Richard Johnny John, Jerome Rothenberg, Ian Tyson

Three Friendly Warnings


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Richard Johnny John
Jerome Rothenberg born 1931
Ian Tyson born 1933
Lithograph on paper
Support: 119 × 83 mm
Purchased 2001


Three Friendly Warnings by Ian Tyson, Jerome Rothenberg and Richard Johnny John is one of the eight printed works in Tetrad Pamphlets Vol.II. Tetrad Pamphlets consists of eight fold-out paper pamphlets in a grey cardboard box. The pamphlets occupy the middle ground between artist's book and free-standing print work. They were printed in an edition of one hundred and twenty five and the Tate copy is unnumbered and unsigned. The box included work by Ian Breakwell (born 1943), Tom Phillips (born 1937), Richard Pinkney (born 1938), Donato Cinicolo (dates unknown), Christian Wolff (born 1934) and Valerie Large (dates unknown).They were published by the small London based Tetrad Press from which they took their name. Tetrad Press also published a number of artist's books and collaborations, as well as an earlier volume of Tetrad Pamphlets. Volume I (Tate P01688-P01697) appeared in 1971, featuring ten works in pamphlet format by Derrick Greaves (born 1927), Tom Phillips, Richard Pinkney and Ian Tyson.

Tetrad Press was founded in 1969 by the artist and publisher Ian Tyson for the purposes of developing a new relationship between contemporary art and literature. To begin with Tetrad concentrated on collaborations between visual artists and poets. The first work published was a five page folio, The 17 Horse Songs of Frank Mitchell X-X111 1969-70 (Tate P05258-P05261), a collaboration between Tyson and his close friend the American experimental poet Jerome Rothenberg. The press gradually broadened its scope to include musical scores, books, prose texts, and concrete poetry, as well as works by individual artists. The 1960s had seen a growing interest in the possibilities offered by printmaking techniques, and artists were keen to explore connections between word and image, literature and art. The artist's book offered another medium through which to explore these relationships. As Ian Tyson commented: 'it is partly the sequential nature of the book that interests me, the conception of the pages being each one a facet of the whole and that of the work being slowly revealed as one moves from one to the other.' (Quoted in unpublished Tate manuscript.)

Three Friendly Warnings is one of the eight works in Tetrad Pamphlets Vol.II. It consists of a brown card folded in half inside which is a small, grey paper pouch containing four cards in a transparent paper slip case. The title of the work is printed in capitals on the first card: 'Three Friendly Warnings From Songs for the Society of Mystic Animals, translated from the Seneca Indian'. On each of the next three cards a Seneca Indian text is presented as a concrete poem. Printed in grey in a grid-like format, the text runs across the page from left to right. The block of Seneca text is surrounded by Rothenberg and Richard Johnny John's English translations printed in orange. Tyson designed the lay-out and type-face. The work reflects Rothenberg's interest in contemporary experimental poetry and ethnopoetics. In 1968 he was awarded a grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation (New York) in Anthropological Research, to conduct a two-part experiment in the translation of American Indian poetry. The project involved collaborative translations between Rothenberg and Seneca Indian songmen from the Allengheny Reservation in Steamburg, New York. In 1972 Rothenberg published an anthology that reflected his close study of Seneca Indian poetics: Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas. Rothenberg lived on the reservation between 1972 and 1974. During this time he translated the text for Three Friendly Warnings with the assistance of Richard Johnny John. Tetrad's earlier 17 Horse Songs of Frank Mitchell X-X111, a collaboration between Rothenberg and Tyson, was also a translation of a Seneca Indian text.

Rothenberg and Tyson continued to collaborate for the next twenty-five years. Tetrad published works such as Millenium (sic) 1982, a 12 page fold-out with images by Tyson and text by Rothenberg.

Further Reading:
Cathy Courtney, Speaking of Book Art: Interviews with British and American Book Artists, California 1999, pp.23-37
Some Enquiries and Observations: Ian Granger, Derrick Greaves, Tetrad Press,
exhibition brochure, Sunderland Arts Centre, Sunderland 1974
Jerome Rothenberg Papers: Biography,

Imogen Cornwall-Jones
January 2002

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