There might be others, later on - who's to say? Elizabeth Willow set up the letterpress for last year's bookmarks, I photographed it and started off the poster, and Andy Magee added style, spruced up the text, attached the logos. I think it works pretty well.
We missed the promised stormy weather with cascades of lightning, the oodles of rain (until the way home), the hail, even the muggy atmosphere. Instead we had sunshine, a (really very) fresh breeze and a short day and a half of walking along seaside streets, on idyllic silver-sanded beaches and around Newcastle - in the latter case, mostly hunting down print.
Because, of course, the International Print Biennale is currently on, at a scattering of locations in and around Newcastle. I had great plans, although from the very start it was agreed that if the weather was good we'd spend time out of town and fit some print in around that. So that was what we ended up doing. Tynemouth turned out to be a pleasant little seaside town (I was rather taken with the Barca Art Bar where, looking in through the window, I could see WWII plastic soldiers fighting it out across the ceiling), and Druridge Bay was a miles-long gentle crescent of beautiful sand and picturebook rolling waves all under a summery blue sky, with perhaps as many as a dozen people to share it with.
On the gallery side, we managed the Laing, Baltic, the Hatton and the Biscuit Factory. The larger part of the main Biennale exhibition was in the Hatton Gallery, but I failed to see the other part, at Northern Print, because we arrived there at a minute past 4 o'clock so the gallery was shut. I did think of attracting the attention of one of the printmakers and trying to persuade them to let me have a quick look anyway, but it seemed a bit of a nerve so I settled for feeling discontented instead. It made me wonder, though, whether any of those printmakers whose work ended up there felt a little short-changed regarding opening hours and therefore exposure to the public. Perhaps? Perhaps not? I suppose getting into the show's the thing - the rest is icing.
The Laing exhibition (Thomas Bewick and his apprentices) was fine, I'm sure - I know Thomas Bewick is a brilliant wood engraver but knowing that is all I need, I'm afraid, and besides, it seems a remarkably short time since I went to a lecture at MMU Special Collections on the very same topic. I did like some of the paintings by his apprentice Luke Clennell, but really we just went in to make a start - sort of like breaking through the shell.
The Baltic exhibitions were nothing to do with printmaking at all, but hey, the gallery was there, why not? Of the three, Lydia Gifford's was, with the benefit of hindsight, the only show I'd go back and try again (at the time, I mostly wasn't so sure, but by the time I'd gone up a floor or two, I'd decided a lot of it was really quite interesting though I would have preferred it in a smaller space - I don't think all the room around each piece added anything at all. Except room, of course). Nina Canell's exhibition formed an empty sort of question mark in my mind and nothing else at all, and Daniel Buren's was, well, pleasant. The stripes were stripes, the blocks were blocks, the colours were colourful. It did what (so far as I recall) it was meant to, though, which (I think) was to make the viewer pay attention to the areas around the works - during the actual visit to Baltic, what I enjoyed most of all was the play of colour, courtesy of Buren, across the flooring.
Dealing briefly with the Biscuit Factory, I expected an art gallery and got a shop. A brilliant gallery of a shop, full of 2D and 3D I'd-like artworks, but more a shop than a gallery nonetheless. I had the opportunity to reassess some of the printmakers from Ulverston's Printfest, and I did change my mind about some of them. Specifically Alan Stones, whose works I knew ought to be my sort of thing even when I was there, but it wasn't clicking then. They consist of deceptively simple and sparse black marks to render an image across a generous white background - very pleasing, and here I liked them much better, which says something either about me or about the importance of location. What I mostly liked, though, were the birds - an outsize cormorant (sorry, artist, never noticed who you were) made of porcelain paper clay and beautiful markings, and a couple of metal flamingos in a metal umbrella stand (sorry to another artist) called Croquet Set, which was just perfect. Oh and some painterly landscape photos by Sarah Tod - I looked her up later, and the painterly effect is because she overprints the same scene several times. They were very soft and atmospheric.
Window glass at the Biscuit Factory
Which brings me at last to the Hatton Gallery. This was what I came for - contemporary printmaking - and it didn't disappoint. There were, of course, any number of brilliant works on a technical level. I thought Kraisak Chirachaisakul's mezzotints were jaw dropping (I've had an abortive go at mezzotint) and visually fascinating too. Trevor Banthorpe's large multi-woodblock prints were wow! to look at up close, with the picture built up out of the thickness of horizontal lines, but I confess that as prints to enjoy they weren't my thing at all. Ewelina Szydelko's 360 degrees series of prints, of vertiginous, disorientating stairwells, were massively large and involving. I rather liked the idea of Julie Roch-Cuerrier, who sanded off the surfaces of old maps and created new inks from the dust, which she then used to print pale coloured squares named after the original areas of the map, but although they were clever and thoughtful, they weren't exactly visually engaging.
