Thursday, 24 July 2014

All about technique

Despite the rubbishness of work, I have managed to find some time for printmaking; here's what I've been working on over the last six weeks. It's all about technique with this image so I've been throwing just about every etching technique I can think of at it including spit bite and drawing into a soft ground through tissue paper. Thirteen states so far and still some way to go - I'd like to have it finished by September. Already brewing ideas for the next couple of images...

Sunday, 20 July 2014

From David Bomberg to Paula Rego: The London Group in Southampton

Marcel Hanselaar ~ Ritual, 2013, oil on canvas

Having said I wouldn’t be blogging much over the next few weeks, I am now going to blog…

About five weeks ago, the week the last Ofsted inspection finished, we moved offices at work and are now based in the Civic Centre. This meant going from a brand new building to one which was built in the 1931 and as it’s listed, has many of the original features (possibly including some of the plumbing…). It also houses the city art gallery and it so happens that our office is right next to the gallery and conservation studios. There is art just on the other side of the wall, literally. How tantalising. We often see works of art being taken from the conservation studio into the gallery too (oh cruel tormentors!). I am most definitely on the wrong side of the wall.

It does mean however, that I can sneak off for ten minutes every now and then, to visit a particular work. The current exhibition (From David Bomberg to Paula Rego: The London Group in Southampton), which I have yet to see properly, has a painting by one of my favourite artists, Marcelle Hanselaar. Ritual (above) is a wonderful piece by which I am much taken. I've been to visit it several times and the more I look at it, the more I like it. The central figure, light and colours are so atmospheric. I can't pretend to know what it means... I can only have a rough guess. I would very much like to know the painter's ideas behind this particular painting.

I will blog about this show again probably - it also has a Paula Rego aquatint. It's on until 1 November so plenty of time to go and see it. The art gallery opening times are a bit rubbish though (I can feel another rant coming on...); Monday to Friday 10am to 3pm and Saturday 10am until 5pm, closed Sundays. For a gallery which has such a fabulous collection to shut at 3pm in the week and close on Sundays is such a waste - but there we are, another thing we can thank Cameron and his budget cuts for. Yours, disgusted of Southampton.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Groundhog Day

Life is somewhat surreal at the moment... and not in a good way. I think I mentioned a few weeks ago that at work, we (Children's Services), had just undergone a very stressful, exhausting and expensive to the council four-week Ofsted inspection of services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers and review of the Local Safeguarding Children Board. This was under Ofsted's latest and most rigorous inspection framework which, whilst we all accept that it's necessary to check up on local authorities to make sure they're doing what they're supposed to be doing, places an enormous burden on the already stretched-to-the-limit staff who work to keep children safe across Britain. The staff are stretched because they do an impossible job under difficult conditions in councils which are seeing their funding rapidly eroded by Cameron and his cronies. Imagine then, three weeks after the end of this bureacratic stress fest (which is supposed to happen once every two to three years), just when you think you're beginning to catch up on all the work you haven't been able to do because the whole four weeks was spent on inspection stuff, that you are told that Ofsted is about to descend again to do the whole miserable, monumentally stressful, tiring thing again. Not cheery. We as data analysts are right in the firing line for the entire duration as the whole process is driven by data. It's what words like 'gruelling' were invented for.

Anyway, I don't usually beard about work on my blog - why would I? It's nothing to do with art. However, these wretched inspections are so intrusive that I just don't get any art work done; there's no time or mental energy to spare and I DON'T LIKE IT. So, if I don't post much over the next few weeks, you'll know why.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Fine artists as illustrators

The Bullfighter's Godmother - Paula Rego
Recently, a friend sent me a link to a rather interesting article by Andrew Graham Dixon about Paula Rego. It particularly interested me as he talks about fine artists as illustrators and how that is an insult to most. Not to Paula Rego of course whose work is strongly narrative. Have a read of the article here. Poacher's Pie

Sunday, 15 June 2014

The Walthamstow Tapestry

Feeling more than a little wiped out at the moment. Just emerged from a four-week Ofsted inspection of Children's Services which is probably one of the least fun things I can think of, and as a consequence, we are now four weeks behind on the end of year returns, four of which have to be in by the end of June (we've started one...). Throw in an office move last Friday... who knows what chaos awaits when I go to the new place on Monday.

So, I have data fatigue and was feeling somewhat in need of a change. What better way to shake this off than with a visit to Winchester Discovery Centre to see Grayson Perry's Walthamstow Tapestry; a mind-blowing 15 metres of intricately detailed images and text woven by Flemish weavers.

It's Perry's comment on consumerism bound up in a 'seven ages of man' narrative. The tapestry is peppered with household brand names which sit supposedly randomly in amongst the images. Every inch of the picture plane is used and is heavy with symbolism and his influences are evident: medieval and folk art and Sumatran fabric for instance. It has been likened to the Bayeux Tapestry.

Despite some of the macabre imagery, it's a very beautiful thing. The colour and texture and the drawings themselves are lovely and one could gaze at it for hours and still find new details to delight and ponder over. Perry is a consummate doodler with humour - I mean that as a compliment - and it took me back to my childhood and the hours I spent immersed in my collection of Richard Scarry books. Again, this is not to denigrate the downright genius of the Walthamstow Tapestry, but rather, is a comment about the visual impact the work has and its ability to hold the attention. I think it's wonderful. And I'm very pleased to have been able to see it as I found a newspaper article today stating that last month, it was sold to an art school in China. It will be in Winchester until 6 July so go see it.


Sunday, 8 June 2014

Okay. I wasn't terribly happy with my last print, PB4. I was working on it for something ridiculous like five months and I'm still not satisfied with the image. Also I think my technique left something to be desired, so it's back to first principles with the next project. 

I'm working on an A3 plate for the first time, which has its own challenges, but it's back to portraits for the moment. This print is going to be all about technique so narrative won't be a distraction.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Aquatint workshop

I had a lovely day at Red Hot Press on Saturday teaching four fabulous printmakers how to aquatint. They all worked very enthusiastically and produced some really interesting images. All very different of course. I love teaching.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Nearly there...

I'm very nearly there with PB4. Dear me, I don't think I've pulled so many different proofs of a plate before. The problem was, it seems, that I was wedded to colour with this one; sepia, orange and blue. I tried it and tried it and tried it but it just looked like something from the Museum of Bad Art in Boston (sometimes I scan its pages half-dreading, half-hoping I'll see one of my own works in the collection. I wonder if any other artists do that...?) - see below.

I gave in finally and went back to fewer and more subtle colours and I think that's what it needs (apologies for the badly-inked proof by the way). Maybe it was too much of a leap for Pirate Baby. It needs a couple of small tweaks but then it's good to go. At last! Thank goodness for that.  I can start on something new now.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Influences 5 - Freya Payne

At 36 ~ Freya Payne, etching, 2005
I wasn't yet etching when I first came across Freya Payne's work in Printmaking Today in 2006. I was getting some pretty good tone and texture with card cuts but there isn't that versatility of being able to rework and rework and rework the plate like there is with etching. It wasn't until 2009 that I began to use pine resin aquatints to attempt to achieve really tonal / textural effects with etching. And now, five years later, I still can't achieve anything like what Payne does with the plate.

Amateur ~ Freya Payne, 2007
I like portraiture and it remains integral to my work, but I guess my main focus is narrative. Some of Payne's earlier etchings have narrative themes. I particularly like the image below - rather Rego / Hanselaaresque.

Looking for exits - Freya Payne, 1998
In an interview with Katherine Jones (Printmaking Today, Summer 2006), Payne is asked what it is about printmaking that interests her. She replies:

'I love both the physical process and the extended possibilities of a way to draw. The stopping and starting, the slow alchemy of acids and metals; the way drawing becomes an accruing of marks, layer by layer, on a surface physical enough to handle so much alteration, but which still gives an image which feels complete - the journey of the making unified in the final image.

The prints are often testing grounds for installation or sculpture and get fed back into prints as props. The boundaries between what leads the work - concept or process - blur.'

Sisyphus ~ Freya Payne, 2007

On the subject of process, Payne says this:

'When all else is in flux, printmaking gives you somewhere to begin, some parameters, technical anchors. It also gives you a valuable space between the act of making and seeing the result. Often I have very black periods when I lose faith in what I'm doing; this space can be a life raft.' 

How true this is. I've lost count of the times when I've become stuck with an image and found... comfort? Reassurance? New momentum? Simply by cleaning up the plate, degreasing, adding an aquatint and beginning to stop out. All begins to flow again. And the ritual of preparing a new plate when the image isn't fully formed in the mind - the process of filing down the edges, taping the back, degreasing and applying that first hard ground - then the image is ready to trickle onto the plate. I wonder if it's the same for painters preparing a canvas or sculptors doing whatever needs to be done to their chosen medium. I'd be interested to know.

To Turn Again ~ Freya Payne, 2007

Women ~ Freya Payne, 2008

Sunday, 11 May 2014

The Artists Rifles

Portrait of Frederic Lord Leighton by GF Watts

"Are you interested in rifles or are you just here to look at the paintings?"

This was the question posed to me by a gentleman whilst I was standing in front of the above painting at Southampton City Art Gallery last week. I assured hum I was there to look at the paintings; he, on the other hand, looked more of a military history sort of chap, so I wonder what he made of the show (there weren't any actual rifles).

Flowing to the Sea ~ John Everett Millais, 1871
I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this exhibition; here's what the blurb on the art gallery website says.

 'At the outbreak of World War I, Paul Nash, a prominent artist, gave up painting and enlisted in the Artists Rifles, eventually fighting with the Hampshire Regiment. Inspired by his story, this exhibition introduces the Artists Rifles, a volunteer regiment founded in 1860 under the threat of French invasion. Its early membership was a who’s who of the Victorian art world: Burne Jones, Rossetti, Millais, Leighton and Holman Hunt. The Great War saw a new stream of creative people join its ranks: Frank Dobson, Charles Jagger, Wilfred Owen, Edward Thomas and John Nash who went ‘over the top’ with the regiment in 1917. Follow a history of the regiment and its members through a selection of artworks, including loans from the Royal Academy, Imperial War Museum, British Council and Arts Council England.'

The idea of a regiment consisting entirely of artists, poets and other creative types seems somewhat bizarre - the phrase 'herding cats' springs to mind - and having seen the show, I still can't quite get my head around it. It is, however, an interesting mix of art and artifacts. 

Eurydice to Orpheus - Frederic Lord Leighton

There is a great deal of Pre-Raphaelite work, as you might expect - portraits and Victorian narrative paintings (which don't have anything to do with war or the Artists Rifles directly as far as I can tell). The work continues through WWI and WWII with etchings, drawings and paintings by both John and Paul Nash, as well as a series of 1930s (?) posters for fuel. There are many photographs and sketches of the regiment itself (with titles like 'Troops on Wimbledon Common after a skirmish' which baffled me - who could they be skirmishing with?! - until I discovered they trained on Wimbledon Common). There are also cases containing uniforms and various documents and publications relating to the regiment, plus plenty of information panels on the walls (most of which I confess I didn't read, because obviously, I was just there for the paintings...).It's an interesting show though, even if you're not interested in military history, or the Pre Raphaelites for that matter. I recommend it.

CE Perugini ~ Frederic Lord Leighton

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Letterbox Prints go on sale

Letterbox Prints went on sale for the first time last weekend - and seemed quite popular. We sold more packets than I thought we would, so, need to pack a whole bunch more and start taking them round to various art centres and galleries.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Edging closer...

... to a resolution for PB4. Goodness, this is a tough one. I console myself with the notion that this is a good sign; it means that I'm pushing myself out of my comfort zone with colour, composition, multi-plateness.

I've etched most of what was on the solar plate onto the etching plate now, which is a bit disappointing really, but hey ho. There is still one section for which I want to use the solar plate (selective inking needed). Also, I think I want to mask out the two figures when rolling on the blue so they don't get lost. They've receded a bit so I need to bring them back into the foreground. It's a way forward anyway... let's see what happens.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

International Printmaking Day

We had a great day on Saturday at Red Hot Press. The first group of students from the Foundation in Printmaking course have just graduated and had their private view on Thursday so the workshop was open over the long weekend for people to see it. Also showing were Katherine Anteney's Lost in Translation; a series of lovely linocuts based on foreign words for which there is no translation in English.

All that and printmaking demonstrations all day Saturday for International Printmaking Day. I demonstrated etching; Sarah, solar plate; Katherine letterpress and cola litho, and Kevin Dean, monoprinting. We had a steady stream of people visiting and looking at what we were doing. Great fun.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

PB4 update

I've just realised that I've not blogged about PB4 lately. This is partly because I've been working on other projects and partly because I'm stuck again. Quite a lot has happened to the image but I can't seem to resolve it at the moment.

Following the disaster of the solar plate which, when printed with the etching plate gave me this misregistered monstrosity, and had lost all the diagramatic elements, I decided to add those to the etching plate (see above). I think it works quite well - but took a long time to do which was the point of the solar plate. Sigh... I tried printing over the solar plate with white etching ink but as you can see, too pale.

So. Next step, leave the diagramatic elements uninked and roll relief blue over the the etching plate. Better, but I still don't have some of the text from the original drawing. This is where I'm stuck.

I'm wondering if I can ink up selected areas of the solar plate... This needs time to experiment with, something I don't have an awful lot of right now.

It will happen though. Eventually.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Letterbox Prints - on sale soon

Top to bottom:
JE Manser
Irene Smith, Jo Price
Irene Smith 
Irene Smith, JE Manser
Irene Smith
JE Manser
JE Manser x 2
JE Manser
Sheila Lockyer x 2
Jenny Rickman
Jo Price