Prints & Multiples

Sam Francis & Garner Tullis

Sam Francis (1923-1994), UNTITLED (SF-#2), Color monotype with oil paint, ink and powdered pigment, 1987. Lot 1006. Auction March 17, 2021.

NEW YORK, NY -- Cynthia Klein speaks with Richard Tullis about the collaboration between his father, artist and printmaker Garner Tullis, and Abstract Expressionist Sam Francis.

Q – Sam Francis and your father, Garner Tullis, famously collaborated on monotypes on custom handmade Awagami paper. What brought them together?

A – They were drawn together by experimental processes in printmaking, their love of presses and commerce. In the early 70s, Garner and Sam began working together at Garner’s school, the International Institute of Experimental Printmaking located in Santa Cruz, CA. This was before Garner and Ann McLaughlin, his wife and business partner, moved the studio to San Francisco and shortened the name to Experiment Printmaking. The focus of the institution shifted from higher education to commercially viable print projects with major artists. It took those two many years of collaboration to get the perfect match of press and paper. They were competitive in their drive to make these big monotypes work.

Q – You worked alongside your father, including during the printing of this work. What was your role?

A – I started working for my father in the early days of the IIEP, teaching students to make paper and prepare etching plates. I assisted in plate clean up and later added paint prep, plate making and press operator, eventually becoming master printer and workshop director. I also chronicled the studio activities with artists as an independent Photographer.

Q – This monotype involved a great deal of hand painting. What can you tell us about that process?

A – To make the magic happen, Sam would combine artist oil colors, dry powdered pigments, touche water-based drawing inks, enamel paint and oil-based litho inks that Sam had custom made to his specifications. In this series, Sam used an 1/8” aluminum plate cut just larger than the paper as his background. Paint was applied to the background and additional polystyrene cutouts were painted and layered as additional printed elements (the hard edged shapes). Sam would dip a 16 penny nail into thick enamel paint and trail the viscus liquid over the plate (the deep red lines). Piles of dry powdered pigments were strategically placed (ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow are evident). The light transparent stains are water-based touche inks puddled on the plate just before the paper was carefully placed.

Q – How were you and your father involved in the making of this print?

A – After the composition was complete, Garner and I would lay the dry paper on the painted plate taking extreme care to not disturb the marks made by the artist. To make sure the pressure was evenly distributed a 1/8” upsum board (enabling the clear embossment of the polystyrene elements) was placed over the paper and a sheet of 3/4” Homasote (a fibrous board generally used for soundproofing) was played over this. The heavy printing matrix would then be lifted and slid into the press. The press operator had to be attentive as the press reached pressure because if the print sat too long under pressure the enamel and water-based inks would become too sticky as the paper softened and could glue the paper to the plate.

Once the plate was removed from the press, the print would be revealed. Often the smaller collage elements (polystyrene plates) would be imbedded into the paper and had to be carefully removed, excess dry powdered pigment not caked on the plate but embedded into the paper would also need to be knocked loose. This was Sam’s job as he admired the finished print and chose to keep it or reject it. The editing process was important to make sure the best work went to market.

Mid-Century Abstraction Featuring Works from the Estate of Violet Werner

A highlight of the March 17, 2021 auction of Mid-Century Abstraction Featuring Works from the Estate of Violet Werner is a 1987 color monotype with oil paint, ink and powdered pigment by Sam Francis.

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Senior Vice President / Director, Prints & Multiples
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