I thought it would be funny to make very purely digital images in Japanese woodblock technique. The contrast in time couldn’t be greater: one tap of a button for the computer, translated to a long time to carve some wood, then get paper dampened, then patient printing by hand, involving a gradual building up of colour over a few hours to days…

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It was entertaining, and laborious, and then just a little bit overwhelming.

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After a while I wanted to record the actual process rather than the final images, and then I started to worry about why I was trying to make perfectly registered images each time, when really the process of making the prints would naturally generate interesting frames.

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So the eyeballs swivel around and then bounce out of the head, and I made some dark lashes and a kind of fluttery blink…

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All in all I made 51 prints, but there are many more photos as they also record the build up of colour on each piece of paper.

Smiley Rock on the bedIt’s still very rough round the edges, but if you’d like to see the first trial animation, here it is:

https://vimeo.com/221670482

The sound is work in progress as well. More refined version coming soon…!

 

 

Orchis Seven is in the Royal Academy Summer show this year!

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This print is one of my favourites in the series. It shows a hyacinth, drawn from many angles, in front of three sleeping figures. The fleshy flowers revolve in space and time across the page. The prints are linocuts made with a single horizontal line. The resulting mesh of black and white creates a shimmering effect that both defines and blurs the image. Objects appear and disappear from view.

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Installation view

The nine Orchis prints were originally conceived as a series of nine books. Encased within modest book-cloth covers, each book contains one print, folded to fill the accordion pages and framed by gold leaf titles. The nature of the folded image means that non-adjacent parts of the image can be seen together, giving the work a more sculptural and temporal volume.

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Orchis Seven is bound in a pale lilac colour book cloth. A full set of nine books is in the collection of the British Museum.

The flat print is an edition of 30 hand-printed linocuts, printed with Sakura oil-based ink on Lambeth cartridge.

Royal Academy Summer Show, Piccadilly, London, 13 June – 20 August

https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/summer-exhibition-2017

Sometimes it’s interesting to take photos of the physical world that we cannot see.

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My scarf is my collaborator: together we try to defy gravity.

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The red earth, scorched yet still wet, is a piece of land in Changsha Normal University, cleared for a playing field. I spent one month there in April teaching Japanese woodblock  printmaking and giving talks in various venues.

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I like the small shadows from the overhead sun after days of torrential rain and misty gloom. Photos freeze time.

Meanwhile in the UK, just the act of leaning in the forest is like that thought experiment: If a tree falls in the forest and no-one hears it, did it make a sound?

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If I lean on the air, and no one sees it, did it happen?

Ahhhh, but of course! I am seen! Here is the proof online!

Back in January I was asked to give a demo of Japanese Woodblock printing at the British museum for the Hokusai show, “Beyond the Great Wave” (which celebrates the artist in the last three decades of his life). Hokusai Prep 7It was a great excuse to spend a lot of time poring over Hokusai’s huge output. I began to admire his unerring brushstroke, and radical, often humorous compositions. Hokusai Prep 8

I’d promised to make a Hokusai-inspired work for the demo, but how I could even start to make a comparable rendition of modern day London? I thought briefly about depicting Whitechapel with cycle couriers: let’s face it, this is probably the closest equivalent to the Tokkaido, or a distant view of St Paul’s in the rain instead of Mount Fuji. Hmmm… I was stuck.

Hokusai Prep 11So I decided I’d look closer at the place where he is now being shown, the British Museum. This place is a veritable temple to the arts, with ionic columns lining the walkway up to the main central hall, and the most beautiful shimmering glass dome that brings a soft brightness to the courtyard inside.

Hokusai Prep 12We look at iconic images, like Monet’s Haystacks, Chagall’s Flying Lovers and Hokusai’s Wave, and the world is subsequently and irretrievably coloured by having seen them. These images are unforgettable, inspiring, desired and thus overused and parodied. At the same time, we like to place ourselves in the picture. Is it selfiegenic? Where do I exist in relation to this?

