Your place to explore new perspectives on British art from 1900 to now. Through interviews, films, image galleries and essays, we uncover the creative lives of the people behind the art on our walls.
Hockney to Himid Exhibition Highlights – A Donor’s View
[ Stories )
Our Hockney to Himid exhibition was made possible by the generous gift of prints by Mark Golder and Brian Thompson. In this article, Mark explores his passion for prints and discusses 6 works that have a personal connection to him and Brian.
I have known for fifty years that I am not gifted with the ability to make art, but this has never stopped me from enjoying works of art, particularly anything involving the media of clay and paper.
I buy for Brian, myself, Pallant and certain other places across a range of items: ceramics and drawings, photographs and prints. Since 2001 the Golder – Thompson Gift to Pallant House Gallery has enabled us to share that enjoyment with thousands of others. The prints have now reached a critical mass of five hundred, and a group of them form the core of the Hockney to Himid exhibition which showcased the productivity of printmakers working in Britain from 1960 to 2020.
I love prints. As a teacher I have enjoyed writing text-books and articles for decades, but the only time I enjoyed creating something physical was when I was five. I used a gouge to make an abstract pattern on the flat end of half a baking potato. With brio I smeared the design with dark blue poster paint and thwacked it down hard onto a piece of coarse paper. It was not much, but it was mine, and it introduced me to the essentials of printmaking: you have a surface and a medium through which you transfer a design to that surface. All else is commentary and clarification.
What a world of delight lies spread before the viewer of a print made by a great artist. Some people dismiss prints as low in the hierarchy of artistic media, and some mistakenly think editioned prints are the same thing as photographic reproductions. Both are wrong. The first group is wrong because artists can get effects through printmaking which they cannot obtain through any other medium. That voracious devourer of media, Picasso, adored printmaking. He loved linking his creativity to the methods which he learned from master printmakers. He loved pushing the boundaries and taking printmaking to new heights. As for the second group, any viewing of the present exhibition would make them realise their mistake.
Highlights from the exhibition
I am going to look at just six works from the exhibition, providing some background to each print and giving some personal insights into why I have chosen to discuss them. The teacher in me hopes that the blog reader will take the chance to bring his or her own thoughts and feelings into play, to agree or disagree with something I say, maybe to go away and find out a bit more about an artist featured below.
‘Cerise Head’, John Byrne
The first work is quite small – the image being only 262 x 140 mm; but an image does not have to be huge to create visual impact. Here, the Scottish artist John Byrne has created an immediately recognisable self-portrait from a network of spidery lines using a method called drypoint. He has employed a sharp, pointed needle-like instrument on a copper plate. He has then chosen a red ink to create Cerise Head. Perhaps he experimented with other possible colours before deciding on cerise as the most aesthetically pleasing choice for this particular image.
I have chosen this image because our gift to Pallant got underway back in 2001 when we were seeking a home for a group of Scottish prints we had been collecting since the 1980s. This particular work was made at the Glasgow Print Studio in 1992. John Byrne is something of a national treasure in Scotland, and at one time he was married to Tilda Swinton, who is one of Brian’s favourite actors. It allows me to highlight how important portraiture has been for centuries. Whilst photography may have become the key medium for contemporary portraits, I think this shows that printmaking still has something to offer.
‘Peter’, David Hockney
The second work is larger – this time the plate size is 675 x 532 mm. The artist, David Hockney (born 1937) does not need any introduction, being one of the most popular and well known of British artists. The subject is Peter Schlesinger, an American photographer who was once Hockney’s partner. He is the man standing pool-side in Hockney’s painting Portrait of an Artist: Pool with Two Figures, which cost $90,000,000 in an auction in 2018. Peter was etched in 1969 and reminds us that Hockney, who adored Picasso, also adored printmaking because it suited him as a draughtsman to etch on a copper plate.
Does a gay man need to explain being drawn to a portrait of a nude male figure? This particular print hung for years at the top of the stairs in Brian’s house. It was a delightful reminder of youth and beauty when I came home from work feeling old and battered. However, there is more to my love of this print than that. I love looking at Hockney’s portraits and I am bowled over by his linear work. He knows how to draw. This print held its own when it was displayed with oil paintings, drawings and sculptures as part of Pallant’s The Figure in Modern British Art at the Islington Art Fair in 2015.
