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'Two Decades: British Printmaking in the 1960s and 1970s' on view at Marlborough Fine Art
R.B. Kitaj, Immortal Portraits, 1972. Screenprint. Courtesy Marlborough Fine Art.

LONDON.- Marlborough is presenting Two Decades – British Printmaking in the 1960s and 1970s featuring work by Barbara Hepworth, Allen Jones, R.B. Kitaj, Henry Moore, Victor Pasmore, John Piper, Graham Sutherland and Joe Tilson.

In the 1950’s printmaking in the UK experienced a revival, and over three decades British artists across two generations sought to expand their practice by working in print. Developments in etching, lithography and screenprint flourished with the development of dedicated print studios such as Curwen Press, one of the first where artists had freedom to really explore printmaking.

At the start of the 1960’s critics began to devote articles to the ‘rebirth’ of the artist’s print and to the annual print exhibition Graven Image held at Whitechapel Gallery. The boom allowed a wider audience to acquire the work of contemporary artists. Marlborough Fine Art entered the print publishing market in the early 1960s.

John Piper was one of the first artists to develop new techniques using lithographic drawings with collage and ink wash. The possibilities of lithographic printmaking subsequently attracted sculptors such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. Moore started by producing series of reclining figures in 1958-9. Barbara Hepworth’s prints from 1968 combined the rigid formal structures of her sculpture with complex textures and colour that led to a new form of expression in her sculpture.

Some artists were exposed to printmaking techniques earlier in their careers. Graham Sutherland had trained in etching in 1920s although it was not until 1937 that he discovered lithography, a medium he was to explore, exploit and master over the following five decades- exemplified in A Bestiary And Some Correspondences, 1965-8, a portfolio of 26 lithographs.

The consummate draughtsman R. B. Kitaj produced his prints by creating transfer drawings on the plate. His drawings in print later served as sketches for future paintings. Pop artists Allen Jones and Joe Tilson shared a fascination with mass production and ‘popular art’ led them to explore printmaking as part of their practice. Screenprint was combined with drawing, painting and in the case of Tilson, found objects. These artists eschewed traditional methods such as lithography in favour of commercial processes.

In the mid-1970s Tate Britain founded the contemporary print archive and works by all eight artists were donated to form the basis of the collection. Subsequent exhibitions at Tate ensured artists printed images achieved a new status and public appreciation in the UK.

Printmaking in the 1960s and 1970s was a critical development in each of these artists oeuvre; by allowing for experimentation and innovation it became a vital part of their practice.

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