I really liked Skating, by Richard Ford (author) and Jane Kent (invited printmaker), but mostly for the story, which almost entirely distracted me from looking at the printmaking - I did look, though, and didn't really see how they particularly tied together, although I can see now how much the combination enhances the storytelling. Print playing a supporting role, rather than centre stage. Richard Forster's sea edges were good too, though I think in the end I preferred the idea of them to the actual prints.
My own favourites were particularly Ann Aspinwall's series of collagraphs of paving setts in various cities
and Milos Djordjevic's telegraph poles on what look like torn plates,
and also Victoria Burge's Night Pixel prints,
All in variations on the theme of black, white, shades of grey, which I think is quite unusual for me. Looking back now, it seems that nearly all the other prints I liked there were lacking in colour, too, whereas at so many print exhibitions I find myself crying out for a change from the overwhelming sea of just about no colour at all. I like to think that goes to show that, after all, it's all about how much the image appeals - colour is just incidental.
I wish I could have taken in more of the Biennale, because there we actually were, and it won't come around again for (at least) another two years. But I'd rather have been able to spread any more over a few days and anyway I was very pleased with what I did get to see. It was enough, in the time we had.
The Hatton Gallery is part of Newcastle University - as we left, I was delighted by two very artful university windows - art is where you find it, don't you think?
Made it to Ruthin Craft Centre this week, it being the last week of the current exhibitions. I specifically wanted to see the Kevin Coates exhibition 'A Bestiary of Jewels', which I managed not to visit in Oxford. I've discovered that it's going on to Nottinghamshire and later to Edinburgh, but Ruthin was now, and nearer (and given another few days, I'd have managed not to visit it there as well).
It was exactly as all the adverts for the travelling collection have shown - beautiful little drawn and painted settings for exquisite jewellery - and I'm glad we made the trip. Using the medieval bestiaries as a starting point, Coates chose to match each animal with a significant person - such as the inevitable lobster with Gérard de Nerval (he famously had a pet one), a starling with Mozart (again, the pet thing), a barbary ape with Rose Macauley (didn't notice why but I'm guessing probably not to do with pets?). The connections were explained, along with a description of the work and materials involved in the structure of the jewellery. They were gorgeous and amazingly wrought little things and I could happily go and pore over them again tomorrow. Perhaps (oh yeah?) I could catch up with them again at one of the later venues? Perhaps.
The main exhibition on at the centre was 'Construct - explorations of identity by eight textile artists'. Foolishly, I had half dismissed it, thinking it would be, I don't know, just not my thing I suppose, but it was fascinating. Some of the work didn't connect with me, but a significant amount of it did. I was particularly taken by a quilt and other pieces from Caren Garfen, work that took on the issue of gender politics, with neat little screenprinted extracts all over the place quoting from research into the subject. It was only after reading most of the quilt, a pillowcase and some kitchen towel (all very text-based) that I saw some hankies on dieting and realised I had seen them in the exhibition 62@50 in the Holden Gallery two years ago (when the artist was Caren Green, if I got my facts right then). On her website she makes the (I thought) edgy little observation that for fifteen years she created tiny, high-end and internationally sold samplers for dollshouses as a craftsperson, but now that she has taken an applied arts degree she is working as an artist.
Ruthin isn't exactly around the corner, I know, but neither is it difficult to get to, and it's always worth the journey. The gallery space is light and airy and such exhibitions as I've been to have always been thought-provoking in some way or other, be it the underlying philosophy or the interconnection between work or the sheer quality of craftsmanship/artistry. I shouldn't leave it so long between visits.
Hot Bed Press is holding a Wayzgoose - traditionally a summer jolly for the printers organized by their employers, I think, but now put to a wider use (and anyway it's just a lovely word to use), and on this occasion it's a Print Sale and Fundraiser.
It's on Friday 1st August 6.00pm – 9.00pm and Saturday 2nd August 11.00am – 6.00pm, at the Casket Works in Salford, and will include (on the saturday) a handful of printmaking demos and a sale of some of the workshop's 'extra' letterpress goodies, including empty cases, full cases of type (Gill Sans, Baskerville, Univers etc), galleys, picture blocks, furniture and so on. And, essentially, on both days there will be lots and lots of prints for sale, for decidedly modest prices. Some of the members even make a special edition for the sale, which is dedication, but all I know is that I always seem to find something I can't resist there. Time to see what's loitering in the plan chest, for other people to want to take home from the sale with them.
A little package of bookmarks winged its way to me last week, courtesy of UWE. The project doesn't go live till September (when, I like to think, there will be a strumming of harps and a striking of drums. And such) but here are some of my favourites.
The grey one might seem at first sight to be an unexpected entry as a favourite, but careful study will show that a poem - a beautifully sensual poem - is blind letterpress printed on it. These are all printerly examples. Here are some more good bookmarks, less or not exactly printerly.
