How to shop the London Original Print Fair

Published 17 March 2015

As the fair celebrates its 30th birthday, we give one of our printmaker Academicians an imaginary cheque to spend…

  • From the Spring 2015 issue of RA Magazine, issued quarterly to Friends of the RA.

    At the 30th outing of the London Original Print Fair (LOPF), staged once again at the Academy, I shall arrive with £30,000 to spend on prints – £1,000 for each year of the Fair’s existence.

    Nothing would give me greater pleasure but, alas, my bankroll is fictitious. RA Magazine has given me an imaginary chequebook, asking me which prints I would prioritise with this budget. In this glorious fantasy, here’s what I’ll buy.

    Swiss artist Lill Tschudi’s Village Fair I (1934), a three-block linocut in ultramarine, crimson and veronese green, at Redfern Gallery, will consume half my budget at £15,000. Tschudi studied at the London-based Grosvenor School, which was founded in 1925 by the excellent wood engraver Iain MacNab and achieved swift renown for its distinctive linocut prints. Tschudi’s action-packed linocuts of workmen, sportsmen and acrobats fizz with the Futurist-inspired energy advocated by tutor and fellow artist Claude Flight. Grosvenor School prints, in scarce small editions, are now highly collectable and have rocketed in price in recent years – and Tschudi was a chief exponent. My favourite is Fixing the Wires (1932), created when Tschudi was not yet 21. A linocut from that edition sold at £27,500 through Bonhams in 2013 so, if available at this year’s LOPF, it would likely cost my entire budget. Tschudi’s Village Fair I, however, is a fine print at about half that price. Capturing a carefree moment between two world wars it now seems achingly poignant. It was made towards the end of the Grosvenor School’s heyday, when the popularity of its vivid, almost naïvely optimistic linocuts was about to wane. Osborne Samuel and Redfern galleries regularly show Grosvenor School prints at LOPF, in displays that for years have been a highlight of the Fair.

  • Next, I’ll go to the Fine Art Society stand to snap up Gertrude Hermes’ wood engraving, Two People (1934). A fine sculptor and only the second wood engraver ever elected a Royal Academician in the category of printmaking, Hermes made engravings and linocuts notable for their exuberantly bold cutting combined with rich tonal and textural effects. Wood engravings remain surprisingly modestly priced and this example – with its Picasso-style entwined couple in singing black and white – is a snip at £3,750.

    Nipping over to Abbott & Holder, I will pause to pick up, at only £225, one of Blair Hughes-Stanton’s wonderful tiny wood engravings, from 1930, that illustrated an edition of Thomas de Quincey’s The Confessions of an English Opium Eater. Hughes-Stanton was Hermes’ husband for seven years, until they divorced in 1933: their works display fascinating parallels. Abbott & Holder have a range of Hughes-Stanton’s engravings – well worth browsing.

    Still with £11,025 to spend, I’ll make for Rabley Contemporary to buy Emma Stibbon RA’s latest intaglio print at £1,250: Lead II (2014, above), which emerged from her recent visit to the Antarctic, organised by the Scott Polar Research Institute. Stibbon voyaged on the Royal Navy icebreaker HMS Protector and this image shows the zigzag track the ship cut through the frozen sea. Stibbon’s work involves in situ examinations of Earth’s fragile crust and the precarious state of our global environment, from Icelandic volcanoes to Arctic ice floes, which she translates into intensely wrought, haunting images, often at epic scale. Tempting contemporary prints by other RAs can also be found at Rabley, Brook Gallery, Marlborough, Paupers Press and RA Editions.

    Onward to Julian Page for Dutch-born Marcelle Hanselaar’s new etching: White collar black man (2014, above) at £895. In a variable edition of 30, it employs painterly red hand-colouring contrasted with a rich black etched line. Inspired, in Hanselaar’s words, by a “tiny gem of a painting by Govert Flinck”, her print, she says, is “a response to the slave trade and colonialist view that a non-white person was not a person till they were moulded in dress, behaviour and thinking to resemble a white person.” Hanselaar’s subjects have the raw earthiness and deft characterization of Paula Rego’s figures, coupled with the more experimental qualities of William Kentridge Hon RA’s prints – all compelling attributes.

    Now I head to Long & Ryle for Su Blackwell’s book-cut sculpture Magnolia Tree (2013), at £7,200. Much imitated, Blackwell’s delicate, carefully considered pieces are arguably the most original of their genre, and are keenly collected. While printmaking is not their creative impetus, printed pages provide these sculptures’ whimsical appeal.

    At Advanced Graphics I will acquire Alice Mara’s digitally printed, slip cast, porcelain vessel Wrapped Building Pot (2013) for £650. Inspired by walks around south London, the young artist says: “The wrapped building signified progress, change and regeneration – I was interested in the way that the [image of the] tarpaulin would wrap around the pot and how the perspective would change with the building’s corners…” I enjoy the happy marriage of visual and physical form and function in Mara’s works. Like the best small- scale art, it draws you into its own world and leaves a big impression.

    To mark its 30th anniversary, LOPF also features 30 highlights from the Royal Collection, drawn from over 100,000 prints at Windsor Castle. The display includes Dürer’s vast two-metre woodcut celebrating the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian, The Great Triumphal Cart (1523). Inspired, I’ll scour the Fair for a modest Dürer on which to spend my remaining £1,030, though, for that sum, I may have to settle for a “School of Dürer” print…

    London Original Print Fair is in the Main Galleries at the RA from 23 – 26 April 2015. Events include a talk by Anne Desmet RA about her print picks, and talks by Norman Ackroyd RA, Chris Orr RA and Bob and Roberta Smith RA.

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