A piece of work by a locally-based artist is taking pride of place in an amazing display of delicate craftsmanship currently on show in Bath.
BRSLI in Queen Square is hosting the 80th annual exhibition of The Society of Wood Engravers and one of its star pieces is a work by Jane Randfield which has been awarded the SWE prize for a first-time exhibitor.
Wood engraving is at once the simplest and one of the most exquisite forms of printmaking. The print is made, first, by engraving the reversed design or picture to be printed into the mirror-smooth surface of a block of endgrain wood.
Boxwood is best, though cheaper alternatives such as lemonwood and synthetic materials are now frequently used.
Secondly, the block is rolled up with ink (on its top surface) and printed onto paper. The cuts that were made into the wood therefore come out as white, the remaining top surface which gets inked, as black; the artist is, in effect, drawing with light – with a white mark as opposed to the black mark that comes from a pencil, brush or pen.
Most wood engravings tend to be closely worked and relatively small because the tools used are finely pointed. Because the finesse of wood engraving produces a particularly rich tonal range, wood engravings are usually, but by no means exclusively, black and white.
The Society of Wood Engravers was founded in 1920 by a group of artists that included Philip Hagreen, Robert Gibbings, Lucien Pissaro, Gwen Raverat and Eric Gill. They held an annual exhibition that attracted work from other notable artists such as David Jones, John and Paul Nash, Paul Gauguin and Clare Leighton.
The group thrived until war broke out, disrupted the demand for their work and cut the supply of materials. In the years that followed, there was a return to the annual exhibition but the group and the cultural context had changed.
After a decade in which there were no exhibitions, the SWE was revived in the early 1980s and has built up an international reputation for excellence. The regular activities of the Society are its annual touring exhibition, quarterly journal ‘Multiples’ and monthly Newsletter.
The exhibition, stringently selected from an open submission, visits several venues each year, showing the best of current work from Britain and other countries.
It’s a wonderful mixture of traditional and contemporary work.
It is currently at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution in Queen Square until January 22nd. Admission is free.