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.