‘Love/Glove’, Michael Craig-Martin
The third work is a screen print, created in a very different way from the first two prints. In screen printing, a stencilled design is transferred using ink applied to a flat surface via a mesh screen. We have tried in the last ten years to build up a collection of prints by Royal Academicians as another ‘theme’ alongside the Scottish one. This was printed by Counter Editions, a printmaking studio which vies with Rabley Gallery for top place in terms of representation in the present show. Love/Glove shows Craig-Martin’s sense of humour and love of word play, together with his love of strong lines and bright colour.
Love/Glove comes from 2011 and went straight to Pallant in 2020 rather than ever hanging at home. We have never had enough room to hang everything, and so some works have always been bought and sent straight to the gallery – it is like having a gallery of one’s own… but without the upkeep. This print intrigued me because of Brian’s interpretation of it and its possible link to popular culture in the 1960s. In the Beatles’ film Yellow Submarine the anti-love Meanies used gloves to attack the Beatles, famous for their song, All you need is love. Was this meant by the artist or brought to the work by the viewer?
The second half of this blog is going to concentrate on works which mean something in particular to Brian. It also allows us to mention the work of two female artists because another thing we have tried to address across the decades is the fact that public collections have an imbalance between the work of male and female artists.
‘Collateral Damage’, Ken Currie
In 2004, Brian had a stroke which left him disabled. Whilst he was in hospital for nine weeks, I removed a print of a human skull which used to hang in the stairwell of Brian’s house. I remember deciding to pass it on to Pallant on a Saturday morning when Brian had just come out of intensive care. I noticed that he had an indentation in his skull from the surgical procedure. I came home and down came the print. It was touching too many sore points at the time.
Back in the 1980s Ken Currie was one of the ‘New Glasgow Boys’ and he had a left-wing political consciousness which appealed to Brian, who is a socialist. The title ‘Collateral Damage’ adds to the starkness of the image, as does the black tonality. Brian had originally chosen this work from ‘The Age of Uncertainty’ portfolio because it seemed to encapsulate Currie’s interest in ‘the terror of mortality’. I liked it for its art historical reference to the series of prints about World War One made by Otto Dix. In terms of technique it is an etching, where lines, incised into a metal plate, hold the applied ink.
‘Crumpled’, Paula Rego
The next image to have personal significance for Brian is also connected with the events of 2004. He – fortunately – does not remember anything about the stroke, but I do, and I offered to buy this print because this is – except for the dress – how I found him on the floor of the bathroom, with his head twisted to one side, his hands by his sides and his fists clenched. For both of us this is a very personal image and we had to think quite hard about passing it on to Pallant, but Brian argued that he quite liked the idea of being on a gallery wall.
Paula Rego created a series of twenty-five prints for Marlborough Graphics in 2002. Their theme is Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This particular image interprets the scene early in the book when Jane is locked in the red room as a punishment. Brian used to belong to the Brontë Society and collects nineteenth century first editions of books by female authors. He liked the idea of being linked, albeit in a painful way, with the work of both Rego and Brontë. This print is a lithograph, made when ink adheres to a greasy substance which has been applied to a flat stone or metal plate.
‘One Hundred Views of Mitate No.48 – Mirror’, Nana Shiomi
The final image in Brian’s selection is much lighter in theme and came to Pallant through our connection with Meryl Ainslie of the Rabley Gallery just outside Marlborough. Since Brian and I are teachers by profession we felt a natural resonance when we met Meryl, another teacher, and have gone on to buy work by the printmakers who create editions with her. One of these is Nana Shiomi, who is undoubtedly Brian’s favourite artist.
Between 1998 and 2016 Shiomi produced a series of Japanese woodcut prints entitled One Hundred Views of Mitate. The term mitate suggests comparison or analogy. Shiomi created a group of icons set on a stage, all of which are linked to Japanese culture. Whilst some artists use printmaking as a medium alongside others, Shiomi is a printmaker, who started her training in Tokyo before coming to the Royal College of Art in London in 1989. She can personify all artists who love printmaking and particularly those who dedicate themselves to it.
You can see this print together with the woodblocks used to make it in the exhibition.