Issue Number: 114
Emma Hill meets Simon Marsh and Michael Taylor, printers to the country’s leading artists, at their studio in Hoxton. Photograph by Richard Dawson.
Co-founders of Paupers Press, Simon Marsh (in background) and Michael Taylor, proofing a lithograph by Christopher Le Brun PRA. Photo © Richard Dawson. There is a jovial atmosphere when I arrive at Paupers Press to talk to Michael Taylor and Simon Marsh about ‘The Mechanical Hand’, a major exhibition of artists’ prints at Kings Place in London that celebrates the 25th anniversary of the studio.
‘She must have cake!’ Simon insists, as Michael leads me to the airy drawing space that overlooks the workshop, where we break for a cup of tea. Below us, the studio is a labyrinth of litho presses, print racks and stacks of paper, dominated by a huge late nineteenth-century mapping press. Marsh is bent over a large copper etching plate, intently rubbing black ink into its surface, around the impression of a skull. By the time I leave, an hour later, the Damien Hirst image he has been proofing is clipped up to dry, alongside work in progress by Jake Chapman. Taylor, meanwhile, is working on a lithograph by RA President Christopher Le Brun. Richly printed in up to seven colours, a suite of his landscape-based images will be launched by Paupers at the London Original Print Fair.
Located since 1992 in a side road off Old Street, Paupers reminds me of Hoxton before the developers got there – an area of artisan workshops with a strong sense of pride in the traditions of hand-set letterpress and relief printing. Taylor and Marsh come from a peculiarly British tradition of artist (or art-school trained) printers and they are less interested in prints as ‘souvenirs’ of an artist’s work, than in developing a creative flow between art and the craft processes of printmaking.
Besides commissioning projects for their own Paupers Press Publications, these artist printers have fostered links with the Scuola di Grafica Venezia that have led them to initiate monoprint projects in Venice with painters including Tony Bevan RA and Hughie O’Donoghue RA. Taylor acknowledges that while an important aspect of their work is to remove the fear of the technical, he encourages artists to enjoy the ‘playful, experimental creativity’ of printmaking, believing that his and Simon’s own thoughts and engagement ‘present the artist with alternatives that are both technical and visual’. Taylor is careful to emphasise the delicate balance of trust that must exist within the relationship for a successful collaboration.
In the book accompanying the exhibition at Kings Place the art critic and writer Martin Herbert notes how the fusion of expertise and thought at Paupers allows for a creative flow that has contributed to many of the foremost examples of British artist’s prints in the past two decades. The book also features first-hand contributions from artists, including an essay by Le Brun in which he talks about the relationship between the image and its making, and between drawing and printmaking. He is particularly interested in how printmaking can throw up the unexpected: ‘Printmaking for a painter is one of the best ways of genuinely and freshly encountering chance in ordered circumstances’.
Indeed, Paupers has enjoyed long working relationships with many of its artist clients, and ‘The Mechanical Hand’ exhibition expresses a rich diversity of approaches. Works from the Paupers Press archive include many formerly unseen, rare ‘one-offs’, including hand-painted proofs and monoprints. Etchings by Paula Rego that are more than a metre square, Stephen Chambers RA’s anarchic artist’s book A Year of Ranting Hopelessly (2007) and Chris Ofili’s richly metaphorical lithographic suite Paradise by Night (2010) are among more than 200 images in the show, providing an eloquent reminder of how the medium of printmaking can sometimes lay bare an artist’s thoughts. The printing process can liberate an image and, as the artist Cornelia Parker RA comments, ‘If it goes through someone else, and if you are empathetic with that person, it is still from the heart to the hand.’