I'm not quite sure what I'll do with them - I'm not disciplined enough to use them in strict rotation, and too completist to take a few out for regular use, leaving the rest behind. I think I'll make them their own box and then dip into it from time to time for something to suit whatever I'm reading.
Liverpool's was an artists' book fair of two halves, I think you could say. Friday, judging by what visitors said and the way many of them looked, it rained all day. People did come, but they were reasonably sparse - very reasonably, I'd suggest; I wouldn't want to trek through ceaseless wet even for a book fair, and especially not if I knew there was a second day, when the sun might play nice.
And on Saturday, hey presto! The sun shone all day long and a lot more people turned up. It was, of course, also the weekend by that time. We had plenty of youngsters around too, making an absolute and obviously very satisfying racket merely by running down and up the generously built-in ramp that gently descends around the edge of the circular room - well, we had moved in on their dedicated library space, so it seemed fair enough.
Liverpool Central Library has been extensively renovated/made-over in the past few years, only reopening just over a year ago (I never even thought of visiting as I passed through Liverpool on my way to work in Bootle many many moons ago - probably wasn't even aware that there was a library amongst that substantial row of buildings near the station). I mentioned we were in the children's library, Discover - it's hard to imagine how it's set out when not full of upstart tables, but it looks a lovely roomy area. On the Friday I arrived hot and bothered (from hurrying so as not to get too damp from the just-practising rain) and damp anyway. I'd got there, and all I wanted was to go sit down at our table and set up. I didn't shift from the room until I went home (the long way - don't ask - not for the first time - don't ask about that either).
So on Saturday, when Gemma and I entered the library relaxed and without baggage (all there already) and on a gloriously sunny morning, I looked up and was amazed to see a wonderful modern central area, open above me, with crisscrossing stairways, all the way up to the... dome? It's sort of distorted - a little disorientating but very beautiful. Later on in the day I went up to the Picton Reading Room. Just stunning - massive, round, traditional, lovely book layers and ironwork and spiral staircases and (I think) another dome. I was in love. I wanted it for my own, though I do think it might squash my whole road under its generous footprint. I've seen so many beautiful library spaces recently, I'm beginning to understand why the Library of Lost Books set up a Pinterest site of Beautiful Libraries. I was on my way to see the exhibition of artists' books in the Hornby Library, also rather nice, off the Reading Room. Like an idiot, I deliberately left my camera at home on the Saturday - surely there just weren't any more photos to take! - and accidentally left my phone behind as well (along with other things I meant to take - oh what it is to be such an organised individual) or I'd have lots of "Look at this! and this! and this!" photos to share. But the Biennial is now on, so I'll be going back (no really, I will) and can take in the library on my trip. Alas it won't include the artists' book exhibition, which ended Sunday. Many of the exhibitors were also at the fair, along with other examples of their exhibits, but Theresa Easton wasn't. I'd have loved a closer look at her subtly multi-shaded Two Thousand Insects, housed in an old letterpress drawer, but she's very kindly allowed me to use one of the photos from her own blog here.
The fair was, of course, full of lots of lovely book people and lots of lovely books. I had to fight quite hard with myself not to go round acquiring completely unjustifiable gorgeous-little-things at every stand (and no, I wouldn't be buying them to give away as presents, they would be ALL FOR ME). Picking out just a very few examples, there were wonderful leather-bound volumes and books full of exquisite drawings of beetles, bees, butterflies, intricate woven book sculptures made from twitter messages and, which really took my fancy, a book created around the shipping forecast. In the end I was pretty restrained and just indulged in these -
a book which is purely colour, eco-dyed with onion skins, from Pauline Lamont-Fisher (she makes many beautiful books) and an outsize woodcut ampersand from Andrew Morrison of Two Wood Press (lovely man, he says he'll try to identify the random fonts in my new wooden type Pi book, though I shan't hold him to it). Another one of his posters was in a crazed German font saying (in German, natch) You can kiss my arse - apparently the comment of a soldier in 1918 when asked if he'd like to stay on in the army. Should have got that too. But what I might do is ask him to bring one for me when he comes to Manchester in October.
Because YES! the Manchester Artists' Book Fair is on again, 17th and 18th October. Bookings for tables are coming in steadily (this is the 'paperwork' end of proceedings) and I'm slowly gearing up to the flurry of activity that precedes the event, then worrying over and enjoying the two days that are the point of it all, before slumping back with a sigh of relief and a pinch of regret that it's all over for another year. Still, long way to go till I get that far.
I make prints and book arts, though nowhere near as often as I'd like - no good reason, just an inability to get on with things. I occasionally go on about landscape (with which I am mildly obsessed) and various of its elements, and I like to pass comment on exhibitions I visit.