Sunday, 27 January 2019

January 2019

I made this piece of work as an experiment in combining the mediums of painting and printmaking

The subject that inspired the work is a windblown hawthorn tree that can be seen on the bend of a road known as the Green Road in the Burren, County Clare. 

Figure 1 is the first print taken from the woodcut block:

Figure 2 shows the areas I have coloured by hand using acrylic paint:

Figure 3 shows the finished work with the key block printed over the coloured image.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Response to
The Waste Land  

By   LSA      Leamington Studio Artists

An exhibition at  East Lodge, Jephson Gardens, Leamington Spa

Curated by Karen Parker

Inspired by and in parallel with "Journeys with the Waste Land" an exhibition at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry. 

The exhibition at East Lodge opened on 31st  October and closes on 25th November.

I presented two woodcut prints for the exhibition 

My title for the work is Dry bones can harm no one

For this exhibition artists were invited to create a piece of art to resonate with a particular aspect of T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land, in whatever medium they chose.

The aspect of  the poem that intrigues me the most is in the final part What the Thunder Said, in particular, line 377: "A woman drew her long black hair out tight......" and line 390: "Dry bones can harm no one." 
In between these two lines are references to "bats with baby faces," and "empty chapel" with "no windows."

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Advanced Practice 2

The work I presented  for this module was inspired by a poem written by W. B. Yeats, entitled
The Stolen Child

The title of the work is:       Unquiet Dreams    
Words taken from a line in the poem: 
"Give them unquiet dreams"

Mythology and Irish legends were subjects that Yeats was fascinated by and informed much of his early poetry. He wrote The Stolen Child in 1886, at a time when there were many stories about fairies snatching away children and this created fear and anxiety in the subconscious of a lot of people. The poem describes a world that "is full of troubles and is anxious in its sleep." 
The woodblocks for the above engravings are made from two rough-cut "slices" from the trunk of a cherry tree. Preparing the blocks for engraving revealed many shrinkage cracks and defects in the wood which I tried to repair at first but then looking more closely at the beauty and shape of the pieces I decided to try to find a way to, as far as possible, create the compositions around the shape that was formed by time and the elements. The result is that I practically allowed the shape of the tree itself to dictate both the scale of the work and the final composition.

Part of the work required for the Advanced Practice 2 Module was to make a trial publication. As an experiment in comparing the two techniques of woodcut and wood engraving I used one of the compositions from the images above, enlarged it by 50% and changed the format to the oval shape. The process I then used is known as the multi-block method. First I made a key block (or line block) to make this black and white print:

I prepared another four printing blocks and applied the coloured inks I chose on each block to make the images shown below:  

I then made the final colour woodcut print shown below by inking and printing all four colour blocks on a sheet of Japanese paper and printing the key block over the top:  

Saturday, 3 February 2018

MA Fine Art  January 2018    Module Title:     Advanced Practice 1

 January 2018: 
This piece of work is entitled Death of the Hag and is inspired by a scene from the seventh century legend Sweeney Astray, translated by poet Seamus Heaney from the original text written in Irish and entitled Buile Suibhne.
These are the words that Heaney uses to describe the scene: "Sweeney..........could not shake off the hag until he reached Dunseverick in Ulster. There he leaped from the summit of the fort, down a sheer drop, coaxing the hag to follow. She leaped quickly after him but fell on the cliff of Dunseverick where she was smashed to pieces and scattered into the sea. This is how she got her end on Sweeney's trail."

Dunseverick in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, is situated near to the famous Giants Causeway. At Dunseverick can still be seen the ruins of the gatehouse to Dunseverick Castle, famous according to records for being visited by St. Patrick in the fifth century.

The process: I began by creating a sketch of the scene, transferring it to the boxwood block and then engraving it.

