Working with the Printer

1st January 1986

Working with the Printer

What is the secret of this successful relationship?

I knew Jack Shirreff from teaching at Corsham [Bath Academy of Art, Corsham, Wiltshire, where he taught print making. And in the 1980s I still had a house [in Wiltshire]. Jack was around the corner. The first print I made with Jack was in 1986, Green Room. I liked the way Jack did the hand colouring. At the time it was anathema to most printers.

What do you think you have taught each other about the techniques of printmaking?

There followed Blue and Red Listening Ear in the same year. That’s when Jack introduced me to the delights of carborundum, its ups and downs, in fact. It’s a hard substance that’s ground down and mixed into a paste. When it’s painted on to the printing plate, it makes a hill, which forces a valley into the surface of the paper. I’ve used it a lot to give relief to the surface.

You are both painter and printmaker. What drew you to the medium of printmaking?

I was first drawn to print-making by the desire to make multiples. My paintings are almost always one-offs. As for who’s influenced me, that’s not for artists to say; I think that’s for other people. But I’ve always admired the print-making of Pierre Bonnard, Patrick Caulfield and Richard Hamilton. In the 1970s I made prints in Britain with Kelpra Studios, London and at Aymestrey Water Mill, Herefordshire, but I went on to work on prints mostly in New York.

You have some very special prints being offered in the September Print sale. Tell us more…

In 1990 I began work on After Degas, Indian Tree, Mango and Moroccan Door. The big prints of palm trees were inspired by posters in the Paris metro.

Put Out More Flags was commissioned by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas. It was intended to celebrate their 100th anniversary, as part of the Centennial Print Project, to establish The Artists’ Fund. The title comes from Evelyn Waugh’s novel of the same name, published in 1942. The epigraph shows it’s a quotation from ‘a Chinese sage’: ‘A man getting drunk at a farewell party should strike a musical tone, in order to strengthen his spirit . . . and a drunk military man should order gallons and put out more flags in order to increase his military splendour.’

Because I felt comfortable working with Jack and his team at 107 Workshop I was able to embark on a very ambitious project, Venetian Views. That began as a commission to illustrate Thomas Mann’s novella, Death in Venice. That didn’t work out, but something of the idea of individual pages was carried through with three of the prints: Venice Morning, Afternoon and Evening were composed of 16 page sized ‘tiles’ that made up one image.

What has inspired you to create prints?

I’ve always liked being commissioned. Looking back, I see that’s what prompted a lot of the prints: the Metropolitan Museum’s Mezzanine Gallery, under Danny Berger, commissioned Summer and Turkish Delight; In a Public Garden was made to raise funds for the Kunstverein, Dusseldorf, where Raimund Stecker curated a show of my paintings; Books for the Paris Review is self-explanatory; Norwich was intended to raise funds for the Elton John Aids Foundation but that never happened – instead, I made Two’s Company for them; Sea was made to subsidise Thames & Hudson, who published the catalogue raisonné of my prints and Sunset was made as The Whitechapel Gift: proceeds to support the Whitechapel Gallery’s education programmes.