Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review: RE Open - contemporary printmaking at the Bankside Gallery

I'm extremely impressed by the quality of work in the brand new Printmaking Open Exhibition of the The Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers (RE) - the RE Open which continues at the Bankside Gallery in London until Sunday 2nd September.

RE Open at the Bankside Gallery - a variety of 2d and 3D work
I've found that printmaking - as practiced by the RE - is an art form which both stays in touch with its past and at the same time embraces innovation with open arms.  I remember seeing digital prints being exhibited in an RE exhbition a few years ago - when it was very clearly demonstrated that digital art was able to create an entirely new form of printmaking which also demonstrated excellence.

To this end the aim of this exhibition - and its associated open art competition - is to provide:
  • a showcase for excellence in printmaking
  • a fascinating forum for consideration of current trends and new directions
It would appear that those submitting work to this competition are even more contemporary than maybe the RE!

RE Open at the Bankside Gallery 
The exhibition has an interesting approach - reminiscent of the ING Discerning Eye - where a panel of prestigious and 'heavyweight' people in the printmaking world, have selected work and curated mini-exhibitions which together make up the exhibition as a whole.  In other words they haven't gone for a consensus - and the result is a fascinating exhibition with an awful lot of really excellent work.

There's also a huge variety of forms of print-making in both 2D and 3D formats.  There are also some very large prints and some very small ones.  I think I was probably most struck by the unusual formats and the interesting mixture of printmaking techniques.

This exhibition also has a huge number of printmakers who are also excellent draughtspeople - irrespective of whether the style is graphic, realism, abstract, expressionism or just plain painterly.  I did however miss the word collage from one or two of the works where this was clearly an element which merited a mention within the description of the work.

RE Open Prizewinners 

The panel of selectors were:
  • Professor David Ferry, Artist and Head of Printmaking at Cardiff School of Art and Design
  • Mark Hampson - Head of Material processes at the Royal Academy Schools
  • Elizabeth Harvey Lee - a prominent print dealer who used to run the print department at Phillips the Auctioneers
  • Colin Harrison - Senior Curator of European Art at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
  • John Purcell - Proprietor of John Purcell Paper
  • Deborah Roslond - Creator of the "Originals" Contemporary Printmaking Show'
  • Dr Bren Unwin - President of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers
The RE Open Prizewinners are listed below.  Click the link in their names to see their websites or related gallery sites.

Winner of Curwen Studio Prize
Great North Fen by Iona Howard
carborundem (£276 framed / £156 unframed)
© Iona Howard
  • Iona Howard Curwen Studio Prize - A day at the Curwen Studio
  • Theresa Gadsby-Bourner Intaglio Printmaker Prize - Materials to the value of £150
  • Maria Bowers Printmaking Today Prize - An editorial feature in Printmaking Today
  • Jane Sampson John Purcell Paper Award - £150 of materials
  • Igor Chebotov T N Lawrence Printmaking Award - Materials to the value of £150
Winner of T N Lawrence Printmaking Award
Promised Land by Igor Chebotov
Etching (framed £350 / unframed £300)
© Igor Chebotov 
Winner of Brangwyn Memorial Prize
1000 Pieces of Flesh and Bone by Florence Walkey

monoprint £10,000
© Florence Walkey
  • Florence Walkey Brangwyn Memorial Prize - A prize of £1000
  • Sarah Simmonds R K Burt Exhibition Award - A solo show in the RKB Gallery
  • Martin Langford RIS Purchase Prize - A purchase prize of £500
  • Ellen Karin Maehlum RE Guest Membership Award
End wall of Gallery.
Work at top row centre is the Winner of the RE Guest Membership Award
Picnic in the Desert I by Ellen Karin Maehlumcarborundem and dry point
© Ellen Karin Maehlum
and finally......

It may be that the priority for the RE is to exhibit the art rather than to sell it.  However it's a pity that neither the RE nor the Bankside Gallery have a website on which images can be sold to those unable to visit the exhibition.  Talking to people about a work is not quite the same as seeing it for yourself.

I thought there were a lot of excellent prints in this exhibition.  In my opinion, if these had been online they would have generated a lot of sales for the artists involved - and also creating income for the gallery which shows them via the commission process.  


  1. Thanks for this Katherine, I might have to go and have a look, I was keen to find out how to buy a Jane Sampson print but you're right nothing about that on their site , and alarmingly nothing about buying on hers either!

  2. Katherine - thanks for this review of this event and I so agree with your thoughts on the lack of website with individual photos of the exhibited works.

    What with the additional lack of a photo catalogue book, of the event - I am disinclined from making a submission to such an event. This is all too common with printmaking annuals held in the UK - whereas in Europe and overseas (excluding USA) the work is framed for you by the host and they produce a colour printed catalogue of the exhibited works. The one exclusion to this is the Printmakers Council Mini print exhibition - which is currently touring as well as the excellently promoted Leicester Print Workshops Mini print show. Both of which I have exhibited in. Their solution being a standardized size of work no doubt to fit in a stack of ready made frames. Actually in Europe and South America many of the shows attach the prints to the walls using sophisticated devices that don't damage the prints.
    Thereby the pieces are displayed without frames that enable the audience to appreciate the truly unique surface qualities of the printmaking processes. Costs are kept down for the artists necessitating only for prints to be rolled and placed in robust cardboard tubes for postage. The same applies where a viewer wishes to purchase an artwork. It can be taken easily away in a cardboard tube.

