Artist interview No 2 – Luke Wade (printmaker)

July 29, 2019 posted by



we're looking at the work of the artist Luke Wade who made this drypoint edging following the Grenfell tower disaster in 2017 in 2004 the critic Robert Hughes questioned the validity of much contemporary art saying that it is so very often a symptom of reach artists own personal phobias and went on to ask a further question how would Turner have painted the mushroom cloud or Goya the liberation of belsen well this etching to me is a direct response to that charge and a fitting tribute to the 72 people who died that night if nothing else what we can see here is an artist marshalling 600 years of prior knowledge and technique to create an image which is very contemporary indeed I want to ask Luke his opinions of the comparative mirror a little device which over five years of research I've discovered puts that skills of purely realistic drawing and painting at the fingertips of almost anyone I'm keen to find out if he thinks this cheapens the process by missing the point or if demystifying pure technique will allow more people to question why an artwork is what it is this is the artichoke print studio in Brixton in London and this is Luke Wade hard at work on the hottest day we've ever had in Britain which is probably why he's wearing next to no clothing as a painter myself I haven't been in a print studio as well equipped as this for over ten years and I was struck by how technical the whole business is how dependent it is upon measured decision making and an adherence to technique whilst using a variety of different bits of hardware in many respects it's a world away from the free form decision-making and the trained instincts of painting in any case let's begin at the beginning I don't really remember starting it was more like it was just a thing I always did a drawing pads just just go through whole pads of paper my grandad study where he had all these lofty sharpened pencils one machine sharp and get one of those sort of table mounted rotary sharpers which in itself was fascinating lovely fine lines they were Alma macula sharp all the time so even if I blunted them I'd come back and I'd be standing there to attention so was that before any experience of drawing painting at school was that was yeah and what sort of age was there I mean that pops into my mind but that was probably like year three gear through would been just a turning point between going from the infants into the juniors I really think about grades until secretary school we used to get I see a great big piece of paper we'd all draw on this big piece of paper but I mean I was mainly the one because I took it home so I was one that was mainly drawing on it but people join in and it would be like a kind of an almost an interactive story but that was that was just that was recreational there wasn't any like focus on on my who can do a good drawing it was only when you entered you were doing art lessons in the secondary school sense that things became I this is good this is bad you're actually gay kind of elevated above your peers or distinguished in some way do many of the people you went to school with understand what you do now you know in a sort of a cursory sense but I lose them somewhere along the lines when I'm sort of saying about why I'm doing what I'm doing where it's going if it's going anywhere they're there they just sort of stop at like oh that's good and and that's fine because I don't think they see it is what the context that they can understand they can see on the gallery wall and they are that's that but then beyond that the whole pursuit of it believes them I think and yes and no I think less so these days because you're exposed to a lot more images just by narrative social media you see more images you see more art just by being on Instagram but what that kind of art is and actually seeing something in the flesh and appreciating it enough beyond just sort of going all that's worth a thumb press on my phone versus going to a gallery and seeing it there's still a resistance to that and that still doesn't quite take hold people people like the idea of it more but maybe they don't doesn't mean that they're actually gonna go into the gallery people are still pretty much entrenched with whether they like it or not if they like it they like it they don't they don't you see there's a reluctance to think I don't understand this I wonder why I don't what is the artist trying to communicate there's a reluctance to do that would you say don't to meet the work halfway people like to know they like to be like that's that's what that is and this is when I'm talking to people that aren't in the art world then they don't seem willing to – yeah venture much more than that unless they're wrong perhaps I'm not I'm not sure that I had the paints there and I was probably just putting things down it was I could at any point see where the image was headed and I quickly knew that no matter what happened I if I just kept working that this thing like would look as it looked on the picture it would look as it looked good so the device was doing all the work for you know I was having to do the work I was having to make those marks I was having to decide where they went but I could at any point see where it was heading so there was no fear of going off course there was no fear of making an irritable mistake there was there was just a sort of comfort that okay with enough time I can make this as photorealistic as I as I so yes it to be so then moving on to your own experience as a printmaker you make drypoint edgings have you used the comparator mirror in your own practice now I knew very quickly that this would work for printmaking in various ways and