Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Meet Alison Lumb, December's Artist in Focus

Ahead of her Artist in Focus slot at our gallery, and before the second lockdown ended, I had a fascinating conversation with Alison about working during lockdown, her printmaking process, and her love of the liminal.

 Alison with her print JOURNEY HOME at the Printmakers Council Journeys exhibition
  
 

Alison, you joined Southbank Printmakers just over a year ago - a year that has been strange for everyone, but I know that it has been a particularly eventful one for you, with your Beyond Landscape exhibition (with multi-media artist Deborah Burnstone) at another artist-led gallery, One Paved Court in Richmond, and most recently having one of the works from that show selected for 2020 ING Discerning Eye exhibition - do you have a long-term plan for your printmaking, or do you respond to opportunities as they arise?

I’ve always been a bit of a planner, so it’s quite a surprise to realise that the answer is actually no, things just evolve, but with a vague strategy humming below the surface, I think.

I have had a broad aim to discover what my work is about, develop the best means of communicating that and then collaborate with like-minded people,  exhibiting in places where the work is likely to be of interest.

Deborah and I were students some years ago and had exhibited in group shows together a few times since. We admire one another’s work and so we quite naturally reached the stage where it seemed a good idea to mount a two woman exhibition. When I walked by the stunning, newly- opened One Paved Court Gallery in Richmond, I was delighted to discover that it was an artist- run space and we put in an application. 

So that happened quite organically, which is often the case. Having said all that, I had identified Southbank Printmakers gallery as somewhere I would love to exhibit years before I was eventually accepted as a member. The ING Discerning Eye is a good opportunity for printmakers; it is for smaller works only. Each member of the judging panel makes an individual selection, so each section of the exhibition has a distinct identity. It is online only this year, with a virtually gallery, from 17th November to 31st December.  I will miss the fun and excitement in previous years of going to the Mall Galleries for the opening and finding out who selected my work, but there is going to be a full print catalogue to accompany the online exhibition, with introductions and commentary from the judges - and it was amazing to learn that my print was selected by Tabish Khan aka @LondonArtCritic.

I was very lucky to visit your show at One Paved Court, and I was struck by the way you experiment with a range of traditional and digital printmaking techniques to create very atmospheric artworks - could you tell us a little bit about your process?

My process is determined by what I think the work is about, and most of my work is related to my underlying themes.   It is usually a combination of painting and printmaking - whether that’s monoprint, screen printing or digital.  So if I am making a painting I sometimes incorporate a screen print element, and my prints tend to be painterly in style. 

I became interested in how visual perception works while I was studying at the City Lit back in 2003. I discovered that we have an inbuilt impulse to make up narratives about one another.   During sessions of street photography I realized how much the location, time of day and the weather conditions affected the way people moved and interacted, and their posture. To explore all this, I began to make digital prints and lightboxes composed of many photographs, and scans of painterly elements, monoprints and collage. 

The other area of interest was in how completely mediated our view of the world is now that we are saturated with digital imagery 24/7. So these days I am sort of trying to hint at that as well, with the use of the photographic fused with the painterly. I now take photographs on site and then make colour, tone and composition studies in the studio. I then use digital software using painting and drawing tools to compose those elements of the image which I would like to have a photographic quality. This can be quite a long and painstaking process. These might then form one layer of a screen print in combination with hand painted stencils, or a screenprinted layer in combination with layers of monoprint, or sometimes a photographic transfer with monoprint. Each has a slightly different quality.

Occasionally, as in the case of Journey Home, the print which features in the ING Discerning Eye exhibition, I feel that I need to include a direct inkjet print layer with monoprint, because the image requires a combination of  detail and  delicacy which is hard to achieve by other means.

JOURNEY HOME


Making art and showing work during lockdown has been a different experience than usual for many of us, how have you found the last few months have impacted on your working practice?

I was quite disorientated at first when the Spring lockdown started – even though I could still work in my studio, finding the discipline was hard and I found it impossible to start work on anything that involved complex processes.  But we had a famously glorious Spring and after a while I made some quick-fire cyanotypes in the garden which was productive and therapeutic. I soon learned via Instagram that I wasn’t the only artist finding motivation hard to come by.

Weirdly, once lockdown was lifted and I could in theory go out and about a bit more, I set about an ambitious multi-layered screenprint, SOUTHBANK which kept me pinned in the studio for a number of weeks. The idea was to challenge myself in terms of how painterly and atmospheric I could make the print. It depicts the area around Gabriel’s Wharf looking towards Blackfriars at my favourite time of day, between day and evening when the lights start come on.  

SOUTHBANK


More recently, in reaction to that, with my Artist in Focus slot approaching, I have spent an intense few weeks making a series of one off hybrid prints inspired by observing people wandering aimlessly down on the river bank by Gabriel’s Wharf. I enjoyed the freedom of the painterly monoprint process. I will be showing these and a selection of work from the last year or so.

BY THE WHARF I



You’ve been visiting other Southbank Printmakers in their studios and workspaces for a separate series of interviews on the SBPM blog (and I hope I’m not stepping on your toes here!) - does seeing other people’s workspaces inspire you in your own practice? and how have things changed in your studio and in those you’ve visited in response to Covid guidelines?


Who doesn’t love a peek into someone else’s studio?  As I work in isolation in my own studio even in normal times, I really appreciate the privilege of visiting a fellow printmaker and discussing their practice with them.  There is always something to learn; whether it’s a demo of something I am not familiar with, a recommendation for particular materials or validation of a certain approach to one’s work. It was a big relief, for instance, to hear the highly experienced Hil Scott talk about her lack of concern about technical imperfections if they contributed to the overall intention. I’m with Hil.
In the period between lockdowns, I could only visit studios that can be made Covid safe, so Theresa Pateman’s large studio with its door to the outside world was perfect, as was the high- ceilinged Kew Studios where I visited Peg Morris. You can see from the photographs on the Printmaker Profile blog articles that visors or masks are worn throughout. I am grateful to them for making the visits possible – seeing them at work using various etching techniques was fascinating for someone who doesn’t work with intaglio processes.  In my own studio, life goes on much as before. When I am in there, I can pretend everything is normal, if I don’t turn on the radio! 

You’ve talked about your interest in liminal spaces, and there is a strong sense of movement, an almost cine-visual quality in many of your images - could you tell me more about what influences your work?

The source of the cinematic quality you have picked up on is very easy to identify. For many years I worked in filmed television drama as a script editor and producer.  So my day job was creating narrative in a largely visual form. This influence is impossible to shrug off completely, although I did try for a while, when someone observed that some of images functioned almost as a still frame from a sequence.  Nowadays I have learnt to embrace what it brings to my work, and also to enjoy the fact that in my images, I can merely hint at potential narratives and leave the viewer to decide what their interpretation might be. One gallerist made an observation I like very much, which is that my figures are almost like ‘characters waiting to be given their lines’. Another person said they were like ‘snapshots from dreams’. I love that people enjoy the feeling that there is a possible meaning there, but it can’t quite be pinned down.

THE WHARF, EVENING I


I gradually realised that I was drawn to these public and outdoor spaces because they are liminal places where identity is in flux and you are in no man’s land.  So I began to explore more liminal spaces and situations. Hence gazing out of the train window at the pylons flying by, a situation in which you temporarily disengaged from the world.  The people gradually disappeared from my work as I explored these places in which you can take a rest for being your conscious self for a while.  They are starting to reappear in my latest work though.

Can you remember the first work of art that caught your attention, or is there an artist (in any medium) that is a particular inspiration?

The very first work of art …wow!   On a school trip to London we visited the National Gallery and I saw Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks. I was entranced. I bought a postcard  and when I got home, I stuck together several sheets of  paper to make a sheet about A0 size and set about painting my version in Reeves poster colours!

