British Printmaking,’ Innovation through Process’ a symposium lecture at Kyoto City Museum, August 2012

Printmaking in the UK is thriving. There is wide access throughout the UK to printmaking facilities, printmaking is practiced and shown widely from the local evening class exhibitions to the highly regarded collections of the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. There is an increasing appreciation of the significance of the handmade and the limited edition over the reproduction. And the public for contemporary printmaking is enthusiastic and ever increasing, with record attendances and sales figures at Print Fairs, and major printmaking exhibitions such as Originals and the Northern Print Biennale. This exhibition brings together a diverse group of artists working in Britain today, held together by their commitment to being artist printmakers. They come from a wide range of backgrounds and are of all ages, including many mature students who had previous lives and careers not as artists. Their subject matters is equally diverse. They are not easily classifiable and one of the most accessible ways of looking at their practice and delineating a topography is through their use of process and technique.

Etching or Intaglio and its close relation collagraph are perhaps the most widely used form of traditional printmaking in the UK with extensive facilities both in universities and open access workshops. Known since the 15th century the act of taking a metal plate covered with a waxy ground which is resistant to acid, making an image with a pointed etching needle and dipping the plate in a bath of acid to bite and so on… is at once one of the simplest and most refined of processes.  Born in 1955, Susan Aldworth initially studied philosophy at Nottingham University. An experimental printmaker and filmmaker, Aldworth who suffered a brain haemorrhage over 10 years ago now explores and questions the relationship between mind and body. This recent work focusses on the relationship between the physical brain and our sense of self and references both neuroscience and philosophy. Margaret Ashman also uses multi plate photo etching and like Aldworth her work relates to her previous practice as a scientist. After reading Physics at Oxford, Ashman worked in the field of acousto optics and became interested in the relationships between hearing and seeing. Working with models who have no speech or hearing Ashman develops working relationships making layered photographic images which explore the power of nonverbal expression. The affinity between etching, science, in particular ecology can also be found in the work of Ruth Uglow, who graduated in 2000 from the Royal College of Art. Brought up on a rural farm in Cornwall, her work explores the unnatural combining of machines, animals and plants that occurs in the organization of our modern consumer world. Dan Alexander also makes a close examination of the natural world although his work is borne out of an interest in the unique limestone mountains of the Cordillera Chimenea in Southern Spain and the practice of siting industrial structures in this area of natural beauty. Using models and a pinhole camera Alexander’s multi plate photo etching explore this uneasy intervention.

Etching is a very appropriate medium for the natural world with its roots in alchemy; The etchings of Jason Hicklin and Marianne Ferm explore the natural world through weather and landscape. Hicklin ‘s etchings are based on walks around the coast and lakes of the British Isles and Ireland and are charged with an atmosphere born of an intimate knowledge and a direct physical experience of their weather and changing moods




Ferm’s etchings and aquatints focus on the energy of water as it moves across the earth’s surface and she uses intricate form and vivid tonal contrasts to impart a sense of vitality to her audience. As she writes” Water is an important and re-occurring motif in my work. I am enthralled and excited by the energy and dynamism exhibited by its movement across the Earth’s surface. I like to depict waterscapes in a state of continual physical transformation, of stasis and flux, creating vivid juxtapositions of light and form, which reflect the rhythms and cycles of the natural world.” Moving towards abstraction but still strongly related to landscape is the work of Eleanor Havsteen Franklin who uses rolled on colour fields beneath her delicate hieroglyphic like scratching, redolent of plants and other field detritus. Equally Megan Fishpool richly worked colour fields are redolent of place and emotional mood.

Moving into a more human and populated landscape, prolific artist John Duffin makes etchings about the inhabitation of the urban landscape ,in this case of his adopted city of London.  Densely populated cityscapes with dizzying views   offer a glimpse of the pace and scale of the metropolis. Equally vertiginous is the world of scientist and Doctor Sumi Perera. Essentially a 3D and book artists Perera‘s work combines etching with cutting, stitching to thread to look at ideas. The world of Marcelle Hanselaar is rather more strange and frightening. Influenced by Expressionism and fairy tales, her fantastical and mythical worlds are populated by an intimidating cast of imaginary characters. Animal but not human Helen Fay’s etchings of dogs are animals as portraiture. Following in the British tradition of the 18th Century painter of horses George Stubbs’s these animals are neither glorified nor sentimentalised, they are portrayed as sentient highly individual creatures.

