by Melvyn Evans SGFA
At the beginning of this year I was invited to take part in an exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
The new work for the exhibition would be a continuation of a series of prints looking at the symbolism of the Celtic head, the Celtic belief the head was the seat of the soul, as in the Mabinogion’s tale of ‘Bran the Blessed’. I was also fascinated by the early poem the ‘Dream of the rood’ in which the ancient tree becomes the cross of Christ, giving an insight into the blurring of early pre Christian beliefs with those of Christianity.
Most examples of Celtic heads we have today are sculptural, made of stone or metal with a few wooden examples in early churches. I wanted to translate the sense of space and form into the print medium whilst exploring in depth ideas of erosion and time. I have often thought the process of cutting away the lino surface and creating negative space has a certain empathy with the sculptor, and is possibly why many sculptors are drawn to print as an alternative expressive medium. The idea of placing light and dark, colour and tone one on top of the other with the use of multiple blocks also has an element of building form.
I wanted to construct these heads by placing shapes over shapes, cutting, etching, or scratching into each shape allowing them to recede into virtual space. This meant not only using line and colour but also balancing the composition with light and dark, texture and plain. I used a variety of marks, circular scratching with mental scribe, rubbing the surface with a serrated knife to produce parallel lines, etching with caustic soda and cutting to create a more controlled effect. Shapes symbolising standing stones crept into the composition, the marks on their surface reminiscent of chisel marks.
In some of the prints I have expanded the heads into figures reclining across a landscape. They allude to a sense of belonging and place, like ancient chalk hill figures or Arthur’s sleeping knights. Within these compositions I’ve used single fluid lines to define shapes. Sometimes, I found reversing a single line, white out of a solid block of colour makes the line stronger.
Influenced by the copper and gold used in many Celtic artefacts, I also experimented with gilding metal leaf over a printed colour to achieve a burnished metal effect, rather than a flat metallic colour. I found the best way to achieve this was to print with reducing medium and place the metal leaf into the printed areas when the reducing medium was nearly dry. The leaf was burnished in some areas and scratched through to the colour below in others.
The whole process fascinates me, the drawing, the crafting and finally the printing. Most times it entails learning from mistakes, and a necessity to compromise, but it also opens up the exciting and rewarding exploration of new possibilities.
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