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.

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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

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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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She Dreams of Flowers

I’m very happy to be one of the 30 shortlisted artists for this printmaking prize in Belgium 2018 http://award.renecarcan.be/

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RA Schools, Lick the Moon

The works I submitted are selected from the diary prints: little linos that I’ve been making, more or less every 10-14 days, ever since I started the fellowship at the Royal Academy Schools in October 2016.

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Green block for This Granny Can

I set myself some rules: all the prints would be made from blocks which measure 15 x 20 cm, and that there would only be two of them.

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This Granny Can

If I wanted more colours, I could make blends of ink and print them on top of each other.

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Rainbow Room

In many of the prints, I used selective inking and wiping to achieve the effects that I wanted. So on the print above, the face and arms have only one coat of ink, whereas the rest of the block has been inked up four times.

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My ink!

Deciding which colours would work best has been a huge learning curve for me.

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Colour Trial Proofs for Made of Earth, We Are

Sometimes the colour trial proofing has resulted in more questions than answers!

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Colour trial proofs for Eight to One

Actually, I would have loved to submit all the prints, in one big panel, because this project has recorded what’s on my mind, as well as being a kind of postcard home: I made these to make my dad smile.

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Work displayed in Aberystwyth Printmakers

Sometimes they were a record of the absurdity of swimming pools

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Block for She Doesn’t Care

Sometimes I was poking fun at our obsession with phones and selfies, even when in the presence of amazing things, like the terracotta army

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Xian Selfie

However, although I’ve plastered the walls of the care home where is is staying, he doesn’t show me that they interest him in any way at all. They have more effect on my mum, who snorts with laughter whenever she sees the mirror print, and tells me to keep on going…

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Mirror Mirror

The show opens 15 Feb and runs til 15 May in the Bibliotheca Wittockiana– 23 rue de Bemel -B 1150 Brussels http://www.wittockiana.org Apparently this is a museum devoted to book arts and bookbinding. I’m looking forward to going along.

Work laid out for framing at ELP

If you would like to see all the prints in the show, you can visit the online site http://award.renecarcan.be/current_edition where you can also vote for your favourite work…

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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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