Collagraph is the close relation of etching, allowing the plate, often made from cardboard, to be both worked into and added to, and allowing for an extraordinary depth and range of mark. The acknowledge master of collagraph in the UK is Katherine Jones who although quite young has developed the process with great sophistication. Her powerful images of glasshouse and landscape which combine collagraph with block print, explore the fragility and vulnerability of life as well as the inherent strength of a structure that appears at first quite at risk. Dawn Cole also looks at the fragility of life though from a conceptual rather than image base. Hito no kokoro ni chi o nijimaseruyouna fukai kanashimi which I understand is a translation of ‘makes ones heart bleed’, taken from the diary of a first world war nurse is also a fitting response to the tragic events in Japan of 2011. Close examination of the images pieces of lace reveal that they are entirely made up of these overlaid words. Although artist Annie Woodford came to collagraph through her practice as a ceramicist, she also refers to nature and its creation and destruction. Redolent of natural forms these delicate, embossed surfaces bring us full circle back to landscape as Woodford refers both to her practice as a ceramicist and to the broken and damaged surface of the earth.

Lithography the process based on the dissonant relationship between oil and water is a hard task master. Three of our artists come from the same studio, Edinburgh Printmakers in Scotland where it continues to be both taught and encouraged. Gill Tyson who was a one-time Vice Chair of Edinburgh Printmakers uses stone and plate lithography as well as screenprint for her calm and eloquent northern hemisphere seascapes. Alistair Grant Deputy Director of the studio looks down on earth for his explorations of the effects of global cooling. Using photography and digitally manipulated images he creates complex lithographic images of weather patterns which are both scientific and beautiful. Bronwen Sleigh works in both etching and lithography and is despite her youth the senior technician at Edinburgh. Working on her interest in urban geography Sleigh makes drawing, takes photographs and makes models of specific locations on her travels which she then imaginatively transforms into layered structured images of place. Recalling architectural drawings and industrial situations they nonetheless have an internal organisation entirely beyond specific location or building. Monica Petzal also uses the remembrance of place as the basis of her interpretation and evocation of memories of her family history as refugees. Densely worked photographic images are laid over painterly monoprints, sometimes with text, to evoke the dissonance between the sharpness of events and the fog of memory. Johanna Love’s work explores surface, materials and time through the bringing together of photographic lithography and traditional drawing practices. The dust that Love carefully draws onto the prints draws attention to what is normally hidden in a photograph – its surface and its process of making through the lens. Dust can be seen to be an important reference to the evidence of human presence.

Woodcut and relief print is the area most closely associated in the mind of European artists with the Japanese tradition and we felt it important that we had significant and diverse representation of these printmakers, many of whom work with Japanese materials and traditions. Sasa Marinkov’ s large woodcut images are hand-burnished from sheets of plywood onto Japanese papers, using a wooden spoon to offset the oil based inks. she writes eloquently of her practice” Cutting wood and lino is for me a way of defining an idea and often literally carving out a route. My starting point is the memory of a place, a landscape or a city, with an emphasis on the transitory as in the idea of journeys undertaken.” Sara Lee works in the ukiyo-e tradition to produce ethereal seascapes based on her views of the British Coastline. My co-curator, artist and writer Rebecca Salter needs no introduction to this audience. Acclaimed worldwide for her subtle and ethereal use of traditional Japanese woodblock, many are printed by Sato Woodblock Workshop, here in Kyoto. The subject of a recent monograph and major retrospective exhibition at the Yale Centre for British Art, Rebecca is a shining beacon for all things print and Japanese in the UK. Wood Engraving separates itself from woodcutting both in terms of scale and tools. Anne Desmet has recently been made a Royal Academician, one of the highest honours an artist can receive in the UK, uses both wood engraving and lino to make her immaculate and detailed images of city life. Peter Lawrence also uses wood engraving to create elaborate and detailed map like images which are abstracted and imagined topographies of places and ideas. The work of Edwina Ellis takes us into the realm of experimental relief printing. Renowned for the design of British pound coins and the masthead of The Times newspaper, Ellis has pioneered the use of acetal resin polymers for engraving and continues to research laser cutting and engraving homopolymer resins for relief printmaking, as displayed in this new abstract work. Morgan Doyle by contrast takes us into the realm of the painterly monotype woodcut, using a large format woodcut as a starting point for his images in which layer upon layer of rolled on oil colour builds on the original print. Frances Tinsley combines woodblock with screenprint. Using old art school drawing boards as a ground for his images of boats he prints the raw board as his ground before superimposing the screenprint.

