Although I was made familiar with the techniques of lithography at Carlisle Art College in the late fifties I found it an unsatisfactory medium for colour, even though a beautifully sensitive drawing medium. Towards the end of my three years at The Royal Academy Schools in the early sixties an embryo etching department was created. It was then that my real interest in the making of prints started. After leaving the R.A.S. my interests moved back to painting, for without a press I had thought that all printmaking was impossible. It was not until 1979 that I realised that I wanted to be able to print in strong colour. But something had occurred in printmaking since I had left College: silk-screen; and as this was recommended for colour printing I went out and purchased all the chemicals associated with silk-screen printing (which a friend later told me were all the possible and varied solvents used in screen cleaning!) However in the mid seventies with no particular thoughts of printmaking I had caught up with modern carbon chemistry with The Open University. I then found that if you take all the care you can with procedures, for example water-oil, oil-water etc., then with all the active chemical ends molecules can have: methyl, alcohol, not to mention all the lacquer endings, then these chemical characteristics can be employed to isolate an image long enough to etch, or etch to a resist. In fact I think that the possibilities of applying the knowledge of one form of printmaking to that of another (in my case silk-screen, litho and etching, to lino) are limitless. I described it like “falling through a hole into an Aladdin’s cave of possibilities”;
I wrote in October 1981:
I have been experimenting with different methods of working on a lino block which I am certain are going to produce a set of four interestingly varied editions. On the four lino blocks, / am proposing to work with the cut and come again method, which will require good printing and drying facilities when / need them, and will a/so exclude all the registration problems and tentative approach which that causes. / plan not to gouge any of them, but instead will etch right down to the hessian as in the round red print. Because it is possible to print oil based inks off water-based gum, it is possible to burn out different parts of the drawing at different times. Therefore all the drawing in the form of alkali resist (gum) / intend to have on the block before I start any biting. / will not be using any positive resist drawing but will be using lift grounds in some form on all the blocks.
This new medium has, for me, thrown up a lot of possibilities and methods of drawing which / am at the moment assimilating and experimenting with. The medium has a fluidity demanding a vigorous method of working which I m finding very exciting (see the round red print). The four blocks will be experimental of course, and each will entail a different grouping of methods (there were two methods in the round red print: Lift and gouge) but because! intend to work on all four at the same time / expect them to be a closely knit series, made more interesting by their differences. / have found that / have had to start from what, for me, is a peculiar position, for example from size of paper, the colour and method, even before any content germinated.So it was with all this in mind that I had turned from my first and so far only silk-screen, an exhibition poster,
The departure point of every print is its particular colour scheme of two, three, or four colours. Once this is established, development waits until an idea emerges which is strong enough to carry that scheme. For example, a block may be started and then have to be put on one side awaiting risk confidence, and be overtaken by later “starts” whose content makes its appearance more readily. The content of the prints falls into two interests: observed natural patterns, and total abstraction.
Under the first grouping comes “Landscape Through Condensation”: my interest was not in the landscape but rather the light reflected in the condensation; “Print Room Puddle”-the puddle of water made on the block itself drawn through the water and reflecting the surroundings in which it was made; the self descriptive“188.8.131.52.”, four colours numbered in order of their printing; “Peripheral Vision” was drawn peripherally, eyes in a fixed position only 4” from the block, the colours a parody of lithography’s hunt for the third colour. Under the abstract grouping comes “Sun/Shade”: “Untitled 1 “: “With the other hand”: “Two steps forward one step back”: these prints are the result of a deep interest in formal ideas and visual theories, although in the case of “Sun/Shade” the start came from the miners strike, this imagery being finally discarded.” Two steps forward one step back” is a continuous line where two atonal colours meet,progressing forward two movements then falling back to dissect the second of the two steps, this too had a polemical start and still, unlike “Sun/Shade”, contains a radio active sign. “With the other hand,” the most recently finished of the series, is to some extent like “Peripheral Vision” about spatial awareness and was drawn with both hands. The prints contain the search for and presentation of visual laws and games. The artist thinks of the question and then answers it, using a visual language rather than a verbal language. The reason for being of this series is almost entirely about colour, its quantities, proportions and relationships.
“Time Zero”, the round “explosion” was produced from two separate blocks before my interest in the reduction method began. What is meant by the term “reduction”, and what kind of planning is involved in using this method? Two basically different starts are possible: (1.) white start, where a third, fourth or fifth of the surface is removed, and where white must be considered as a colour; (2.) block start, where the first colour is printed before any of the surface is removed. Both starting positions establish the edges at the first printing. After cutting or eroding the lino block with sodium hydroxide the first colour image is printed. The Iino is further cut or etched away and is used to overprint the first state. The second colour completely covers the first except for the newly removed areas, through which the first colour shows. The process is repeated for the third and fourth colours. Because the block is progressively “destroyed” the whole and finite edition number must be printed at the outset.
I have found that once the difficulties of this odd point of departure are controlled then many of the other problems associated with spontaneity in other kinds of multi block/plate colour printing tend to disappear.