linocut


Most years for Valentine’s I hide away in the studio and make pictures, but this year was different. I was invited to give a talk at Wrexham’s Regional Print Centre at Coleg Cambria, as part of their Print Symposium, and seeing as it was Valentine’s Day I thought I would theme the talk around Love.

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It is a theme that I have been preoccupied by for many years: prints can be, after all, a token of affection, especially when each is handmade with love. I have explored making prints about love and connection with animals (Spirit and Guardian); sensual love (the Orchis Series); things I love and that make me laugh (Little Linocut Series); and fantastical love stories (Lansu Garden Series, China Love Series), with birds (Swallow Span) and beasts (Devour) that jump straight out from my imagination.

Talking about caesareans

Talking about caesareans. Photograph by Wiktoria Przekora

My current series of works (the little linocuts) has been all about a kind of loving conversation with my dad (without that sounding too weird, I just want to cheer him up with something more concrete that lasts longer than the short time we have together)…

Talking about the Olympic pool

The Olympic Pool and its ridiculous hairdryer situation… Photograph by Wiktoria Przekora

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Clockwise from left, Vasile, me, Tony, Mum and Dad

WG talking about her linocut process

Showing my linocut process: I draw directly on the block. Photograph by Wiktoria Przekora

Anyway there are 35 of these prints now, and I showed my working process (I draw directly on the block) as well as bringing all the BAT (bon a tirer) proofs to Wrexham to show the delegates at the conference after my talk,. These BAT proofs are covered with notes and colour swatches and printing instructions.

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I made a special Valentine’s print for sale at the conference, as well as a New Year Card for the Year of the Dog, and enjoyed meeting the other presenters and chatting with the delegates.

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Despite all the excitement of being with a group of printmakers (surely the friendliest bunch, ever), I had to leave early…

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I had an evening reception to attend at Buckingham Palace! I’m not sure how the invitation came my way, or who nominated me, but I was really happy to be invited as an artist, not as a vet.

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After the invitation came, I started to feel completely unworthy of a royal visit. In my life there are many chaotic elements, strivings, failures and disappointments: all my possessions crammed into one room

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living in a wild and ugly part of town,

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a patchwork of jobs and commitments,

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long neglected friendships, a fridge that needs cleaning, a bike that needs new parts, a diary with scrambled deadlines, a pile of prints that threatens to collapse on top of me. I didn’t feel glamorous enough, or successful enough to be asked along.

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After some excruciating trips to fancy shops that I would normally never go to (what’s the point of an outfit where you can’t move your arms?) my dear sister Feng Ho, an ethical fashion designer, stepped in and offered one of her bespoke jackets for the occasion, and ethical handbag designer Embellished Truth lent me the statement bag.

Wuon-Gean Ho wearing jacket by Feng Ho and carrying Embellished Truth handbag

Image by British Ceremonial Arts, copyright The Crown.

You aren’t allowed to take photos or record anything when you are in the Palace, so I wrote the description below for my instagram page the following day, when everything was sparkling and fresh in my mind…

***

The Palace is a bit like stepping inside a lavish cake. A red carpet takes you up three flights to a domed lobby, a perfectly white and gold studded ceiling. Prince Albert, looking young, in marble, stands in an alcove, and I’m sure there’s another statue of Albert facing himself, in a weird parallel world. A marble girl plays with a dog, her hand buried in its fur. Heavy sparkling chandeliers glitter. The ceiling is far away, the carpet so so soft.

Every surface is embellished with gilded twisted vines, intricate repeated oak leaves and acorns, goat hooves, naked women clutching their breasts, lions feet on every chair and lions heads on the armrests. There are crests and shields, fleur de lys and red pentagonal roses, Corinthian columns and swirling mirror surrounds. Ming vases, rosewood inlays, opal cabuchons, a pair of pink thrones, embroidered ER on the left, and P on the right.
In the picture gallery, Rembrandt, Vermeer(the light! The shades of blue!), Frans Hals, van Eyck, Rubens, there, on the wall. I spent a while gazing entranced at the Rembrandt portrait of Agatha Bas. Her creamy skin glows in the light, and her hand posed casually on the picture frame makes you think she is just there, beyond the archway.

