Printmakers still remember the British International Print Biennale in Bradford fondly, even though it died almost 20 years ago. ‘It was something incredibly important and once it came to an end nothing really filled that gap,’ says Anna Wilkinson of Newcastle printmaking studio Northern Print. Until now, that is.
After years of planning, Northern Print is looking to fill the vacuum with a new biennale launching this year. ‘We’re not just targeting people who consider themselves printmakers, but looking at a broader spectrum of people who make prints in whatever form,’ says Wilkinson. ‘We’re rewarding people for doing the very best and hopefully inspiring a new generation.’
Developed in partnership with Culture 10, the biennale launches this week with exhibitions at Northern Print, Hatton Gallery and Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne. It aims to expand the notion of what print can be and promote understanding and recognition of printmaking. Artists will also be appointed to develop a large-scale print ‘event’ in the Great Hall at Discovery Museum.
The selectors – artists and printmakers Stephen Chambers, Kip Gresham and Gill Saunders, senior curator of prints at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum – chose 89 international artists from more than 800 entries, representing the full breadth of what print can be – from books, installation pieces, digital work and wood engravings. ‘They convey the entire technological spectrum’, says Wilkinson. ‘It will show the diversity of what print might be about at the moment and is the first chance to take stock that we’ve had in the UK for a long time.’
Younger artists will exhibit alongside established names, such as Richard Hamilton, Tim Long and Michael Craig-Martin. ‘Craig-Martin is a hugely influential artist, and it’s important that there are people like him and Louise Bourgeois, and that it covers that breadth, from novice to senior artist,’ says Chambers. ‘The future of this exhibition is going to be determined by the first outing, and we were keen to make it weighty and potent.’
Among the younger artists that have caught the selectors’ eye is Daryl Waller, who contributes three ‘deceptively simple’ large screenprints, a video piece and a text piece. ‘I like the idea of showing video at a print show,’ says Waller.
‘The printing process isn’t something I’m in love with in the way some people are. I like the results it gives me, the control and quality. But there is something magical about making a print, in a similar way to printing photographs in a darkroom. I like the smell of screenprints, they smell like hard work.’
The abstract prints of Bronwen Sleigh were among those that particularly impressed Saunders. Sleigh’s etchings are inspired by her interest in architectural – particularly industrial – space. ‘I’ve liked print from the moment I tried it,’ says Sleigh. ‘I like to allow it to change my work.’
Lauren Drescher, whose relief print Paper Scissors was derived from an installation of silhouette and shadow play using familiar symbols, feels that there’s a great opportunity to rediscover the potential of print. ‘The challenge is to redefine and explore the relevance of traditional print techniques in the 21st century by making pictures, which can speak to a contemporary audience,’ says Drescher.
Wilkinson is keen for the biennale to become one of those events that makes a difference to people’s careers, but also excites new audiences. She says, ‘I’m hoping that they might understand a little bit more about what print’s about.’
The Northern Print Biennale launches on 26 June, with exhibitions running at Northern Print, Hatton Gallery and Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne until October