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Looking Back: Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair 2019

Words by ArtChina Founder Aimin Liu

Sunday was our last day exhibiting at this year’s Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair. It was our second time participating in this event. We loved seeing lots of locals walking around with their friends and family, and the fair attracted many printers and students as well, searching for new ideas and inspiration. Alongside the artworks on display at the fair, there were plenty of hands-on activities for children and fascinating talks for the adults. Fair director Jack Bullen very excitedly told that us that tickets sale increased 300% compared with last year! And It has showed during the fours days as a steady flow of people walked through the stands.

One of the most appreciated pieces in the ArtChina stand was “Cranes in the wetland” by Yu Chengyou. This popular image draws upon the nature surrounding the northern China, with wildlife that, through the simplicity of his style, seems tranquil and uncluttered – quite a contrast to the metropolises’ of modern China. It speaks of seeking solace from the madding crowd and industrialisation of China. His work promises something better for us, a peaceful world for which we can strive. These are prints of vision and style, created with analytical precision and imagination that is unique to Yu Chengyou.

One of our youngest artists, Cao Ou’s “Theatre Landscape” series continually caught viewer’s eyes. In this series, he continually uses repeated patterns to form landscapes, the same motif which shows the artist himself strongly concern about our present climate changes and environmental issues. In these latest prints, he executes both technique and aesthetics very well. By contrasting classical objects with modern geometric landscapes and wildlife in his work, he evokes a strong visual effect and the artwork draws out the viewer’s emotions. He certainly has achieved his goal, and at the same time, has also improved his talent in his artistic practise.

One of our young female artists, Kelly Mi’s “AI Series’” which asks what artificial intelligence can do was also very well received. One of her pieces we had on display shows a mechanical babysitter and a robotic lover, depicting perfect harmony. Are there really substitutes for human needs for family bond and true love, Kelly wonders?

A huge thank you to everyone who stopped by our stand to admire the work of these talented Chinese artists and others, and especially to those of you who went home with a piece of artwork for your walls.

The above prints are all available in our online shop, so if you missed us at the fair, there’s still time to catch up!

In Conversation: Jack Bullen, Director of Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair

Meet Jack Bullen, Director of the Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair where we will be exhibiting in a few weeks.

Jack studied for his BA in Fine Art at City & Guilds of London Art School where he went on to work for many years. He now exhibits widely while running Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair and Brocket London, a contemporary art gallery Jack and his wife Lizzie Glendinning established together in 2014 for the promotion of early to mid-career artists with a particular focus on process led techniques and reinterpreting traditional methods for the 21st century. Lizzie is a curator and art dealer with a background in Art History and Fashion Curation, and a specialism in Chinese art history after managing a gallery of Asian Art in Mayfair for a number of years. Lizzie and Jack met in 2011, married in 2015 and live in London with their dog, Thora.

Below, we chat with Jack about the Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair for some deeper insight into the curation process, the artists involved and what to expect from the event itself.

ARTCHINA UK: What do you enjoy most about your role at the Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair (WCPF)? How long has it been running and what are some of your biggest challenges as the director?
JACK BULLEN: As Director of WCPF, I enjoy discovering new artists and potential platforms to further promote some of the exquisite talent exhibited. I also love the democratic nature of the open call and selection panel which creates such a diverse portfolio of works from artists with so many different histories.

I established the fair in 2016 with Lizzie, as an extension of a ‘New Collector’s Evening’ we would host for budding collectors at our Kennington gallery.

Challenges, for any young company can also be its successes. We have grown rapidly which is very exciting and hugely positive, but I think a challenge is maintaining and managing the growth through a dedicated team, what we can build into our offering and future partnerships.

ARTCHINA: Tell us more about the fair itself. How, when and why did it come into being?
Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair was set up in November 2016. The fair has been running now for three years within the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich and has now moved into the former Firepower Museum doubling the exhibition space available in previous years.

As mentioned, it is an extension of our ‘New Collector’s Evening’ that we used to host at Brocket London where we would use original prints to educate on, and encourage art collecting through this medium. With the nature of prints and multiples, the price for original art work can be more accessible, thereby creating an arena to discover new artists, learn about processes, develop tastes and a vocabulary surrounding your choices, and confidently build or enhance a collection.

We now host the same evening – on a much larger scale – as part of the fair. This year it’s kindly supported by Phillips Auction House.

ARTCHINA: What is the curation process like? What important considerations do you take into account when selecting exhibitors?
JB: Initially, artists submit up to four works for consideration to the Print Fair. These works are then judged on a piece by piece basis by a selection panel consisting of seven industry leaders. All of us meet up and spend a day working our way through the full presentation of entries where the judges individually select the works they want to include. It’s very democratic – if a piece gets four out of seven, then it’s through.

With the number of works on display (over 500) and the short time frame we have to curate and hang, the curation is overseen by Lizzie Glendinning. Works are hung in the academy style in order to fit all the works in. Normally a particular piece will stand out as the centrepiece of each booth or area and the other works are then picked depending on how they sit alongside that image.

