English Magic and printmaking magic – Double Elephant redefining print – writing commission

I’m very excited to be awarded a writing commission by Double Elephant Print in Exeter. They have appointed four artists from non-print backgrounds to engage with the process and practice of print.

For me, writing the application for the role of writer for the project was like prising open the lid of a tin of oil-based printing ink. And yes, I did inhale.

As an ex-printmaker who has not had the joy of peeling back the blankets to uncover something amazing underneath for some time, this is truly a great opportunity to record in words the pleasure of the process. The very term peeling back the blankets speaks of intimacy, and printmaking provides that – the secrecy of taking a peek, being the first to see whether or not the imprint is as expected, or a total failure, or the magical revelation of the unexpected.

I was reminded of this when I went to Bristol City Museum to see Jeremy Deller’s show English Magic. It is an excellent show and takes on some really important issues head-on with wit, intelligence and empathy. But here I want to focus on one of the works that relates to this text – that of printmaking.

Putting aside the political references in Deller’s work and why a William Morris woodcut is relevant to the huge wallpainting, ‘We Sit Starving Amidst Our Gold’, painted by Stuart Sam Hughes, for Jeremy Deller’s ‘English Magic’, I share below 3 photos of one of the works shown. Deller doesn’t just exhibit the finished woodblock print in the gallery – he also presents 12 of the 33 blocks needed for his Evenlode textile design. And the way the finished work is presented, behind a black velvet cloth that needs lifting to view the work, reminded me of that magical moment of unpeeling blankets of a press and lifting the paper off the plate or block.

It is easy to not consider the processes of making when we view finished prints on paper. Is this only something that printmakers (including lapsed ones) recognises in a print? I am sure I am not the only person that relishes the many blacks of printing ink, the velvety, the warm, the cool, the ever-so-slightly rustiness of some…..

We forget that printmaking is also performative. And so is viewing, as Deller shares with us. The practice of draping light-sensitive works is common, yet the experience of lifting them is always intimate. I asked the steward if she would hold the drape up for me, to take a photo. It felt a bit wrong, as if she were exposing something to me that should be a private encounter.

The choreography of that gallery was evident, we need more of that, please.




Published by carolyn black

I'm an artist and also commission contemporary art in unusual locations. As a producer, I fundraise, curate, project manage and deliver projects. I'm also a writer and film-maker.

4 thoughts on “English Magic and printmaking magic – Double Elephant redefining print – writing commission

  1. I have little experience of printmaking unfortunately – it’s a medium I’d like to know better – but your description fluently conveys the experience of viewing your work during the process and is echoed in conventional black and white photography with which I’m familiar and have also written about, though perhaps in a less tender way! http://lizmilner.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/slow-photography.

    There’s a similar sense of intimacy and pleasure (though wetter!) at seeing the tones gradually emerge on your print in the darkroom that in nostalgic moments I miss (though not the related eczema). And a more nerve-wracking version of that when processing sheet film which usually is something you can’t repeat if you got the exposures wrong or if it gets damaged in the drying.

    I’m now relishing a visit to English Magic, and congratulations on the writing commission – well deserved.


    1. Thanks Liz. I almost launched into the photographic prcoess too but refrained! I miss it all, probalby why I am drawing on my walls. Will checkout your post and have finally got the option to follow you too. Done.


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