Tacita Dean: LA Magic Hour

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Tacita Dean in front of a wall of early proofs

© 2 0 2 2 TAC I TA D E A N & G E M I N I G . E . L . P H OTO : S I D N E Y B . F E L S E N 2 0 1 8

The clouds look very different today Evgenia Citkowitz,

November 22, 2021


s a child growing up in the English countryside near Canterbury, Tacita Dean was fascinated by natural phenomena. Questioning the physical properties of clouds, she wanted to know how something entirely vivid could yet be

intangible. “Clouds always look so present, but grasp at one and you grasp at nothing. I wanted proof of this presence, but what I didn’t realize was that catching clouds was an act of faith.”1 Her desire to capture the elusive could well be a description of the creative impulse and a metaphor for her pursuit of fleeting states in years to come. In films such as The Green Ray (2001) she journeyed to a remote beach in Madagascar to record the last rays of the dying sun, and in A Bag of Air (1995) she traveled up in a hot air balloon for a conceptional cloud-catching. In addition to the rigorous intuition that guides her quests, another system underpins Dean’s practice: a dogged belief in her materials and in the alchemy of the processes involved. Tacita Dean is a visual poet, an artist who uses a wide range of mediums to explore landscapes, physical and imagined. History, memory, the erosions of time, family, myth, artists, literary texts are all subjects that she mines in film, drawing, photography, photogravure, postcards, found objects, and color lithography. Like a metaphysical explorer, she locates disparate elements and forges connections between them. She embraces detour and uses entropy and the unexpected as her maverick companions. As she has written, “Chance, chaos, and contingency are my working allies and I have learnt to welcome the uninvited and to allow the unimaginable.” 2

Her early enquiry, which included the shock of realizing that color “was a fiction,”


was a young imagination encountering wonder at natural phenomena.

What is wonder but a heightened emotional and sensory response to something out of the ordinary? If not always spiritual, it comes close. In 2014, Dean’s awe at the radical artistry of Giotto inspired her to scale the Upper Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in a scissor lift, to detail his work through a macro lens. The result was Buon Fresco, a 16mm color film (2014), which she describes as “my attempt to become the eye of Giotto.” 4 In a 1965 interview, Francis Bacon acknowledged a paradox in painting between the spontaneous mark that needed to come directly from the artist’s subconscious and the self-awareness of technique that could reduce it to being “an illustration of the fact.” He cited the brushstrokes in Constable’s study for The Leaping Horse as an example of the “anti-illustrational […] marks that brought the facts more immediately towards the nervous system.” 5 By taking Giotto’s point of view in Buon Fresco, Dean was connecting the viewer to that revelatory moment of the artist’s imprint and the intimacy of seeing pigment breathing through pores in plaster. Dean writes of the experience: “To take the painter’s perspective is to be permitted as witness to the otherworldly ability present in one man’s craft, which we can name here as the divine within his human skill and inspiration.” 6 In Buon Fresco, she may have been examining the miraculous chemistry of color absorption and Giotto’s use of negative space, but she was also experimenting with form and perspective, and the visceral impact of drawing the viewer close into the frame.

In 2014, a residency at the Getty brought Dean to Los Angeles where she was taken by the new energy and light. Driving along Sunset Boulevard she encountered “the most amazing cloud. It was just like a blossoming…”


Her response was a

billowing chalk drawing, Sunset (2015). Further cloud studies followed, which led to her collaboration with Gemini, G.E.L. on LA Exuberance (2016), a series of fifteen lithographs of brilliant blue-backed cloudscapes and flying skies. LA Magic Hour (20192021) was a natural progression. “Many of my films have been made in magic hour,” 8 she says, using the expression favored by cinematographers and photographers for the mysterious brink between day and night, night and day, although all the images in her LA Magic Hour lithographic series are of sunsets. Dean’s 16mm Pan Amicus (2021) was shot at dawn and dusk. In Pan Amicus a head of Hermes, crafted by an unknown hand, lies in the grass seemingly forgotten, apart from flies hopping on its brow. Sometimes Hermes looks absent, at others, sleeping or staring blindly into eternity. Close-ups of Hermes’s riven curls reveal valleys within the marble. We witness a radiant cycle of moonrise and sunrise: deer saunter, trees shimmer and shake to a chorus of cicadas. Night is a graceful counterpart to day, brimming with life. With a nod to an Arcadian past, Dean seems to be suggesting that Gods and the work they inspire will fall; what is left is the majesty of the natural world and the artist’s need to interpret the ephemeral. Pan Amicus is a meditation that bends time by suspending us in an indefinite future. This contrasts with the immediate present of LA Magic Hour, where in each arresting image we experience the sense of a fractional moment of natural drama, before it passes and the light changes again.