it took me a little bit of time messing around with ideas in my head to just determine how it was going to work but I thought I can turn this to drawing on plates because there's always this chance of things going wrong on plate there's always this chance of mistakes happening that they're quite costly in terms of time to repair this eliminated that and I started turning it towards a certain project so it was useful oh yeah no no no I'm really excited but I know I'm gonna have to do some quite impressive things with it and they'll be impressive not only by merit of how they can hopefully look in the end but on a technical basis it's gonna it's gonna be very very challenging and very interesting Roman that's good a good challenge like a challenge that I know much like with the painting of the drawing that it's just a matter of time before I crack it it can't go too wrong I feel very confident about embarking on something that maybe I wouldn't have necessarily if it was free hat it frequently is free hand but yeah but just describe to me how it is free hand do you think it's cheating it really is it tracing or it's supported so it's not done for you but you've you've got a framework with which to work within and make mistakes or not to make mistakes and that's entirely at your discretion but you still have to make those marks you can't do that yeah without putting a brush to a plate or a pen to paper or what you're describing is that the cogs are still turning around and your hair does you're using the comparator mirror yeah yeah it doesn't it doesn't do the drawer for you doesn't say the work out of it for you and it certainly doesn't solve its own problems like tracing wood yeah yeah because tracings like well that there is no problem anymore with trace of this the image is on the paper and then you're just kind of reinforcing it it's already there you still have to put the image on the paper you still have to draw you just don't have to worry too much about making completely catastrophic mistakes that will invalidate all the time you spend on it so it's it's still you drawing it still feels honestly still feels true okay absolutely without a doubt I fully think his canoe he's gonna is gonna change how kids who might not feel confident in their own right just just drawing getting it wrong will realize that it's not so much about getting it wrong or getting it right this takes that that whole binary opposition out of it it just gives you room to explore what what it is to actually draw and what it is to make it a mark doesn't even necessarily have to look exactly like the laughs that's that you're trying to replicate it's your own mark but your gives you the confidence to make it and put it on paper and not worry too much about so have you seen the interview I did with Julianne Perry that's why I only posted a few days ago so Julian said that the comparator mer him to him was like torture because it broke the beautiful fluid lyric process of making an image it can confine you to an area you're working and if you're given over to working in in a very controlled way you might be in sucked into that ensnared slightly by it but that doesn't mean to say that you have to feel like you can step away from it and make bold of marks completely independently of it it's just a crutch and it's there if you need it in this can be it can be ignored what happens is if you start striving for something that it's perfect or is exact then you might have problems because your odds you'll if you switch up your way of working part way through you have to reconcile that you have to reconcile this this kind of seductive vision almost little mirror little window of perfection with your own marks and and some people will find that really internally frustrating they'll either think well I could just do this yourself and I would do it straight away and off in a car pool they would feel that it doesn't quite match up and it inhibits them so I can is it isn't entirely effortless to use it can feel supported but it's much like walking with a crutch you see you know you you're not gonna find that that's instantly over this is the most organic thing in the world you know you've got a sort of surrogate limb and and it's as much as you want to rest on it or not the conterminous how well you're gonna do gonna use it I think that's how I feel about it it's lovely to talk to you pleasure it's a pleasure mate it's a pleasure it's a pleasure using this thing you so the logistic is I would be aquatint in this plate not polishing officers will probably polishing a lot aqua tinting it setting up with the mirror and then this as my templates and they broken down the image into twelve layers and I've started with light to dark so this is the first layer and what I'm stopping out what you see here this black all of this is going to be painted varnish onto this plate onto the Aqua Tintin surface preserving in this case white that's the first layer it's always boys White's the first layer once I've painted all of that on I'll take this off and pin this one back up using these little corners that I've put down as guides to keep everything kind of even registration I take down the one that I've just painted once it's finished and I put this one up in the exact same spots using these little X's as registration guides and then I paint more on top so as you can see from this one to the next one they're getting slightly darker what I'm doing is I'm increasing and widening these areas with more stopped out in between each of these layers this is being edged so it's filling this whole plate with total information degree of grey each stopping out is preserving a layer of that grey before I then etch it again to darken the gray and so on