Collaborating with Joan Mitchell
by Anthony Kirk, Master Printer
Joan Mitchell was very knowledgeable and experienced in intaglio methods. She favored the painterly sugar lift aquatint technique which was used in many of her prints, but Ken Tyler wanted me to show her the carborundum aquatint method. She and I met at Tyler's artist studio and I showed her some samples I had made up and printed along with some mixtures of grit and polymer medium that I had made up for her.
She expressed an interest in trying it out and asked what artists had used this method. I replied that Miró was the innovator of the technique and had done some great prints with it. Joan replied rather sarcastically, "Oh did he now!" Anyway, she got in to the process and pretty soon I could hear her yelling down the hallway "Tony, I need some more of your grit shit".
When it came to printing one of her carborundum aquatint plates, I could not mix the ideal color of blue that she was looking for. Among the trays of paints and drawing materials that were provided for the artists so that they could draw on the proofs, there was a selection of thick oil stick bars and Joan handed me a cobalt blue oil stick and said, "this is the color blue that I want." I told her that I would mix ink to match the oil bar and then Joan said "Why don't you turn this oil bar in to an ink?" It was a great idea coming from the artist and we bought a couple dozen cobalt blue oil bars, cut the pigment free from its plastic wrapping and with the addition of burnt linseed oil, I ground down the oil bars and made them in to ink. In the end this concoction felt more like an ointment rather than ink but it provided the result that the artist needed.
A Lifetime of Printmaking
Anthony Kirk, Master Printer
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.
"This ancient technology still holds currency for the contemporary artist and I have never lost my enthusiasm for sharing my passion for the medium."
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.”