This week’s object draws our focus to contemporary art through the work of the Printmakers Council (PmC). In 2016, the Scarborough Collections became the official repository for the PmC’s archive and welcomed 109 prints from the Council’s members. This deposition of works reignited a relationship between the PmC and Scarborough Art Gallery that began in 1992 and a new selection of prints will arrive in Scarborough every two years.
The Printmakers Council was founded in 1965 at a time when printmaking was seldom thought of as a fine art in its own right. Since then, the PmC has championed printmaking and established it as a popular art form.
Artists working anywhere in the world today can become members of the PmC. The Council’s aim is to promote a range of traditional and new printing methods by telling people about artists and their work and displaying their prints in exhibitions.
This particular piece is called Falling Flowers and was created by the chairman of the PmC, Margaret Ashman in 2006 using multiple plate photo etching. She prints her works by hand from photo etched steel and copper plates. This process involves the artist coating an etching plate with a photo-sensitive solution and exposing it to light to create a negative image. The plate is then developed chemically before continuing with the traditional etching techniques of aquatint and acid. The result is an intaglio plate, which is inked and damp paper placed over the top before being passed through a press.
Margaret takes photographs of deaf people communicating through sign language or performing sign dance, which is a mixture of signing and contemporary dance. These photographs then act as the source material from which the photo etchings are created, sometimes also incorporating other imagery, such as embroidered flowers. The subjects or models of her pieces include deaf Japanese contemporary choreographer and dancer, Chisato Minamimura, together with David Bower and Isolte Avila of Signdance Collective and Shrimati Susanna.
Ashman began her career as a physicist and moved into making art later in life. She studied Fine Art at the University of Hertfordshire and graduated from the University of Brighton in 2005 with an MA in Printmaking. Her work has been exhibited in shows around the world and is held in a range of both public and private collections.
In her artist’s statement Margaret says: “My art practice stems from the idea that signing and gesture resonate in the viewer because of their origins as the roots of language. This resonance or recognition occurs in both past and contemporary practice. Signing can suggest emotion not only through facial expression, but also through hand shape and the manner of signing. The spatial properties of sign in relation to the space around a signer’s body bestow a high suitability for use in the visual arts. Giving my models texts to sign is a way of embedding language in the artwork. The addition of other elements in the picture plane gives further constructs and new layers of meaning. However the force and emotional charge of my work derives for the most part from the physical, bodily, mental and emotional qualities of sign language itself.”
Falling Flowers and the other 108 works from the 2016 deposition, together with a selection of prints donated in 1992, can be seen in Scarborough Museums Trust’s current exhibition Lasting Impressions: a selection of works from the Printmakers Council archive at Scarborough Art Gallery, until Sunday 18 June.