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Jonnie Turpie catch up

How are you? How has the past year been for you?

As for everyone the continued Lockdown has been restrictive on so many fronts. Especially the social side of life. I am lucky in that I can get into my studio and the printroom at the school of Art to progress my print making. My reading, research and writing can be done at home.

You have been experimenting with new techniques of etching and aquatint in your “21st Century Tools” project. Can you give us a brief overview of what you are trialling and what you are learning through the process?

Intaglio is medium with a long history, well before lithography, silkscreen and digital media. It is fully tactile and relies on dark arts of acid biting, rosin spreading and melting and that’s before ink touches the copper plate and the soaked paper before both are put under great pressure between a metal roller and flat bed. I began by making an etching of a Lacie removable hard disc. It seemed like an intriguing concept to make an image of a 21st Century hi tech, modern object with a centuries’ old manual technique. I had made etchings many years ago, but master printmaker Justin Sanders suggested that I might try aquatint. I had no idea what this entailed. So, five plates later I have learned the basics of aquatinting and the subtle marks and layering that are possible.

And the subject matter - 21st Century Tools - It’s almost as though you are crating portraits of these objects for archival purposes. Why did you feel this was something important to do?

Interesting observation. Yes they are similar to portraits, but of inanimate, but data rich objects. I was inspired by artist Jim Dine’s hand tools prints made in the 1970’s and Walker Evans photographs of hand tools made in the 1930s. They both celebrated the status of metal hand tools and in doing so those that admired, bought and used them. “These tools were developed not by an industrial designer. They were developed by somebody who used them. They were developed by guys who work with their hands.’ Jim Dine (1).

Now in the 21st Century I have begun making images of tools used in the very different environment of digital and data manipulation and operated by fingertips through keyboards: Five removable hard discs from 2007 to 2020. The technical capability and capacity have grown as their size and cost has reduced. They hold so much information in such small cases and all delivered through their short cables. When I reviewed one of the prints hot off the press, with Justin I said: ‘My life is in that box.’ Until that moment I had not thought about them as all encompassing, but it is the case that over 15 years every photograph, document or digitisation of artworks I have worked with are held in these discs. They are not used to manhandle other objects, but are digital data tools that enable archive and retrieval of images and information for future use.

Already in the 21st Century they are becoming obsolete tools as cloud servers take centre stage and distance human selves even further from material tactile relationships with tools. They are deserving of recognition before they go.

(1) Paul Coldwell (2017) JimDine – Printmaking and the tools of his trade. Print Quarterly, 33(2) pp177-188.

Examples of the processes and printed works:

Speaking of portraits, you have recently created two portraits using yet more new techniques. Can you tell us little bit about the process and whether the techniques were related to the subjects of the portraits.

I have been testing possible alternatives to commercial manufactured drafting films that I have been using to draw portraits capable of being screen printed. They are making and testing surfaces capable of enabling the maker to respond to the varied textured surface as well as the image while making a screen-positive. The first test was made by using sandpapers to create a textured surface to draw upon with graphite sticks. The portrait selected for this was of Rashid Campbell an Islamic charity worker I had met socially and wanted to celebrate.

The second test was made by sprinkling carborundum grit, usually used for grinding litho stones, on Perspex sheet and rolled through an etching press to create a fine pitted abrasion. As well as creating an new surface it was an enjoyable mixing of traditional print techniques and materials. A portrait was selected to draw on the surface with graphite and charcoal sticks. The portrait was chosen as it would require marks of fine detail on one hand and deep swathes of shadow on the other. These extremes of mark making would test the material qualities of the pitted toothed surface and the capabilities to be subtle in the lightness of touch, while being able to take and hold the deep residues. The envisaged delicacy versus intensity would make for a dramatic portrait of Caroline Norbury MBE, who I have known for many years and witnessed her enormous abilities to lead with commitment and inclusivity.

You exhibited at IMPACT 11 Hong Kong - how did this come about? Did you get to be involved digitally for any of the events?

IMPACT is a bi-annual print conference that I had attended in Santander in 2018. I was looking forward to IMPACT11 to be hosted by the Hong Kong Print workshop. I submitted a paper: Print, states and Chance, which was accepted, but with covid hitting the conference could not be held physically as planned. The paper was delivered in the form of a recorded video reading followed by a virtual Q&A with fellow contributors. I also coordinated an e submission by 12 staff and students from Birmingham School of Art. Each contributor supplied a print, contextual paragraph and working sketches. Printmaker Lucy Parris had worked on the original submission for a bespoke edition of a paper-based book. This was not possible in Covid times and Lucy worked up an e book using the Flipsnack ebook software which worked well.

Tell us about IKON Open Show 17-31 May 2021 - what did you exhibit and how did the show come to be?

The IKON open show was a positive gesture of support for Birmingham based artists during covid. 120+ artists exhibited and was the first time the gallery had opened to visitors. As gallery director Jonathan Watkins says:

“The Birmingham art scene has been very shaken. The locked down days are most difficult for artists and other freelancers who depend on work generated by local and regional arts venues. At Ikon we are doing our best to be practically helpful. For example, we are now planning an unprecedented selling exhibition for February, encouraging visitors to dig deep into their pockets. A city like Birmingham needs a thriving art scene and such investment in the futures of local practitioners will benefit everyone.” - Ikon Director, Jonathan Watkins, Ikon Director.

I exhibited a two-colour silkscreen drawn portrait of Ian Sergeant.

This last month you also exhibited at Material Encounters Colloquium at Birmingham City University. Tell us more about this project.

As a member of the Material Encounters Research Cluster, I submitted an abstract for a paper to be delivered at the Colloquium with the theme of Uncertain Knowledge(s).

An artist’s working process is a hidden yet significant journey: it is where ambiguous and uncertain knowledge(s) are given the opportunity to be discovered through materiality and encounter. The artist’s process itself is also a highly valuable practice of research, actively enabling new yet potentially slippery knowledge(s) to emerge through reflection, the synthesis of ideas and the unknown.

My paper was titled and tells the story of the making of Rashid’s portrait:

For the 100 Years of Justice Exhibition you created two stunning portraits of Carlton Williams and Sue Marwa. After almost 14 months you were finally able to meet Sue and present the portrait to her! How was that? It must have been fairly emotional after such a long wait.

It was a celebratory moment after all these months. We met in the famous Birmingham Victoria Law Courts with Sue and her partner Sardul. They had kindly brought some samosas, kebabs and sparkling water for us to enjoy while catching up. Before we shared the portrait, we caught up on what had been happening in the 14 months between meeting and sharing the finished portrait. Sue mentioned that she has reached 37 years of service of as Magistrate. So, the portrait is not only a celebration of her contribution as one of the first people of Asian origin to sit on the bench, it is also in recognition of her extremely committed long service.

When I unrolled the A1 sized portrait, I got the sense that Sue was rather moved as the reality of the drawing on paper was much clearer than the tiny jpeg on a screen that I had sent her in lockdown. This sharing of a final portrait with the subject is always meaningful and brings a further bonding between artist and subject.

I’m looking forward to handing Carlton his portrait in the coming weeks as restrictions are lifted.

Lastly, what are you most looking forward to over the next 6 months?

To get back to some sort of normality, visiting art galleries and meeting old and new compatriots as we work out what a post covid world might be. Of course, l am looking forward to the MA 100 Years of Justice exhibition, and meeting all involved.

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