The Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield is always worth a day out. A visit for the next month will offer a chance to see new prints and fabrics offered for sale by one of Britain’s best loved printmakers in the exhibition Angie Lewin, A Natural Line. JO HUGHES reports.
THE magical world of printmaker Angie Lewin lets us see plants as we have never seen them before.
Her designs for prints, paintings, engravings, fabrics and textiles give a close-up of plants, inviting us into dreamlike gardens and a different way of looking at the beauty of the landscapes around us.
Her latest exhibition takes a fresh look at the landscape of Yorkshire, with a new collection of prints and designs made especially for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Giant towering plants, seedheads that look like fireballs, jungles full of curving stalks and leaves, or sculpted seaweed are infused with the colours of place and time, the feel of the seasons, night skies, or seaside mud.
Angie Lewin is considered one of the foremost printmakers in Britain, and her highly recognisable style is a celebration of the forms and colours she finds in plants we may take for granted – ramsoms (wild garlic) and campions, teasels, artichokes, dandelions, lichen or grasses.
“I draw landscape through the plants, these are the things that make up the greater landscape, it is close detail, not panoramic,” she says.
She was commissioned by the sculpture park for the exhibition A Natural Line which features 60 limited-edition prints, paintings and collages, as well as new designs for screen-printed fabric, mugs, bags, tea towels and scarves.
For the past year in between trips to and from her home in Scotland she has been visiting Yorkshire for inspiration for these designs.
“I always sit on the ground to draw so I look at things very close up, for some reason when I’m in a place I always have been drawn to the plants, and often plants in adversity.
“I am interested in what seem to be insignificant plants. For example, ramsoms are similar to exotic agapanthus, they have a similar structure and are just as fascinating, it’s just that you could pass them by,” she says.
There is little about plants that could pass her by and she has trained in horticulture and garden design, so she understands the plants she draws, their growth patterns, structure, shape and colour.
She also has the eye of a sculptor. When she first began at Central St Martins Art School 30 years ago, she studied sculpture until she had to do a printmaking course, and immediately knew that this was what she wanted to do.
Her prints for the sculpture park include linocuts, lithographs, screen prints, woodblock engravings and collages on wood. “The fewer colours, the stronger an image can be”, she says.
“I like the actual process of printing, the tools, the smell of the ink, the rollers, it’s practical. It’s a very good discipline to think in a print-makerly way, there is a clarity you get.”
Her detailed work translates watercolour sketches to capture a graphic quality of that plant, for example the structure of a dandelion. “Hopefully in a surprising way,” she says.
She works the details in dark lines, in greys and blacks, behind that she puts transparent shapes, so there is a detailed studied drawing and then a simplification provided by paler transparent colours.
“They are not botanically accurate. I capture the essence of those plants. Often it’s by using flat areas of colour, maybe a disc of colour: when you look at a dandelion you see a disc of yellow, it’s an impression.
“I am drawn to flares of colour, for example a bright red leaf, that will accentuate all the other colours.”
Angie works every day. Sometimes on a cold, blowy day she will make a quick drawing to note a colour or two, she will take photos or a seed-head for a simple interpretation.
Others she may draw in incredible detail. It is working both ways that she says is “an amazing way to find out what a plant is like.
“I don’t develop a shorthand for things, I can still look and study what I see, I always know ‘that’s the one I want to draw’.
“I think, what does it instantly say to you, it is slightly to do with sculpture, its structural quality, a particular shape, I feel when there’s a line in it that I can translate into a print in some way.
“In some way it’s like pebbles when we are on the beach, we all know if we can only bring home one pebble: ‘That’s the pebble I’m going to take home’.
“Why is it that pebble? People all find these objects from the environment; most people are drawn to that moment of a place.” Her stops in Yorkshire are between trips to Norfolk, where she used to live, and where she and her husband Simon run St Judes, a firm which is dedicated to selling artists’ prints, fabrics, wallpapers and textiles.
The company sprang from a friend’s idea who said Angie’s prints would look good on fabric, and she decided she would like to be involved in the process.
Through a shared exhibition at Godfrey and Watt in Harrogate they met York artists and printmakers Mark Hearld and Emily Sutton, along with Ed Kluz, brought up in North Yorkshire and now living in Brighton, whose prints they also began to sell.
The couple looked at other artists’ work they admired and also invited them to join, developing a St Judes style, where the colour palettes work well together, and where the artists found they shared a love for the same great printmakers of the mid-20th Century, such as John Piper, Edward Bawden and Eric Ravillious.
National success followed, and Sutton and Hearld won Elle Decoration British Design Awards in 2011 and 2012 for their work for St Judes.
For her sculpture park exhibition, Angie has designed Meadow’s Edge, a new screen-printed fabric in soft and muted shades, colours of the landscape around.
Design success comes, she says, from being able to understand what makes an object or design work, and from having a consistent body of work.
“I don’t think it’s possible to define your way of interpreting the world around you, there is no complex analysis of what I do and the way I do it – I am most fulfilled spending a lot of time outdoors, walking, sketching, collecting elements, just to study and develop images from them.
“I’m not consciously doing it for other people, it’s because it’s what I have to do, you can’t ever know what someone else wants.”
• Angie Lewin A Natural Line is at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, Wakefield, until February 23. For more information, visit ysp.co.uk