In printmaking it often seems there cannot be anything new under the sun; it is a form that manifests itself in repetition, encouraging development through learning and referencing traditional techniques. This is particularly evident at INK, an exhibition running at the Glasgow Print Studio, where the featured prints seem to wear their influences proudly on their sleeve. Whether it is pop art, Japanese woodblocks or early-modern etchings, printmaking presents itself as more reliant on tradition than other creative disciplines. INK is able to show a full variety of approaches to print, although the product is often unpredictable. While those looking for the unbounded creativity and innovation of the cutting edge might want to venture somewhere else, there is plenty of opportunity here to chance upon little known and interesting work.
INK does provide some interesting insights. Printmaking is often perceived as precise, deliberative, technical – it is interesting to note that the more recognisable names often seem to be most motivated to overcome these challenges. Richard Wright’s contribution, for example, attempts to reduce his paintings into print form, alienating it from the effect of placement and larger scale; the result is exacting and bland in comparison to the paintings he’s famed for. Printmaking may well act in the periphery of the creative process, used as a mode of developing larger scale work.
While the prints on display may only represent compacted versions of more developed work, many tread the line between tradition and innovation. Janie Nicoll’s and Ronald Forbes’ contributions are clear riffs on Rauschenberg’s collage composition whilst retaining their own particular focuses. Carol Rhodes uses a pop art style, but commits to a more organic colour scheme, offering an intriguing visual experience as the roads and runways of her airport portrait take on an organic arterial appearance. Printmaking, as a mode of creative experimentation, allows the artist to experiment with style, allowing viewers to interpret their influences. Here, there’s a parallel to be made between Picasso’s work and the prints of John Byrne and Ian McCulloch.
Helen Flockhart’s art brut print rolls together William Blake fantasy and Lynchian horror. Alasdair Gray’s style has the appearance of modern graphics replicated on seventeenth century plates. GW Lennox Patterson draws from ordered Japanese seascapes in his Wave Sculpture. He deforms the precision into an abstract pool of marbling, far more appropriate for the volatile Scottish tides. It can be entertaining to try to discern or invent the patterns of illusion in these prints.
The prints displayed are all drawn from the Glasgow Print Studio’s extensive archives, collected from collaborating artists since it opened in 1972. Most of the artists featured are native, or artistically gremial, to the city. The curators are Sam Ainsley, David Harding and Alexander Moffat, collaborating under the collective name, AHM. All three had relative importance in the Glasgow School of Art during the eighties and nineties, particularly for founding the School’s Sculpture and Environmental Art course, and for encouraging a generative approach to art making. A period in which the city was redefined, the easy cliché of the post-industrial morass was supplemented with that of the “cultural powerhouse”. You might expect an opportunity to view the development of the Glasgow art scene during one of its most fruitful periods. Unfortunately, patterns and themes are elusive as the curators themselves have maintained a low profile. Some reflections on Scottish identity present frustratingly stereotypical interpretations of nationhood. Murray Robertson’s map of “Sco- tia” is perhaps at odds with some of the more lucid, contemporary works. However, these maps also present the artist’s commitment to the print medium; part of a series which has been developed, again and again, across the trajectory of Robertson’s career. Similarly, Callum McKenzie celebrates the Ossian poems. However, the text and image seem to blur into one: seemingly without commenting on the artificiality of this supposed “scottishness”.
INK provides important insight into the artistic process. Printmaking may well be deemed a medium which provides more questions than answers, but is one which relates to the viewer in the search for aesthetic depth and meaning.
INK: Five Decades of Printmaking is running at the Glasgow Print Studio until 26 March.