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‘Sails’: three lithographs by Dan Flavin

The Olla Art collection has been enriched with a suite of three lithographs by Dan Flavin, entitled ‘Sails’. These are collaged lithographs with special shapes, printed in 1986 by master-printer Rento Brattinga of the former Steendrukkerij Amsterdam.

Dan Flavin is best known as a light artist, but he also etched and lithographed. Beautiful, minimalist work, often based on his designs for light installations, but the sails of sailing boats are also a cherished subject of his drawing and engraving.

Initially, Flavin avoided making graphic art. According to him, what he saw being made around him slided in many cases towards “merely mechanical commercial reproduction”, as he explains in the catalogue of an exhibition, early 1989, in the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden (Germany), dedicated to his work. In the mid-1970s, however, Flavin takes up graphic art. He is a supporter of the ancient graphic craft in the tradition of the great masters, such as Dürer, Rembrandt, Goya and Whistler. This includes direct drawing on plate or stone and printing in small editions (Poetter, 1989, pp. 38-39). During this period, Flavin walks around with small copper plates on which he makes spontaneous etchings.

About his fascination with sails, Flavin says that from around 1960 he could often be found drawing along various coasts. He drew what he observed freehand. In the mid-1980s he became fascinated by the sails of the boats he saw sailing along, and started drawing them. He found the ship hulls less interesting and left them out.
The pencil made way for charcoal and dark blue chalk. He started thinking about paper with triangular shapes, but mainly applied this in etchings and lithographs, such as in the suite ‘Sails’.

Dan Flavin, Sails, 1986 (Poetter 66-68)

Dan Flavin, Sails, 1986
3 lithographs + collage, 24.5 x 77 cm, 40 x 76 cm, 60 x 56.5 cm
Collection Olla Art

In the aforementioned exhibition catalogue Flavin says that he wanted to delve deeper into the geometric aspects of the sail, but a lack of time – at that time his neon light installations demanded all the attention – prevented him from doing so (Poetter, 1989, pp. 45-46).
It is remarkable how Flavin explains his fascination with the sails of sailing boats: he saw the sails of boats, “out and off in the breadth of waves, as emblematic of a terrifically self-satisfying assertion, of human independence under them” (Poetter, 1989, p. 46).

Starnberger See
An earlier example of both Flavin’s fascination with the sailing ship and his informal etching technique can be found in the small (and rare) etching that Olla Art previously offered by Dan Flavin: ‘Sailing slowly on the Starnberger See’ (1975). This etching – together with the (even rarer) etching ‘Henriette reading’ – has found a new owner.
The Starnberger See is a lake near Munich. Flavin regularly stayed there at the invitation of Heiner Friedrich, a Munich art dealer who represented him. Flavin’s frequent stays in Germany may have partly had to do with his ‘roots’: in the Poetter exhibition catalogue Flavin mentions that his mother’s ancestors had emigrated from Germany to the United States at the end of the nineteenth century (Poetter, 1989, p. 7).

Flavin, Sailing slowly on the Starnberger See, 1975

Dan Flavin, Sailing slowly on the Starnberger See, 1975
Dry point etching, 27 x 33.9 cm (sheet), 8.9 x 11.8 cm (image)
Private collection Switzerland

The suite ‘Sails’, described and depicted as nos. 66, 67 and 68 in Poetter (1989), can be seen as a triptych. There is, however, a fourth, clearly related ‘Sails’ lithograph. This lithograph was also printed by Rento Brattinga’s Steendrukkerij Amsterdam, but a year earlier (in 1985). In the exhibition catalogue (Poetter, 1989) it is described as no. 54.
A short biography of Dan Flavin and more information about the suite ‘Sails’ can be found here. For price information, information about condition, extra pictures, viewing possibilities, etc., it is best to email us:

Poetter, J. (1989). Neue Anwendungen fluoreszierenden Lichts mit Diagrammen, Zeichnungen und Drucken von Dan Flavin 26.2.-16.4.1989 Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden / New uses for fluorescent light with diagrams, drawings and prints from Dan Flavin 2/26-4/16/1989 Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Edition Cantz.