David Hockney’s cancellation proofs

20171127_2383_0053In conjunction with the exhibition ‘David Hockney Prints’ a selection of cancellation proofs are currently on display at the National Gallery of Australia, offering viewers a rare glimpse at this little known practice of print workshops.

Cancellation proofs are prints created from defaced printing matrixes. Their purpose is to provide assurance that a ‘limited edition’ is truly limited, by demonstrating that no further identical prints can be made.

Cancellation proofs are not often collected or displayed at galleries, so it is remarkable that the NGA has over 40 cancellation proofs and cancelled matrixes by artists that worked with American master printer Kenneth Tyler. The breadth of these holdings reveals unexpected variety in the approaches that creators have taken to ‘cancelling’ their work, including examples that challenge the idea that cancellation is necessarily an act of defacement.

Although matrixes are usually cancelled with a simple strike or cross through the image, David Hockney’s cancellation proofs show a creative and unconventional approach, which echoes the sense of humour visible in other prints on display in the exhibition. For example, in the cancellation proof for A portrait of Rolf Nelson Hockney has reimagined his subject with luscious ruby lips, long eyelashes and wearing a peace sign. The published edition of Henry and Christopher is unconventional because each print is modified with unique handcolouring, some even include collage elements. Cancellation proofs usually differ noticeably from the identically reproduced images of the edition, however, since the edition for Henry and Christopher is not uniform –one of the prints even crosses out Henry’s face – close attention is required to notice the destructive element of the cancellation proof.

To find out more about cancellation proofs, and to see more examples from the Tyler Collection, come along to ‘Out of the box’ on 13 March 2018 in the National Gallery of Australia’s Collection Study Room nga.gov.au/whatson.


Alice Desmond, Assistant Curator, Kenneth Tyler Collection


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