Michael Kidner

Square and Circle One

1976, published 1982

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Michael Kidner 1917–2009
Photo-etching on paper
Image: 485 × 579 mm
Purchased 1984

Catalogue entry

Michael Kidner born 1917

P77023 Square and Circle One 1976, pub. 1982

Photo-etching 485 x 579 (19 1/8 x 22 3/4) on Arches paper 730 x 934 (28 3/4 x 36 3/4); plate-mark 485 x 579 (19 1/8 x 22 3/4); watermark ‘ARCHES'; printed by Jack Shirref at 107 Workshop, Warminster and published by the artist in an edition of 50
Inscribed ‘Michael Kidner '82' below image b.r. and ‘Edition 2/50 Square & Circle One' below image b.l.
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1984
Lit: Pat Gilmour, ‘The Elastic Membrane', Arts Review, 4 July 1980, p.275; Stephen Bann, ‘Michael Kidner', Art Monthly, no. 65, April 1983, p.12; Peter Brades, ‘Michael Kidner', Artscribe, no. 40, April 1983, pp.30-1
Repr: 11th International Biennial Exhibition of Prints in Tokyo, exh. cat., National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, 1979, p.54 pl.55; Michael Kidner: Painting, Drawing, Sculpture 1959-84, exh. cat., Serpentine Gallery, 1984, p.38 fig.95

This photo-etching is one of a series of three which deal with the theme of circles within a square. From the projected edition of fifty Kidner has made only thirteen so far. Although the artist had earlier made silkscreen prints, this was his first use of the technique of photo-etching. Regarding his decision to make prints of his constructions incorporating elasticated cloth he writes, ‘Elastic perishes and nylon discolours. Etching has stood the test of time' (letter to the compiler dated 29 December 1987).

Using his simple apparatus of graph paper and a piece of elasticated cloth affixed to two batons, Kidner explored in these works the patterns of change and distortion created by the systematic stretching and restretching of the cloth and the shapes drawn on it. To do this he followed several steps. First, he drew an image on a piece of paper. A piece of elasticated cloth was then stretched over the drawing, a centre point was fixed and the image on the paper, seen through the cloth, was traced onto the cloth. The cloth was then restretched with the tension transferred from the left side to the right. The image was plotted back on to the paper with the centrepoint again marked. The elasticated cloth was then returned to its original position but moved to a new centre point and the distorted image traced on to it. Kidner writes that he sees this process as akin to ‘that of a choreographer planning the steps of a dance' (letter dated 2 February 1988).

Before discovering the potential of elasticated cloth in his work, Kidner experimented with using a computer to generate patterns of expansion and contraction. However, the machine proved too impersonal a tool for his taste and the lines in the drawings it produced lacked the fluidity he desired. He found that elasticated cloth allowed him, by contrast, a direct and immediate control of his work. He writes, ‘I want my work to be concrete - I have to feel the resistance of the elastic like a living force, and this the computer does not provide' (letter dated 2 February 1988).

Kidner's experiments, as he calls them, deal ostensibly with a mathematically controlled progression of line and shape, but there is much in them which escapes the rationalist values associated with geometrical forms. The faint traces of the earlier image showing through the cloth are evidence of the time and effort expended by the artist, whilst the textural qualities of the weave of the cloth and the grain of the wood, strongly emphasised in this print, speak of the artist's interest in organic materials. Kidner seeks to incorporate a dimension of lived experience in his work. He writes, ‘For me the compass drawn circle represents the rational, geometric, if you like Platonic - certainly recognizably ideal circle. The elastic distortions are life's games, how we actually encounter the circle' (letter dated 27 December 1987). Yet he does not court self-expression: if it creeps into his work, ‘it is not sought for but arrives inevitably like the holes in my socks' (letter dated 2 February 1988).

Kidner sees P77023 as part of his development of constructivist practice. He writes:

I am trying to convey in this work not so much a philosophy as a state of mind. My approach owes much to the rational and concrete tradition of the constructivists but I do not share their confidence in utopia. I have no confidence in absolutes but feel myself caught in a dialectic between different persuasions. Square and Circle is one of many attempts I have made to epitomize this sense of the relativity and uncertainty of values and the crumbling nature of certainties (letter dated 2 February 1988).

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.395-6


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