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Weimin He, co-curator for the China Print Festival in Qijiang, is having a solo show when the Ashmolean museum reopens next month. His brush drawings are beautiful, delicate and bold portraits of the many workers who were involved in the restoration project. Here is a short introduction that I have written for the show.

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This exhibition shows Weimin He’s depiction of the recent restoration of the Ashmolean museum from 2007-2009. The majority of the art includes paintings that portray, in a sensitive and humorous way, more than 300 academics, curators, tradespeople, builders and craftsmen who were involved in the process. In addition there are drawings of the space as it evolved throughout the building work, and some woodblock prints that summarise the construction in He’s unique printmaking style.

The staff in the offices pause from their work temporarily for these portraits, fingers still hovering near keyboards, and perching on their revolving chairs. The delicate detail of face and keen observation of posture and clothing expresses a measured exploration of each person, which is kept from becoming too formal with a slightly exaggerated focus on the head and hands.

In contrast the portraits of the builders are made with energetic brushstrokes, conveying an engaging and immediate presence. The bodies are slightly elongated; head, hands and feet included as if viewed through a wide angle lens; and they pose singly and in groups, often with a broad smile and a relaxed stance. The names of each individual are written on the page next to the drawing, which, by their variety, hints at an interesting mix of languages and cultures.

The Chinese brush, used with traditional black ink on Chinese paper, creates an Eastern aesthetic, but here the subject matter is a Western workforce within a British institution. This fascinating combination of style and subject matter, allied with a throwaway accuracy, is a lovely snapshot of the spirit of the Oxford Ashmolean Museum.

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How could I be so silent on the Impact printmaking conference? It was a five day extravaganza of printmaking lectures, panels, posters, entertainment, art and alcohol, with printmakers from all over the world congregating in Bristol. I put up the colour trial proofs from the mask series that I slaved on from last year. Soemhow they made a nice mass of faces staring out at the passers-by.

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I also gave a talk during the conference on beasts in print, specifically looking at Marcelle Hanselaar’s wonderful dark etchings. You can read the text of the talk here.

My good friend Katja has been coordinating this show of prints based on fairytales, and now she has been asked by her local council to get people into writing legends and myths of their own, based on the images from our show. Have a look at the website for more details and to see my print:


Mask Ka

Chinese folklore
Screenprint, 76x65cm, edition of 10

My mother told me that everyone is born with an invisible red thread that connects people by the ankle to their destined love.
In Mask Ka there are two lovers who hide in the face’s cheeks, sleeping one above the other on a train sleeper. He’s looking at her because he is aware of the thread, but she does not realise that they are yet connected, and faces away.

The print itself explores the notion that humans have more to their surface appearance than meets the eye. In each of us, as we walk through life, we accumulate memories: ghosts; attachments and connections; preferences for the past and expectations for the future. I wanted to express inner emotions, true histories; in effect, faces stripped of the mask of social pretences.

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