There are a number of artists I return to for inspiration time and time again and the ones who recur most often are the Bay Area painters Richard Deibenkorn and Paul Wonner, and Gerhard Richter.  I love the work of contemporary printmaker Elizabeth McGill and a fairly recent discovery is the stunning photography of Saul Leiter. He was previously a painter and it shows.

As we’ve discussed, your work is often about the sense of place, and the journeys between spaces - do you have any favourite places you’d like to share with us?


I do love being by the water’s edge, whether it’s as a break from the frenetic environment of the city, or at the coast.  So a visit to Brittany last year was pretty special.  There is a place called Ile Tudy which is actually a peninsula.  But it was once an island, and from our room we could see the sea almost all around us. Heaven.  

And finally, what is the best thing about being a Southbank printmaker (if you can choose one, of course!)   

Being back in my favourite part of the city as part of my work is such a pleasure.  And I am so enjoying being in an association with fellow printmakers; people who love a chat about process!  It will be wonderful when we can all actually meet again and start to invite people back to the gallery for exhibitions. In the meantime I hope people enjoy the material we are posting on the website. 
 

Now that the second lockdown is over, we are pleased to welcome visitors again to our Gabriel's Wharf gallery - we are open 7 days per week until Christmas.  See more of Alison’s work in our gallery where she is Artist in Focus 6th-20th December, on our website, and on Alison’s own website: www.alisonlumbfineart.co.uk
   

Monday, 30 November 2020

Meet our newest member: Heather Graham

In the first of an (ir)regular series of interviews with SBP artists, I caught up with our newest member, Heather Graham just before we moved into the second lockdown.  Heather lives and works in South West London (and sometimes Devon) creating her imagery from the colours, marks and patterns she finds in nature, often working directly with leaves and other natural objects as part of her printing process.

 
Heather in her temporary studio in Devon experimenting with a Gelli plate
 

Heather, you’re the newest member of Southbank Printmakers, and this year has been one of the strangest and most eventful in our 20 year history - can you tell me how 2020 has been for you?

Well I joined SBP in February and it closed in March! So not an auspicious start and as lockdown commenced all the print studios closed as well.  At the start of lockdown I felt delighted at the prospect of being at home (my studio is there) and getting stuck into some painting as I have missed that.  But I found, like I think many creative people did, that it was difficult to concentrate and apply myself to the opportunity.  So it hasn't been the greatest year for making work so far, but the reopening of the print studios and public galleries has been a big incentive to get going again.

You originally trained as a textile designer - clearly your background in design informs your printmaking and composition, but how did print become your medium?

When I did my BA in textiles there was the choice of specialising in either woven fabrics or printed surfaces and I chose the latter.  We had facilities to print 54 inch wide lengths of fabric with screens and that was my introduction to screen printing which was a stepping stone to understanding industrial scale printing.  This was before the days of CAD so a lot of time was spent getting a design idea to work in a repeat and figuring out different colourways, all of which was done by hand on paper.  

After a brief spell as the junior in a small textile design studio I moved to work on magazines as a writer and stylist and from there to Laura Ashley where I worked on product development in Home Furnishings.  So I was working in a creative environment but there was no drawing or painting or printing involved in that until I started going to Putney School of Art where I was spoilt for choice:  I began with hand building ceramics, took life drawing classes and then experimental media which included some basic printing and lino cutting. I joined some friends who were learning embroidery techniques and that took me into textile art and mixing stitching with print.  When I went back to do an MA I got into printing again, first with rust and plants and then in the etching studio.

Your work embraces a wide range of print techniques - etching, collagraphs, lino cut and screen printing - do you have a favourite print technique, or a favourite way to combine them?

I love the diversity of all these different creative approaches and being able to understand them well enough to start combining them for different effects. I wouldn’t say that I have a favourite print technique because even though I have been etching for several years, there is simply so much to learn and I am a jack of all trades rather than master of one.

