A conversation with Andrea Robinson
As our lovely gallery at Gabriel’s Wharf in London is open and welcoming visitors once again, it seems like a good time to resume this occasional series of member profiles and studio visits. Many members’ studios and workshops are not yet able to open - but rather than let that stop us, Andrea Robinson and I decided to press ahead with a virtual chat, particularly as Andrea is about to be our Artist in Focus. Her printmaking practice is inventive and free-flowing, with ideas and methods emerging organically as she draws upon a rich family history.
Andrea mainly works from her flat, on a small Formica-topped kitchen table inherited from her grandparents. She is surrounded by books, plants, inks and artefacts, ‘so I have everything I need for inspiration within easy reach!’
She is a founder member of print collective The Friday Group, and a member of Sprout Arts and the Printmakers Council. She has exhibited her work in galleries and art spaces throughout the UK, and internationally. Her prints and artist’s books are held in private collections, in public archives at Scarborough Museum and Art Gallery, Chelsea College of Art, Tate Britain and the V&A, and online for Art UK which showcases artworks from the UK’s public collections. Her artwork has been published in Their Eyes Were Watching God (WBN United Artists), DIVERSIFLY (Fair Acre Press) and in Riggwelter journal of creative arts.
Andrea takes family histories, memories and artefacts as a starting point for her prints, artists’ books and installations. “I work in series to create visual narratives and to tell half-remembered stories that stem from the places where my family have settled or the places they have passed through.
My father’s family lived in India for four generations, where my grandfather worked on the railways, and they travelled around a great deal. My mother’s family built boats on the Clyde and later followed the Thames down through South London where I still live, but through all of them I have Celt blood, and connections to the sea. I am the custodian of many family stories and I’m lucky to have a lot of photos too, so I find myself weaving these into my work - something that started with a Memory Book, a small artist book about my mother’s family, and continued with Portrait of my Father as a Bird, the mixed and multi-media piece I started to make after my father died, which continues to evolve. I’ve written about them too, some of my stories about my father and my family have been published by the Emma Press, in a Tate Poetry Anthology and in an anthology about the English Countryside by artist and architect Will Jennings.
My sea series grew out of the research for Portrait of my Father and Handed Down Histories - I spent a year taking day trips and short visits to the places on the South Coast where my father had lived or visited, and the photos I took as reminders of where I’d been spun off into their own series of prints, some of these are on show in our gallery window during by Artist in Focus show. ‘
Andrea’s prints combine a range of screen print techniques, including print-collage, photo-stencil and hand painted mono print, and incorporate maps, found images, hand drawn elements and photographs.
|Studio view - work desk|
”I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about process over the last year…, but actually it’s quite tricky to get to the meaning of it. While I describe myself as an artist/printmaker, maybe it is clearer to say that print is something that I use in my wider practice. My print method is primarily screen printing, but I like to use it experimentally, so I print on found materials and collage these into small works or miniature three dimensional pieces, or I use screen print to make artist books, as one-offs or in small editions, as well as making works on paper. I often combine digital and traditional techniques to create the images for my editioned works on paper, and recently I’ve been using lino cut and incorporating that into my collage works and collaborative projects.
I often return to the four colour separation process’ – (a means of dividing a full color photograph into four separate components for printing, corresponding to the four primary colors used in process color printing—cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). It uses the same colour and dot matrix as commercial newspaper and magazine printing, but I try to subvert this by tweaking my images, or by inverting or changing some of the colours, or playing with the dot size, and then pulling them by hand in small editions to go against the commercial origins of the method.
|Out to Sea|
I also like to work with the things I find around me - I’ve printed on card, cellophane, fabric, feathers, tissue paper, food wrappers, plastic bags - I try to reuse and recycle where I can! I do have a favourite surface, and many of my prints on show at SBP are printed on Lambeth paper, which I use because I enjoy the texture and weight of it, and also because I have family links to Lambeth and somehow it seems in keeping with the stories in a lot of my work.
I also like printing on tissue paper - when I made my installation Portrait of my Father as a Bird I printed a ‘wallpaper’ on tissue paper which was pasted directly onto the gallery walls, then I made a series of one-off collaged prints which incorporated corrugated cardboard, tracing paper and wrapping paper and hung these on the walls in second hand frames from a local flea market; I also projected a short film I’d made onto the wallpapered walls. Some of the stills from the film later found their way into another series of prints - I often re-purpose my own work and return to themes in this way, and I enjoy moving my ideas and images through a series of different media to see how they change and what new resonances they pick up along the way.
By now I am so inspired by Andrea’s free and inventive way of working that I want to get straight back to the studio myself, but it also makes me curious about how it all began – what got her into this way of printmaking?
