Issue Number: 110
Whether you are chasing an original Gary Hume, or you want to own a Picasso or an Old Master, the London Original Print Fair is the place to look. Ben Luke finds out what’s new at this annual event at the Royal Academy
The London Original Print Fair is an annual institution at the Royal Academy, having taken place in Burlington House for more than a quarter of a century. But this year the connection deepens, because for the first time, the RA Schools are to have a stand at the fair.
Royal Academicians, including Gary Hume, Tracey Emin, Phillip King and Humphrey Ocean, are supporting the initiative – the brainwave of Eileen Cooper RA, the Schools Head of Printmaking – by working in the schools to produce small editions for sale. The profits are shared between the artist and the RA, and will help to maintain the uniqueness of the Schools as a place to study. But there is far more to the project than raising funds.
Chris Orr RA, '2 Hearts That Beat As One', 2011, etching. © Chris Orr RA/Photo © Maciej Urbanek/Courtesy of the Royal Academy Schools
‘The great benefit is not only that we end up with wonderful works to sell, but we have visiting artists coming in and working alongside our students in the workshop,’ Cooper says. ‘We had Phillip King doing a series of monoprints for several weeks. He came in for a couple of days a week, working with printmaking tutor Simon Lawson and junior fellow, Lucy Farley. Phillip almost became part of the fixtures – the students coming in and out and talking with him.’
The project began after one of the Schools’ patrons donated the start-up costs. ‘Already, we have made some prints – and some money. We sold works by Gary Hume in the Summer Exhibition. We did a 50/50 split with Gary, selling alternate prints. This helps us to carry on making prints, because, of course, we need to pay the people who are printing the work. And John Purcell Paper has been fantastically supportive, and donated paper to us.’
Gary Hume RA, 'Bikini', 2010. Screenprint. Paper size: 76 x 56cm, image size: 61 x 39cm, edition of 30. © The artist. Photograph courtesy of John Bodkin Hume’s screenprint, Bikini (2010), depicts a pink figure, with the bikini of the title seemingly absent. Other artists taking part in the project are turning to printmaking for the first time, including Mali Morris RA, a painter of boldly coloured abstracts, who is also creating a screenprint for the RA stand. ‘That’s another thing – we can invite people in to extend their repertoire,’ Cooper explains.
The project has given the print department exactly the kind of lift that Cooper envisaged when she first arrived as Head of Printmaking in 2006. ‘When I took over, traditional prints seemed to be in the doldrums,’ she says. This, she suggests, was symptomatic of a wider attitude to printmaking, particularly in art education, where the discipline eats up precious resources.
Cooper rethought the staffing of the department and now there are different levels of advice given to printmaking students, from Cooper herself to specialist technicians and recent graduates from the Schools, who help out in return for time in the studios to make their own work. This has led to ‘a real, lively workshop activity’, she says. ‘We take students who are not specialists in the area, and as the workshop is an encouraging, benevolent place, they become artists working in print.
Eileen Cooper RA, 'Shadow', 2011. Linocut. © Eileen Cooper RA/Photo. ‘I want students to broaden when they come here,’ she says, ‘and they might never get the opportunity to do it again. Certainly, I am always telling them that, as career artists, sooner or later somebody will want them to do prints.’
Cooper’s passion for printmaking and her desire to see it given a wider profile chime perfectly with the aims of the London Original Print Fair. As Helen Rosslyn, Director of the fair since 1987, points out: ‘When we started the fair, the idea was to encourage people to understand what original prints were, and the fact that they were as much original artworks as paintings.
‘A lot of our dealers are key people in keeping printmaking alive – some of them run printmaking studios, others are master printers, you get the whole spectrum. And that’s why it makes sense to have the Royal Academy Schools coming in as well.’
The fair also has special events on different aspects of printmaking. ‘Dealers give a talk about something on their stand, and we often get an artist to discuss their own work. Norman Ackroyd has given some great talks at the Fair, as has Stephen Chambers – both are RAs,’ says Rosslyn. ‘They are all great supporters, because we are trying to show people how diverse a discipline it is.’ This year’s new events programme includes the chance to see a printmaker in action, as well as workshops for children.
Peter Freeth RA, 'Shop Talk on Parnassus – Le Chat de Monsieur Manet Rencontre le Chien de Monsieur Seurat', 2011. Etching. © Peter Freeth RA/Photo Crucial to the fair’s success is that it presents prints from the Old Masters up to recent graduates, drawing attention to the rich history of the discipline and its crucial role in the work of great artists from Rembrandt to Picasso. Cooper, who has been making prints alongside her paintings for more than 20 years, speaks reverently about the elements which make printmaking such a special activity: its meditative quality, and its collaborative nature, with artists tapping into the technical experience of master printmakers, a process Cooper likens to mining gold.
At the RA Schools, students can experience printmaking in the historic surroundings of an independent art school, without having to pay the fees that are the subject of so much current debate in the state system. The stand at the fair will allow the Schools to raise funds to help them to continue to offer this extraordinary opportunity, as well as informing the public about the Schools as a whole.
‘The RA Schools are tucked away between Burlington House and Burlington Gardens – and many people don’t know we are there,’ Cooper says. ‘Without losing the privacy and intimacy of the Schools, we need to stand up and say that we are doing great things.’