The engraved block ready for the press

One of the first prints from the block

London visit Monday 29th January 2018: At Tate Britain I was intrigued by this painted screen by Francis Bacon, made in 1929. Bacon worked as an interior designer among other things before he became a painter and the screen is apparently a rare survivor of the period of transition from one career to the other. This is a photograph taken on my I-phone

While in London I also visited the V.& A. Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green.
The main purpose of the visit was to see Rachel Whiteread's sculpture titled Place (Village) (2006-2008) This piece of work comprises around 150 dolls houses which were collected by Whiteread over 20 years. On the mezzanine floor at the V. & A.  I also found a large sculpture by by the famous  Jules Dalou. This stunning work is in terracotta and titled Peasant Woman Nursing a Baby:

 Preparations for 24th April Assessment and Exhibition:

February 2018:  In my practice I started making initial drawings for a new piece of work in preparation  for my next assessment. This work needs to be completed for the assessment and the exhibition on 24th April. My proposal is for a free-standing installation 2.4m tall x 1.2m wide.

In the Meantime: A Mini Holiday in Iceland:

22nd February 2018. Went to Reykjavik,  for three nights, primarily in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Seeing the lights turned out to be impossible because of the cloudy weather but spending an evening in the famous Blue Lagoon was an exciting experience. Also, while in Reykjavic, I was able to see some very interesting artwork at the National Gallery of Iceland.
Of particular interest to me was an exhibition of  the work of Asgrimur Jonsson (1876-1958). Jonsson's art focused on themes from Icelandic folk tales, which had never been illustrated before. Jonsson had grown up with these stories in south Iceland and so his work was informed by his background in Icelandic folk culture and 19th century romantic nationalism. I found this exhibition very inspiring and I felt a strong connection with his work and my own practice where I have used inspiration from the ancient myths of Ireland that I grew up with.   Below are some of the photos I took of his watercolours and drawings:

Sunday 25th February:  Back from mini holiday in Iceland
Tuesday February 27th 2018: I did a presentation of my work to tutors and students where I showed a working drawing of my proposal for the 24th April show.

Once again this piece of work is inspired by Sweeney Astray and the composition is made up of seven highly charged scenes taken from the legend.

The work will be a large jigsaw woodcut (1.8 m x 1.2 m ). The intention is to use the jigsaw woodcut block as the actual artwork and also to use it as a block to make coloured prints. I have used the drawing below for a study of the coloured inks I intend to use on the prints:

Here I have transferred the outline of the images in the drawing  to a 1.8m x 1.2m panel of 6mm birch plywood:        

Using a hand held jigsaw I cut around the oval shape and then cut the image into three sections:

Using the fretsaw in the wood machine workshop, I started to cut up the block into separate pieces.
The image below shows the stage of cutting reached on the first day:

With the cutting of the jigsaw completed the the problem I encountered was to find a way of printing this large block in one piece. Even using the largest press available in the print room, this was not possible so I decided to divide the jigsaw into three sections and print each section separately. 

Part Time Part Space Exhibition:  24th April 2018

Birmingham City University, Margaret Street, Birmingham

My work for the exhibition was a floor-mounted installation showing the jigsaw woodblock mounted on a wood panel, set into a wooden plinth (which I made myself for this purpose). 
Fixed to the rear side of the wood panel was the second of two prints I made from the block.
The title I gave the work is Conflict as it relates to the tensions and conflict between the new Christian teaching and the old pagan beliefs and way of life. I am greatly inspired by artist Philip Sutton's jigsaw woodcuts and I was very excited when  I discovered that in the process of cutting up the block and applying the ink to each piece separately, the residue of the different coloured inks left on the block had a very different tone to the print it produced on paper. Also the texture and grain in the wood became highlighted by the ink and I was able to demonstrate this effect by exhibiting the woodblock as well as the print produced by it. 

Front views of Conflict showing jigsaw pieces

Rear view of Conflict showing print

Yertle the Turtle   Jigsaw Woodcut  60cm x 30cm

The piece of work I made next is also a jigsaw woodcut but on a much smaller scale than the previous piece. The work is inspired by the children's storybook entitled Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, written by Dr. Seuss and first published in 1950. 

