with Paul Singdahlsen and Marcia Bartholme.

Cage began working on the series in January 1982. It was his seventh etching project at Crown Point Press. The title derives from the first syllable of the word ‘décor’ and the second syllable of the surname of Henry David Thoreau (1817–62), a close associate of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82). Thoreau was a minor Transcendentalist who is best known for the two full length works published in his lifetime, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849) and Walden (1854), and for his essays which have subsequently become classics in the literature of political dissent, ‘On the Duty of Civil Disobedience’ (1849) and ‘A Plea for Captain John Brown’ (1860). Although his publications were barely known in his lifetime they have come to be regarded as cornerstones in the mid-nineteenth century American Renaissance in literature. Thoreau was also the author of nearly forty journal-notebooks and of a number of posthumous ‘travel’ books. A fundamental tenet of his philosophy, as expressed in Walden, was ‘to drive life into a corner and reduce it to its lowest terms’. Thoreau saw in nature's fine detail abiding spiritual meanings and saw nature as the repository of Emersonian-Transcendental spiritual ‘laws’ (see the entry on Thoreau by A. Robert Lee in Justin Wintle (ed.), Makers of Nineteenth Century Culture 1800–1914, London 1982, pp.619–22).

Cage had been familiar with Thoreau's Journal for many years before he became particularly interested in the drawings which the latter included to accompany observations of nature. Lilah Toland explains that Cage first gave them serious consideration when receiving an invitation in Paris to give a performance of ‘Song Books’ in Rome, which called for the protection of slides relevant to Thoreau, and he found that he did not have with him the slides of Walden Pond that he normally used. He recalled the sketches in the Journal and, knowing that Thoreau had drawn them, felt they could be used instead. He decided to use them as a basis for the Déreau etchings.

Cage used five intaglio processes in each print: drypoint straight lines, engraved curved lines, aquatint, a circular plate and photo-etched Thoreau drawings. Cage has written of these elements as follows:

‘Déreau’ uses 24 Thoreau drawings, four of which are represented and 12 of which disappear. For the 12 that disappear, substitutions were made: the first of which is a circle, the second, a horizon, the third, multiple parallel lines between chance-determined quadrants, the fourth, aquatints and the fifth, curves resulting from dropping a yard length of string on a plate each having the size and shape of the Kodalith film of the Thoreau drawing which disappeared (quoted in Toland, p.20).

According to Toland ‘Déreau’ ‘marks the first time Cage has used both static and changing elements in the composition of a print. Although the photo images retain their positions throughout the series of 38 prints, all other images move freely about the paper. Thus the Thoreau drawings are a kind of stage set or “decor” for the other elements’ (p.21).

Cage used the I Ching to determine the combinations of colours. He writes, ‘Five palettes have been distinguished: Black, Yellow, Red, Blue and Earth. These appear alone or in combination with one of forty-five colours in chance-determined percentages with or without white. The whole series of prints is divided into 10 groups each having its own palette’ (quoted in Toland, p.21). Cage began to structure his work by using chance operations derived from the I Ching in 1950. The I Ching provided him with a disciplined method of working which dispenses with intentioned decision-making and allows him, ‘to think of his work as an exploration of how nature functions rather than as a method of communicating his own ideas’ (Kathan Brown, ‘Changing Art: A Chronicle Centred on John Cage’, John Cage Etchings 1978–82, p.7).

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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