Issue Number: 114
As Europe’s leading print fair gets underway at the RA, Emma Crichton-Miller asks three key players about their passion for art on paper. Photography by Philipp Ebeling.
The London Original Print Fair, now in its 27th year, is the oldest dedicated print fair in the world and the largest in Europe. Over 50 international dealers, galleries and print specialists are taking part, with work by artists from Dürer to Damien Hirst on sale at prices ranging from £100 to £100,000. For the Fair’s Director Helen Rosslyn, prints are special because of ‘the intimacy with which you experience the artist’s way of working. The Print Fair provides the ideal situation to learn more about them, directly from the dealers’.
This year’s special themes include the Jubilee and the Olympics. Sims Reed Gallery is showing Andy Warhol’s memorable screenprint Queen Elizabeth II (of 1985) while contemporary specialist Paul Stolper is bringing Peter Blake’s digital print Union Jack (2011). In true celebratory style a Jubilee print trail will run alongside the main fair in Piccadilly’s Burlington Arcade with shops displaying prints in their windows. In the Fair itself expect strong displays of prints by artists currently showing in London’s top galleries: David Hockney RA, Johan Zoffany, Picasso, Freud, Grayson Perry RA and the German Romantics.
Both the new President of the RA, Christopher Le Brun, and Eileen Cooper RA, Keeper of the RA Schools, are renowned printmakers, while RA Editions, which launched last year, will once again have a stand at the Fair. This collaboration with the RA Schools’ print publishing programme creates contemporary, original, limited-edition prints by RAs, graduates and associates of the RA Schools. All proceeds go directly to support the Schools’ endowment fund. This year it will show work by Tracey Emin RA and Gary Hume RA, among other Academicians.
THE ARTIST: CHRIS ORR RA
Chris Orr RA is a painter, draughtsman and printmaker, but print has always been his primary medium. After graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1967 with an MA in printmaking, Orr says he ‘discovered the power of the multiple and realised that a medium like etching extended and enhanced my drawing, opening up new possibilities’. He went on to become Professor and Head of Printmaking at the RCA for 10 years from 1998. As well as etching, lithography and screenprinting, he is also interested in digital media. He explains that whereas 20 years ago, printmaking was seen as quite distinct from painting and sculpture, now, through the development of digital media, especially film and photography, ‘the idea of the print has become much more central to both artists and audiences’.
Orr believes it’s important that print be used as an artistic medium – not just as a means of reproduction. ‘Prints have different qualities from drawings and paintings and so there has to be a creative reason for making them besides the commercial one.’ Perhaps because of the technical challenges of printmaking, says Orr, ‘all artists who get involved with prints have to take notice of the past. The craft is its tradition’. This is why he finds the London Original Print Fair so inspiring: ‘You see the whole tradition, from Old Master prints to contemporary.’
Chris Orr RA inks up the drypoint plate for his print Land of My Father’s (2012) at the Huguenot Editions studio in south London. Photo © Philipp Ebeling.
Whose prints does he admire? ‘Edvard Munch’s lithographs, such as his Madonna (1895-1902). A version came up at a Bonham’s print auction last year and fetched over £1million. Munch makes the medium so emotionally expressive. There are virtually no editions. Each one is separately worked. There again, you cannot escape Picasso. The twentieth century is dominated by his energy in lithography and etching – as well as in painting, sculpture and ceramics.’
Orr believes there are several artists better known for their paintings who ‘find an admirable focus and concentration in their prints’. He cites David Hockney RA, Paula Rego – and Terry Frost’s screenprints: ‘They establish colour in a different way from paint – with vibrancy, density and opacity.’
Even a younger generation who are more associated with other art forms – Tracey Emin RA and Grayson Perry RA – have seized on the versatility of printmaking: ‘Emin believes in directness and her prints have an innocence about them technically. Her works cut directly to the point – they speak very clearly,’ says Orr.
Prints are perfect for austere times, he reminds me: ‘A print could cost no more than a weekend in Paris, but will offer years of interest and pleasure.’