Yertle,  the Turtle King, was not happy in his position of ruler of his kingdom which consisted of a simple but very pleasant pond. He took the view that if he was physically higher up he could expand his territory by becoming ruler of whatever he could see. He commanded  the other turtles to raise his throne by standing one on top of the other. All went well until the turtle who was called Mack at the bottom of the pile began to complain about having pains in his back, his shoulders and his knees. Yertle ignored his complaints and commanded more and more turtles to climb on to the stack and make his throne higher and higher.  Once again Mack at the bottom of the pile complained but was again ignored. 

Then plain little Mack did a plain little thing: He burped. The whole throne shook, then collapsed and Yertle the King fell Plonk! in the pond. "And the turtles, of course..........all the turtles are free, as turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be". 

Monday, 23 October 2017

MA Fine Art       September 2017 

Module: Technical Methods, Materials and Workshop Practices

My journey in Art continues as I begin studying for my MA in Fine Art which I will complete over the next two years.

October 2017: 
Monday 16th October:  Visited Coventry Biennial, a festival which works with artists from the city and also leading international practitioners to produce high quality exhibitions and events.
The main exhibition was housed in the historic Coventry Evening Telegraph building.
As I am a big fan of Picasso's work, especially his prints, I could easily have spent the whole day at the Herbert Gallery which was showing a large selection of his linocuts. 
One particular piece of work at the CET building that intrigued me was Gregory Herbert's Installation (Real useful boxes, pump, water and plumbing supplies). Although not a big fan of installation art, I felt I was drawn towards this work with it's very recognizable materials and the sound of the flowing water which seemed to create a sense of calm and constancy in the room where it was placed.

October 2017: 20:20 Print Exchange
Images for new woodcuts to be presented for print exchange:
Five Monster Heads is inspired by an ancient Irish legend about a king who is insane and one of his nightmares is about being pursued by five detached monster heads.

Drawing for Five Monster Heads
Woodblock for Five Monster Heads

Drawing for Windblown Hawthorn

Woodblock for Windblown Hawthorn  2017

I used the two woodcut blocks to make prints in various colours and decided that a mixture of brown and black inks worked well:
Print of Five Monster Heads

Print of Windblown Hawthorn
I decided to use the top image (five monster heads) and made 25 prints which I presented for the 20 by 20 Print Exchange.

November 2017:           Beginning my experiments with wood engraving.

 I purchased a full set of wood engraving  tools and piece of highly polished boxwood (150mm x 158) and started making preparatory drawings for a wood engraving.

In my collection of found objects I had a short length of a branch from a cherry tree. Cherry is a very hard wood an is one of the materials that was used extensively in the past by Chinese artists for wood engraving. I cut a few pieces off this  branch and prepared the surface using different grades of  sandpaper to get a smooth flat finish.

The diameter of these pieces is rather small, only about 4cm, but nevertheless useful for experimenting with my new tools and making studies for a larger engraving.

As seen here: Some samples of the pieces of cherry wood I have engraved to date:

From the cherry wood engravings I made the following prints:
The first five are printed using white ink on black paper.

The following five images are printed in black ink on Gampi paper:

I have found that most writers on the subject of wood engraving treat this process as being quite distinctly different to woodcut. My experiments with engraving on these pieces of cherry wood made me aware of the differences in technique and materials between the two mediums. As woodcuts are made generally using a soft wood and the cutting is made using gouges the detail in some images can be difficult to define and therefore shows the limitations of this medium. As wood engraving is made on the end grain of a piece of hardwood, although generally on a much smaller scale than a woodcut, the degree of detail in any image can be shown to a much greater extent.

5th November 2017  (Research Item)
Reading Wood Engraving written by Bernard Sleigh. Published in 1932 by Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons Limited, London.

