Tuesday, 29 March 2011

'The Art of Printmaking' The Butterfly Rooms, Saltaire 19th March 2011

View of Anna Tosney's exhibition
My second visit this year to the Butterfly Rooms’ little upstairs gallery on the main road through Saltaire. This time I was there to see the work of a long-time favourite of mine, printmaker Anna Tosney, along with that of a selection of other local printmakers (and one ceramicist). Anna’s work took over the whole of one of the upstairs rooms and it was a pleasure to see so much of it so well-displayed. A thoughtful introductory label described her technique as a mixture of drypoint and monoprint, the latter laying on the background and infill colours while the former is responsible for the scratchy textures and thick black outlines that are so characteristic of her work. Interestingly she also uses environmentally-friendly soy-based inks.

The heavy black lines described, vibrate with energy even when portraying still subjects while the monoprinting produces a simple palette of relatively dull colours perfectly suited to the rural subject matter of farmers, sheep and wild animals. All are sharply observed and the drypoint technique provides wonderful textured skies and woolly sheep coats which contrast the shimmering outlines. There is the occasional veering towards twee-ness, for example ‘ Goose Chase’ with a lamb being chased by three hissing geese but the lack of facial features and the flat cut-out shapes lift them above this. It’s quite remarkable how much energy and life she actually gets into the people and animals in her work given the 2D, almost cut out flat shapes. In one work a group of deer by moonlight have the faintest touch of silvery white on their rumps while ‘Deer 4’ has no colour at all and is almost Japanese in its simplicity, just a tiny touch of feathery detail in the grassheads surrounding the two completely motionless deer, poised just before flight.

My friend and I spent some time discussing her influences without really nailing it. We agreed that there was a hint of Japanese anime and some of the naivety of Jean Dubuffet and also perhaps of free-hand graffiti with the heavy black outlines and flat coloured infill, but it is certainly a question I would like to put to Anna next time I see her. My friend did like the work enough to treat herself to a delightful print of a wood pigeon (pictured left).

The rest of the exhibition was in the next door room with a wide selection of different styles and techniques on show. June Russell’s work was the first to catch my eye since I recognised it from the KAF Open Exhibition that I blogged about last month. She uses a mixture of techniques but my favourite from this show was ‘Holme Moss’ (etching and surface print) with its abstract representation of a pinky-grey swathe of scarred moorland. I also liked the more representational ‘Hedges in Cowgill’ which I first spotted at the KAF exhibition. Cath Brooke on the other hand showed a more coherent set of collograph/drypoint impressions of Brimham Rocks in blacks, turquoise and brick red. Being a bit of a geology nerd, I couldn’t help seeing a metaphor for the river delta origins of the rocks in the liquid flowing style of the lower half of each print with the solidifying gritstone emerging out of it in the solid lumpy shapes of the upper half. Or maybe I was just feeling a little light-headed because it was near lunchtime!

Catherine Sutcliffe-Fuller’s large prints certainly brought me down to earth. They were a long way from some of the ‘prettier’ pieces in the show. Peer into them and you see complex, slightly chaotic, definitely worrying, images. ‘Dixons Hollow’ has a distant cyclist vanishing into a looming woodland. In ‘Exposed’, two red-rucksack carrying walkers are seen heading into a maelstrom of weather on a mountain. Each print is flat in texture but full of energy and threat. Piers Browne is probably the best known of all the artists represented with a long and distinguished career as an artist-printmaker. His work has a lyrical, romantic air with its evocations of English summer days. ‘The Comet over Croagh Patrick’ with its silver moon peeping from behind a cloud called to mind the mystical visionary landscapes of Samuel Palmer, for example his ‘Cornfield by Moonlight’. Attractive work no doubt if a little backward looking for my taste.

Finally I should mention the work of the ceramicist Kath Bonson which at first sight seemed to have little connection to the work on the walls. However, a closer inspection revealed screen-printed images from her own photographs on the flat surfaces of the stoneware paper clay she uses to create her intricate forms. Again, a thoughtful piece of text placed the work in context. They form part of a project she calls ‘Cullingworth – a Sense of Place’. She goes on to explain that they represent her belief that there is no, one, definitive view of a landscape and that the various surfaces and shapes are an attempt to capture some of these interpretations. I particularly liked ‘The Viaduct’ which looked like shards of old cardboard box, printed with a multiplicity of views then torn and singed then finally reassembled with its tantalising glimpses of the old Victorian railway viaduct.

The show continues at The Butterfly Rooms until 8 April. Visit their website www.thebutterflyrooms.co.uk for opening times.

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  1. We loved our visit to Soltaire. sadly, not sure we can make it back by 8 April.

  2. It's a lovely spot isn't it. So glad I can get to it easily by train!