I’ve been teaching myself Adobe’s video editing software, Premiere Rush. Today is the debut of my first attempt, a very short video on Stanley William Hayter’s Rue des Plantes, 1926. For our epic research trip to Paris in 2015, Ben Levy, Tru Ludwig, and I had a lot on our to-do list related to the Hayter exhibition. First on the list was to photograph and film the printing of Hayter’s Torso, 1986, at Atelier Contrepoint, which I wrote about in another post. Second was to interview Désirée Hayter on video. Third was to find and photograph as many locations of the Atelier as possible (it moved a bunch of times). And fourth was to find, photograph, and videotape the locations that appear in Hayter’s series Paysages urbains, 1930 (more on that in another post). While doing the last, I added finding the site of Rue des Plantes to the list.
Rue des Plantes is a lovely early drypoint by Hayter depicting a simple street scene in the 14th arrondissement. In it a lone figure carrying her daily market purchases walks toward a building that oddly is situated in the middle of a cobblestone street. Finding the site wasn’t too hard, but finally laying our eyes on it sparked our adrenaline. Ben set up the video equipment intent on taking some B-roll for an eventual video for the exhibition website. With the camera rolling, suddenly an older woman carrying her market purchases wandered into the frame. The three of us must have looked like lunatics gesturing to each other madly but silently so as not to be recorded on the tape. It couldn’t have been more perfect. Finally, I’ve pulled a short video together showing this golden moment, which thrills me still.
Stanley William Hayter (English, 1901–1988)
Rue des Plantes, 1926
Sheet: 400 x 328 mm. (15 3/4 x 12 15/16 in.)
Plate: 267 x 208 mm. (10 1/2 x 8 3/16 in.)
Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Ruth Cole Kainen, Chevy Chase, Maryland, BMA 2011.263
You might be surprised to learn that Hayter's workshop is still operating in Paris at 10, rue Didot. After his death in 1988, the workshop changed its name to Atelier Contrepoint and is run by Hector Saunier, who printed many of Hayter’s late compositions. I was fortunate to be able to visit the Atelier twice, in 2014 and 2015. The first time was to meet Hector and see what the operation looked like. The second time Hayter's widow, Désirée, agreed to bring over one of his plates so Hector could ink and print it for us (there is no one better suited for this particular task). The plan was to create an online feature for the exhibition’s web site, which never happened because the show was cancelled. As usual, Ben Levy and Tru Ludwig were with me, and between the three of us, we shot a lot of video and photographed Hector and Shu-lin Chen printing Hayter’s Torso, 1986.
Désirée couldn’t find the plate she was originally thinking of, so she randomly selected Torso, which turned out to be serendipitous because Torso conceptually circles back around to the fist clenching the void discussed in an earlier post. In Torso, Hayter used stripes with inverted color variants, inking the central intaglio composition in green, red, and fluorescent orange, and with a horizontally rolled gradient of blue/yellow/green. The shape of the torso is defined by a mask that was laid down on the inked plate, blocking the rollers from depositing the blue, yellow, and green ink on the paper, producing an area of white across the center. The positive shape of the torso, described by an absence, echoes the conundrum of the untitled plate six from The Apocalypse, in which the negative space of a clenched fist is described by a positive volume. In this late print, the cognitive inquiries and accumulated techniques of four decades have come together.
With the copper plate under her arm, we met Désirée on the appointed day at Atelier Contrepoint. After consulting the catalogue raisonné, they got right to work. Shu-lin set about inking the plate (intaglio) in red, fluorescent orange, and dark green in vertical stripes. Hector prepared the rainbow roll of blue, yellow, and green on a glass palette. The mask was still wrapped with the plate, so it was used as well. When Shu-lin was satisfied with her wiping job, the plate was ready for the mask’s placement and the rainbow roll. Hector completed his part and the plate was placed on the bed of the press that had been used for thousands of prints by hundreds of artists over the majority of the twentieth century. After a few unsatisfactory pulls, they printed four impressions, one of which eventually entered the Baltimore Museum of Art’s collection. I remain amazed that I got to experience the printing of one of Hayter’s plates and so appreciative of Désirée, Hector, and Shu-lin’s generosity that day. Even better, Ben Levy and Tru Ludwig were with me to witness the magic.
Ann's art blog
A small corner of the interwebs to share thoughts on objects I acquired for the Baltimore Museum of Art's collection, research I've done on Stanley William Hayter and Atelier 17, experiments in intaglio printmaking, and the Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair.