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Featured Artist for Printmakers Council 2009

Article written for IMPRINT (Printmakers Council):

I draw with a knife. I like the speed and the clean sharp edge that a blade produces. I cut shapes out of newsprint and recycled paper and start to build my imagery. I love this simple way of working: quick, immediate and spontaneous. With the stencils I create mono prints. Constructing layers of colour and shape. These prints work as individual pieces, but by re-working them in another process the images are transformed into something more complex.

For a while I flirted with the digital process. I was, I suppose, seduced by the huge potential it offered and the seeming ease of everything. I could re-work the mono printed images effortlessly (almost): scan, resize, cut, copy and layer. But the final digital prints were no match for the intimate characteristics of traditional printing processes - the delicate relationship of ink onto paper, the tactile quality of the printed surface. For me, digital lacked the very essence of “print”. Locked in front of a computer screen also meant that I was starved of those crucial studio elements: the heady smell of ink, the physical presence of the press, laying paper onto plate, turning the wheel…

I discovered solar plate etching (photo polymer) in 2006. I was hooked immediately. It takes a while to appreciate the technique but it is a relatively quick procedure, environmentally friendly and wonderfully responsive. The computer is now purely a functional tool, enabling me to produce gray-scale transparencies of the mono prints to use as positives. Exposure time for the polymer is crucial, effecting tone, depth and surface structure of the plate. I use natural u.v. light (anything from midday sun to heavy thundercloud). I like the unpredictability of this source and the impact it has on the final outcome. Plates are developed in warm water. This too is a critical stage, requiring a certain “feel” which takes a while to refine. Once hardened, the polymer surface reacts well to ink. A soft intaglio wipe can produce subtle moody mixtures. While hot vibrant tones can be relief rolled over the plate surface. Solar plate is a magical process, which produces rich and intricate images. This exciting fusion of traditional and contemporary techniques has advanced my both ideas and image making.

My subject matter is rooted in a passion for maps. For as long as I can remember I have been seduced by the simplicity of the cartographic language: flat aerial perspective, contour lines, grid references, symbols and signs. In 1993 I travelled to the Australian Outback and discovered a dramatic new landscape. I became obsessed by desert space. I won a travel scholarship in 1997 and drove for five weeks across the deserts of Western America. For both these journeys I kept a series of road diaries, recording odd events, “dead kangaroo on lassater highway”, “camels and coffee 15kms”. I documented details such as: temperature, elevation, compass readings, highway numbers and railroad wagons. The diaries became reference points to work from. They acted as a “memory map”, providing an intimate recollection of space and place. Using a range of print techniques (collograph, aquatint, relief) these trips concluded with a collection of visual travel narratives, including leporello book structures, a light-box installation and etched railway track.

More recently I have spent time in Italy (Venice and Rome). These cramped busy cities are the antithesis of empty desert landscape. But they have been a rich source of inspiration. I have produced a number of abstract but highly structured accounts of the urban topography. While still absorbed with the notion of mapping, architectural forms and structures are also significant elements in the prints. A sense of narrative remains central to the work. I instinctively produce series of connected images; like opening a pack of holiday photographs or unfolding a map, one image leads to another until eventually a whole panorama can be observed - or a time recalled.

The method of re-working images in different techniques has become critical to my practice. The process is a journey in itself. The qualities of solar plate in particular have enabled me to alter the physical structure and visual appearance of a print. By revealing further layers and unearthing secondary features, the reading and perception of the original image changes. Perhaps this elaborate process corresponds in some way to the human experience of self-discovery, memory and history.

Over 20 years ago I enrolled in a screen-printing evening class in the London Borough of Camden. In the chaos of those weekly 3-hour sessions (oil based inks, blue filler, stapled screen mesh and rickety tabletop frames) I discovered a new territory. My first screen-print, “Higgeldy Pig” was reproduced in the Hampstead and Highgate Express with the headline, “verve in a silk-screen”. The enthusiasm for image making and the spirit of exploration has travelled with me ever since.

During the 1990’s I completed a BA in Fine and Applied Art at London Guildhall University (formerly Sir John Cass) and studied at the Slade School for an MFA in printmaking. When I graduated from the Slade in 1998 I was told most art students take ten years to become established. In 2008 I was an invited artist for Originals 09, at the Mall Galleries, London. At the exhibition I was awarded the Curwen Print Studio Prize. This Easter I moved into my studio, elephantpress, in Havelock Walk, south east London. Ten years. Almost.


August 2009 ©