Screenprint is the junior member of the printmaking club and it is no surprise that it is largely used by younger artists, admired by them for the smooth modern surface it creates, speed and ease of working. The subject reflects the practice and process and is largely lighter in mood. Adam Bridgland is the master of English nostalgia referring us back to a past which we both long for and are happy to have left behind. Using Kitsch and found imagery Bridgland combines text and imagery in flat badge like forms reminiscent of Boy Scout badges. Another storyteller of the everyday is Adam Hemuss who brings his background in television to give us screen-printed ‘shorts’ , like a cartoon strip of images based on fashion and comic books. Humour is also prevalent in the work of Penelope Kenny whose interest in Darwin and the evolution of the species has led her to fantastical combinations. Her work explores the relationship between humans and other animals, especially in connection to Trans humanism, evolution, hybrids and biotechnology. Through her hybrid creatures she investigates the potential outcomes of humans trying to control evolution through genetic manipulation and scientific tampering with the species boundaries. She draws inspiration from Darwinism, dioramas, natural history illustration and taxidermy and takes great pleasure in imagining and representing the postmodern animal. Anne Norfield looks at transitory moments moment sin life. There is a certain black humour to her Third Party, Fire and Theft prints which refer to what areas an insurance policy may be covered in the UK and the print is then symbolically covered in ash. The city features large in the life of printmakers most of whom live in urban conurbations. Lucy Bainbridge is both an artist and a studio director. Her delicate screenprints with hazy outlines of the city works are quiet echoes of the shifting images we view daily. In bringing these momentary sights into focus, there is a feeling of a stopped breath in the insistent pace of the city. The towering citadels of Rachel Owen imagination hover between the natural and the supernatural. Interested in the idea of metamorphosis, the finely layered almost ethereal screenprints combine architecture with the natural world. The layering of silkscreen is also a metaphor for dissection and the multi layered nature of printmaking. Similarly Liz Collini’s plan-like prints, drawings and installations explore the paradoxes and layering contained within the written word. We have not yet shifted into discussing the area of new technology and it is with silkscreen that digital technology is most usually combined. Jenny Wiener combines intricate technical drawing with layers of silk-screened geometric shapes, in her practice which revolves around numbers. Her concern is that we are increasingly reduced to numbers: serial numbers, pin numbers, illogical scorecards, random numbers and units of measurements – measuring everything and nothing. She defines these processes and applies them to whatever she wants –including Impressionist paintings. By measuring historical paintings, Jenny hopes to reveal and analyse the numerical systems that we create to organize our lives.

Two senior academic printmakers work completely ‘outside the box’ as does innovative Laser cut artists Jenny Smith. Findlay Taylor course director of printmaking at Camberwell College of Art has experimented with potato print, a form of printmaking widely known to small children in the UK. In returning to this primitive form Findlay renews our understanding of the very basic nature of the print and its close association with nature. Timo Lehtonen refers back to his part Nigerian heritage in using a yam a vegetable similar to a sweet potato for making prints. His printmaking practice is underpinned by a concern with drawing through process and his subject matter often makes elliptical references to cultural identity, here employing yam on paper to make playful allusions to the short-lived Kingdom of Haiti and its nineteenth century Royal Armorial. Jenny Smith works in Laser cutting and has set up the first laser cutting studio in Edinburgh, Scotland. Deeply interested in all things Japanese and particularly in Zen Buddhism, Smith’s work which starts out as drawing, investigates how drawn and painted marks hand, can be interpreted through laser cutting, referencing the accidental interruptions that occur within this highly controlled and experimental processes.

Printmaking is never defined by technique however important it is to the making of the image. At the root of printmaking is the impulse of the artist to take a significant idea and transform it through process. Technique and process are being profoundly affected by the move into the digital age yet printmakers and their audience are beginning to fully appreciate the differences between the traditional and the digital. The advantage for printmakers today is that they are able to use all aspects of the new technology to assist and augment their explorations of process and ideas. Ultimately however as sentient beings we are always looking for the human touch and the images created by the traditional alchemy of printmaking will always have a resonance unmatched by the digital. British printmaking today brings together the best of this traditional alchemy backed by exploration with new technology and substantial ideas.