We were delighted to hear from former Jackson’s employee and esteemed printmaker Chris Pig the other week. Chris got in touch to let us know what he has been up to since moving to Frome – namely setting up Black Pig Printmaking Studio – a beautiful purpose built space for printmakers of all abilities to make use of, either through open access or by booking on one of the Printmaking or Bookbinding courses they have to offer. Their website also shares some of Chris’ enviable printmaking knowledge bank through his demonstration videos that show how to print a large lino (video above), how to transfer images to lino and mark-making techniques. Chris is an expert printmaker having been obsessed with the medium for over 30 years; his black and white relief prints capture the spirit of Hogarth’s satires of the 18th Century. His exquisitely designed compositions in simple black and white are observations on daily life, rendered in a huge array of marks that really stretch the range of tones – as well as the drama – found in Pig’s work.
Lisa: What is your work about?
Chris: I’m a genre artist so most of my work is about everyday life, with some forays into political subjects.
Lisa: How do you think your work has developed over the course of your career?
Chris: In terms of style it has developed a greater graphic impact and a more sophisticated understanding of composition. It’s less overtly political than it was say thirty years ago.
Lisa: How do you go about designing your compositions?
Chris: Daydreaming, siestas and REM sleep are good starting points for ideas. Then you have to work out what kind of object the print is going to be, intimate and lyrical, in which case wood engraving would be apt, or visually arresting and in your face, in which case I would choose lino for instance.
I start with sketches then transfer them to the block either adapted by drawing straight to the block, or verbatim, by transfer or gridding-up. The design development that ends up on the block is often a mixture of drawing from memory, observation and photographs.
Lisa: You make all sorts of prints, linocuts, lithographs, engravings and etchings. Which is you favourite printmaking medium and why?
Chris: I only make relief prints now, I made the decision to ditch intaglio prints when I left Spain because editioning them is such a pain. So engraving and linocut, both of which I love equally for different reasons.
Engraving is on such a personal intimate scale. Many people come to wood engraving with fond memories of the intimacy they shared with wood engraved illustrations from their childhood. Making engravings has a similar feel to it, especially with box wood which is so responsive and has such a great feel to it.
Linocut is very different in terms of scale, you can do human size, epic pieces that are large enough to be physically inclusive. You feel as if you could step into the frame, as you do with a larger painting.
Both engraving and linocut share a deep, calming and meditative effect. Once design development is out of the way, you can find yourself so immersed in the cutting process that hours can go by unnoticed.
Lisa: Your ability to create so many textures and tonal variations in lino is awe inspiring! How do you ensure you don’t over cut an area of your design and avoid making it too light?!
Chris: It’s always good to assume a large part of your negative space will remain black, perhaps at least half; I learnt that from the wood cuts of Felix Valloton. Increasing negative space and asymmetry creates compositional tension. Then just make sure you keep taking proofs!
Lisa: Are there bad printmaking habits that irritate you that you see in the work of other artists?
Chris: There are a lot of slack habits in intaglio, dirty bevels, faking and so on. Norman Ackroyd once told me that if you get your practice right you have eliminated eighty per cent of the opposition, I have taken that advice to heart.
Lisa: Can you tell us about the Black Pig Printmaking Studio? How long has it taken to set the space up and how is it used?
Chris: It took about nine months to build, I designed and project managed the whole thing so it is absolutely purpose built with few compromises. The whole design has been carefully thought about, from the pitch of the roof to the hazard labels on the chemical bottles. It works as a professional space for editioning prints alongside a teaching space for people who have never tried printmaking before, that way good studio practice is second nature and everybody values what it is they are doing.
Lisa: What do you think is lacking in art education today?
Chris: Technical demonstration and any meaningful vocational training.
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Chris: I’ve just finished a four-month stint on a triptych about one of the Palmyra massacres where twenty five of Assad’s soldiers were paraded on the stage of the Roman Amphitheatre and then shot in the back of the head by adolescent Isis members. It was very hard work, physically and emotionally, so, on finishing that, I’ve just trotted out a little wood engraving of my boys playing on an i-pad called “Zombie Apocalypse: Don’t Die Alone”, which has cheered me up no end.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we view more of your work?
Chris: The Society of Wood Engravers has a website and touring show that starts at the Bankside Gallery in February every year and in the United States at Different Trains Gallery.
Header Image: Chris Pig at work in the Black Pig Printmaking Studio