From Landeck to Frankenthaler

by Anthony Kirk, Master Printer

Helen Frankenthaler and Anthony Kirk at Tyler Graphics. Ariel, by Frankenthaler, hangs on the wall to the right. Photo courtesy of Tyler Graphics, Ltd. Marabeth Cohen-Tyler, photographer

In February 1975, about six months after I arrived in New York from London, I found my way to Robert Blackburn’s Printmaking Workshop, an incredible place to network and socialize with artists of all races and the studio where I began to make my own prints. Bob was a lithographer and the first master printer at Tatanya Grossman’s Universal Limited Artists Editions in the late 1950s where he printed the first lithographs for Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Helen Frankenthaler among others. He was a great supporter and realized soon after I came to his workshop that I was very capable of printing intaglio prints.

One day, a young man came by the workshop with a couple of his grandfather's engraved copper plates wrapped up under his arm and looking for someone to do the printing and Bob introduced us. His grandfather was Armin Landeck whose prints from the 1930s-40s were beginning to be much sought after. At the time these plates were made, it was typical for artists to write "Ed. 100" along with their signature and to print on demand whenever there was a buyer; by the mid 1970s, Landeck and other artists of his generation were receiving great interest in their earlier work. Landeck's grandson, Michael Hemming, asked if I could print six copies of each plate and then mail the prints and plates back to his grandfather. When Landeck received the prints, he called me to say how pleased he was with the printing. He said he was going to send me several more copper plates to print and when they were ready, that I should come and visit him at his home in Cornwall, Connecticut where he would give me lunch.

Bedford Street by Armin Landeck, 1938. Printed by Anthony Kirk (Lot 300)
Ariel by Helen Frankenthaler, 1996. Printed by Anthony Kirk at Tyler Graphics. (Lot 299)

The prints were made and after signing, Landeck and I had lunch. He told me that he had graduated with a degree in architecture from Columbia University in 1927 and then toured Europe for two years where he learned to make etchings. On returning to New York in 1930 during the Depression, there was little construction being done and therefore little work for an architect so he accepted a position as an art teacher at the Brearley School for Girls in Manhattan. Landeck told me that one of his students was a  girl called Helen Frankenthaler who went on to make quite a name for herself in the art world. He told me that she had kept in touch and would send him invitations to her exhibitions, where he would always stop by to say hello to her on opening night. I continued to print for Landeck, both his older plates and new ones, until he died in 1984.

A few years later in 1988, Ken Tyler invited me to join his staff at Tyler Graphics where I eventually met Helen Frankenthaler and started working with her on her etchings. One day I chose my moment well to relay the Landeck anecdote to her. Helen was standing close by leaning over the studio sink while washing her hands when I said to her “Helen, for some time I have been meaning to tell you that many years ago I printed engravings and drypoints for an artist who was your art teacher at the Brearley School when you were a little girl. His name was Armin Landeck.” Helen immediately stood up straight and exclaimed “Mr. Landeck, but surely he must be dead by now!” I told her that he had died about ten years earlier but that he had told me that you were his student. Helen went on “Oh, he was such a tall, handsome man, and when I began to show he always came to my openings!”

As a master printer to both artists, I sometimes think that it is a bit remarkable to have spanned their generations and worked with both, but then again, I have had a long career. Sometime in the 1990s I was the guest speaker at the Cornwall Historical Society not far from where Landeck lived and worked. They were hosting a retrospective of his prints and Landeck’s daughter, Olga Hemming and her son, Michael sat in the front row. I took great pleasure in retelling the Frankenthaler anecdote to them.

A Lifetime of Printmaking

Anthony Kirk, Master Printer

Anthony Kirk removing ink from a Frank Stella etching plate. Photo courtesy of Tyler Graphics, Ltd. Marabeth Cohen-Tyler, photographer

It is hard to overstate the extent of Anthony Kirk’s knowledge and expertise in the field of printmaking. With more than four decades of experience printing intaglio and relief editions, Kirk has collaborated with leading artists including Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Indiana, Wolf Kahn, Armin Landeck, Joan Mitchell, James Rosenquist, Kiki Smith, Frank Stella, and Donald Sultan. In addition to tenures at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop and Tyler Graphics Ltd., Kirk has shared his skills widely through teaching appointments at Bard College, Boston University, Parsons School of Design, and Pratt Graphics Center, to name just a few.

Anthony Kirk
"This ancient technology still holds currency for the contemporary artist and I have never lost my enthusiasm for sharing my passion for the medium."
–Anthony Kirk

Born in Scotland, Kirk received his MFA in Printmaking at the Chelsea School of Art in London. He moved to New York in 1974, where he soon became an apprentice to Robert Blackburn. Celebrated for attracting a diverse and international crowd of artists, Blackburn’s workshop provided Kirk with the opportunity to engage and learn with a vibrant community of artists. In 1988, Kirk was invited by Kenneth Tyler to lead the etching department at Tyler Graphics Ltd., where he developed strong work relationships with Frank Stella, Helen Frankenthaler, and others. Kirk began teaching at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Connecticut in 1995 and, upon the closure of Tyler Graphics in 2000, became the center’s artistic director and Master Printer until 2013. In addition to leading CCP, Kirk launched Anthony Kirk Editions in North Salem, New York, in 2000. Not only does he continue to print, Kirk has also curated shows in the space, such as the critically lauded Five Scottish Print Studios.

For Kirk, a primary draw to printmaking is its endurance as an art form: “When I speak publicly about my life as a master printer,” he says, “I usually start a lecture by removing from my pocket a small copper plate covered with a hard ground wax coating and telling the audience that if Rembrandt, Goya, Piranesi or Dürer were to come alive before me now they would each recognize what I am holding, and then they would ask me for etching needles and acid. This ancient technology still holds currency for the contemporary artist and I have never lost my enthusiasm for sharing my passion for the medium.”