You’ve talked about how your childhood experiences influenced your aesthetic outlook - are these early opportunities still an inspiration for your work? What is currently inspiring you?

I use my camera a lot to record images of inspirational things I see. I try not to use the images directly because I find a photographic image can be lifeless compared to drawing and I regret that I don’t spend more time drawing than I do, because I think it is so important.  You asked about my childhood in Africa and I would say that because there was no TV and not much else to do, I spent a lot of time outside, using my imagination and making things.  Even then, as a child, I was very aware of the natural world and that is something that continues to influence me and my work.

Do you have any new projects underway?

I am currently working on re-using old plates to build up an image from a patina of layers, either on the same plate, or combining a series of plates.  I have made a few prints using this technique and it’s something I’m continuing to work on.  



The first piece I worked in this way (above) was made from three different plates that I cut to the same size. I've continued experimenting with a recent piece I have been working on, again with a re-purposed plate - it was originally a landscape and I have blocked out the silhouette of an old cracked pot and put a deep bite on the surrounding background for contrast.  The remaining landscape decorates the body of the pot.




What’s your most memorable moment  as an artist (so far of course) 

A memorable moment as an artist was being selected as one of 20 BA print graduates nationwide to take a free stand at “Texprint” (an annual commercial textile design show held at the RCA), and my second memorable moment was being chastised by an exasperated professional textile designer there for being so useless at selling my work!  I’m older and wiser now and hopefully much better at doing that at Southbank Printmakers.

If you could borrow any work of art to hang in your home, what would it be?

If I could have any work of art to hang in my home I’d choose a monumental drawing/etching by Julie Meheretu. I love the layers of gestural marks like moving clouds that are simply beautiful in themselves but at a second level the clever purpose of them with discreet architectural, historical and geographical symbols that map a particular place and time. (Of course, I would also need a big wall in a room filled with natural light)!

Finally, what are you most looking forward to when all the current restrictions can be lifted?

What I’m looking forward to most at the end of lockdown restrictions is spontaneity, hugging people, and lots of visitors to Southbank Printmakers!

 

Can't wait to see Heather's new prints - and now we're reopening in December, you can find more of Heather's work in our gallery - meanwhile you can find out more on her website heathergrahamartist.co.uk

Do come and visit our gallery this Christmas, or browse (and buy) work from our artists via southbankprintmakers.com.

Sunday, 22 November 2020

 

A deep dive into the alchemic world of Peg Morris.  

 


Just before Lockdown 2 descended on us, I hurried along to visit Peg at Kew Print Studio where she teaches etching and collagraph printmaking. The light-filled studios are housed in a Victorian former school, all high ceilings and tall windows.    Peg is also a founder member of KAOS, (Kingston Artists’ Open Studios), a member of Richmond Printmakers and on the committee of the Printmakers Council.   With all that and a one-woman show coming up, she is amazingly relaxed, considering.

Peg studied foundation at the North East Essex School of Art – something she has in common with Grayson Perry - then took a degree in painting at the Gloucestershire College of Arts and Technology in Cheltenham.  She studied etching at Putney School of Art for many years and became ‘addicted’ to the process, although she also works with collagraph, lithography and monotype. 

 


Peg in her studio 

A common thread linking much of her work is an interest in abandonment and decay.  A track worn into the landscape by generations of feet, or the peeling paint on a neglected building can provide a starting point for much of her work which is rooted in drawing and observation.  While she enjoys depicting the evidence of a human presence, she prefers not to include any human figures.   She explores the light and space of places away from people, places which provide a refuge and respite.  She hopes the viewer will experience the peace of solitude that she experiences in these locations.

