St Wilfrid’s Hospice: South Downs Print Commission

St Wilfrid’s Hospice, Eastbourne has moved into a magnificent new building and I was asked to provide prints to add to the hospice’s growing collection of site specific contemporary art.

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St Wilfrid’s Hospice, Eastbourne has moved into a magnificent new building and I was asked to provide prints to add to the hospice’s growing collection of site specific contemporary art. Here I am at work in the studio printing a collection of six large scale Japanese woodblock prints all based on the South Downs landscape surrounding the hospice.

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My brief asked that I came up with landscapes which evoked the essence of the South Downs. Here I have used a slab of oak complete with bark to create the distant hills and tree lines of this print based on views from Ditchling Beacon.

South Downs Ring of Trees, Summer.

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Economics always enters into public art and, to give the hospice the best result for their budget, I agreed to cut three prints, but to come up with two differently coloured versions of each work.

South Downs Ring of Trees, Autumn.

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I was asked to produce uplifting prints and part of that for me was to create a feeling of immense space and fresh air without making the hills feel oppressive or ominous. I used the chalk here to suggest paths for the viewer to follow along the hills.

South Downs Distant Hills, Summer.

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Most of the woodblocks used for these prints I cut from birch ply which has no obvious grain. In this print I have used yellow cedar to print a textured sky, the natural grain doing the work of winds and cloud. Japanese woodblock printing works well for catching the detail of wood grain with great delicacy.

South Downs Distant Hills, Autumn.

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It was important to me that the prints were not too literal and the chalk quarries and cuttings were a gift for creating pattern. You’ll see this print actually has two entirely different skies. I felt this one was too much of a brisk summer sky to suit the more mellow autumn print.

South Downs Chalk, Summer.

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This sky changes the whole feel of the print. To use the same blocks in different colourways was not unusual in traditional Japanese woodblock printing and made sound commercial sense for Japanese publishers. Here it has the added bonus of fitting in with the colour coded areas of the hospice which are divided between greens and purples.

South Downs Chalk, Autumn.

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Kara Bishop, the Chief Executive, won’t thank me for this portrait of her in the front lobby even though it shows her and my print to advantage! She deserves great praise for her ambitious and engaging approach to working with artists to get the best for her hospice. St Wilfrid's is aquiring a fine collection of contemporary art as well as winning prizes for its architecture.

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Here I am inking up one of the woodblocks for printing. These large prints measure 1.2m x 72cm and consist of a separate woodblock for every area of colour. Each block is usually inked more than once to build up rich colours and textures. The “ink” is actually a mix of watercolours and rice paste which give the finished prints their delicate pure colours.

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Here I am taking an impression by rubbing the back of the paper with a baren. Traditionally this would be a bamboo disc, but I use the ultra modern version with steel ball bearings for large prints. There is no printing press involved in Japanese printmaking so I lie the paper down on top of each woodblock and rub by hand, building the image by moving the paper from woodblock to woodblock until the print is complete.

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A hospice is by necessity a clinical building, but St Wilfrid’s successfully blends medical care with great comfort and beauty. Here my pictures are close to the nurses station and opposite the patient’s rooms. The rooms where patients stay all face onto a large planted inner garden and wide glass doorways mean beds can be wheeled outside for patients to enjoy the flowers and air.

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Finally here I am with a print at the main entrance. I'm honoured to have supplied the first artwork visitors encounter when they enter the building. The space it occupies is one of several seating areas in the main atrium which also includes cafe and several more artworks including an amazing steel shadow sculpture by my mentor Steve Geliot.

Please take a look at a slideshow of the finished set of prints.