My mum’s from Malaysia and dad’s from Singapore, so I love visiting these countries even if they are relatively foreign places to me. My niece invited me to her wedding in May, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to catch up with family.

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The wedding was in a “Six” star hotel, called the St. Regis. We lounged around in the gap between official ceremony and evening fun, getting ourselves pampered and primped. It did amuse me to see that the epitome of luxury was a chilly air conditioning bordering on UK winter temperatures, and that the fruit bowl contained northern hemisphere waxy green apples.

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I spent some time hanging out with my brother and sister in law. They took me to a fancy cafe called Mellower Coffee, whose top hit menu item was a black coffee with a ball of candy floss suspended above. As the steam rose, the floss melted, looking like pretty rain. We tried the cake, which looked much better than it tasted. I was so happy lurking in the noisy buzz of this popular place, spending time in companionable silence.

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My sister in law was kind enough to let me come to her acupuncture session one afternoon. I was amazed by the number of needles that the doctor put in, and how calm she said she felt afterwards.

Teh Tarik and Mahathir in the Midnight café

After a long bus journey I arrived in Malaysia to see my mum’s side of the family. We ended up drinking Teh Tarik in the midnight cafe, and reading about the shock victory of Mahathir, who had just won a second term in office at the ripe age of 92. In hot countries like Malaysia, the night time is peaceful and cool, it’s a good time to get snacks once the appetite returns. I love the way people enjoy this time of the night together.

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Malaysian food, even breakfast, is the best. Every now and then I long for a bowl of fresh slippery salty noodles in gloriously bright purple plastic bowls, lit by the flicker of neon cut by a whirring fan. My cousin and I had a quick bowl before we set off for Singapore together in the car. The cafe had a little scrawny cat who poked around under my table; I wanted to take him home.

I’m still working on some more of these prints, and they have brought back good memories of fun times with family. I know that taking pictures would have been more immediate, and accurate, but these slower images bring back the sounds and smells and heat of the place… for me, at least.

 

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Last year, when I was on a residency in China, I made a series of fifty water-based woodblock prints (mokuhanga prints) which ended up becoming an animation called Smiley Rock.

Smiley Rock still frame

The technique of printing successive thin layers of watercolour is called bokashi and some of the frames for the animation were made from progressive stages of the printing process. I took photos of the print, while printing fresh layers of colour, so that you can see how the colour builds up. I edited the piece in the Royal Academy Schools in Piccadilly, London, and talented musician Eliot Kennedy made the music for me.

Smiley Rock frame being photographed for the animation

The animation is currently being shown in West Yorkshire Print Workshop, as part of their group show called Japan, until 1 September. Read about the show here or at https://www.wypw.org/blog/japan/

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Smiley Rock is also coming with me to the IMPACT conference in Santander, Spain next month… I’ll be showing the animation alongside some of the frames. Watch this space!

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You can watch the animation here or go to https://vimeo.com/237974015

 

Last Sunday I was invited to give a talk at the Association for Group and Individual Psychotherapy in London, which got me thinking about the nature of the image, and how it can play an active role in life and society…

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Farmhouse in Changsha, 2015. Photo by Wuon-Gean Ho

When I was thinking about how images are seen by the viewer, I realized that the intensity of looking long and hard at a print could amount to some sort of love or devotion. Rural homes in China may lack surface pattern and decoration, yet many have a framed picture of Mao on the wall. Set up high against the ceiling, the face is instantly recognizable, yet because his eyes are facing a vantage point that cannot be met, there is an inscrutability to his gaze. I imagine generations of people living in the household being constantly aware of the presence of Mao, represented by a bit of ink on a piece of paper. The situation is probably similar with other households across the world that include an image of a religious figure, for example, such as Jesus or Mary: images which brought the impossible/ incredibly important/ into the home/ humble daily life. 

The intensity of the transformation of the printed image into an object of power and authority shows us how prints on paper can be transformed into an icon with the look of love, or the loving gaze. Importantly, the figure depicted usually does not return the look of love, allowing the loving contemplation to continue. The viewer can fantasize about the thoughts of the viewed and start to imagine a relationship.

