Kenneth Tyler: The Printmaker and Publisher

Undergraduate student Claire Raway is the 2018 recipient of the Donald Prell Fellowship in Art History. As a Prell Fellow, Raway is charged with conducting research on a notable Herron alum and writing a paper for publication.

In this excerpt, Raway walks us through the career of legendary master printer and Herron alumnus Kenneth E. Tyler in honor of the exhibition "Kenneth Tyler: The Art of Collaboration" is on view through Nov. 10 in the Galleries at Herron.

86-year-old Kenneth E. Tyler has created a name for himself in the world of printmaking. Tyler entered the print world in 1962, when he returned to school at 31-years-old and enrolled in the printmaking program at Herron School of Art in Indianapolis. After Herron, Tyler moved on to work at Tamarind Lithography Workshop though the Ford Foundation Fellowship. Then in 1966, Tyler established Gemini G.E.L. (Graphic Editions, Ltd.) with partners Stanley Grinstein and Sidney B. Felsen.

As a part of his work at Gemini G.E.L., Tyler pursued a working relationship with the artist Josef Albers, who would become a close friend of Tyler's. Their relationship opened Gemini G.E.L. up to business with other big-name artists. At that time, Tyler also started to push the boundaries of printmaking by expanding print sizes further than they had ever gone before and created new techniques in printmaking.

He was interested in adjusting printmaking to work for the artist, rather than adjusting the artist to work for printmaking. "Here is a workshop, there are no rules, no restrictions, do what you want to do."[1] From Gemini G.E.L., Tyler then moved to the east coast and started his own printmaking company, Tyler Graphics, Ltd. Although on a smaller scale than Gemini G.E.L., Tyler Graphics, Ltd. attracted similarly well-known artists and Tyler continued to push the techniques of printmaking.

You cannot talk about Kenneth Tyler without talking about the vast array of artists that have leaned upon Tyler's knowledge, ingenuity, and talent. The list of artists which Tyler has collaborated with is lengthy and overwhelmingly impressive. With names like Josef Albers, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaller, and Frank Stella, it reads more like a list of the top artists of the second half of the 20th century.

When we talk about Tyler's work, we are really talking about the work of the artists who have worked with Tyler. As a master printer, Tyler does not produce his own art. Rather, the works that came out of Gemini G.E.L., Ltd. and Tyler Graphics, Ltd. were pieces imagined and designed by the artists who claim them. They were simply produced and brought into reality by Tyler. This is something that makes the work of Kenneth Tyler so interesting.

Tyler refers to himself not at as an artist, but as a technician, producer, and publisher, explaining, "My job was to make sure the process was done correctly and push the buttons with the artists permission."[2] He saw himself as the person who carries out the vision of the artist. One of reasons he did not pursue his own art was so that he would not imprint his own vision onto the works he was producing. "As a printmaker and publisher, I can only be as successful as the artists I work with and the art we create together."[3]

David Hockney, once noted: "[A]ll Ken's interested in is working with artists. He was wise enough to know he couldn't be one. So, he became a great artisan and found interesting artists who enjoy his skills and wanted to use them ... He rolls up his sleeves and he collaborates with you. He's the chief collaborator, not just the publisher and not just the printer."[4]

Perhaps that is the true art of Kenneth Tyler; his collaboration with artists.


[1] Ken Tyler, in Reaching Out: Ken Tyler, master printer (documentary film), Avery/Tirce Production, 1976.

[2] Ken Tyler, at Herron School of Art and Design gallery opening, 2018.

[3] Ken Tyler, 'Layers of Space and Time: David Hockney's Moving Focus', in Contemporary Master Prints from the Lilja Collection, Liechtenstein and London: the Lilja Art Fund Foundation in association with Azimuth Edition Limited, 1995, p. 125.

[4] Judith Goldman, 'Ken Tyler the Artisan as Artist' in Tyler Graphics: The Extended Image, Walker Art Center, 1987, p. 19.