Hokusai Prep 6The prints I designed are about Hokusai becoming part of my identity: I can hide behind him, and he represents some of what I aspire to be (not caring about much apart from making paintings every day, with a factory of workers transforming them to prints, and hoping to live to 110…)

Hokusai Prep 3Hokusai Prep 4Hokusai Prep 5The demo on 5th June was a very exciting event. We set up in a hall full of of Greek marble sculptures, surrounded by sinuous sea lions and against a backdrop of three headless female dancers in revealing dresses.

Hokusai 01It was really echoey and a bit dark, so they put in some spotlights.

Hokusai 1I was incredibly lucky that my students from the last Japanese woodblock class (in East London Printmakers in May) were very keen to come help out for the evening, as there were loads of customers!

Hokusai 3I talked about the fundamentals of Japanese woodblock printing, showed how to print a three colour print, and then the public had a go at printing a mystery five colour print. Hokusai 2There was one colour and block per table and they had to take a piece of damp paper and print it, then move around the room. Students helped supervise and guide how much water, glue and ink to put on the blocks. Hokusai 4It was busy and chaotic but thrilling to see the results.

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The British Museum show is highly recommended. It’s on til 13 Aug, with a change over of prints in early July (3–6). For more information please see

http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/hokusai.aspx

I’m running a course in Japanese woodblock printing in East London Printmakers this Autumn, For more information please see https://www.eastlondonprintmakers.co.uk/course/japanese-woodblock-2/

Hokusai Prep 13Finally, if you’d like to buy one of the prints, please get in touch!

Life zooms on, meanwhile dad remains stuck in a care home in Oxfordshire after breaking his neck, and cannot venture into the wider world. So I started to make linocuts as a visual diary of my life. These are prints I made to comment on what was happening at the time, to pin on the fridge, or on the walls of his room.

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I was lucky enough to be invited to be a print fellow at the Royal Academy Schools last Autumn, so started to make prints about this iconic place: the corridors with elegant arching vaulted ceilings and huge north facing windows lit by moon-like lamps…

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…the life drawing room with a collection of impressive casts of Roman and Greek busts…

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…I put myself into all the prints like a sort of old-fashioned selfie, and added some arms to Venus, with a cell phone, just to bring her back to the present day.

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The schools have a fabulous chef called Sephy who feeds everyone til they are rolling with contentment. I will never forget the pork chop that was bigger than my face and reminded me of a map of Africa.

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The print room itself has a beautiful old Columbian press that I tried to make an etching of. In fact, as my linocuts are better than my etchings, here is a linocut of me trying to make an etching.

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In January I went to Malaysia and Singapore with my mum, who dramatically declared it her last supper.

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In reality we had at least 20 last suppers, and ate a lot!

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The current mobile phone obsession seems to spill into our daily lives, and I found myself increasingly surrounded by phone zone silence.

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Normally I don’t mind, but sometimes it seems so ridiculous to see people dripping wet after having been for a swim, standing like statues in front of this portable screen. This is the changing room of the London Fields Lido, my favourite pool in the world.

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When I started this series, I was really sad about many things, including how little I can do to change my dad’s mobility.

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I don’t know what the future holds, but I feel that we carry our burdens with us: sometimes they feel heavy, but sometimes they help us fly.

Finally finished my animation Shadow Boy and Shadow Girl

You can click on the link to view it here :  https://vimeo.com/208883758

This work has taken me a while to complete, as I started this series of prints two summers ago when visiting Crow’s Shadow Press in the USA.

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Crows’s Shadow Press is located on a Native American reservation in the eastern high desert of Oregon. This print studio is surrounded by rolling grassland and huge clouds. Distant views of the mountains are filtered a luminous blue with the atmosphere.

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The area feels ancient. In front of the studio there is a small graveyard: a scattering of graves on a grassy plot, complete with plastic flowers, windmills, flags and clothing, all in homage and reverence.