 

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Vintage Postcard from Pinterest, unknown source

 In a practical way, relationships have started and flourished as a result of the trade of images. Joan Fontcuberta, the photographer, writes in his book, Pandora’s Camera, of how his father met his mother. It was the custom in Spain in the early 20C for young men to have a photo printed of themselves to send to girls that they fancied. Fontcuberta says that his father’s photo was a winner, a dreamy Hollywood rendition of a handsome young man. Her mother would have had the chance to look at him without the fear of meeting the real person, and begin to idolize the image, and imagine a relationship developing. Her gaze could have caressed his cheek and traced the outline of his jaw, smoothed the unruly eyebrows… When she did eventually have a chance to get to know him better, there was already an amount of affection in the mix.

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Agatha Bas (1641) by Rembrandt van Rijn

Then that got me thinking to how often lovers have depicted their loved ones. One only has to think of Rembrandt and Reubens, Freud, Picasso, Dali, Hockney and Bacon to think of how artists have taken the opportunity to caress the flesh and illuminate the skin of their loved ones. The movement of paint on canvas with a brush is like the application of cream to skin, like the grooming of fur, like the licking of lips. Look at Renoir’s flickering depiction of light and shadow on skin of his nude female models. Hockney’s clear depiction of the angle of the neck, the incised outline of the pencil mark must have reverberated in his mind as a virtual tracing of the muscles and shape of the body. It’s not just a mechanical rendition of muscle and form, it’s an involved description of what is there in front of him.

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Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995) by Lucian Freud

The intense gaze of the artist deconstructs and reconstructs the figure, making the portrayal of the subject a sort of intense familiarization. I wonder if the act of portrayal might also cause the artist to fall in love with the subject. I also wonder if the portrayal of a fragmented/ split/grotesque individual might result in contempt in the artist for the sitter. It certainly seems to me that Lucian Freud had much contempt for his portrayal of a benefits worker, not only does his gaze look down on the body, sprawled in an ungainly way on the sofa, but also that his treatment of the folds of flesh is reverberating with repugnance.

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Film Still of Anwar Congo from The Act of Killing (2013) by Joshua Oppenheimer

Truly repugnant individuals have been portrayed in surprisingly sensitive and loving ways. In Joshua Oppenheimer’s film The Act of Killing, the camera spends a long time lingering and looking at the chief protagonist, serial killer Anwar Congo, as he recounts his exploits during the Indonesian massacres in 1965-66. Unlovable from his actions and his behaviour, the long intense gaze of the camera, that does not seem to blink or become diverted by other issues, allows the viewers to develop some sort of connection and ultimately try for a connection or a kind of empathy.

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Film Still from Like Water for Chocolate (1992) directed by Alfonso Arau

But why am I telling you about this? I don’t make anything like this at all! I wanted to talk about an aspect of image making that is to do with the casting of spells. The creation of a print does involve a certain amount of time and energy in its formation. During that time, the artist can invest hopes, dreams and prayers in the fabric of the ink. In the film, Like Water for Chocolate (1992) the youngest daughter, Tita is forbidden to marry her true love, Pedro, who is offered the hand in marriage of the middle sister instead, which he accepts so he can be close to Tita. When Tita is making the cake for the wedding, she cries into the batter; and as the cake is consumed by the guests, they are all overcome with sadness and sickness and grief.

I wonder whether the printed image could be a repository of hopes and desires, and perhaps even convey the thoughts and emotions of the maker which were experienced while the image was being made.

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Scarf Blur (2014) by Wuon-Gean Ho. Photograph and performance.

Whether this is because the paper retains the energy of the making process, or whether the energy of the shape and lines is able to convey this mysterious message to the viewer is something I’m still looking into…

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)…

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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…

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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…

 

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Update! on 15th February, I went to the opening of the show!

After the excitement of going to Wrexham, and then Buckingham Palace, I hopped on a train to Brussels for the Rene Carcan Print show… But I was soooooooo tired!

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Hahaha! After Wrexham and the Palace, I was knackered…

The show was in the Bibliotheca Wittockiana, located in the far east of the city, a good twenty minute march from the nearest dark metro stop alongside a motorway…

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This haven of a library is a real treasure trove of old equipment, beautiful hand-bound books and reportedly the biggest collection of children’s rattles in the world.

Anna looking at rattles

It was a huge crowd of people, there to see the art, and eat some sumptuous food.

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Important question: why do we just have drinks at private views in the UK, when we could be having dumplings…?

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Isabel, Rory and Anna Brooke, my friends who came all the way from the UK to see the show

I was thrilled to see Elisabeth Matthieu, who had been so kind and welcoming during my stay in Canada, and who chaired the 10th Biennial d’Estampe de Trois Rivieres (BIECTR) last year, along with her friend Aline.

