'Much of the appeal of printmaking is that it is continually shape-shifting, challenging the familiar definitions, and re-drawing the boundaries'1 Gill Saunders wrote in her selectors' introduction to this year's major UK print event, the Northern Print Biennale 2009. Comments that Clifford Chance wholeheartedly share, as the firm continues to add to their 1000-plus collection of British original prints.
Backing this active commitment to artist printmaking, Clifford Chance is delighted to present their annual Postgraduate Printmaking 2009 exhibition. Now in its 13th year, the survey spotlights the best post-graduate printmaking being produced in London's art schools. And it is a special delight for Clifford Chance that Gill Saunders, Senior Curator (Prints) at the V & A Museum, has agreed to act as our judge in awarding the Clifford Chance Purchase Prize 2009.
The variety and vitality of the work undertaken in Art schools is represented in the work of the 10 selected artists. Bringing renewed energy to figurative etching, two of the artists share an interest in the art of the past and, in particular, the antinomies of the Northern Renaissance's imagination. David Price (Royal College of Art) uses copper plate etching, to 'reach backward in Time into that state of darkness and fear'. The process of etching, slow and laborious, meditative and intense, produces detailed designs of the irrational, of secrets hidden in the ancient woodland. Peter Linde Busk (Royal Academy Schools) is interested in the anti-hero. His autonomous compositions reference Outsider art, folk art and children's drawings. The art of the deviant and the marginalised is reflected in the fecundity of the mark making, a compendium of the etched line.
Andrea Büttner (Royal College of Art) shares a purposeful awkwardness in drawing, her woodcuts rough and primitive. The prints, usually shown as part of a larger installation, deal with 'the aesthetics of shame', the ambiguity of the gaze, the artist's and the viewer's, united in making the uneasy visible. Alex Fox (City & Guilds Art School) uses the immediacy of the linocut to recall its privileged position prior to the arrival of the Gutenburg press. Combining image and text, its promotional value is here applied to 1960's off-shore pirate radio stations as they attempted to deny their temporality by anchoring themselves in the community of the Thames estuary.
The locality of the suburbs provides the situ for Andrew Curtis (Royal College of Art) where the translocation of the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria Araucana) is the basis of an exploration of themes of colonialism and cultural appropriation, of the dystopian, unheimlich quality of suburbia. His physical alteration of photographs, painting out the image, suggests a further element, an additional layer of intervention and dissonance. Ian Brown (Camberwell College of Art) likewise deals with social comment through appropriating found images. Fascinated by the way the real world is re-presented through the print process, Brown's practice revolves around the exploration of this mechanism, the relationship between photographic image and the autographic mark.
The process-based nature of the above works is made explicit in the paintings of Damian Taylor (Slade School of Fine Art). Minute scratches are added to store-brought sheets of aluminium, which are then hand finished and polished, inked with oil paint and wet paper laid over to take an impression. The process isolates the subjective, the eye focusing on the sweep of colour, its arbitrary variations and densities. The back story is Greenbergian Colourfield painting of 1960s New York, the process the simplest form of imprint (though technically hard to achieve) and the result, extreme subtlety. Rachel Clark (Camberwell College of Art) makes etchings that are a response to a narrative, to an external stimuli that elicits an abstracted response . The narrative may be ancient or modern, factual or mythological, but its power to inspire telling and personal abstract imagery is its relevance.
The polymer prints of Bérénice Staiger (Wimbledon College of Art) are printed on light semi-transparent paper, enabling the viewer to perceive the duality of the sheet. Photographing headdresses, as opposed to the traditional portraiture of the face, Staiger centres on the phenomenon of identity and uniformity. The folds of textiles creating images that are sensuous yet secretive, similar but with a difference. Janne Malmros (Slade School of Fine Art) is interested in patterning, as it appears in the natural world, and its artificial equivalence, in mimicry. Her project deals with sequence, seriality, and repetition. A repeating design, best manifest in print form, is ornamented by a sculptural additional, a 3-d cut out folded into a die-form, a truncated box, elementally strong and protective, yet created by a razor cut.
In her essay, Gill Saunders explains her selectorial principle: 'I was looking for prints with a purpose and a presence beyond a purely technical mastery, prints which celebrated the capacities of their chosen medium, and in which the artist had successfully realised their original ideas'. A maxim that operated in the selection of this exhibition. And we hope Gill's conclusion that 'the selection is vivid testament to the vigour and currency of printmaking in the 21st century' can be equally applied to this exhibition. We certainly believe it can.