ARTCHINA: What can we expect from a visit to the fair?
JB: The fair is set in the former Firepower Museum on the Royal Arsenal. The building was originally one of many factories set up on the Arsenal to produce gun cartridges for the war effort. At the time of the First World War, the Arsenal covered 1,285 acres (520 ha) and employed close to 80,000 people. After the war, its operations were scaled down; it finally closed as a factory in 1967 after which the Ministry of Defence moved out in 1994.

ARTCHINA: Besides ArtChina’s contributions, of course, if you had to pick out a few highlights from this year’s show, which handful of exhibitors would you tell visitors not to miss?
JB: With over 350 individual artists taking part, there is certainly works to suit anyone’s taste. However, a few of my personal highlights include:

Ade Adesina
An exceptional draughtsman, using mostly woodcarving, linocut, etching, and oil, Adesina combines his African roots with British culture, producing work that makes people reflect on the past, present and the future. Adesina is based in Aberdeen, Scotland and is a distinguished Royal Scottish Academician and member of the Royal Glasgow Institute of The Fine Art. Past Residencies include Eton College & Glasgow Print Studio. His complex imagined landscapes, for me, combine so many layers of art history, mythology, classics – I could study them for hours.

Sherrie-Leigh Jones
Sherrie-Leigh Jones explores imaginary landscapes through a process of layering and collaging her own drawings and photographs, found imagery and printmaking techniques. We love the decorative Japanese inspired nature of these prints – beautiful, calming with a sense of mythology and romanticism.

Laura Clarke
Laura Clarke graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2010 with an MA in Fine Art Printmaking, receiving the Alf Dunn Prize and the Augustus Martin Prize for excellence. Since becoming a mother, her work has moved to explore the animalistic abject nature of pregnancy and birth. She is an incredible draughtsperson using Intaglio printmaking as a vehicle for the subject matter, with its infinite capacity for detail. We exhibited large printed sculptural works in our inaugural fair and found fascination with her surreal, humorous, often dark pieces and their art historical context.

Josephine Hicks
Hicks’ playful work is an exploration in documenting space, colour and textures. From large-scale murals, to experimental screen print. The bases for these prints came from a collection of hand-tinted postcards. Botanical scenes from exotic places featuring palm trees and waterfalls, carefully hand coloured in the mid – late 19th century create an interesting balance between factual and the imagined.

ARTCHINA: Talk a bit about the variety of printing techniques, styles, and general diversity of the work that will be on display at the fair.
JB: There are four general types of printmaking:

Relief printmaking: where the surface is cut away leaving a raised level that is inked up and used to print with, this includes linocut, woodblock and letterpress amongst others.

Intaglio printmaking: where the surface is cut into or corroded, allowing the ink to sit in the concaves; the pressure of the press then allows the paper to draw out the ink. This includes primarily etching, aquatint, dry points, mezzotint and engraving.

Silkscreen: a major type of stencil printmaking where areas are blocked out and then ink is pulled through a silk screen onto the areas not covered by the stencil.

Finally, Lithography: when the artist draws directly on a flat stone or specially prepared metal plate with a greasy substance such as a crayon. The stone is dampened using the principle that water and grease repel each other, then inked. The ink clings to greasy marks when the paper is pressed against it.

The fair showcases all these types of works in abundance as well as digital works and monoprinting, where the ink is painted directly onto a smooth unaltered plate and then transferred to paper in a press. The nature of monoprinting means that every one is unique.

ARTCHINA: What gap in the London art market does the Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair fill and what makes it stand out from other London art fairs?
Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair is the only art fair to focus exclusively on contemporary printmaking. The nature of prints and editions makes it far more accessible than a range of other fairs in London whilst maintaining the highest quality of work on display.

Printmaking is an incredibly process-led medium and it is important to us that visitors are engaged and aware of how these works are produced. Thus, we offer more free workshops, demonstrations and activities for visitors to enjoy and get involved with than other fairs.

ARTCHINA: What else would you like people to know before or during their visit to the fair?
First and foremost we hope that visitors will have an enjoyable time wandering about the space, seeing the broad spectrum of brilliant work on display, having go at making prints themselves and having a relax with a glass of wine at the end. We have a fantastic programme of talks in our dedicated lecture space, a wonderful art and interiors area to get inspiration for art in the home, and huge amounts of artist and studio demonstration and workshops. We are hoping to provide new ways to engage visitors in a beautiful and technical original art-form and provide innovative approaches to enjoying and understanding contemporary fine art.

ARTCHINA: If we’ve travelled to Woolwich to see the fair and want to spend some more time in the area before or after our visit, can you recommend somewhere local you love to visit, somewhere local you love to eat, somewhere local you love to go for a walk?
 The Royal Arsenal is a beautiful complex that was hidden to the public until the mid-90s and houses some fantastic buildings ranging from the 17th century right until present day with many new apartment blocks being developed by Berkeley Homes. Some of the historic buildings have been turned into fantastic restaurants and pubs, notably the Guard House which is situated in the former prison before becoming an officers mess. The pub does wonderful food with open fires and only a few minutes walk from the fair. Other local recommendations include: The Dial Arch Pub, Taproom, Con Gusto and Woolwich Equitable.