Ian Tyson



In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Ian Tyson born 1933
Lithograph on paper
Support: 300 × 763 mm
Purchased 2001


Patterns by Ian Tyson 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 also included work by Ian Breakwell (born 1943), Jerome Rothenberg (born 1931), Richard Johnny John (dates unknown), 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 (Quoted in unpublished Tate manuscript.)

Ian Tyson's Patterns, like other works in the box, combines images and symbols. It consists of a yellow folded card containing a three page printed fold-out. Each page is printed black. In the centre of each page is a white rectangle containing delicate black and red line drawings that evoke the structure of Alexander Calder's (1898-1976) mobiles. The images thus differ from many of Tyson's other works which focus on a geometric grid. For example, Knights Eminence, Tetrad Pamphlets Vol.I 1971 (Tate P01695) is a simple black, red and white grid. It runs three squares across and four down. However, like Knights Eminence, the images in Patterns are reduced to a minimum and Tyson has noted that 'the paring down of the image to its essence is of primary importance to me.' (Quoted in Tyson, p.1.) The images in Patterns are similar to one another and appear to be variations on a single theme. Beneath each image is a large number giving them the appearance of a series. The three page fold-out is thus to be read as a tri-partite work. This is characteristic of Tyson's practice and he has noted: 'I often work in what appears to be a series but are, I think variations on a theme, or one work in several parts. I have often thought that this way of working was analogous to musical composition and if this is so then my interest lies more in the small scale (chamber music) than the large … because the compressed statement holds more intensity for me.' (Quoted in Tyson, p.1.)

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 1974
Ian Tyson, Ian Tyson: Prints and Drawings, exhibition brochure, Curwen Gallery, London 1979

Imogen Cornwall-Jones
January 2002

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