“With age and the beginnings of tinnitus, I became belatedly aware of health and safety precautions when cutting stone for sculptures. It was then that I noticed the interesting shape of ear protectors, and consequently made a terracotta sculpture of them. Afterwards I incorporated it into a series of etchings on steel plates.
Steel is something I only recently discovered, and I like it because I can buy it in industrial quantities, get it really cheap and can consequently mess around with it without inhibition.
Cold-rolled mild steel is only semi-polished, so you get an interesting bloom on it when you print, but can also burnish it with power tools (using ear protection of course) to get a mezzotint effect.
It is not as intimidating as it sounds. It etches well through electrolysis with simple copper sulphate solution and household salt. The ferric-based Edinburgh solution is not as good, and you need anhydrous citric acid as a catalyst as well (my mother used it for jam-making, but chemists are suspicious nowadays because it is also used for cutting crack cocaine — one glance at me should convince them that I’m not a dope head, but there you are).
I’m currently attacking steel with various instruments, letting it rust, spraying it with oil and using carborundum processes as well. Much of the resulting stuff is abstract, unlike the images shown here. Trinnitus is a bad joke – I drew the legs at random, couldn’t be bothered to correct them (if such an operation exists) and left them as they were.
As for drawing, if painting can be likened to the rather serious business of formal eating, then drawing for me is like snacking between meals. It is partly habit, partly an unconscious desire to fill an odd moment, partly an unmediated reflex, and often a guilty stratagem to avoid concentrated work.
It also, however, involves regular exercise of skills, experimentation, freedom from constraints and most of all a feeling that failure doesn’t matter, because expectations are not necessarily that high to start with. Paradoxically this often leads to interesting results. But you have to keep at it –nulla dies sine linea – ‘never a day without a line.'”
Profile of the artist: Despite a career that took him from teaching in a comprehensive school to the University of the West of England and now to a role as Senior Tutor for Coreox at Oxford University, Bob has always, as someone remarked, “zigged when he should have zagged”. Though the accompanying picture therefore suggests he doesn’t know whether he is coming or going, art at least has been a consistent component in his life, especially after winning a Goldsmith’s Travelling Bursary to study Spanish Romanesque churches in 1989. Ten years later Bob joined the Society, and for about half that time since he has been a member of the Council.
“I became fascinated by etching,” Bob says, “after I saw prints by Rembrandt when I was at school, but I only got round to trying my hand three years ago when I gained unlimited access to a print studio at the University of the West of England, along with huge help from a technician. Will Taylor SGFA also gave useful advice which shows how interchanges between SGFA members are so valuable.”
Please visit Bob’s web site here www.bobballardart.com