There was no need to rush to this exhibition as it will stretch on until the 8th of May, but I did anyway. No doubt I will return again and again for the comfort and exhilaration it's beauty offers when work gets a little too much. This small exhibit in the Shiba Print Rooms definitely exceeded expectations. It also offers the perfect excuse to introduce my passion for prints and printing techniques. I am almost certain that this originates from my art teacher's love which meant that she had us researching printing methods, making our own linocuts, monoprints and organising days for us to try out screen printing. As an artist, printing revealed a whole new world of representation and experimentation. Since then I have found myself gravitating towards prints and print exhibits with an insatiable lust.
In the Shiba room I have been introduced to the prints of Picasso and Lino Mannocci, but Afterlife has been the most exciting exhibit so far. Exploring the contemporary potentials of printmaking, sometimes within the context of digital imaging and computer technology, this exhibition shows the diversity and beauty which developments make possible. Matt Collishaw's Insecticide series is really the most impressive example of the merging of modern and traditional processes. When cleaning his house for the birth of his new baby Collishaw found lots of insects, he scanned the bodies of these dead insects (mostly moths and butterflies) in to his computer and then used photogravure (a technique from the 1830's) to develop the prints.
We are transfixed by the poetic suspension of colour. These dead wings become abstract in close up, so that they metamorphose in to new imaginative creatures. The colour bleeds its dust in to the pure black of the background. These prints are utterly absorbing and I wish desperately that I could have them for my bedroom wall or better yet, that Collishaw hadn't made them first and I had!
For me the exhibition had a theme beyond that of the 'Afterlife'; it was also about the materials which artists take as their starting points. Whether it was Paul Morrison taking botanical illustrations and prints of old masters' work and enlarging them, or Paul Coldwell's Smoke, collotypes which used TV images of the bombing of Baghdad layered with everyday objects, or Jane Dixon's inspiration from plans for the regeneration of destroyed cities.
Hughie O'Donoghue's caborundum prints had echoes of the Turin Shroud about them, but perhaps this association was influenced by Three Studies for A Crucifixion by Donoghue which the Fitzwilliam also hosts. Taken from postcards the artist's father picked up in Milan in the 1940's these prints are details of the bodies of Mussolini and his henchmen after they were hanged in the streets of Italy. The wounded details of the dead flesh are rendered real and visceral. V and VI appear to be tortured faces dissolving within their hollowed eyes and mouths. Are we supposed to read a kind of martyrdom in to O'Donoghue's rendering of these bodies in the moment of their death? Reflecting upon the crucifixion series I can't help but do this.
The re-imagining of Goya's 'Disasters of War' by Jake and Dinos Chapman was also a strong element. The Fitz's small selection of the 83 etching series give a sense of the range of these prints. From the nightmarish horror of childlike drawings with hangman-style people spinning on a wheel of torture, to etchings of accomplished detail and skill such as the chaotic tornado of the crucifixion at calvary and the swastika of dismembered fingers, these are harrowing testaments to mortality. It is through this modernisation of horror that a connection with Goya is maintained.
These are just the highlights, but I have already written too much! I definitely have greater admiration for the works which have a strong sense of traditional printing techniques rather than those which are moving closer to being entirely computer-generated. Does this resistance mean I am getting old? Or is it justified?