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If you were to sit there for a while, you would only hear the fluttering of flags, the crisp rustle of insects in the dry grass, and perhaps the gentle creak of your own muscles and breath.

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I started to imagine what it would be like to become and then not become again in this place. I started to make a series of prints of a boy and a girl, dressed in clothing from the 1850s, during the time when formal traditional clothing was being abandoned for western styles.

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In the animation, the boy and girl emerge from the darkness, defined and described by a sequence of white lines. Gradually they change shape and expression, they appear to get older, more serious, lighter and brighter, until eventually they are carved away completely.

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The images are from two reduction linocuts which I carved and printed in sequence, using only one type of mark: a carved horizontal line. I made 14 prints of each image, one set of prints for the boy and one for the girl. Then I created thousands of in-between frames in photoshop by deleting the frame in front to reveal the frame behind and saving it as a new image.

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It was difficult to continue to carve away at the figures until almost nothing was left, as it felt like destroying the individuals themselves. I learnt a lot with how much can be said with very minimal lines.

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In some respects, the progressive carving and whitening of the block could be read as a loose metaphor for the whitening of indigenous populations, as well as a reflection on blurring of the past…

Here it is again https://vimeo.com/208883758

I’m happy to say that the work will be displayed in China next week.

I have taken a selection of 160 frames at life size (each frame is 15 x 20 cm, and there are 80 frames from each sequence) and placed them side by side to show the working process. The inkjet prints of these frames are a rich and velvety black. As the prints do not exist any longer, because the blocks were entirely carved away, it is nice to bring the prints back to life again. The animation and the inkjet prints will be displayed alongside each other in Changsha Normal University in Hunan province, China, during April 2017.

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Pictures of the installation to follow!

HKK, a gourmet Chinese restaurant based in East London, contacted me late last year to see if I would make them eight huge prints for their Chinese New Year celebrations. As I love a challenge, I said yes.

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The storyline was about an Emperor who threw a birthday feast: here he is writing his invitations.

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The ingredients for the feast were gathered from far and wide: here they are aiming at the hawk in the sky, while people (and an enormous chicken) look for fish in the river.

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Chefs created new and beautiful dishes from the fruits of the land and sea.

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The banquet hall was decorated with splendid finery: I imagined these strange silver flagons shaped like rooster heads.

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The emperor arrived to the feast carried on a palanquin by four women (why not?) over a lavish staircase, inspired by the one that goes up to the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City.

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The Emperor was offered wine from a jade goblet (modelled with oak leaves taken from the design on a Dutch lamppost from Amsterdam) with gold dragons as handles.

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He joined his family and guests for a toast to health, happiness, abundance, peace and prosperity. The VIPs wore pearl necklaces and women had fresh flowers in their hair.

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After the meal, they were entertained by acrobats and ribbon dancers, harp players and singers, roosters and jugglers.

img_7391These prints were designed in four days and carved in japanese vinyl (gomuban) over 11 days: a record time for me. I made use of the Royal Academy Schools’ library where I found lots of books on Qing dynasty clothing and customs, and admired paintings of ancient landscapes, throne-rooms and interiors. I was buoyed along at this crazy pace by adrenaline and the looming Christmas deadline for approval of the images.

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Once approved, I scanned them and enlarged them to 133 x 76 cm each, and started phase two of the project: screenprinting them onto delicate shoji paper to hang in the restaurant interior. Luckily my studio, East London Printmakers, was quiet over the Christmas break, so I had enough space to work…!

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This stack of paper took over 100 hours to print… done in only 6 days.

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Finally some of the work was picked out with gold leaf. It’s not that obvious on a backlit image, but the gold shimmers in the light.

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Here are some installation shots of the work in the restaurant HKK Shoreditch, London.


The work is up until 4 March (extended an extra three weeks!) 2017. Let me know if you go along!

http://hkklondon.com/ 88 Worship Street, Broadgate Quarter, London EC2A 2BE

http://www.eastlondonprintmakers.co.uk 42 Copperfield Road, London E3 4RR