The nature of the subject matter dictates what process she will use to take the idea forward -    perhaps etching for a closed, detailed drawing or monotype for a looser style in the case of drawings made outdoors. As she works in series she will be working on several images in one medium, for example etching, and when she finds that the work is beginning to get tight she switches to painting for a while to loosen up.  Or she works in monotype, as she did to create a very fluid series of prints based on the marshes in Suffolk and Norfolk, a subject which seemed to require a looser approach. 

 


Salt Marsh - monotype

This process requires the skills of both painting and printmaking and Peg can make this transition with ease.  She enjoys the distinctive quality of mark that is produced.

On the day of my visit Peg is making the 8th in a series of etchings of based on allotments – a  place of refuge for her during lockdown.  They are always quiet, and so, Peg says ‘felt normal, when everything was not normal’.  She also enjoys the ramshackle quality of the structures found in that environment, as ‘they can tell you the story about what has happened in that place without that person having to be present.’

These will form part of a series of framed prints for her solo show at One Paved Court, as well as making an artist’s book. 

 


 

Allotment Series - Etchings 

Peg loves the discipline of going through all the processes involved in etching, feeling that it forces her to slow down and think about what she doing, so that the image evolves throughout.  She has the essential printmaker’s ability to embrace the unexpected, and work with it.  

 


 

Peg is using a zinc plate which she prefers for black and white images.  She bevells the edges to protect the press blankets, and painted on the back with the delightfully named straw hat varnish, to stop the acid biting into the reverse side of the plate.  

 



The hard ground is applied, and then smoked. This hardens the ground further which helps to prevent unwanted marks, and enables the printmaker to see clearly what they are drawing. The ground will resist the acid used to etch the plate.


Initial tracing and first acid bath.

Peg traces the drawing onto the place with yellow tracedown paper, and then redraws it with an etching needle, removing the ground where she wants the acid to bite the plate to create the lines.  A hard ground gives a fine, detailed line and a soft ground can give a softer line similar to pencil or charcoal.

 


 Stopping out before further baths.

 

Peg initially places the plate in the acid bath for just a couple of minutes, and then uses stopping out varnish to protect the lines which she wishes to be remain relatively light and delicate. Once dry, the plate goes back into the bath for a few more minutes.   The process causes bubbles to form, which could affect the image, so Peg gently removes these with a feather.

 

 
 
 Removing bubbles

By now, it seems entirely appropriate that this is all taking place in a characterful Victorian building. I can feel the contemporary world of updates and status alerts slipping away…

Once done, white spirit is used to remove the stopping out varnish and the hard ground, and the plate is ready to print. It is inked up, using scrim to press the ink into the lines and clean the surface.  

A characterful linear image is revealed when Peg puts the plate through the press. 

 


Then it is time to add tone, through the aquatint process.  Peg degreases the plate and after turning the handle to stir up the rosin dust, places the plate in the aquatint box.   The box is closed, and the dust is allowed to settle and coat the plate evenly.

 



Peg then heats the plate over a burner which melts the dust into an even coat. The acid will bite the plate around the melted resin dust, creating a ‘tooth’ to hold the ink.   The tone is controlled by the time in the acid and by stopping out areas once they are sufficiently bitten, creating subtle gradations of tone. 

I leave Peg to continue developing the image and step back into the late afternoon sunshine.

Here is the lovely result of her work.

 

 


 Allotments - Artist's Book

Peg’s upcoming exhibition LIGHT SPACE TIME explores how our perception of our surroundings changes with the light conditions at different times of the day and with the changing seasons.  It will feature drawings, paintings and the full range of Peg’s printmaking techniques.  Coming at the end of lockdown, Peg reflects that it has been in some ways was quite liberating, giving her time to make work and reflect on it.   That should make for a very interesting artist’s talk.

There will also be drop-in drawing sessions and printmaking demonstrations in the gallery and an Artist’s Talk with questions and answers via Zoom. 

 www.pegmorris.com

www.onepavedcourt.co.uk

Instagram @morrispeg

Twitter @pegmorrisart

Facebook @PegMorrisArt