‘Maybe I was drawn to printmaking because there’s always something new to learn! I had covered some basic print techniques during my foundation studies, but it was years later that I joined a taster afternoon in screen printing at Putney School of Art, and it just felt like something slotted into place. Since those early days in printmaking, I’ve continued to print at Putney Art School one day per week on a regular basis - their print studio is really well equipped so I have access to an exposure unit and wash out room, plus there are lots of opportunities to share ideas with other printmakers.’ Of course, the past twelve months have been a different experience, ‘so I’ve been experimenting with low-tech print techniques and re-purposing old prints into new works.
What I like best is how it is such a methodical process, but at the same time there are always things you can’t plan for, and that’s where the magic lies. Sometimes I think I like the things I didn’t expect more than the things that I worked out in advance - actually, make that almost always! One of my mottos is ‘embrace chaos’, and one of my print heroes is Robert Rauschenberg, so I guess the happy accident is something I actively seek out.
I tend to think of printmaking as being a lot like baking - you have to follow the recipe, learn the proportions and methods, prepare carefully, but after that it is about instinct, working with what you have to hand, responding to the environment and being ready to go with whatever happens - even if it isn’t what you expected, it might well be better. Maybe I’m a baker who prints!
Andrea’s work has been on display in Berlin, Dublin and some unusual
setting such as the Court of
Justice of the European Union, an exhibition instigated by poet Agnes Marton.
Agnes invited artists from around the world to respond so her sequence of poems
of the Edge. Agnes’s
writing is very visual, very surreal, and as I often create narratives in my
own work it was an absolute gift to be asked to make a series of prints in
response to her words. Unusually, I found myself initially hand-drawing all the
characters, then photographing these drawings with real objects - shells, small
jewels - to make the final images for the prints. This was a slight departure from the way I
often work, where I start with photographs and other artefacts to build the
images for my prints, but it wasn’t completely out of the blue - my art school
training was in fashion design and illustration, and sometimes I find myself
returning to a more illustrative style in other works, although this is
something I rarely do when I’m printmaking.
|The sun anointed him, from Handed Down Histories|
In 2018 I was selected to make a new piece for artist collective AMBruno’s Cover project, one of twelve artists making work for their book project that year. AMBruno presented the books at book art fairs including Miss Read in Berlin and The Tetley, Leeds, and the entire selection was purchased by Tate Britain, which has an extensive collection of artists’ books from the 20th century onwards. My book On the Occasion of her Dance (screen print on glassine) was also one of a small selection purchased by Chelsea School of Art. AMBruno are a fascinating group of artists so it was thrilling to be part of their project, and obviously I’m proud to have my work in such prestigious collections and in such good company.
Image:On the occasion of her dance
It’s been a bit of a strange year for exhibitions, but there have been some interesting responses to showing work during the pandemic, not least several collaborative/postal projects, such as the Correspondence Collective’s Restriction exhibition which took place online in April - this has been archived at Clayhill Arts, where the whole exhibition of miniature works is housed in an old set of letterpress drawers and will be available to view by appointment when we can visit indoors again. I made some tiny 3D pieces for Restriction, which included hand printed feathers, digital images - and eggs!
|In the studio - making the restriction artwork|
I also took part in the Outposted Project - this is a collaborative work with a number of maps that are still travelling around the country from artist to artist, but I understand that there will be a physical exhibition at some point this year. My contribution was a piece about my South London ancestors which also featured some lino cut comets because I spent many evenings comet hunting last summer!
I also have a couple of miniature collages in a WBN United Artists exhibition which opened at the Bower Ashton Library, Bristol on April 23rd for World Book Night. And I’ll be showing some prints I made in response to the first lockdown at Sprout Art Gallery in South London this summer - they started life as digital works and then became a series of screen prints on paper while we were briefly able to reenter the print studio at Putney in autumn last year. They appear more abstract than my usual work, but in fact are a comment on how certain everyday items became very precious during the first lockdown…
Putney School of Art has just reopened, so I’ve got a couple of new ideas I’m hoping to work on soon - watch this space!’
I’ve long had a fascination with hybrid forms, and I’ve worked a lot with text, performance and story-telling in my wider work, so I’m aiming to broaden out my working practice again as we start to return to making art in the real world, but it has been fun playing and collaborating with other artists from a range of disciplines in the digital sphere over the last year.
Clearly, Andrea hasn’t wasted a moment of the long winter lockdown.
You can see lots of her work at Southbank Printmakers Gallery, particularly of course while she is Artist in Focus, and see more examples via the following links: