Today, Paul Kasmin Gallery launched PK Editions, an online outfit dedicated to showcasing limited edition prints. The platform debuts with an exhibition focused on the prints of the profoundly influential 20th-century Abstract Expressionist Robert Motherwell. Titled “Robert Motherwell: Printing as Collaboration” and mounted in cooperation with The Dedalus Foundation, the online exhibition of some 55 pieces is broken into three parts, each one showcasing the important works Motherwell created with the printmakers Irwin Hollander, Ken Tyler, and Catherine Mosley, respectively.
Robert Motherwell in his studio. Image courtesy of The Dedalus Foundation.
“A common misconception in the art world is that prints are akin to posters,” Eric Gleason, Paul Kasmin director and organizer of PK Editions, tells Artsy. “That could not be further from the truth, especially in the case of Motherwell.” Gleason’s words underline the educational aspect of the project, one that hopes to demonstrate both the importance of Motherwell’s prints specifically and of the medium in general. From a fawning 1965 Village Voice review to an illustrated thank you note from Irwin Hollander, “Printing as Collaboration” features troves of archival material alongside personal insights from those who Motherwell knew and worked with, including Catherine Mosley (Motherwell didn’t like etching or any sharp tools, she reveals). This historical and contemporary contextualization is a manifestation of Gleason’s desire to treat Motherwell’s prints as the “deliberate, highly considered, labored-over objects that they are.”
That Motherwell’s prints reflect the quality and caliber of the rest of his practice is a testament not only to the artist’s skill but also that of the printmakers he worked with. Motherwell dabbled with prints in the early ’40s when he was invited to study engraving with artist Kurt Seligmann, but it wasn’t until 1965 that he met Irwin Hollander—generally considered the first printmaker able to truly capture the qualities of Abstract Expressionism—and realized the technology existed to successfully translate his gestural form of mark-making into print. Motherwell’s brief three-year collaboration with Hollander yielded a rich collection of work, as did his collaboration with Ken Tyler, “the most innovative printmaker of the postwar era,” according to Gleason. (Tyler also worked with Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns, and Frank Stella.)
But it was Motherwell’s collaboration with Catherine Mosley that proved to be among the most intimate. Shortly after purchasing an etching press in 1972, Motherwell hired Mosley to be his in-house “master-printer.” She would begin traveling from New York to the artist’s home and studio in Greenwich, Connecticut and collaborated with him until his death in 1991. Mosley often spent the night, and this close working relationship led Motherwell to famously quip that he could “work by impulse and not by appointment.” A dialogue centered around printmaking emerged between the two, and Mosley gave Motherwell, as Gleason says, the “psychological freedom to work in the medium whenever he so chose.”
Motherwell’s prints both compliment his oeuvre and expand it. The dark, heavy lines boldly traversing the page in Untitled (1973), for example, are reminiscent of his paintings and evidence of how Motherwell “worked out iconographic forms and various gestures [through] printmaking,” says Gleason. And yet, he quickly adds, “there are also many series and individual prints that really hold their own in his entire canon.” It is this depth and nuance that “Printing as Collaboration” captures. Gleason knows Motherwell’s history with printmaking is a bountiful subject. “It’s a nice story to tell,” he says, “visually and archivally.”