    As to a catalogue of the exhibition - In the age of print on demand services such as Blurb, make it affordable so this is all possible with the right approach and planning.

    The works on the walls look wonderful.

    Thanks again

    Aine Scannell

  3. The thing for me is that I had a long chat with some of the leading fine art print dealers at one of the big Fairs at the Business Design Centre in islington some time ago. They confirmed that they did a LOT of their business via the Internet these days. What they typically do is have a reasonable sized image on their website - and then if somebody is serious about thinking about a purchase they can get an access code to unlock a much bigger image so they can see what they'd be getting if they purchased.

    Now admittedly these people are dealing in prints by people who sell higher priced fine art prints (eg by Hockney) but the pint is that the technology exists. IMO if galleries want to sell a lot of art I really do think they need to work out how to make it more accessible to online buyers.

  4. It does seem odd to hold an exhibition of this sort with no attention to sales especially since prints can have multiple sales per image.
    Aine Scannell (above comment) made some good points as well as the one on print on demand.
    Nigels comment proves there would be sales and in this case the gallery misses out on the sales commission if not the artist too.

    For those of us outside of London it would be nice to have a website to see and buy (easily) if we saw a print we liked.

    I do like the idea of the selection approach of mini exhibitions making up the whole instead of total consensus.

  5. Being a daughter of an artist who was working with etchings and engravings ( sorry, I do not know the correct words in english) I cannot say that doing a picture in your computer and printing it counts as real and skilled art compared to an artist who does all his/ hers art by hand, and a skilled hand at that! Working from his initial drawing, I remember my father working for months at his sheet of copper, etching or dry point, all the time finding ways to express texture and composition. He would then print all his prints himself, on a big old printingpress, always demanding a high standard of his prints and rejecting those who did not . I can see him before me , colouring in the sheet of copper and deftly swiping it off, so that the print would be to his satisfaction. I am sorry, I cannot give as high regard for an artform where you only, after having done some mixing in Photoshop, press the " print" button. But thank you for giving us an insight into contemporary british printmaking!

    1. I can confirm that the majority of prints are contemporary interpretations which use traditional printmaking techniques including etchings and engravings, woodcuts and wood engravings, linocuts and lithographs etc

      Although I can well appreciate your concern, I can also confirm that the artwork which is digital is very ar from a "a bit of mixing in Photoshop". Believe me I was a similar sceptic until i started to see the quality of printwork which can be produced - and to my mind so long as it's the high quality work which is exhibited I now have no issue with digital printwork counting as a fine art print.

      All I can say is you have to see it to appreciate it.

    2. Look at it another way - after wood came metal. That must have been a pretty big jump in technology at the time and I guess there were a few printmakers at the time who took the view that woodcuts were "the real thing"!

      The important thing for me is that ALL the traditional forms of printmaking are promoted as well as all the new ways of making prints.

    3. Thank you for your reply! I can understand that if the only thing that matters is the picture on the wall, its compostition, use of colousr etc , then it does not count in wich technique it was made. But I am still so traditional that to me the techniqal skills of an artists hands is also important. I suppose it is because I grew up watching an artist that also was an craftsman who in his art honored the work and skills learned and honed through a lifetime. I suppose that is why Ii am so sceptical with art where you use a computer , not your hands

      . But I am sure you are right in saying that computerwork can be amazing to look at! And of course, technology goes forward, and perhaps some of the old masters would have tried this new technology if they could have. I just say, for me it is not just the completed artwork that is important, it is also the skilled
      hands and craftsmanship of the artist that matters . But I realize I am an old dinosaur:-))

    4. I think you'll find if you actually watched somebody creating a fine art print using digital art techniques that you would find that an awful lot of the print is still created through the use of the hand and the skills of the artist (not the computer or the software).

      I'd recommend you take a look at some of them sometime - and I am of course talking about those created specifically as digital fine art prints - not those which are just giclee reproductions (which is where I think where a lot of the confusion arises)

      I don't think the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers would have started to exhibit fine art prints made through digital means if they weren't absolutely convinced that a huge amount is still due to the skilled hands and the craftsmanship of the artist - albeit some of the skills are related to the new technology rather than the old technology.

    5. I am sure you are right, you have absolutely more experience in looking at contemporary art than I have. Thank you for your knowledge and your patient reply! And I am also taking this opportunity in thanking you for running this blog and all the other art websites you have. They are a constant source for good information and your love and interest in art is an inspiration.

    6. That's fine - I started off thinking pretty much the same way. However I changed my mind after I saw the innovative nature and the quality of the work of some of the artists working with digital print-making processes.

  6. Thank you for this post. I am particularly fond of monoprints, and prints from, as Pappersdraken described, the involved processes of etching, engraving and stone lithograph prints.


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