Lasting Impressions: Contemporary Printmaking

19 Mar 2013 in Highland, Showcase, Visual Arts & Crafts

An Talla Solais, Ullapool, until 14 April 2013

THE CHAIR of An Talla Solais, Dave Falconer, has been working towards this exhibition for years.

IT CELEBRATES the art of the print, by showcasing work produced by a wide range of artists at two institutions: the Highland Print Studio, in Inverness, and Hot Bed Press, in Manchester. The resulting exhibition is eclectic and enthralling.

Untitled (collograph) by Jan Breckenridge

Untitled (collograph) by Jan Breckenridge

There are many different printing techniques on display, and linocuts sit next to much more high tech prints, without explanation or apology. The show is therefore not an introduction to the methods of print, although if that is your interest, there are workshop opportunities at the gallery while the exhibition is on.

The work of both studios is blended without making it obvious which artists are from which area. Arguably this means that the exhibition misses the opportunity of allowing comparisons to be made, but the result is pleasingly diverse.

The stand-out print is an extraordinary seascape of the Shiant Islands, which is actually formed through clever use of greyscales on a printout of a traditional Hebridean story as told by Ian Stephen in a collaboration between him and artist Emmanuelle Waeckerlé and printer John McNaught. Another Ian Stephen story forms part of a print of Fair Isle, created in collaboration with Christine Morrison.

John McNaught’s own work is also story-based, with brightly coloured cartoons of footballers with associated bizarre tales. These are works that take substantial time to absorb.

Other pieces are much more immediate. My favourites are Katy Spong’s wildlife prints, of which there are two in this show. Roebuck at the Forest Edge is a beautifully atmospheric dusky image, appropriately hung in the corner of the big room in the gallery, as if about to vanish from sight. Arrival is marvellous image of geese landing, their splashing almost audible and their bright red feet making best use of the limited range of colours in the print.

Presumably because of the inking methods used to produce the prints, the use of colour is often limited and several of the artists make wonderful effects with a narrow palette. I particularly enjoyed Carolyn Murphy’s linocuts; the stark green Fern is an effective study of form, Morlich a dramatic black and white shore scene, and the demonic Scottish Shee captures the essence of ram in a few brilliantly chosen marks.

Brian MacBeath uses a few vibrant colours in his starkly simple, strangely beautiful abstracts, and Jane Frere achieves an explosion of raw emotion in her questioning What’s the colour of betrayal?

A piece I kept returning to was Elisabeth Shepherd’s Four Pansies, apparently the same image printed with four different colour combinations, the result a meditation on petal shape and shade. Another piece of hers, In the Country, is also mesmeric, with its delicate ferns, butterflies and orchids in a composition with surprising depth, while Josephine’s Poppies is a stunning burst of red. These are subjects with a real risk of being merely pretty, transformed into pieces that use colour to achieve affects that are both arresting and contemplative.

Some of the artists do amazing things in black and white. Samuel Horsley’s work features strange creatures with mammalian skulls and four legs, but their wiry hair and weird proportions and postures make them somehow both insect-like and full of feeling. Anne Campbell’s screenprint I never enjoyed anything as much as the sheiling is an evocative piece reaching back in time, the printed images and space giving the sense of both memory and forgetting. Irena Przby captures the essence of tree in Frosty Tree, and of water in Flow, and her apparently simple illustrated books of legends and myths use imagery that seems timeless, making best use of print techniques connecting back to early woodcuts.

The show is a fine demonstration of the diversity of effects that can be achieved by transferring images from one surface to another. The constraints of colouration and of the marks possible on the engraved surface often seem to be transformed into methods of achieving emphasis and style. This is an intriguing exhibition. Anyone interested in the potential of print should make their way to Ullapool to see it.

© Mandy Haggith, 2013