Ryszard Otreba

Discovery V


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Ryszard Otreba born 1932
Original title
Znalezisko V
Plaster print on paper
Image: 807 × 548 mm
Presented by Professor Akumal Ramachander 1985

Catalogue entry

This catalogue entry discusses a group of works; details of the individual work are given at the end of the introductory text.

Ryszard Otreba born 1932

P11087 - P11088 Letters to my Wife 1967 - to present

Sixteen prints, various sizes on Japanese paper, printed and published by the artist in an edition of 25
Presented by Professor Akumal Ramachander 1985

P11088 Discovery V 1975

Plaster print 807 x 548 (31 3/4 x 21 9/16) on Japanese paper 992 x 651 (39 1/6 x 25 5/8)
Inscribed 'Znalezisko V' b.l. and 'Otreba 1975' b.r.

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations from the artist come from a letter to the compiler dated 19 February 1988.

P11087 and P11088 were both made in the artist's studio in Krakow, Poland, under artificial light conditions. He writes that each work took about one or two months to complete, although, 'the idea is really from the beginning - the emotional idea'. The works belong to a series begun in 1967, called 'Letter to my Wife'. In a letter to the compiler dated 11 April 1988 the artist writes:

The first image I developed took place when in the USA on my scholarship in 1966/67. I have made about 16 prints on this subject matter all together. The average number of works I do is about seven prints per year so you can find out that subject related to the 'Letter to my Wife' contains about 10% of all works I am realizing.
The artist stresses the private nature of the imagery and his relationship with the intended recipient:
They are made for one person only - almost like writing a letter to somebody who is a very close friend, a lover - just my wife. I try to explore my own ability and to discover individual 'symbols' that are understood by a small number of people, sometimes one person only, because it's a personal feeling of a certain desire - a state of being united in love.
The artist admits to an open-ended sense of mystery in his imagery saying, 'I think there is a great deal of mystery in my prints and the message (if one finds it) is open to interpretation'. He describes the subject of the works as consisting of, 'a certain unique system of spatial references, leading the eye deep down, to infinity'. His aim, he writes, is 'so build up an emotion which cannot be translated into words, which causes one to stop and contemplate'.

The technique used in making both prints is similar. The artist describes his choice of material and the techniques he used as follows:

I try to explore my own experience in the uniqueness of the plasserprint media. Plaster printing is a relief printmaking technique which uses plaster as a basic material for the block. I have used this technique since 1961. The plaster block is made by constructing a wooden frame of the size I require made of furring strips [battens approx. 25 x 50] around a sheet of plexiglass or lucite. Then I pour the wet plaster (gesso) into this form and strengthen it by embedding a piece of screening or wire mesh in it. After 20 minutes the plaster feels hot and the block may be removed from the form. When the plaster dries up, it becomes very hard and yields the fine details intended. [While the plaster is still soft and hardening slowly, is is worked by the artist. Only very fine details can be incised once the plaster has hardened.]
Photographs of Otreba's plaster print technique are reproduced to illustrate the technique in John Ross and Clare Romano, The Complete New Techniques in Printmaking, London and New York 1972, p.15. The artist also produces the blocks discussed in the foregoing quotation. Because of their thickness and fragility all prints are made by hand. He continues: 'the printing process is very time-consuming. A press cannot be used therefore I print every print by hand with a bone or a spoon'. This painstaking method of printing accounts for the length of time required to produce an edition of prints.

In Tate Gallery Report 1984-6 (1986, p.149) the medium is wrongly described as 'lithograph' for both prints. Further, P11088 is wrongly titled there.

The artist has approved this entry.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.440-1

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