In the fifteen incandescent sunsets that comprise LA Magic Hour, what appears as uncanny capture and verisimilitude has actually been crafted by a series of complex and labor intensive processes. Describing the challenge of making LA Exuberance and LA Magic Hour, Dean says: “The thing about making a lithograph, which is a new medium for me, is that it’s totally different from how I draw with my blackboard drawing, where the more chalk I put on is for the brighter areas, but with a lithograph, it’s the opposite. It was really, really hard …” 9 Using a spray chalk composite, Dean drew negative images of clouds on frosted mylar, in dark graphite tones. (It’s noteworthy that during this period of making her two lithographic series, Dean was working on monumental blackboard drawings that also required her to draw in reverse: her mountain hellscapes of Inferno for the The Dante Project. 10 ) Both positive and negative photographic plates were made from the drawings and used to print within the same image. Then came a complex trial of color-blending, layering, and experimentation with Jennifer Turner, the Master Printer at the beginning of Dean’s collaboration with Gemini, to create works of astonishing subtlety, mood and depth. Untethered by land and her usual use of text, every sky in LA Magic Hour is a study of awe and soars in the imagination. With otherworldly craft, Tacita Dean takes us up to a place of wonder: as if to say, This is the moment. We are here. 1

Tacita Dean, Selected Writing, p.21


Tacita Dean, p. 34, “Prisoner Pair,” Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne, 2009, Selected Writing, p.78


Tacita Dean, “Magic Hour,” Documents of Contemporary Art: Colour, p. 235, Whitechapel, London and The MITPress, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2008, Selected Writing, p.175


Dean, Tacita. Telephone conversation with author. London and Los Angeles, September 29, 2021


Francis Bacon, Julian Jebb, television pilot, BBC, 1965


Tacita Dean, On the Road, p.110, Axencia Turismo de Galicia, Santiago de Compostela, 2014, Selected Writing, pp.95–6


Dean, telephone conversation.


Dean, Ibid.

9 10

Dean, Ibid. Inferno (2019), Dean’s blackboard drawing made for the set of “Inferno,” The Dante Project, The Royal Ballet, London, 14–30 October 2021

LA MAGIC H O U R, 2021

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LA MAGIC HOUR Fifteen hand-drawn, multi-color blend lithographs, each 29 7/8 x 29 7/8 " (75.9 x 75.9 cm) Editions of 42 LA Magic Hour


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or many Angelinos, sunset would not be referred to as Magic Hour but rush hour. For the lithography studio at Gemini G.E.L., Magic Hour refers to color — lots of luminous, saturate, complicated color.

Working from an index of over 100 drawings Tacita made while working on her previous Gemini series, LA Exuberance, images were chosen, inverted, rotated and reversed to find the compositions that would work for Magic Hour. Color palettes came from photographic capture of west coast sunsets and then a bit of improvisation. This suite of 15 prints was printed from 31 plates in 49 press runs. Editioning began in earnest in the spring of 2019. What appears so light and effortless on paper came from months of defining and redefining color in terms of light, luminosity and the nimble layering of inks. How Tacita envisioned these sunsets translated to many intricate blends of transparent and not-so-transparent colors. Greengrays printed atop fluorescent pinks, blues on top of oranges – colors we as printmakers had never before put together to reach such an elegant outcome. A strict regimen of keeping the roller movement within a grid on the slab and counting the number of turns while “charging” the roller, a quick pass across the plate and, yes, a lot of counting. In the months of proofing and editioning Magic Hour, many hands assisted the realization of this suite. Most notably Jennifer Turner, who was responsible for the initial collaboration and proofing with Tacita, as well as Solita Montoya, Stacy Smith, Cheng Cheng, Levi Atkinson and Sarah Plummer. Part way through editioning, the city and world experienced Sars Covid 19, and the studio had to close its doors temporarily. Returning to continue work on Magic Hour reminded us daily of how much we have to appreciate, from Alpenglow to the Belt of Venus. At the end of the day, looking skyward I often stop and think about how that particular sunset belongs to Tacita. Jill Lerner, Master Printer November, 2021

D E S I G N : J O H N C OY P H OTO G R A P H Y: S I D N E Y B . F E L S E N , S U Z A N N E F E L S E N