Artist printmakers from around the world are represented in the International Print Biennale – the major survey of the art of print which takes place at venues across the North East from June 27 to August 9.
But as well as being global in scope, the Biennale is a local affair.
It was set up by Northern Print, under director Anna Wilkinson, to champion an art form which Thomas Bewick pioneered more than 200 years ago from his studio in Newcastle.
At the Northern Print studios in Newcastle’s Ouseburn Valley, all are welcome to follow in Bewick’s footsteps, using the facilities to produce their work or develop their skills.
One of the exhibitions coinciding with the International Print Biennale will take place at Hoults Yard in Byker, and it will showcase the work of the artists who use Northern Print.
Among them is Michelle Wood, from Whitley Bay, photographed with some of her work on these pages.
Michelle used to be an economic geographer but she decided on a career change 10 years ago and retrained as an artist.
“For the past 10 years I’ve been doing my own work and building my practice as an artist,” she says.
“I’m also now a qualified art teacher although I came out of teaching a couple of years ago. I still do workshops as a freelance but the thing with teaching is you spend so much time helping other people to do things.”
The Hoults Yard exhibition, which also coincides with this year’s Ouseburn Festival, is a chance for the Northern Print artists to show visitors what they can do.
For Michelle and others it is also a chance to reflect on the work that used to go on at Hoults Yard where the famous old Maling Pottery used to be situated. “I think I would classify myself as a maker because I make artist books and I also make teacups which are a response to Maling.
“I like the idea of connecting with the making that used to go on in the Maling Pottery when, going back to the 1860s and the days before mechanisation, a lot of women used to be employed there.
“I wanted to connect back to those women who were such a big part of what went on in the place.
“Maling was a creative industry and Hoults Yard has again become a hub of creativity.”
Archive photographs show the women sitting at benches decorating the ceramic items which at one time graced dining tables across the North East and further afield.
Michelle’s cups, while no less attractive, serve a different purpose.
“They’re not functional in that they wouldn’t hold any liquid, but I like to think of them as decorative. As I’m making them I’m thinking back to those workers.”
A group of Northern Print artists went along to visit the space which had been offered by Hoults Yard and were immediately impressed by the atmosphere of the place.
“It’s rough and ready but you can sense traces of what used to go on there years ago,” says Michelle.
“You can see it in the brickwork, the history of the place. It is a very evocative place.”
Michelle makes her cups out of paper printed with a Maling design, cutting and pasting it to form the required shape. “It’s not origami or papier maché,” she says.
“The teacups will be hung in a cascade from the walls or arranged formally on shelves, plinths or boxes.
“Since the teacups are small, light-weight and fragile, I would like to show them in one of the smaller rooms in the Hoult’s Yard building.”
Fellow artist Margaret Adams is creating an installation involving images of Maling workers using light and translucent paper.
Most of the workers, Margaret explains, used to be called “Little White Mice” because of the white trails they left behind them.
She says: “We are familiar with the designs of the pottery and some of the names of the designers of the pottery but there is no record of the women who did the hard, back-breaking work. These women are part of our history”.
Eileen Downs was planning to produce a series of bone china plates decorated with Maling patterns.
Allan Barnfather, meanwhile, was inspired by the pattern shop building.
His floor piece, he says, reflect his thoughts about the old building while the Maling pots in the piece, made using print and corrugated cardboard, represent a fusion of the history of the pottery and the abstract designs of Lucien Boullemier.
Boullemier, son of a French-born ceramic artist, became a professional footballer and played for Stoke, Northampton Town and other teams before becoming a ceramic artist like his dad.
He was recruited by Maling in the 1920s as head of the decorating department and introduced more glamorous lines to supplement the company’s mass market products.
Michelle Wood, who will be offering “have a go” sessions during the exhibition, says one great thing about the Hoults Yard show is that it has drawn the artists together to share ideas and experiences.
It appears to have engendered the same camaraderie that used to exist among those Maling employees.
The exhibition runs at Hoults Yard on July 5 and 6 from 10am to 5pm.
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