Michael Rothenstein



In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Michael Rothenstein 1908–1993
Linocut and wood relief on paper
Image: 755 × 615 mm
Purchased 1987

Catalogue entry

P77204 Tournament 1963

Linocut and wood relief 755 × 615 (29 1/2 × 24 1/4) on Japanese paper 828 × 669 (32 9/10 × 26 3/8); printed by the artist with assistance of Trevor Allen and published by the artist in an edition of 35 with proofs
Inscribed ‘Michael Rothenstein’ below image b.r. and ‘2/35’ below image b.l.
Purchased from Redfern Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1987
Lit: Tessa Sidey, The Prints of Michael Rothenstein, Aldershot 1993, p.131 no.145, repr. pl.xvi (col.). Also repr: James Burr, ‘Revolution in Creative Printmaking’, Penrose Annual, 1964, between pp.103 and 116; Michael Rothenstein, Prints 1960 – 3, exh. cat., Grabowshi Gallery 1966, no.5; Michael Rothenstein R.A.: Prints of the 1950s and '60s, exh. cat., Redfern Gallery 1987, no.25 and frontispiece (detail); James Burr, ‘Revolution in Creative Printmaking’, Penrose Annual, 1964, between pp.103 and 116 (col.); Michael Rothenstein, Prints 1960–63, exh. cat., Grabowski Gallery, 1966, no.5; Michael Rothenstein: Prints of the 1950s and '60s, exh. cat., Redfern Gallery, 1987, 25 and frontispiece (detail); Graphic Explorations, exh. cat., The Rotunda, Hong Kong 1991 (col.)

‘Tournament’ was both hand-printed and press-printed by the artist in black, yellow and red ink. It is an emblematic or abstract image comprising a roughly shaped yellow oval almost centred on a black wood-patterned ground. The wood used was elm, the edges of the shape corresponding to the actual sides of the tree trunk. Marks in black and red have been printed on the oval using lino-blocks. In 1963 it was exhibited as ‘Red and Orange Tournament’ (The Graven Image, Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours, May 1963, no number). There is one working proof in black ink (no repr. known, see Sidey 1993, p.131).

This edition is an early example of Rothenstein's open-block relief method of printing, devised in the late 1950s and early 1960s in his studio at Great Bardfield with the help of numerous students. In conversation on 5 September 1991, the artist told the compiler that the oval shape in the centre was cut out of the wood with an electric jig-saw so that the trunk remained intact. He went on to explain that this meant that the structure of the resulting image would represent ‘a sort of living landscape of the face of the block’, which would retain ‘the very magnificent architecture of the wood itself’. In 1972 he wrote: ‘By using wood I found, in the earlier prints, a material that contributed an animal energy to the image. A section cut from a tree is a graph of frozen growth - the tree is a vertical river of arrested sap.’ (Michael Rothenstein, Prints, exh. cat., Bradford City Art Gallery and Museums 1972.)

On 5 September 1991 Rothenstein told the compiler that when he produced this image he was thinking of a shield from a tournament. Although the markings and patterns created by linocut suggest those of Aztec or native North American cultures, he said that the idea of a shield was not derived consciously from any particular external stimulus, but rather from that particular piece of wood, the cross-cut of the elm tree, which he found fascinating.

Rothenstein has seen a connection between his passion for the textured surfaces of wood, clearly evident in P77204, and his early childhood when he and his siblings, John, Rachel and Betty (Bertha), played in the wood near the farm where they lived in Stroud Valley in the Cotswolds:

It's true the place we liked most on the farm which my father ran, where we were all brought up, was the wood below the farm - a wood that had been cleared. We used to spend an enormous amount of time as children playing on fallen trees. They seemed very large to us. Also my father built us a summer house made of raw wood, and when we were in the wood, we used to ‘live’ there.

(‘Michael Rothenstein Talking to Pat Gilmour and Stewart Mason about his Prints’, 15 November 1974, taped interview TAV 38 AB, transcript 1975, pp.4–5)

In addition, since the 1960s, the artist has been particularly fond of printing from objects weathered, eroded, damaged deliberately or by accident, because they suggest the passing of time and bring this added dimension to his images. This has been especially true of wood, which the artist has described as a ‘graph of ageing, or even decay’ (‘Michael Rothenstein Interviewed by Mel Gooding’, National Life Story Collection: Lives of the Artists, British Library National Sound Archive, C466/02, 23–24/7/1990, p.71).

Rothenstein's desire to print from a variety of surfaces and objects was a strong directive towards his development of open-block relief printing. This rejection of the traditional rectangular plate, which revolutionised the printing process, was described by Rothenstein in his book Frontiers of Printmaking: New Aspects of Relief Printing (1966, p.109), where he states that the open-block method.

represents an escape from the regular format implied by a ‘continuous’ printing surface, the rectangular block or plate, which normally suggests the extent of the image. In the open-block system, the pieces of wood or other elements are assembled freely on a marked backing, thus taking on their own peculiar shape; the format is kept open - able to breathe - until the final arrangement is achieved.

The method opens up great freedom in the combined use of carved blocks, screen blocks and other materials.

The artist approved a draft of this entry.

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

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