As part of the exhibition Henry Moore - The Printmaker - which has toured to Macedonia and Montenegro in 2013, we sent British artist Sarah Gillett to Cetinje to lead printmaking workshops for students. Here, Sarah gives us a glimpse into her experience..
Recently I have been thinking a lot about expectation. About the twists and turns of life and how this impacts on making work in the studio (or not making work in the studio). I'm one of those artists with a varied practice that on any given day can manifest itself in drawing, printmaking, sculpture, sewing, animation or writing - my mind jumps around but I find that different methods offer new perspectives on an idea. It's an evolving process that's hard to describe to other people, especially when things aren't going so well.
Making good art is hard work, and at its best it takes on its own life at some point, and becomes separate from the artist, offering something universal. This is why looking at an artist like Henry Moore is still so interesting, because he returned again and again to a few key themes to express the fragility of our lives in relationship to each other and to the world - the mother and child; the monumental reclining figure; the exploration of the inside/outside space of the figure. He carried on building images throughout his life, from his early days drawing in the British Museum, through to developing a prolific printmaking practice and of course making hundreds of maquettes and sculptures in plaster, wood and bronze.
Cetinje, Montenegro has a sleepy air, but under the surface is a set of people pushing for change, including Marija Kapisoda, who teaches graphics at the Faculty for Fine Art. Cetinje has a unique feature - the Music, Drama and Art Faculties are housed in former Embassies across the town (The British Embassy is now home to the Music Faculty, and I heard complicated-sounding piano pieces echoing in the streets).
Until last year, the Art Faculty (painting, sculpture, printmaking and graphic design) was housed in the former Russian Embassy, built in 1903 - a huge, elaborately designed red brick building with rich baroque stucco decoration, featuring fantastic creatures and garlands.
Then a fire broke out and the whole building was gutted. Marija rescued an etching press and a stone lithography press from the fire and installed them in a basement nearby, but peering through the broken windows of the old Faculty now, I can see a huge offset litho press and other equipment, too heavy and dangerous to remove from the building. Marija expects that this 'temporary' print studio will have to do for another 5 or 6 years, whilst a new Faculty building is erected on the edge of the town.
The basement corridor is full of plastic bags, cardboard and litter piled up at the far end and the studio door doesn't lock easily. The conditions are not ideal, but everyone here is trying to make the best of the situation and the most important thing is that artists and students still have access to a studio where they can continue to make work. In contrast, Gallery 42, the Faculty's gallery, is a beautiful space with a vibrant contemporary art programme. Combined with the Montenegrin Art Gallery nearby, Cetinje is a hub for creative production. The Montenegrin Art Gallery's current show is of Henry Moore's prints and a number of bronze maquettes, displayed in a wonderful building on three floors, all gleaming glass and white-painted concrete that would be an asset to any city, including London.
I wanted to run a workshop that took me, the students and their thinking on a journey, so we started by producing some quick prints in the Henry Moore show. I brought lots of flexible polycarbonate sheets and using a roller I covered them with a thin layer of black litho ink and placed a thin sheet of paper on the top. Each student carefully carried the 'plates' into the gallery, where we began looking at a series of Moore's Reclining Figures, a subject he returned to again and again. I asked the students to respond to the Moores by thinking about the relationship between us and the work in the gallery, framing each other against the monumental presence of his work. Students drew onto the paper with pencils, biros, fingers and charcoal before peeling the paper back to reveal the furry velvet lines transferred from the inky plate underneath. These quick monoprints were much more interesting than the drawings, as the marks were rich and the reversed images often surprising, picking up shadowy inky tones from the plate.
In another space in the gallery we explored Moore's Stonehenge work by scratching into the plastic plates using sharp tools. This technique, called 'drypoint', is often used on a copper plate when artists are working outside, or away from the studio, as it doesn't involve having to bite the lines into the plate with acid. I find using a less precious material like plastic or cardboard is a liberating way to try out new ideas quickly and cheaply, and passing on these methods resulted in more experimental, energetic prints from the students.
To connect the dots between the gallery and print studio I led a 'drawing tour' with the group through Cetinje, pausing to stop and make small drawings in response to buildings, objects and people around us as though through Henry Moore's eyes. A pollarded tree, sturdy limbs severed; a building site of huge holes and plastic netting; an elegant yellow building with dusty statues on a potholed street; each brought a new understanding and reading of the town from a different perspective. Armed with drawings, monoprints and scratchy plastic, we descended on the studio for several hours of intense printing, incorporating colour and texture with sandpaper, masking tape and coloured papers. The creative flurry of activity was heightened by miming instructions and suggestions when the language barrier posed a challenge, and we found a happy medium for communication. The energy and commitment of all those I met at the British Council and during the workshop was inspiring, and the high standard of the work produced proves the importance of direct artistic intervention as part of a deeper cultural understanding of each other.