I’m an Edinburgh-based artist, born Ellon, Scotland 1962.
For the last decade and more, I’ve been exploring traditional Japanese woodblock printing techniques. This inherently beautiful and simple process has allowed my work to develop in a contemplative and semi-abstract way.
Mexico and Japan
I began watercolour woodblock printing (mokuhanga) on a scholarship to Tama Art University in Tokyo. I was motivated by a group of Japanese printmakers who I met at Peacock Visual Arts in Aberdeen where I was making large woodblocks in the early 1990s.
I didn’t make it to Tama until 1996. Events took me to Mexico where I painted angels, demons and masks in rich colours. It was an exhilarating if freaky time, ending in 46 of my paintings disappearing with an American art dealer.
I spent four years in Japan, studying Japanese and traditional woodblock techniques, finding a new way of expressing myself. I was, and still am, fascinated by the limitations of the process.
Very briefly, the technique involves printing watercolour onto handmade Japanese paper, using a hand-held disc called a baren. If you’re curious, there are notes about my approach and the process here.
A couple of years after I returned from Japan, my studio, equipment and over a decade’s work were destroyed in Edinburgh’s Cowgate fire. I was absolutely shattered, depressed, and unable to work for a while. My daughter, Silvie, was a year old at the time, and I spent a lot of time with her in the Botanic Gardens.
I began to work again, and in 2003 took up a short residency at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Connecticut, USA. There I started printing works based on gardens – both Japanese sand-raked and stone gardens, and floral gardens in Edinburgh.
I hesitate to say that there are underlying themes to my work. However, my concern for the ever-changing landscape and global warming is often there, if not always obvious. Rain started to appear in my work as an environmental response and continues to inhabit my thoughts.
Wind Forms were inspired by being in the landscape and incidents there. The act of cutting and making the works (a flowing and elemental experience in itself) allowed their natural evolution.
In the garden works I’m trying to re-create the initial impulse I had to make them. This might be a moment’s interplay of light and shadow, or the way one interlocking shape works with another. The reduced imagery also helped me go deeper into the technique and experiment with ways of printing, like combining woodblock with digital inkjet.
The Fjord series, coming out of a visit to Norway in 2007, shows another simple but decisive shift in my work. Finding new forms to wrap my woodblock prints around has opened up a whole new conceptual area for me.
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