Kenneth Tyler and the Course of Printmaking in Australia

Lubliner, Malcolm “Stuart Henderson, Charles Ritt, Robert Rauschenberg and Kenneth Tyler inspect a printed collage element for transfer to the lithography stone for the work ‘Hybrid’ from the ‘Stoned Moon’ series at Gemini GEL” / National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Gift of Kenneth Tyler 2002

The technical nature of printmaking often necessitates collaboration and teamwork to successfully execute a print. The legacy of Kenneth Tyler’s printmaking workshops stands as a testament to the transformative power of artistic collaboration. Spanning four decades, the workshops fostered an experimental atmosphere for artists to explore new techniques and publish the highest quality prints. A master of numerous printmaking techniques and an innovative, inspiring artist collaborator, Kenneth Tyler worked with artists to vividly illustrate the limitless possibilities of the medium.

From 1966 until 2001, master printmaker Kenneth Tyler worked with some of the 20th century’s most influential artists on projects that categorically redefined the medium of printmaking, including Josef Albers, Helen Frankenthaler, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell, and Edward Ruscha, to name a few. Tyler’s studio served as a space for innovation and experimentation; “Here is a workshop, there are no rules, do what you want to do.” He explained that when it comes to printmaking, “if you have all these ‘can’ts’ in there you change the nature of creativity.” 1

Tyler was looking to establish a new workshop to continue his collaborations with artists. Such an endeavor was costly and forced him to consider auctioning off his collection to raise the funds. Word began to spread of this upcoming sale and reached the founding director of the National Gallery of Australia (NGA), James Mollison. This was seen as an opportunity for Australia to gain a collection of modernist American prints. When discussing with the acquisitions committee, James Gleeson exclaimed that Mollison needed to “Buy the whole damn thing!” 2

Prints & Multiples. Leonard Joel Auctions
Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1997) Kiss V, 1964

In 1973, Mollison met Tyler in New York with the objective of purchasing the entire collection. Holding a collection of prints that no other gallery could replicate held profound significance for the recently established NGA. Mollison envisioned it to present a comprehensive narrative of the transformative influence of American art within Australia. Mollison’s ambition was well received, and the gallery purchased 660 prints from the collection. He later wrote to Tyler, “The impact that the prints will make in this country is something I am sure you do not realise. Items which looked spectacular to us when we saw them in America have in isolation taken on a weight and importance.” 3 

Over the years, their ongoing correspondence continued, with the NGA consistently expanding its collection with works from Tyler’s new venture, Tyler Graphics Limited. In 2001, the gallery made a significant acquisition that expanded the Tyler Collection to encompass more than 7,000 pieces. This expansion, featuring prints by many celebrated artists, continued to tell the story of the evolution of contemporary printmaking. In addition to the acquired artworks, Tyler generously donated his archive, complete with video footage and photos, to the gallery.

The Kenneth Tyler Collection stands as an almost complete historical record of a pivotal juncture in the evolution of modern printmaking. Born from a collaborative partnership between Tyler and the gallery, and as Mollison foresaw, the Tyler Collection will affect the future course of printmaking in this country.

1. National Gallery of Australia, ‘The Big Americans’, 2003, accessed 23 October 2023: https://nga.gov.au/exhibitions/the-big-americans/

2. ibid

3. Telegram from James Mollison, the National Gallery’s first director to master printer Kenneth Tyler, 30 January 1974. NGA file 73/4882-01

By Hannah Ryan, Prints & Multiples Specialist

Banner Image (Detail): Lubliner, Malcolm “Stuart Henderson, Charles Ritt, Robert Rauschenberg and Kenneth Tyler inspect a printed collage element for transfer to the lithography stone for the work ‘Hybrid’ from the ‘Stoned Moon’ series at Gemini GEL” / National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Gift of Kenneth Tyler 2002

November 2023

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