Painter and printer Julian Davies describes himself first and foremost as a ‘landscape artist’, but in his prints (yes, I’m focusing on them) I found a lovely abstraction that somehow conjures thought of the 1950s, of space travel even – and all with a really unusual range of colours.
Working largely in acrylic but also adept at both woodcuts and linocuts, Julian has exhibited his work since the early 90s, and his art is collected worldwide.
Hello there Julian. When did you become a linocutter?
Like many people I first made a linocut at school with stiff, old, crumbly lino and a set of blunt tools – not a promising introduction.
It wasn’t until I started to specialise in printmaking at art school that I reintroduced myself to the method, which would have been in 1990. Something about the whole process appealed to me, from cutting the block and rolling the ink to the immediacy of the process, and from around 1993 I moved away from other print methods and into relief printing, firstly through large scale woodcuts and more recently lino.
Were you trained in the arts?
I studied for a BA (Hons) Fine Art at Grays School of Art, Aberdeen, and a Masters in Fine Art at Newcastle University – both times specialising in printmaking.
What are your influences?
At art school my work started to head in an abstract direction, with the images based in landscape. I’d describe what I currently do as ‘imagined landscapes’. The interaction of form, colour and pattern are more important to the work than being representational of any particular place, although there’s always a basis in the real world as a starting point.
The work’s been influenced by Wassily Kandinsky, Stuart Davis, Roger Hilton, Terry Frost, Patrick Heron and Alan Davie, to name a few. I also discovered the work of Rikio Takahashi and other 20th Century Japanese artists around 20 years ago, which have been added to the mix along the way.
Your colour choices are often quite daring – but they work…
I’ve always enjoyed colour, and especially bold colour, and I want it to be a major part of the work. I don’t really make sketches or colour studies for ideas, at most there may be a very simple line drawing for each image – I want the work to have an element of spontaneity about it.
Quite often after cutting the first stage of the block I’ll decide on the colour I’m going to use, which may be suggested by the image on the block or as a reaction to a previous print or something I’ve seen. The next colour will be decided by the first, and so on. I have a feel for what will work, although until it’s printed onto the previous colour there’s always that moment when you wonder how it will look. Occasionally a colour will be applied which really doesn’t work, but thankfully that doesn’t happen very often.
When I first started to make relief prints they were cut and printed in black and white. While these could be striking and direct I felt like I wanted some colour in there too. I came up with a method of inking the block in black and then adding randomly cut coloured pieces of paper onto the surface of the block, with glue on the back, before laying down the paper on top. The colour would then come through the cut areas in places, which made an interesting contrast with the black and white areas. Using the collaged coloured paper was undoubtedly my trial and error period.
You also have your own, distinct style – how did you manage that?
My imagery has come together over the last 25 years, starting out quite busy, before I started to simplify things and strip out what I didn’t think was necessary. One thing I now try and avoid with my images is over-complicating them, which is always a temptation. If the image doesn’t need the bells and whistles then I try not to add them.
What interests and pleases me is what goes into the images, rather than any pre-conceived idea of how a linocut should look. I don’t make what I would say are the type of marks which may be expected in a relief print – I like areas of just colour and form, and seeing how they interact.
What’s your printing set up?
I’ve been printing at Thames-side Print Studio, in south east London, for about the last five years, which is a really great, large print workshop with knowledgeable staff and interesting printmakers. I cut the blocks at home in preparation, either lino or Japanese vinyl, and print on an Albion press using Caligo water-based inks on either Ho-sho or Masa Japanese papers.
Prior to using Thames-side I was hand-printing in my studio at home using a baren. I do sometimes miss printing by hand, but the depth of colour I can get using the Albion press can’t be beat. If finances and space ever allow I would get myself set up with a press at home, but that’s just a pipe dream at present.
Can you give us a top trick or hint that you use in your printing technique that others might not be aware of?
I always add tack reducer to my ink, which helps prevent blotches appearing in the printed surface. Getting a registration system that works for you is always a good place to start.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently working on five images, two of which are reduction blocks, while the other three are reduction and multi-block images. I also have a couple of other blocks for black and white images cut and ready. I’m not working towards anything specific, I just like to keep myself working.
You can see more of Julian’s work at his spiffing website, which is HERE.