• Tony Davidson

PRINTMAKING | art or science?

Updated: Jun 12

Written for Kilmorack Gallery's ikigai room. Inspired by the often political nature of printmaking - human and humane. 21st December 2020

An artist can be a polygamist, for alongside their muse often lies technology. They both frequently share the artist’s bed. Lady Muse provides inspiration while Lady Technology allows an artist to exist in a place of newness, and to enter a land of creative possibility. Every discipline has its bag of technological tricks: the glazes of a potter, the pigment that makes a new colour or a mechanical device that allows a painter to see afresh. They open conduits between man and the experienced world. This technological affair is central to printmaking. In prints, man-as-tool-user is wholly adopted. See, cut, print. We exist, we make, and we show - the artistic printmaker tells us. We are lucky in Kilmorack Gallery to show work by some of the finest practitioners of this long-standing and very human and humane artform.

See, cut, print. This rhythm opens a conduit. We exist, we make and we show.

Many printmakers have an international outlook and Ian Westacott is one of these. Australian-born and Scottish living, Westacott has travelled throughout Europe and back to his native Australia in search of the trees that become his muse. Each ancient bow has a story and character that has occupied and inspired this master printer. What is also there, a little more hidden, is Westacott’s love of the copperplate process. He is unusual for Westacott cuts the plates (that are then etched and inked) not in the studio but in the field, sitting, drawing and carving under his arboreal muse. The confidence required to cut is part of the alure that has caught Westacott. There is a merging of the discipline of process and homage: being a pupil, a disciple, to the tree.

One of the country’s rapidly ascending printmakers is Ade Adesina. He too is an international artist. Adesina was born in Nigeria and now lives in Aberdeen, and his work takes us beyond the borderless geography of art by collaging different places and memories – the baobab trees of his childhood, disappeared whales and dry ocean beds – weaving times and places together within every linocut. In Adesina’s work, the clock is always ticking. There is an urgency and a call for healing to begin. Like Westacott, the act of cutting is important, and so are the weeks of concentration needed to carve out a sometimes two-meter-long lino board. Then there is the printing of these works. This is also a technological challenge that requires concentration and understanding.

The etchings and lithographs of Robert Powell embrace a European tradition of humorous dark satire. Powell wonders at and lampoons human follies, exploring the same subjects – greed, vanity and idolatry – in different mediums but always coming back to print. He embraces this hands-on technology because his work explores our self-constructed worlds. Art, science and making are the same: and printmaking mirrors this in its creative technological crucible. Like Westacott and Adesina, his work is labour intensive. Powell often hand-tints an etching with a brush’s single hair. Every print is a world in itself. It is not a copy. They are never the same.

There is also power in the propagation of prints, for historically they have been used to spread thoughts and influence the world. Paul Bloomer’s work has moved from scenes of disconnected industrial life, to harmonious callings from nature. Bloomer has spoken of the inspiration Goya’s Los caprichos (1799) has given him and he has remade these into new series of work (The Return of the Light, Entering the Darkness.) Before they go to print Bloomer amasses drawings which are refined and selected down to a set of twelve prints. His preferred too here is one of the first artistic technologies, the pencil and the mark - the drawing.

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