Sleigh comes from the old school of engravers and admits that even in the early years of the twentieth century his views might be considered "old fashioned." Nevertheless, what is very evident in his writing is his great passion for wood engraving and the book describes his forty years long career as an engraver and illustrates in great detail the techniques of this art.

December 2nd 2017:  London Gallery Visit

At Tate Modern I was intrigued by Ilya Kabakov's image Soccer Player 1964 . This to me said "landscape in the figure" as opposed to "figure in the landscape" and resonated with a series of paintings I did a few years ago that were inspired by looking at the landscape through the gaps in a dry stone wall.

Apart from the main exhibitions which were the Rachel Whiteread's work and the French Impressionists at Tate Britain and the Ilya and Emilia Kabakov at Tate Modern the work that I found most interesting was:
Polly Apfelbaum's  Dubuffet's Feet My Hands, at the Frith Street Gallery.
In  this exhibition Apfelbaum's artwork incorporates hand-woven carpets and beautifully coloured ceramics. Her inspiration for the floor installation was taken from a drawing she saw in the Museum of Modern Art in New York by artist Jean Dubuffet, titled Footprints in the Sand.  Apfelbaum translated the image into a series of hand-woven rugs each one depicting an enormous footprint which could only have been made by a man about ten foot tall. 
For the My Hands part of the installation, which consists of a number beautifully crafted ceramic hands, Apfelbaums took her inspiration from "the floating hand of God" seen in the mosaics of a basilica in Rome.
 This installation of Apferbaum's appeals to me for two reasons: Firstly, Footprints in the Sand reminds me of a story from my childhood that describes an experience in which a person is walking on a beach with God. They leave two sets of footprints in the sand behind them. The tracks represent different stages of the person's life. At various points, the two trails dwindle to one, especially at the lowest and most hopeless moments of the person's life. When questioned about this, God's explanation was: "During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you." 
Secondly: In my first year at art college I made a study of hands for a piece of art and I was intrigued then by the idea of the hand being a symbol of creation as in Michelangelo's  Creation of Adam. 

Research for the Technical Report Essay

The focus of my research for the Technical Methods, Materials, Workshop Practices Module has been in wood as a material, and in particular its use in woodcut and wood engraving for the purposes of printmaking.
I have looked at (a), the history of the woodcut. (b), expounded my reasons for using woodcut in my own practice. (c), looked at the work of contemporary practitioners who use woodcut and who have influenced my work. (d), described my experiences with the material  and process and the limitations that the material itself imposes.(e), from my research and experience explained why I see woodcut as continuing to be important as a medium in art practice today. 

History of the Woodcut

"The history of Wood Engraving epitomizes the history of our culture." So says Prof. Alan W. Woodruff in his book A History of Wood Engraving.
Despite the extensive surveys carried out  by art historians on the subject it is difficult to determine when the first woodcut might have been made. Records however indicate that "by the sixth century AD woodblock printing had reached an advanced stage in Europe." (Chamberlain W. Woodcut Printmaking.) The use of the medium continued to develop in the centuries that followed and was used mainly as a means of illustrating books and manuscripts.By the fifteenth century books began to appear that were made entirely using the woodblock.The first printing presses made made from wood and continued to be used until the nineteenth century. 
In the middle of the seventeenth century a new school of art developed in Japan. This was known as Ukiyo-e (paintings of the floating world), and became the first major development in the art of colour printmaking, and a process that continues to inspire many artists today.
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the use of the woodcut continued to develop as a medium in art and was practiced by leading artists such as Paul Gaugin (1848-1903), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), Edvard Munch (1863-1944), and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Context: Why I want to use the woodcut;

Landscape has always been a feature in my artwork and as Sasha Grishin describes it (Australian Printmaking in the 1990s)  "The Woodcut best expresses the power and energy of the landscape and figures in the landscape." 
The theme of my art practice takes its inspiration from an ancient legend set in the seventh century and therefore wood, a natural material that has been used for thousands of years, is highly appropriate to a subject that has a humourous side but also an underlying dark side. 

Contemporary artists and the Woodcut: 

Paul Furneaux is an Edinburgh based Scottish Artist/Printmaker who has spent several years in Japan studying the traditional woodblock printmaking methods. What I find really exciting about his work is that, while he has continued to use many of the traditional ways of printing, like using the baren in place of a press, he has developed developed a completely new individual style of his own and in recent years his practice has shifted from 2-d to 3-d. In his 3-d work he makes wall-hung structures in wood that he wraps his prints around.      

Alex Katz is an American Artist who, like Furneaux, was heavily influenced by the Japanese techniques of woodcut printmaking. in the late 1950s Katz developed a technique of painting on wood panels that wood occupy spaces like sculptures, calling them "cutouts".
From 1965 onwards he made over 400 print additions and many of these are from woodcuts.
What appeals to me most in his work is his economy of line and flatness of colour.

Philip Sutton is an English Painter/Printmaker and Royal Academician whose unique method of printmaking I have found very inspirational.Sutton is famed for making coloured prints from woodcuts in a way that he developed himself.He would cut up the woodcut into separate pieces, corresponding to the main colour areas of the image, then apply the ink to each, reassemble the jigsaw and print.


In her essay Printmaking in the 21st Century, Gill Saunders argues: "Just as the invention of lithography did not render woodcut and wood engraving redundant and photography did not spell the end for traditional graphic media, so digital technologies have not replaced other methods but rather extended choice and capacity." Saunders argument is borne out by the evidence we see in the work of a great number of painters and printmakers today, many of whom still use the humble woodcut and many more a combination of traditional and digital processes. this has confirmed for me that woodcut printmaking still has an important role to play as a medium in art practice.

December 2017

The second challenge (self imposed) of this semester was to make and exhibit a piece of art for the MA Exhibition at the Coventry Evening Telegraph building: 

The ancient Irish legend from the seventh century that inspires my work relates to the tensions and conflict between the new Christian faith and the old pagan beliefs and way of life. In his introduction to Sweeney AstraySeamus Heaney suggests that "it is possible to read the work as an aspect of the quarrel between free creative imagination and the constraints of religious, political and domestic obligation." All over the world today we witness the conflict that is caused by the creation of boundaries and the effect of the tensions between different religions and my concern with this has become an underlying theme in my work.

The following is an extract from the the first chapter of the story/poem Sweeney Astray, Seamus Heaney's translation from the Irish of a  legend from AD 637 originally titled Buile Suibhne

There was a certain Ronan Finn in Ireland, a holy and distinguished cleric. He was ascetic and pious, an active missionary, a real Christian soldier. He was a worthy servant of God, one who punished his body for the good of his soul, a shield against vice and the devil's attacks, a gentle, genial, busy man. 
One time when Sweeney was king of Dal-Arie, Ronan was there marking out a church called Killaney. Sweeney was in a place where he heard the clink of Ronan's bell as he was marking out the site, so he asked his people what the sound was. "It is Ronan, son of Bearach," they said. "He is marking out a church in your territory and what you hear is the ringing of his bell."
Sweeney was suddenly angered and rushed away to hunt the cleric from the church. Eorann, his wife, a daughter of Conn of Ciannacht, tried to hold him back and snatched at the fringe of his crimson cloak, but the silver cloak-fastener broke at the shoulder and sprang across the room. She got the cloak all right but Sweeney had bolted, stark naked , and soon landed with Ronan. 
He found the cleric glorifying the King of heaven and earth, in full voice in front of his psalter, a beautiful illuminated book. Sweeney grabbed the book and flung it into the cold depths of a lake nearby, where it sank without trace. Then he took hold of Ronan and was dragging him out through the church when he heard a cry of alarm. The call came from a servant of Congal Claon's who had come with orders from Congal to summon Sweeney to battle at Moira. He gave a full report of the business and Sweeney went off directly with the servant, leaving the cleric distressed with the loss of his psalter and smarting from such contempt and abuse.
A day and a night passed and an otter rose out of the lake with the psalter and brought it to Ronan, completely unharmed...........