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Also, fellow Canadian Jo-Ann Lanneville was there, as another shortlisted artist, and Catherine Gillet, who makes beautiful engravings (if it were me, I would have given her the prize for sure)…

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My work was displayed in a cabinet which was quite sweet. Mirror mirror print was not there: guess they didn’t have enough space…

_MG_2155mg_2158.jpgI’m ashamed to say I got lost en-route, missed the prize ceremony, and didn’t figure out who were printmakers amongst the guests: after all there was a feast to be had!

_MG_2115I managed to say hello to two of the organisers. I think you can see the first mention prize here, a series of works called Clean, by Ann-Kristin Källström, behind Roger Dewint.

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I was thrilled to be there, and be joined by good friends.

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For more info on the show, which runs to 15 May, please see http://award.renecarcan.be/current_edition

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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In June, I was awarded the Atelier Presse Papier Prize at the Biennial Internationale d’Estampe Contemporaine de Trois-Rivières (BIECTR 2017) for my Orchis print series. The prize was a solo show in their gallery, and a residency in the print studio for two weeks, so I packed my bags and flew out to Canada.

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Trois-Rivières is a small town which has been hosting this amazing print biennial for the past 20 years. As the town is so small, the print biennial takes over the museums, library, galleries, old train station and cafés, with a suggested walking tour of the whole show that takes up a good afternoon.

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Catherine Gillet (Honorable Mention), Sabine Delahaut (Grand Prize winner) and yours truly.

There was a grand opening and some satellite events in Montreal and the University of Quebec, so my residency started off very social, with lots of old and new friends in town. These included Annie Bissett, Kikie Crêvecoeur, Heather Huston and many more local artists such as Guy Langevin, Jo-Ann Lanneville, Frédérique Guichard and Valérie Guimond.

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I enjoyed getting to know the other artists better, particularly as one afternoon we went from gallery to gallery talking to each other about our work, both in terms of technique and ideas. Sabine Delahaut was the grand prize winner and I loved her print narrative and approach. Other artists who gave talks included Heather Huston, Valentin Capony, Catherine Gillet and Valerie Geard.

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When putting the works together for the show, I decided to gather them under the broad term Seventh Sense. I was thinking about how we know what it is like to touch and taste, see and hear. But what of the other senses in our repertoire, the ones that speak of how we place our body in space, or ones that determine how we hope, those that convey indescribable emotions? For me, these senses fall into the realm of the seventh sense and beyond.

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Packing a show for a mysterious space is hard, but in the end the work fit the gallery surprisingly well.

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On the two long  walls there were big screenprints made as a triptych and a diptych from the Dance series and Orchis series.

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In the alcove I put two photos about leaning and flight that were taken in China, exploring the boundary of real and unreal. In the window there were three artist books from the Orchis Book series.

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Finally, I showed my animation Shadow Boy and Shadow Girl, alongside an inkjet print of some of the frames of the animation that were scanned and printed life size.

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The works in the show used different techniques, but explored similar themes of dance, and transformation.

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During the residency, I found myself going for a walk and a swim every day, as Trois-Rivières has a very amazing outdoor unheated pool that dates from the 30s.

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Piscine et pataugeoire du parc de l’Exposition

The sky was continually cloudy, with flashes of sunshine and a lot of rain. I’m planning work for a new book about that experience, now that I am back home.

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I completed some prints from the Diary series which I had started in China, and looked at the clouds every day.

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The Print studio and gallery, Atelier Presse Papier, are located in an old wooden building that leans like a ship, rolling downhill towards the St Laurent River. It’s run by a cooperative of artist printmakers who are both colleagues and friends. On one of the last days of my residency they held a lunch for me, complete with home-cooked Quebecois beans with maple syrup and some nice red wine.

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Seventh Sense is on until 30 July 2017 at Atelier Presse Papier, 73, rue Saint-Antoine, Trois-Rivières, QC, G9A 2J2. Tel 819-373-1980. Email presse.papier.atelier@cgocable.ca

https://www.pressepapier.net/expo-wuongean-ho

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My work for BIECTR is in Musee Pierre Boucher in Trois-Rivières until 10 September

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BIECTR runs until 10 September 2017. It’s full of amazing work. For more information, or to buy the catalogue, please see http://www.biectr.ca/ or contact info@biectr.ca