Carved wooden vines sprout from doorways and birds nestle on swagged foliage on the walls. A pair of mirrors reflect you into a blue limpid infinity. Marble girls posed casually, resting an elbow on either side of the fireplace, hold yet more abundant grape vines. I tried the sofa out for comfort, it was padded with fraying satin, the silky fabric split by regal weight.

The Queen is so pretty she has a soft sparkling air and smiles at everyone, calmly greeting everyone individually. They read out your name from the pink card so she knows who you are. She gave me her gloved hand and I didn’t kiss it but shook it awkwardly with a half curtsey but didn’t fall over, hurrah (oops clumsy me)…

***

Sheika bag by Embellished Truth

When things have settled down, perhaps some of these things will emerge in new work, who knows. In the meantime, I’ve cleaned the fridge, repaired the doors, done some laundry, and started to tidy up some of the piles of paper… just in case she ever wants to visit me in return…!

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In December, I was invited by Sabine Delahaut and Ozan Bilginer to take part in a show called Print/ Pressure, located in Ankara, the capital of Turkey.

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Photo by Sabine Delahaut

The premise of the show was that in Turkish language, the word for Print (Baski) is used to express concepts of coercion, oppression, discipline and restraint, as well as being the word for printing/ impression and pressure.

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Seeing as many cultures hide intimate depictions of the body, I thought it would be apt to show the Orchis book series.

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As I’ve written before in this blog, the word Orchis is the ancient Greek word for testicle, after which Orchid flowers were named, owing to the shape of their bulbs. In Old English too, the same parallel was made, and Orchid bulbs were called dogstones.

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The luxuriant feminine aspect of the Orchid flower, and the masculine shape of their roots makes the Orchid plant a metaphor for sexuality. The book format allows for a private viewing of what may be considered a socially taboo subject. The books are intended to be portable and discrete.

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However, this time round, the gallery chose to display eight of the nine books on shelves above and below each other, emphasising their sculptural qualities. The ninth book, Orchis Nine, is in the catalogue.

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In my statement for the catalogue, I compare the book to a body. Turning the pages stretches limbs and crushes and expands the timeline.

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The landscapes that result flow and merge from bodies into plants and flowers, jungle and folded fabric, between figures that are solid and those that seem to shimmer and disappear.

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I like to think that if the body is enclosed in the book, equating paper with skin, then skin smells of black ink.

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Other artists in the show were Atilla Atar, Beyza Boynudelik, Charlotte Massip, Engin Esen, Hasan Kiran, Heather Huston, Jean – Michel Uyttersprot, Ozan Bilginer, Sabine Delahaut and Oleg Denysenko.

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Atilla Atar

The gallery, Arte Sanat, made a really lovely publication with images from everyone, as well as a statement, the link is here

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Heather Huston

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Sabine Delahaut

The show runs until 20 Jan 2017 so there’s still time to view it.

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I was particularly intrigued the work by Ozan Bilginer which used thermochromic ink and heaters inserted behind the installation of prints: as the heaters raised the temperature of the print surface the black ink became transparent and the screenprinted scene below was revealed. This was interesting to observe, as well as to watch viewers captivated by images that were permanently in flux.

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Ozan Bilginer 

After the opening, we all went out to eat a hearty meal and drink Raki.

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Photo by Sabine Delahaut

The showing of the Orchis Library in Turkey had an additional coincidence, in that the Orchid root is commonly made into a winter drink called Salep (also popular in 18C Britain as an aphrodisiac) tying in with the notion of the Orchid plant being related to the body and its sensual functions.

