Phyllida Barlow was invited back to the Slade School of Fine Art to create a small editioned print for the inaugural Slade Print Fair, which is now available for purchase online. We tracked her processes on video as she worked through them with James Keith, Teaching Fellow at the Slade. The short film Phyllida Barlow in conversation presents Phyllida discussing the work with Eleanor Morgan and Michael Duffy.
Pressing through: Phyllida Barlow prints
In the summer of 2013 Phyllida Barlow spent a week working in the Slade print workshop, assisted by teaching fellow James Keith. Primarily known for her sculptures and drawings, Barlow’s exploration in the print workshop resulted in an edition of 25 prints - or, more accurately, a series of 25 individual prints, each subtly changed through the process of making. What is particularly exciting about these works, and Barlow’s description of working in the print workshop, is not only the way in which she identifies and explores the shared concerns of printing and her sculptural processes, but also the strange particularity of printmaking itself; as Barlow puts it, ‘What is this flattening out thing, where you roll something through a press?’
Phyllida Barlow studied at the Slade from 1963-66, and after joining the staff in the late 1960s, taught there until 2009. She is represented by Hauser & Wirth gallery and has exhibited extensively. Recent exhibitions include Des Moines Art Center, the New Museum in New York, the Serpentine Gallery, this year’s Venice Biennale and the Carnegie International, and she has been commissioned to create new work for Tate Britain’s Duveen galleries in 2014. Often made from scrap materials, Barlow’s sculptures tend to be large, awkward, and seemingly precarious and her process of making involves dismantling her sculptures and reusing materials. Such an interest in impermanence and change may seem to work against certain printmaking traditions, in particular the reproduction of identical images. Rather than focusing on the edition, what aspects of printmaking could work with Barlow’s interest in the physicality and mutability of things?
The print that Barlow created is formed of layers and, as with any print, to understand both the work and the process of making it is necessary to work backwards – separating and recombining these layers that have been pressed together. The top layer, the final mark, is the hint of grey silkscreen of small rectangular cut-up shapes, under which are two more silkscreen layers, one black and one grey, and then two layers of pink ink-rolled linocut. Each new layer both builds upon and obscures the previous layer. As Barlow says of this layering process, ‘We could do it accumulatively. Like collage, but collage the wrong way round or inside out.’ She compares the process to that of sculptural casting, in which ‘you begin with something and then that something disappears. It’s a vanishing act. It’s magical. And then it’s brought back in another form.’
There are moments of transition, in which through the process of printing an image or a mark may disappear and reappear in a surprising form – not least because everything is back-to-front. The physical carving into a sheet of lino will leave a negative mark, and when the paper is peeled back from the linocut after it has been pressed you see an unfamiliar version of a familiar form: a mirror image. Like Barlow’s sculptures, in her print the position of the dark form on the page has a deliberate awkwardness – off-centre, but not comfortably asymmetrical. She describes the print as a space in which the drawing of a sculpture she had previously made began to emerge. This sculpture exists as a large architectural shape that can be walked under, but through printmaking the form ‘becomes slightly comical…an animal-like image has come out.’ As she describes, this was not necessarily her intention, but ‘an odd, humorous shape’ has crept in – the lintel has grown legs.
In keeping with her interest in physicality and change, it was vital that the different layers could be shown and that each print was slightly different – marking both the process and the material layering of hand, lino, inks, rollers, press and screen. Each print could be both unique and cumulative, and by informally inking up the lino it retained both the spontaneity of mark making, and a ‘slightly shifting look’ as if the print is constantly on the move.
Barlow’s interest in the creative potential of the process of printmaking and the proof, rather than identical replication, reflects the similar concerns of printmaking at the Slade. What is it about printmaking in particular that fascinates Barlow? It is, she says, ‘the layering, and the surprise and the going wrongness and the back-to-frontness and the beginning from the bottom and working upwards, and then the pressing through - as though that could almost be a thing in itself. A one-off thing.’
All quotations are taken from an interview with Phyllida Barlow recorded at the Slade printmaking workshops on the 14 October 2013 with Michael Duffy and Eleanor Morgan.
Phyllida Barlow was invited back to the Slade School of Fine Art to create a small editioned print for the inaugural Slade Print Fair. We tracked her processes on video as she worked through them with James Keith, Teaching Fellow at the Slade. This short film presents Phyllida discussing the work with Eleanor Morgan and Michael Duffy.
Phyllida Barlow was invited back to the Slade School of Fine Art to create a small editioned print for the inaugural Slade Print Fair. We tracked her processes on video as she worked through them with James Keith, Teaching Fellow at the Slade. The short film Phyllida Barlow in conversation presents Phyllida discussing the work with Eleanor Morgan and Michael Duffy.