A Tribute to Ian Tyson - Introduction

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Ian Tyson in his studio

The British artist Ian Tyson (1933—2021) executed a vast body of works throughout a decades-long career, actively producing work right up until his passing in October this year. Tyson may have been best known in some circles as a “book artist,” given the extensive body of his artists’ books. Tyson first published his art through Ron King’s notably collaborative Circle Press and subsequently founded two imprints of his own: Tetrad Press in London—which published the first edition of Tom Phillip’s seminal work A Humument—and “ed.it” when he moved from London to Provence in the 1990s. Inclined toward collaboration himself, Tyson often worked with contemporary avant-garde poets. Rather than merely illustrating poems, Tyson created abstract visual imagery that responded to the tone and structure of texts. A significant example of this was his long-standing relationship with American poet Jerome Rothenberg, with whom Tyson first worked in 1968 on Sightings I-IX & Red Easy a Color. The two produced dozens of works together over fifty years. In 2019 Tyson created a unique work, A Tribute to Jerome Rothenberg, uniting four small-scale sculptures with Rothenberg’s poetry printed on large sheets of handmade paper. Bridwell Library is proud to be the home of this one-of-kind piece.

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Ian Tyson walking in La Garde-Adhémar

But such a view provides only an incomplete assessment of Tyson’s oeuvre, for he worked extensively in sculpture, painting, and limited-edition prints. It may be more accurate to state that Tyson made grids, or—perhaps more specifically—works informed by the insistent structure of the grid. Tyson’s works draw our eye to the spaces between the lines, unlike the Cartesian system in which the point is emphasized by the intersection of coordinates. Unlike Agnes Martin, Tyson rarely features the lines themselves, instead suggesting their presence through the adjacency of squares. These may be densely-packed into fields of vibrant alternating colors or composed into broad areas of uniform hues set one against another. The field may disappear, leaving behind isolated forms. Long, thin structures may suggest line, but are composed by proportional spaces. What unifies Tyson’s work is its adherence to the horizontal and the vertical. The presence of the grid’s organizing principle is always present—even when its ordinates and abscissae are invisible to the eye.

A Tribute to Ian Tyson - Introduction