Albert Irvin



In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Albert Irvin 1922–2015
Screenprint on paper
Image: 222 × 175 mm
Transferred from the Library 1987

Catalogue entry

P08215 Alba 1987

Screenprint 222 × 175 (8 3/4 × 6 7/8) on wove paper, same size; printed by Arthur Watson at Peacock Printmakers, Aberdeen; inset in Alba, no.3, Spring 1987; not editioned
Printed inscription ‘Irvin’ b.l.
Transferred from the Library 1987

‘Alba’ stands outside the main sequence of Irvin's printmaking. It was commissioned from the artist by Peter Hill, the editor of Alba magazine, who suggested that he make a screenprint which would be made available to subscribers to that publication. ‘Alba’ was executed for this purpose and it accompanied the third issue of the magazine, published in Spring 1987. An article, ‘Albert Irvin’ by Dorothy Walker, appeared in the same issue, pp.26–7.

Irvin first met Peter Hill in 1983, after Hill had written a favourable review of the artist's exhibition at the Third Eye Centre, Glasgow that year. This review was published in Art Monthly, no.67, June 1983, pp.14–15. As a result of their ensuing acquaintance, Irvin gave Hill one of the small screenprints which he began to send as Christmas cards to friends and colleagues from 1985 onwards. (This is a practice which continues to the present.) Hill admired these prints and their small format led to his suggestion in 1987 for a similar, commissioned work which would act as an incentive for subscribers to his magazine.

Irvin began making screenprints in 1980 and he considers printmaking to be an important aspect of his work, complementing his painting. Working at Advanced Graphics, London, with Chris Betambeau (until his death in 1993) and Bob Saich, to date he has executed twenty-eight screenprints, including six recent prints which combine screenprint and woodblock. In addition to this main sequence of screenprints, Irvin has also made ten smaller screenprints at Advanced Graphics which have been used as Christmas cards (the last two of these combine screenprint and woodblock), two screenprints with Kip Gresham at Curwen Studio, London and two screenprints executed at the Royal College of Art, London. ‘Alba’ was printed by Arthur Watson at Peacock Printmakers, Aberdeen, in an unlimited edition (although Arthur Watson informed the compiler in 1987 that between 710 and 730 examples were printed). The prints were not individually signed or numbered and its special status as an unlimited edition print is denoted by the artist's printed signature which appears within the image.

In terms of its execution, ‘Alba’ represents a departure from Irvin's usual printmaking procedure. Irvin made the Kodatrace positives at Advanced Graphics in 1987 and the print incorporates elements which are characteristic of his collaborations with Betambeau. Notable among these are the progressive overlaying and interweaving of gestural marks (described by the artist as creating a ‘basket of space’), the use of transparent inking so that underlying colours influence the tone and hue of passages printed over them, and the blending of colours as in the transition from pale violet (at the bottom of the image) to dark blue (at the top). Despite these hallmarks, the print was not in fact printed at Advanced Graphics. Because of its connection with Alba, whose offices were in Edinburgh, on this occasion the Kodatraces were transferred from Advanced Graphics to Peacock Printmakers, Aberdeen for printing.

In terms of imagery, the print comprises several discrete gestural marks, each of which was created on a separate transparent Kodatrace sheet. These include three broad slanting marks in dark blue/pale violet running from the top edge to the bottom, a broken gestural line in dark blue which occupies the top half of the image, five thin traversing lines in yellow, and two orange and magenta chevron shapes at bottom right. The final composition was created by combining these marks into a single complex configuration from which the screen for printing was made.

The composition of ‘Alba’ relates in particular to the Christmas card screenprint circulated by Irvin in 1986 which comprises similar elements. During printing, Arthur Watson also produced a number of colour variants on this motif although these were never editioned. Examples of these variants are in the artist's collection. At the time the print was executed the portrait format was unusual in Irvin's oeuvre, as hitherto he had favoured a landscape composition. However, since the early 1990s the portrait format has figured increasingly in his paintings. This demonstrates the close link between Irvin's printmaking and his paintings. In particular it shows the way ideas, which are first explored as prints, may subsequently be developed on a larger scale and given more substantial expression on canvas.

The artist has approved this entry.

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


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