The Story of Oak Mantra by Joe Tilson, 1981.

Joe Tilson signing prints with publisher David Krut in 1981.

David Krut Publishing has had a long standing presence in the art world. As we continue to push our passion for arts education to the forefront through the support of artists, authors and all the creative thinkers in between; it is important to remember where you came from.

David Krut’s journey in the arts began in 1973 when assisting with the opening of a new gallery in the Bond Street arts area in London.  However, it was a few years later when the magic truly began to take hold. In 1981, David initiated his publishing activities in collaboration with Jack Shirreff, a Fine Art Master Printer and founder of the print studio 107 Workshop located in Wiltshire, England. Krut had been introduced by Waddington Graphics to the renowned artist, Joe Tilson  who created the maquette for an artwork entitled Oak Mantra. Tilson’s studio was close to 107 Workshop and Krut’s interaction in the trio led to his first ever edition of a fine art print –  this was quite exceptional, to say the least.

Joe Tilson’s work was at the heart of the British Pop Art movement. He challenged conventions of concept, style and technique – proving him to be a profound printmaker and thinker. He has been a practicing artist for over 70 years. Now at age 94, Tilson remains represented by Cristea Roberts Gallery in London and continues to create marvelous works of unique and captivating media.

Joe Tilson’s process annotations during the proofing stages of creating Oak Mantra. 

In 1981, an exhibition entitled The Making of Oak Mantra was curated by Krut and exhibited at the WITS Art Museum and Natalie Knight Gallery in Johannesburg, and Joseph Wolpe Gallery in Cape Town. The exhibition which documented the making of the Oak Mantra was subsequently shown at the South African National Art Gallery in Cape Town. 

Oak Mantra defied the normal perception of an etching consisting of a hand painted zinc stencil plate with a string and clip attached to a 13 colour etching created from multiple copper plates. The image went through a rigorous proofing process with Tilson and Shirreff working through 10 different iterations before arriving at the Bon á Tirer; the final stage of the print to achieve the approval  editioning. 

Tilson has always worked with intuition and relied on experimentation and spontaneity when creating. This way of working was encouraged by both the printmaker and the publisher allowing for a symbiotic environment in the workshop. Tilson and Shirreff explored many unconventional etching processes during proofing such as using a coffee grinder and in another instance, a sock to apply an aquatint!    This allowed for a more crude and dense bite on the copper plates than what the traditional aquatint technique provides – which proved to be successful when noting the rich, bulky presence of colour in the final print. The project concluded with the printing of an edition 100 of Oak Mantra to be sent on the travelling exhibition organised by David Krut.

An image of Oak Mantra and the original catalogues from the 1981 and 1982 exhibitions.

David maintained a long term collaborative relationship with Jack Shirreff, inviting and allowing for many young artists to create editioned prints in the 107 Workshop. Throughout the 1980s, David became more familiar and invested in the careers and progression of artists. With the support of the 107 Workshop, he collaborated with post-graduate students at the Royal College of Arts at the time, inviting them to spend weekends at 107 Workshop. Thus began a career in the arts that spans over 40 years with many achievements and contributions both internationally and locally.

The David Krut Bookstore is now stocking the first ever monograph on Joe Tilson that has just been published by Lund Humphries. The book is written by Marco Livingstone and documents each decade of the artist’s legendary career.


Making a Mark | Cristea Roberts Gallery listen to the Joe Tilson podcast

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