THE COLLECTOR: BRIAN WEBB
Brian Webb peruses a suite of wood engravings by Peter Blake. Photo © Philipp Ebeling. ‘I am a graphic designer, running a medium-sized office, doing a whole range of things, but I most enjoy designing books and letterpress printing,’ explains Brian Webb. He collects prints, especially wood engravings, and illustrated and artists’ books and he has lost count of how many images he owns.
His collection focuses on the generation from William Nicholson to Edward Bawden, including C.R.W. Nevinson, Edward Wadsworth, and even Ben Nicholson, with a particular strength in Eric Ravilious. ‘As a student in Canterbury, I was totally seduced by ink on paper and it never went away. Then I got very interested in wood engraving: it’s the nearest you can get to the hand of the artist. There is no mechanical interference – it is the same with lithographs, which are drawn directly onto the stone.’
Webb began collecting as student: ‘I had always collected books and I was interested in designer-artists, such as Paul Nash, who taught Edward Bawden, Enid Marx and Ravilious. I like the imagery from the period 1920-39 generally.’
Webb keeps his prints mostly in archive boxes: ‘I ran out of wall space years ago. But also I like to look at them without glass, so that you can see the impression. Being able to handle the print and see how it looks on paper is part of the pleasure for me. The scale of wood engravings is often very small so they become almost invisible on the wall – but going through a box of prints is an absolute joy.’
Webb has worked with Peter Blake over many years on various print projects, and so has a substantial collection of Blake’s work. He also collects Glynn Boyd Harte, Chris Wormell, Andrew Davidson, Clare Melinsky, Anne Desmet RA and Chris Brown. ‘Prints are a very good way of owning an original work by the artist’s hand, which is affordable. But beware – once you start collecting prints, you move on to paintings.’
THE DEALER: ALAN CRISTEA
Alan Cristea pulls out Michael Craig-Martin RA’s screenprint ...and a Cello (2002) from the print rack at his gallery. Photo © Philipp Ebeling. The first inspiration for Alan Cristea, a leading publisher of contemporary prints and original editions, was the nineteenth-century printmaker, Charles Meryon. ‘I had been studying French poets of the period at Cambridge, and he was a particular favourite of Baudelaire. So it seemed natural when I started to work in the art world, to work with prints.’
Cristea began his career at Marlborough Graphics, where he worked with Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland and Joe Tilson, then at Waddington Graphics, which then became Alan Cristea Gallery in 1995. Working with artists including Patrick Caulfield, Patrick Heron and Richard Hamilton at Waddington’s, Cristea ‘worked as a catalyst for new editions’ and extended his network of artists. He added Allen Jones RA, Gillian Ayres RA and Howard Hodgkin to the list of distinguished artists with whom, over the years, he has forged long-term collaborative relationships.
More recently he has persuaded younger contemporary artists such as Catherine Yass, Richard Woods, Lisa Ruyter and Ian Davenport to explore printmaking. ‘As a print publisher I am acting as catalyst, facilitator and producer all in one. Most of all, I am the bloke who takes the financial risk.’
As well as conventional print media, Cristea also works with artists who are at the cutting edge of new print media, creating editions of light boxes, computers, photographs, and LEDs. A striking example is the huge prints of Christiane Baumgartner, who combines traditional woodcut with video to reflect on aspects of contemporary life, particularly our obsession with speed and movement. Michael Craig-Martin RA creates prints, light boxes and computer animations. Pushing beyond the concept of print, Cristea recently began showing the ceramic installations of Edmund de Waal.
Cristea likes to encourage artists who don’t usually make prints to experiment with printmaking in order to push the boundaries of their work. ‘Often artists are a bit apprehensive about printmaking, but when they do get it, it’s wonderful. For example Howard Hodgkin: the more he has continued to work in the medium, the more his prints become completely original expressions unavailable in any other medium and the more they feed back into and lead the way for his actual painting.’