I’ve often said printing offers me a headspace to walk into that makes me feel at peace. After getting my arse in gear enough to bring out the tools, inks and paper, once I’m in the chair, it’s like all the annoying things in the world slip away.
Not to sound too much like a hippy, but a lot of printers and artists say the same thing. If you can gee yourself up enough to do it, you come out the other end feeling enlivened.
Mark James Murphy is a printer, across many forms, who would definitely seem to agree. Based in the North East, he fuses modern cultural references with more classical forms – whether consciously or not – in his work. I caught up with him to ask about his process, personal experiences with printing, and the perils of selling….
What are you earliest memories of printing?
I’d gone off the rails in my early twenties and was drinking heavily. Then I got told about a local place in town called The Art Studio, where art was used as therapy. I’d always enjoyed painting and drawing since I could first hold a pencil, so this place seemed right up my street.
It was here I met Scottish artist-in-residence, Derek Hill, a painter and master printmaker – and he first introduced me to different intaglio printing methods. I loved the whole discipline it took to reach a good print and getting to use the nice Somerset and Fabriano papers. My newfound passion for printing helped put me back on the straight and narrow.
Are you trained, or self-taught?
I didn’t attempt lino until a few years later when I began studying for my degree in Fine Art. I was self-taught basically. One day, upon asking, I was given a small scrap piece of lino and a few tools and was left to it. I recall carving a simple image of Sunderland’s Empire Theatre. The work wasn’t fantastic from a technical point of view, but I remember this strong desire to be able to produce work like I’d seen in books and that was what drove me on.
Which other printers inspire you?
There are lots of great printmakers out there. Printers who have a great work ethic and are continuously creating inspire me. While I appreciate it, I’m not bowled over by great technique, but more the substance or insight a piece offers, I think this is what sets a true artist apart from the crowd.
What’s your printing set-up?
I produce my work from home. I’ve turned a small storage room into an inking station and use the floor of my bedroom for the printing. Here I have an old cast iron press that was gifted to me by a friend and I use this for smaller work. It’s seen better days, but still functions, just about!
For larger work I set up a large, wooden registration board with small strips of lino, stuck down with duct tape as markers. The inked linoleum lies within this and after placing paper over and a dust sheet I then use a garden roller to burnish. Finishing off areas with a rolling pin or wooden spoon. So yeah, very punk rock!
You bring quite a modern feel to linocutting which I love – things like street art, TV shows – what was the thinking behind this?
I believe linocutting is often thought of as a traditional medium and perhaps a little old-hat, nice for creating pretty little pictures and as hobbyist or crafter territory. I want to show that it can be very much used as a contemporary means of expression.
The North East also seems a key influence…
It’s true a lot of my work is inspired by where I’m from, especially earlier on. I did a series of works exploring cultural and social identity in my home region a few years back and I often return to the North East in my art, to simply celebrate where I’m from.
You seem to favour black and white work, why is this?
I love the graphic and bold quality of a black and white print and believe nothing beats it personally.
Your monoprints are wonderfully abstract, what inspires those?
Thank you, I made these while at university – it was an experiment with colour and that technique of printing. Having made a prolific number of oil and watercolours too, I love colour and monoprinting is so close to painting.
What’s your experience of selling work online been like?
I find it quite steady moving, but it’s something that you must keep at. It’s important to maintain an online presence, through social media, and though it’s not always regular, it can pay off.
What advice would you give anyone just starting out in printing?
I’d say if it’s something you find you truly love then stick at it and while the art world is a tough nut to crack, don’t be discouraged. Find your own vision and produce work out of the passion that carries it, not because you want to sell lots and be rich and famous! Of course, that would be nice…
To purchase any of Mark’s work visit his store here (there’s a 20% off sale on selected prints and paintings from 7th May, lasting throughout the month). There’s also a short film about Mark’s work on youtube here.
And he’s on twitter of course, as @mark_mjm.