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On my last afternoon there, the hotel ordered Salep for me to try. It was a creamy sweet comforting hot drink, but it didn’t have its required effect…

I didn’t fall in love with anyone on the way home…

 

 

I don’t tend to write that much about being a vet, but I did qualify almost 20 years ago and still work part time.

Double Caesar SundayI like the sense that in the hospital we are all part of a complex organism that is working towards one clear goal, to relieve animal suffering. Everything else is extra.

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Every now and then, it goes wrong: I got bitten a few weeks ago, and my finger still feels like it might fall off…

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At the end of the day, I have to remind myself that the first linocut I made was of a cat, and that cats are still complex, intriguing and inspiring animals.

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Having a degree makes me feel responsible for animals: the training comes with a duty of care…

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I’m continuing to make prints that record some spare moments, absurd situations and interesting encounters. It’s like a slowed down version of the instant sharing of selfies with a sanitised/selective commentary on what its really like, over here, in my world. Since March I’ve made another half dozen or so, though some have been abandoned half way: ironically work or life got in the way…

This Granny Can is a print about the grandma I met in China who raises pigs, runs a small vegetable farm, makes home rolled tea, smokes ducks in the kitchen, and has hands hard as sun-bleached wood. She says she can’t read and has never been abroad, with a self-deprecating chuckle. I think of all the things she can do, how we are sitting in the same space, sharing the same tea, but that our lives are completely different.

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My last day in China, my friends Lan and Tang Wei took me to a pottery village in Changsha, where we spent a morning happily browsing ceramic goods, buying cheap shoes and enjoying the sun. The store at the end of the village sold practically everything, from kites to underwear to dried fruit, as well as having a small snack area where we ate chicken feet and drank barley tea on tiny chairs, watching the world go by.

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Since my favourite pool in London, London Fields’ Lido, has been shut all summer for renovations, I’ve been searching for an alternative place to swim. The heated Lido, 50 m long, surrounded by trees and tower blocks, with glittering water and the illusion of the Mediteranean, is hard to compete with. Of course, the Olympic pool in Stratford in a good contender: the air is heated with the crisp smell of a sauna, the water is like silk, and the magnificent Hadid roof makes you feel like you are in the belly of a whale. However, the “village-change” for mixed ages and sexes tests my prudishness each time. Why exactly did they feel they had to put up a sign that reads, ‘These hairdryers are solely to dry your hair. Please do not use to dry your body or other items.”? IS this normal?

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I have to say that York Hall is much smaller, closer and friendlier, and fairly beautiful on a sunny morning, when the light tracks through the water giving off the illusion of the outdoors. It has wooden benches and generous splashy showers that cycle between scalding and lukewarm. The funniest thing is that the main mirror in the changing room is a piece of stretched and polished metal, that shocks everyone who catches a glimpse of themselves. It’s like the reverse of vanity sizing, where people go shopping and buy clothes that tell them they are slim, smart and attractive. This mirror tells you are too far gone to even try.

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So imagine the joy that users felt when a new, normal mirror, with a bank of free hairdryers, popped up in recent months. Imagine the happiness of hanging out in the changing room and seeing your not-too-shabby reflection. She Doesn’t Care (If We Stare) is about that lady who loves to do her face and hair while naked at this new mirror. We all pretended not to, but we did all take a look. I couldn’t work out whether I thought it was empowering and celebratory, or if I thought this was a bit too much showing off…

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Meanwhile, at the vets, I’m always amazed at how people work so seamlessly together. I expected the art world would be creative by nature, but the vet world strikes me as more fluid, adaptable and kind. I admire the clear and honest communication, the humour, the teamwork,  the lack of ego. I particularly like that in the vet world, women speak, and are heard. Women do, and get results. Words have face value: no one second guesses your agenda because everyone has clear goals: the pursuit of truth; reduction of suffering; compassion. How these things are achieved requires plenty of lateral thinking and creativity…

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