I visited the 18th century Warwickshire house and gallery Compton Verney this week, to see their final exhibitions of the year. Curious Beasts is a large exhibition of animal prints from the collection of the British Museum, investigating the importance of prints as an aid to document and understand the natural world from the 15th to the 19th centuries. This wasn’t just a collection of pretty pictures; it was a complex mix of images exploring our knowledge and treatment of creatures as well as some glorious natural history scientific illustrations, and some political comment from the 18th century which is relevant still today.
Compton Verney also houses the Marx-Lambert collection of folk art. I particularly enjoy the work of Enid Marx, a designer and illustrator working during the 20th century. Many of us will have sat on her designs, as she produced many patterns for transport seating; the tube, buses and so on, as well as gorgeous block printed wallpaper and fabric. In another exhibition on the animal theme in the temporary exhibition galleries, it was good to see her animal alphabet lino cut prints exhibited. They were fresh and vigorous, and supported in an adjoining gallery by an exhibition of contemporary printmakers with their take on the theme of animal alphabets. So of course I want to make one too, now.
Many years ago I bought a small dog eared book in a second hand bookshop in Dolgellau, Wales, called Birds of the Sea, unaware that its front cover was her work. It is my favourite book, and if I could save only one book in the event of some sort of catastrophe it would be this one. I also recently bought her book, written with Margaret Lambert, a social historian, called English Popular and Traditional Art, published in 1946. This is part of a quaint series called Britain in Pictures. I have English Villages from the series too.
I was away teaching for a couple of days last week, at the Bramble Patch in Northamptonshire. I had a lovely group of invigorating students, and we made pieces of work based on recycling and the rainforest, using fabrics and papers coloured and printed with acrylic inks and paints. I have been screen printing and dyeing for some time now and it was good to get back to acrylics for a change; it made me realise I won’t be dropping them from my repertoire just yet.
So when I got home I decided to get going with painting and printing some paper, for some new work, and for teaching next year. It is quite possible that the work just may be that animal alphabet I’ve been inspired to make; a theme is so good to get you going, isn’t it?
I use Khadi paper, and here is a a selection of the pieces I made. Most will be used as collage paper, to be cut up and layered, with some painted maps, printed pages and music too, quite possibly. There are one or two more obvious background pieces at the end, but who knows, they too may be cut into collage elements.
I’ll be printing more papers later today, after we’ve been shopping, moving into using thermofax screens and procion dyes, and this will be followed by experimenting with coloured pencils and Inktense pencils, graphite blocks and my favourite, Indian ink.
Some of my ancient but trusty print blocks, and below, papers drying in my work area.