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

The Al-Mutanabbi street project, coordinated by Beau Beausoleil and Sarah Bodman, challenged over 300 artists to respond to the impact of a car bombing in a street of book shops in Iraq in 2007. I decided to enlist the collaboration of a poet, Ingrid Scheider, and a letterpress artist Umberto Giovannini to make my response to the project.

On reflection, I realised that I wanted to explore the  impact of such trauma on our perceptions of time and space. I started with folding paper to make a simple book with three double pages, with the central spread folded in on itself to reveal a space behind… It’s difficult to explain but perhaps you can see from the photos what I mean.

The first and last spreads show the figure of a sleeping girl taken from the beginning of Swallow Span, split by this central spread that seems to explode as you open the pages out.

 

 

The pocket of paper behind the folded area reveals a glimpse of colour, and tells of the humanity and life stories which were erased by these events. The final page symbolises the future, where a bird flies up from the girl’s hands, and the endurance of creativity is celebrated.

 

 

This was my first experience of a collaborative process. Ingrid Scheider came to the studio to look at my prints. The book had not yet been made, and we spent an afternoon working on splitting an image of a sleeping figure from one of my older prints with space for text. I really wanted her words to have prominence or an equal balance in the final piece.

I like the poem that she made because of its balance and rhythm, which fits the format well.

“Burning fires that now as ashes lie

Pallid sphere that was the sun

Our muse had flown, our words were broken

But once again, the dawn is come”

After I’d printed the book as a 5 colour double sided silkscreen on lambeth drawing cartridge, we roughed out where we wanted the words to be, and I posted them all to Umberto in Italy, via a friend who I’d bribed with icecream money in lieu of postage… There were a huge set of instructions (15 points long) on how to fold it, with numerous mock ups and scribbled text on proofs. Umberto set the type, tried various fonts and colours and positions, and emailed images over to me in America (where I was teaching for the summer).

The final piece is something that I could never have made alone, and I am really pleased with the result!