so forth for twelve layers until eventually the final layer will be well liked accumulative I don't know two minutes of retching search will leave black information that be the final layer then I'll clean it all off and I should ever I mean it sounds like a pretty complex print it's yeah it's it's it's not in principle it's not complex this is how you do in Aquitaine what makes it complex and where the comparative mirror comes in is it doesn't it's giving me a ridiculous degree of accuracy which wouldn't be as easily attained by by natural methods because you you're painting straight on to a surface that's already treated with a with a with a resin dust you can clean out to an extent but you risk damaging that aquatint layer so you pay for your mistakes but yeah absolutely and and with all things in print the mistakes are very costly in terms of time material so this can give me that precision a very hopefully minimal cost in terms of time and error and the end results providing my testing works and my registration stays crisp should be really quite impressive like a like a very very very detailed tonally bill painting with no line there's gonna be no line much like the Vermeer's there's no there's no sort of underpinning drawing to kind of key it will just be well I think that was another really interesting chat quite different in tone to my conversation with Julian Perry a few weeks ago and whilst I'm gonna try to resist coming to any concrete conclusions here although you're perfectly welcome to do that when I think back to what Julian Perry said about his practice and about the comparison mirror there are a few useful things to talk about I think the first would be that Luke also talked about acquiring a personal intimate relationship with drawing and painting he talked about his Gramp the pencils and his grandfather's studying about making big communal drawings with the kids at his primary school before drawing and painting art became a serious prospect later on in secondary school and that was quite convenient with what Julian Perry had said about his early experiences it'll be interesting to see if the other artists had talked to share those sorts of sentiments generally Luke's tone about the comparator mirror was totally different to Julian who described it as being like torture Luke on the other hand saw it's not only as a practical useful device to incorporate within his own practice something that he said would save a lot of time and a lot of unnecessary angst in the print studio before going on to be quite enthusiastic about its potential as a way to encourage children and people with low confidence to draw and paint in all of this I'm trying not to prompt the artists and the individuals that I talked to about the comparative mirror and so I wanted to press Luke on the subject of cheating and he seemed to be fairly convinced that it wasn't that that the cognitive the mental processes involved in drawing painting and printmaking still have to take place but that you feel held this was totally different to Julian's opinion of the comparator mirror who was keen to warn me about the dangers of oversimplifying problems as deep and as complex and as fascinating as drawing and painting where Luke saw opportunity a chance to approach the old processes of printmaking drypoint itching from a different angle to acquire a tool for his toolkit Julian saw it as restrictive as limiting the capacity to learn something from painting and drawing and I can't help but feel that that has something to do not with the difference in age but with a difference in experience Julian has spent decades refining his artistic language his toolkit so that now his approach to painting the way that he manipulates paint on the surface of the picture is deliberate and considered reflection of the way that he thinks about the world to Luke on the other hand at the very beginning of his career in a position where he's still assembling his toolkit the comparator mirror seemed to present nothing but pure opportunity the possibility to find a new way in to the ancient traditions of printmaking a way to question the accepted wisdom of course but also to develop an extra tool for his toolkit that his peers are simply unaware of I'm not going to try to split hairs here and say whose opinion was more correct but I think it's interesting to note the differences and to speculate as to why that might be if Luke manages to make the comparative work for him in his dry point process he will have found a solution to a problem that's frustrated printmakers for centuries and it will be interesting to see how much more complex his print work will become as a result if he manages to achieve this it will be hard to see these results as anything but positive in the coming month I'm going to be posting two more videos with other artists whose opinions I think will dovetail really interestingly with Julian Perry's interview and with this one I'm also going to be posting a short documentary rounding up all of the comparative mirror experiments I'll be doing over the last 18 months with institutions all over the world with schools based here in the UK and individuals who've got in touch with me through this YouTube channel thank you to everyone who's done that if you found this video interesting informative or if you think this mad experiment of mine is useful please do click the like button please do subscribe and if you're feeling brave whatever your opinion may be leave me a comment it all helps to add detail and depth to the conversation that I'm trying to have here about traditional techniques and progressive attitudes until next time then thanks very much for watching

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