Inspired by this legend I decided I would  make a piece of artwork that would attempt to give visual expression to this violent but intriguing scene. If I completed it in time I would then exhibit this work at the forthcoming MA art show in the Coventry Evening Telegraph building.

Having decided that wood as a medium would lend itself well to subject of my work, I cut a piece of birch plywood to 71 cm x 94 cm. I started by making a list of the main images I thought should be part of the composition, and these needed to include  a holy man, a naked man, an otter, and a book of psalms, with a stunning landscape in the background. 

The next part of the process was to transfer the drawing to the woodblock and  I did this by using yellow transfer paper, having first coated the plywood in Indian ink.

Next step: carving 

Using Fabriano paper (100cm x 71cm) and a mixture dark green and black oil-based inks I successfully made 5 prints from this block.

Using another piece of birch plywood of exactly the same size as the above but only 6mm thick,  I transferred the drawing as before. Using a very narrow gouge I carved the outline of each part of the image, then using the fret saw in the wood workshop, and with the assistance of the technician , I cut the image into sections as in a jigsaw.
Back in the print room , I mixed a variety of coloured inks and using a separate roller for each piece of the jigsaw, I lifted out one section at a time and applied the chosen colour. I made one print only from this selection of colours, then mixed another set of coloured inks and made a second print.  

I presented a print from the carved woodblock and the two jigsaw woodcut coloured prints for the  Upstairs Downstairs exhibition in the Coventry Evening Telegraph building as shown below. 

In the exhibition I also I also included this woodcut print which is titled       Windblown Hawthorn

The four prints as shown in the Exhibition at the CET

And here are a some of the photographs I took of the exhibition:

Rose Jardine   Weltschmerz

Wendy Bicknell   Morning Myth Maker

Shannon Warren

Nikolina Raphael  The Forgotten City

Janet Manifold  "Oh still small voice of calm"

Stephanie Libreros  Joy in Death

Tanya de Lange  In Search of the March Hare

Alexendra Walker  Knit-Unknit

Clive Roberts  Figures in the Landscape

Richard Scott  Selections from Bleed Series

Tuesday 12th December 2017

Reading research: The Stamp of Influence: Abstract Expressionist Prints by David Acton

In the introduction to his book Acton claims that Abstract Expressionism had an "extensive and lasting influence on printmaking. The full range of it's styles and ideas appear in prints, many created by the progenitors of the movement."
Of particular interest to me in this book were some of the artists featured who worked in the medium of woodcut printmaking, including this Belgian artist  Joseph Meert (1905-1989). In the image below, titled "Dancing Demons", Meert used a Japanese paper, described as a long-grained mulberry-bark paper.
The vertical grain of the woodblock, the pale green tone and the sweeping black lines combine to create an illusion of transparency and motion. The denser areas of black, orange and yellow would probably have been created by using three or maybe four different blocks, a method used by many artists in making a coloured print.

January 2018

Submissions of work for the Technical Methods, Materials, Workshop Practices Module

Sunday 7th January : Completed and uploaded to Moodle my 1500 word Report/Essay and my Critical Evaluation form.    

Monday 8th January:  I did a Power Point presentation for ten minutes with images that included my woodcut prints for the 20:20 Print Exchange, my engravings in cherry wood, my prints for the Coventry Evening Telegraph exhibition and a woodcut I am working on called "Burren Man." I included some images from the work of three artists who inspire me and who also work in the medium of woodcut. These are Paul Fernaux, Alex Katz and Philip Sutton. I also showed my audience my actual cherry wood engraving blocks and my jigsaw woodblock.
The work that was presented by the other 13 MA students in my group was highly diverse and I found it very interesting and inspirational.