I thought I’d talk a bit about how one of my prints is made, from start to finish…

This is one of my latest prints called Blue Table Porto, which is about a lovely café I visited in the spring.

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For those who know my work, I started the diary-of-a-printmaker project when I was offered a fellowship at the Royal Academy of Art Schools in London, as a print fellow, back in 2016. This series of prints is about places and memories and anecdotal humour, a little bit like making postcards to send home…

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So, how do I make a print from a place? First of all hanging out in beautiful cafés always helps (!)… though I’ve also made my fair share of prints about working at the vets and walking around in gummy suburban cities and the hilarity of communal changing rooms. All these situations have a unique sense of energy, and leave a strong impression on the mind.

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These impressions are full of visual narratives, even though there may be scanty factual details. Sometimes it’s as if the images are from a dream-bank because the stuff that’s there is pared down but the sensation of being there remains.

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So sometimes I take photos, other times I draw directly onto the lino from memory, and then go home and think about what it is that it felt like to be in that moment of time, surrounded by that space. What was the most enduring sensation? For this café in Porto, the pale blue expanse of weather-beaten table-top plus a skylight bringing light into a dark cave of a room, plus the battered Turkish carpet were the most significant for me. The feeling I wanted to convey was of being engrossed in drawing and being marooned in a sea of carpet, the table as a raft.

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After one colour is printed, I transfer the still-fresh ink onto a second block and start to plan what I want to make. In this case, I wanted the carpet to be full of swirls and detail and the light to be the focal point. I knew that one block had to be pale blue. The drawing on the second block was partly copied from the drawing on the first block. It’s hard to explain what or how I carve the second colour in factual terms, but I think of removing every area in terms of the process of revealing the first colour, allowing the first colour (plus any areas which were already carved away and which would be white) to shine on its own.

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Then comes colour trial proof printing time… I try out different colour combinations and try to maintain a sense of rigour to the experiments, making notes of ink recipes and how much ink is on the slab in order to achieve my preferred effects. I’m always using the same brand of ink: Sakura Oil based Relief inks, because I love the way I can wipe the ink off the block and apply thin layers in places to achieve a graded look. I write notes to myself about what I’d like to differently on the next print.

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So, taking the proof above, I decided to start editioning but with the addition of orange to the red mix, in order to move away a bit from the candy colours that the pure red and blue were creating.

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The red still appeared red, but was mixed 50% with orange in the centre, and cut with green on the edges. When I put the blue layer on top, I was very happy with how the edges of the print appear to recede into darkness, a kind of black has formed from the combination of red/ orange/ green and blue on the sides.

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The magic of ink is maybe why I keep making prints…

 

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Back in November, Marc Donaldson of The&Partnership agency got in touch with me about an exciting project for the Japanese car manufacturers, Lexus.

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The brief was to highlight the deep beauty of making something by hand, looking at the physical knowledge and near super-human skills honed over a lifetime of practice, and link it to the use of AI and digital manufacture. Essentially, it was a reminder that despite the inexorable increase in the digital world, ultimately it is humans who have a lifetime of knowledge who are still in charge.

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They had already commissioned a gorgeous film on the subject, called Takumi. This film follows several artisan makers talking about their craft and displaying their skills. Takumi is the Japanese word for artisan, a term earned for exceptional skill achieved after 60,000 hours on the job.

Marc’s vision was to create a Japanese woodblock poster from cherry wood that would use hand printing to embed traditional pigments into hand made paper, based on a design which he had created in the computer.

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I have to say that while I trained in Japan in Japanese woodblock, and printed large prints for several years, I found this commission extremely challenging…

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Japanese woodblock technique relies on a harmonious combination of humidity, speed and response to simple changes in the basic materials. The wood absorbs paint, and then releases it to damp paper. Too much ink, too wet paper, too much pressure, and the paper bleeds; too little, too slow, too much glue and the paper is patchy.

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Photo by Feng Ho

However, the air pressure, sunlight, temperature, the number of previous printings, the absorbency of the wood, how much glue is used, the number of brushstrokes and humidity in the brushes, the consistency of paint, the speed of brushing, the precise way the paint sits in or on the wood, all these factors vary second by second, hour by hour.

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Photo by Eoin O’Flynn

The colour had to be coaxed onto the page, like a dance of wills.

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Photo by Feng Ho

I have to admit, my first 50 prints were a disaster. It took a lot of determination to keep going, as each print took an hour, so it was days and weeks before I’d made a passable layer of colour. Having made linocuts for the past few years, it was a shock to be a beginner at a technique again.

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I had to learn how to ink up generously on the block with an almost foamy layer of ink, without leaving a drop of ink anywhere near my table, in order to keep the edges of the paper clean when they were placed face down.

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I made my own homemade recipe for ink, combining gum arabic with nikawa and pure pigment, a blend of graphtol red and ruby red, and added a tiny drop of sumi ink to help the colour depth.

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I learned to hold my elbows out a certain way to fix the edges of the paper on the registration marks accurately, and how to trust that registration mark when each poster needed two or three printings to achieve the required depth of colour. Every now and then, the registration would be out by a fraction of a millimetre, and the print would fail.

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Photo by Feng Ho

I learned that a lovely intense colour field would leak through the damp paper in the last stage and mark other areas, so I developed a way of protecting the paper with a spare sheet of newsprint to stop this from happening for the final layer of ink.

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As this technique needed solid day light and it was during the winter months that I was printing, I’d skip lunches to maximise the hours of printing. I rigged up the ceiling light to a scaffolding to give myself a bit of light boost. There were no short cuts. I didn’t get faster. I had to keep moving, at a slow pace, and enjoy the process.

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I learned to relax and enjoy the meditative brush strokes and listened to quite a few absorbing but calming podcasts to keep my mind occupied and body in the flow.

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Photo by Feng Ho

After a mere 100 hours on the job, I cannot call myself a Takumi by any stretch of the imagination, but have a renewed respect for the masters of the field!

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Buckingham Palace is beautiful, golden, sparkling, opulent, baroque, rich. If it were a dish it would be molten duck egg yolks, velvety on the tongue… However, I was thinking how even though it’s filled with life-like marble statues, their ghostly pallor and illusion of softness might make one yearn for the reality of a living, breathing, messy, optimistic dog.

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So I made this print, which is of my friend’s ornate chair in her living room, one that kind of resembles a throne, and her happy dog, Lily. It was a lovely experience to sit in such a grand chair, and have Lily leaning on my legs. In way she was half mascot, and half protector, fully present.

I sent one of these prints to The Queen to thank her for inviting me over. I hope she didn’t think I was being blasphemous…

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)…

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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

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