Ancient & Modern: printmaking in the RA Schools

Originally published on the Royal Academy website, April 2014

With the chiaroscuro woodcuts currently on show in Renaissance Impressions receiving widespread critical acclaim, interest is rising in one of the most traditional of printmaking techniques. Meanwhile, just a few yards away – along a few corridors and through a few doors – the staff and students in the RA Schools are using print in ways that would have been unthinkable to chiaroscuro pioneers of the sixteenth century such as Ugo da Carpi or Hendrick Goltzius.

The RA Schools offers the only three-year postgraduate art programme in Europe. Not only is it free but there is also no curriculum: this means that the Schools are able to offer a programme that responds to the individual needs of each students. “We teach fine art rather than discrete disciplines,” explains artist Mark Hampson, Head of Material Processes at the Schools. The result of this non-departmental approach is a great deal of overlap between different printmaking processes and techniques. This is extremely important, argues Print Tutor, Hen Coleman: “Traditional processes are being reinvigorated by digital practice and new material developments”, she says. “So you now see an increasing number of hybrid prints appearing that don’t adhere to the traditional categories.”

This hybrid approach – sometimes known as ‘tra-digital’ – is crystallised in the practices of both Coleman and Hampson. Coleman works primarily across painting and drawing but is currently engaged in producing a set of small-scale etchings for a pop-up show in Soho at the end of April. Hampson, meanwhile, is working on a series of fantastical portraits of artists that never existed, playing on archetypical artistic personalities. “The works,” explains Mark, “are anachronistically confusing.” Each image is produced by drawing over inkjet prints from engraved illustrated sources. As Mark puts it: “they’re rooted in Victorian and Georgian illustrated engravings, but with a contemporary, hand-drawn, jaundiced twist. I’ve always been interested in how you can knock things out of time, igniting history with the contemporary, and I think the various processes involved in print-making – especially digital technologies – are an important part of that.”

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