We’re delighted to present an exhibition in our main gallery of original prints by Michael Rothenstein (1908-1993). This is our first major exhibition of his work. Rothenstein was perhaps the most experimental British graphic artist of the 20th century.
The son of Sir William Rothenstein, the illustrious painter, printmaker, portraitist, and Principal of the Royal College of Art, Rothenstein began life surrounded by art. From an early age he was encouraged in his own studies, eventually enrolling at the Chelsea School of Art in 1923.
After a first one-man show at the Redfern Gallery in 1942, the many diverse processes of printmaking began to attract Rothenstein towards graphic work. In 1946, with his first editioned print – Timber Felling in Essex, produced for the School Prints initiative – he decided to venture fully into the world of the printmaking. After a flurry of experimental works produced with the help of outside printers, in 1954 Rothenstein established his own studio in Great Bardfield where he began to produce from his own presses.
Working with a childlike curiosity, he tried his hand at every printing method available to him. His fascination led to a myriad of new techniques which he developed on as many different media: driftwood and sheets of iron, scrubbed with sandpaper or ground with power tools, became printing blocks whilst metal scraps, photographs and other refuse were incorporated into the process.
Over the next four decades Rothenstein ceaselessly dedicated his time to printmaking, at the almost total expense of his work in other media. In 1967 he moved to Stisted, Essex and new workshop premises with the Argus Studio, where he worked alongside several printers who aided with the printing of his more complicated blocks and plates. His imagery in these prints straddled a divide between figurative portraits and depictions of animals, especially the cockerel, and abstract combinations of form, colour and texture.
A figurehead at the very forefront of the 20th century British printmaking renaissance, Rothenstein died at his home in Essex in 1993. His prints embody the same excitement and daring that galvanised their production: rich in colour and spectacularly textured, they represent an artist exploding the boundaries of traditional printmaking.