Making a Print with Ad Reinhardt

Edited from an interview with Alex Bacon, May 29, 2013.

In 1964 I started Tanglewood Press. My first portfolio was mostly Pop, not totally, but it was representative of what was going on in the American art scene in 1964 – 65. But among the other people that I was interested in was Ad Reinhardt. I met him around that time through Bob Kulicke, who was a friend at the time.

I invited Ad to do a piece, and Bob suggested to do it on plexiglas. It wasn’t Ad’s idea. Bob was a framer, who worked with plexiglas, and he thought—and it did sound like a really beautiful idea—to paint a dark form on the back of a piece of plexi, and Ad approved the idea, and made a few studies. He brought them to me and said, “Here. These are the colors. This is it. Go match. Go make. Go do.” He wasn’t hands-on. We then silkscreened his design onto the back of the square sheet of plexi and there had to be a lot of tonality changes to get it how Ad wanted it.

There were two problems that came up when we were making the print. One is that he decidedly did not like the shiny finish of the plexiglas, he didn’t like the reflective quality. I don’t know that we thought about that before, but when it was finished, Ad saw it and he said, “no it has to be satin.” It can’t look like that. It’s got to be flat.” He was not a lacquer person; he was a flat paint painter. So the shininess didn’t work and Bob said we can hand sand it out, horizontally. I looked at him and I said, “Are you going to hand rub each one?” And he did, with very fine steel wool.

The next issue was that the tonality had to be so close that you could hardly decipher the differences. It is an object in a way. I found that startlingly different from the earlier Reinhardt print done by Ives-Sillman in 1964. The color in that silkscreen is very distinct—you see the blue, the brown, and the black. You also see the cross form clearly.

I didn’t really know Ad well, other than working with him on this print. But he was a very quiet and a very gentle person—seemingly to me. Now he may have been tough and rough with other people, but I didn’t have any occasion to feel that. When he didn’t like something he said, “No that’s not the way it’s going to be.” There was nothing antagonistic. He was very happy to collaborate, which was nice.

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Rosa Esman

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