Make no mistake, Kevin Holdaway, a linocutter/printmaker who’s been senior technical instructor at DeMontfort University in Leicester since 1990, knows his way around a reduction print.
He’s also had some unusual brushes with other aspects of the print world, and the wider art world, including dalliances with the Fluxus movement and Concrete Poetry. But it’s his reduction linocuts that I adore.
And how could you not? These almost photo-real depictions of beautiful buildings and features are the kind of prints that – after you’ve got back up off the floor from fainting over the accuracy of Kevin’s technique – make you double and treble take. How has he done that??
Some of these prints have 26 layers for goodness sake. The man is TALENT.
So yes, I pestered him for some responses…
Hi Kevin. When did you start linocutting?
I suppose the first time I thought about it was when I was a student at Leicester Polytechnic in the late 1980s. I participated on a short week-long course with an artist called Elaine Kowolski. I was late for her first lesson having been delayed in the café from an overrun art history lecture, and she lambasted me and said I’d have to catch up in my own time. Which I did, just to prove her wrong…
Did you have any formal training?
That was a Fine Art degree, and it was actually taught by two great printmakers, Roy Bizley and Mike Hale.
Who are your printing influences?
My influences are from my environment. I think Picasso’s linocuts from the 1950s are great – but the lazy git didn’t bother to reverse his dates so they’re all back to front! I always tell my students what an amateur he was. Personally though, my influences are my experiences of the world and reactions to it.
What does your role at De Montfort entail exactly?
I’m the chief technician and traditional printmaking instructor. I cover all the aspects of traditional fine art print apart from lithography. I can do stone lithography and have taught it but the powers that be have devised a facility that tends not to lend itself to long-term techniques.
I dismantled the litho press many years ago and instead of throwing it away it sits in my studio at home, along with the 200 litho stones I saved. You don’t know anyone who might want the odd stone do you?
What kind of people do you teach – is it varied?
At work it ranges from foundation students, fine art, design crafts, graphics and illustration and all the other courses we deal with. Fashion textiles, contour, knitwear architecture and so on. Basically, any student that wants to know anything about print can arrange for it to happen.
When I teach privately around the country it can be anyone from beginners to masters. I’ve had all types of people – some want to learn from me and my work process.
How did you come to work with Alison Knowles?
We had a lecturer called Nicholas Zurbrugg who worked in humanities and he had contacts all over the world. He’d bring in artists for symposiums and brief week-long schedules, and he organised a series of works to be made with me, the master printer, over a couple of the days while they were here.
I met Alison and we made the October Suite in 1998 as part of her celebration of being at the university.
What’s been your experience of working to commission?
It is a challenge, to be honest, as the work I make is really my experience of the environment and I prefer to have the decision made by me as to what I print. If I get a chance I’d actually go to a place and correlate and compose photos and drawings to get my own feeling for it before I start.
How do you go about preparing for an exhibition?
My last show was the Lino King in 2015 at Stockport Art gallery. It was a retrospective journey of my work from 1987 to the present day, up to that point. You could say it took me 28 years to get that show ready.
But on a more serious note it’s important that the work deals with the space sympathetically, and you need to balance all the hanging opportunities with care or you’ll end up losing exposure to some work. The space around a piece of work is important and I know that my work resonates beyond the barrier of the frame so it needs more space.
The process page on your site is brilliant, and so informative – why did you go to such lengths to set this up?
People look at my work – and any work to be honest – and have an idea of what they’re looking at, process wise. Often people think my work is produced either by another process or even photographically.
So I’ve spelt it out to make sure they understand the process perfectly and to educate them not to have a stereotypical view of what they look at. If I can make someone stop and relook at something and say, oh my god, I didn’t realise that you could do that, then I’ve done my job. I want people to engage with their environment and take more note of what they see and realise what the potential is.
What are you working on right now?
I’m continuing to enjoy making work based on my environment. I look back at my early work from the 90s and wonder how I’ve progressed, but at the time I thought it was brilliant. It was, I suppose, but I look forward to the next 30 years and wait with anticipation on how my work will evolve and develop further.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
Enthusiasm and love for your medium is important. If you hate doing something then change it. Enthusiasm is infectious….