FEATURE: Make Print Great Again | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Johnnyx, Vanilla Guerilla, 2019 screenprint, painting and drawing on Fabriano 220gsm paper, 70x50cm

As I’m welcomed into Incubate Experimental Printmaking, the studio of Newcastle-based artist Nick Christie, I’m introduced to two of the eight designers featured in the upcoming Make Print Great Again exhibition at Vane Gallery. The exhibition, which Christie is curating and runs at the Newcastle gallery until Saturday 21st September, aims to highlight the possibilities of traditional print techniques and their position within contemporary art.

I begin by asking if the name of the exhibition is in anyway a reference to a certain American politician. Nick pauses slightly: “You can definitely look at it that way…we also wanted to spark conversations around print and to entice visitors to question whether they feel we succeeded. Our tag line is ‘eight artists, eight chances’; eight chances to showcase the versatile nature of the medium and present a broad spectrum of work.”

I questioned co-curator and contributing artist Johnnyx on what drew him to screen printing. “The process is creatively explosive, you start with a concept or theme you want to explore and build on it.” Johnnyx’s pop art style is often centred around political and social commentary. “I wanted the designs to have a purpose, to narrate our times. One piece in particular is a comment on the current trade wars with China and how Americana is exported around the world then reproduced, rebranded and returned to the West.”

The experimental hands-on approach can give meaning and heart to work

In contrast to this, print artist George William Stewart experiments in printing with rust and vinegar and has been inspired by our cultural fascination with folklore and mythology. He talks about the Scottish Ghillie Dhu (a male fairy) and explains how this legendary figure has permeated our cultural heritage and in turn has influenced modern design, such as the Ghillie suit worn by snipers in the American army.

In today’s digital world, it’s interesting to explore whether or not printed artwork is seeing a resurgence, and if it can still be relevant in an age of Photoshop and digital reproduction. Nick, who runs printmaking tuition classes, believes that the digital and analogue techniques don’t have to be mutually exclusive. “The experimental hands-on approach can give meaning and heart to work, and experimenting with a range of processes can create very unique and original styles.” He goes on to describe a recent trip he took to Spain in order to learn a non-toxic metal etching method from one of only a handful of experts in Europe. This technique has inspired a solo show, Electric Blue, which will be running alongside the Make Print Great Again exhibition.

It is easy to see why print work can so easily capture the imagination; there is something organic and natural about how the designs can often be imperfect, and each one marginally different to the last. The consensus is that the audience can see the value in something that has been made by hand and that there will always be a need for print, given the increasing reliance of digital technology on our lives, maybe now more than ever.

Make Print Great Again is at Vane Gallery, Newcastle until Saturday 21st September

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