Words by Hannah Tapping
Highly representational images that reveal intricate mark making and abstraction in close up; in conversation with printmaker Trevor Price.
I first meet Trevor, not in his studio, nor in a gallery, but on the warm and slightly damp balcony of our local swimming pool on club night. While the smell of chlorine pervades our nostrils and we chat idly about our young swimmers, I notice Trevor’s ink-stained hands (my mother was a printer and so I’m no stranger to the trademark engraining of ink on skin) and enquire as to his trade? “I’m a printmaker,” he replies unsurprisingly, “more specifically relief prints and drypoint.”
My interest is piqued and on returning home, a quick Google reveals prints so intricate that you would be forgiven for mistaking them for photographs. Closer inspection uncovers marks in such detail that they create patterns in their own right. His work is held in various collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge), Guangdong Museum of Art (China), Yinchuan Contemporary Art Museum (China), Yale University (USA), The Office of Public Works (Dublin), and The Bank of England.
Eager to learn more of the man and these marks I ask for a little background on his heritage, study and early career. I am a Cornishman by birth, although I spent over twenty years as a Londoner during the early stages of my career as an artist. My studio locations included the historical Clink Street, in the shadow of the power station that later became Tate Modern. When the area became gentrified and too expensive I moved the studio to Bermondsey in the heart of Millwall Football supporters territory. With my wife and teenage daughter I now reside in St Ives, and as a mashup of cultures and locations I see myself as the Cornish Londoner.
Was there a particular moment, or encounter, with a person, artwork or exhibition that inspired you to become an artist?
As a young boy I don’t recall a single trip to an art gallery. So, my first real art encounter was a school sixth form trip to see an Alfred Wallis exhibition at the Penwith Gallery in St Ives. At the time, I was somewhat confused by his naive art and as a teenage boy I thought it more childish than childlike. However, I have grown to love the child-like qualities, and the era of Wallis, Nicholson and Hepworth in St Ives is something I now constantly refer back to and reference through my art.
More recently I took a trip to China as the Vice President of the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers to represent the society in an exhibition of British and Chinese printmakers. China has such a tradition with printmaking, especially woodcuts and their contemporary printmakers reflect this through the most amazing prints. I returned in awe and totally inspired and decided to be more ambitious; to spend more time in the making of each print focusing on the carving of the plates rather than worrying about the absurd amount of time needed to complete a single image. So with ‘less is more’ as my motto, I started a new. Four years later I currently have 13 large prints, each taking well over two of months solid work to complete.
What are the key subjects that inspire your work?
I’m now the owner of four wetsuits (summer, winter, race suit, shortie) so it was only a matter of time before I referenced the sea in my art and the new direction in plate making coincided with the new subject matter. ‘The Celtic sea’, ‘Breaking waves’, ‘Chop waves’, and ‘Backwash’ all became new images, and then lockdown ambles manifested into ‘Woodland walk’, ‘Beechwood’ and ‘A moment of reflection’. The sea and trees have filled my working week for several years now!
How does the process of creating a work begin and end for you?
I fear that when I mention the techniques of my printmaking eyes glaze over, but I am passionate about them. So, without apology here are the technical bits. I primarily make relief prints. Traditionally these are wood or linocuts, but my surface of choice is polycarbonate sheet. I carve and scrape the plate with a drypoint needle and a dremel (a dentists’ drill-like tool) to create the marks.
Fine layers of ink are then rolled over the surface using a large heavy roller – a physically demanding but exacting process. Too much ink and the details are filled in, but too little and the image appears washed out. There is a methodical counting of rollups, in the same way a distance swimmer counts lengths, to ensure the perfect layer of ink. The plate is then sent through the etching press with damped paper covering the plate. The moment of reveal for the first proof is always an exciting yet anxious moment where I hope the previous two month’s work were not a waste of time! There will then be more carving and many more proofs before completion.
The making of the plates feels very abstract as I am trusting on instinct as much as my eye, as it’s difficult to see what’s going on. My hope is that these abstract qualities come through in the final image when viewed close, and for the viewer to get lost in the mark making. From a distance they feel far from abstract and become almost photographic. Although there is no photographic process involved in the making of the plates.
Where do you think your work sits within the progression of contemporary British printmaking?
Using traditional techniques, but sourcing modern materials and tools has allowed me to create prints previously not possible. Beyond that the question above is for others to judge.
Could you describe your studio and tell us what that space means to you as an artist.
My studio has a beautiful but distracting view across St Ives bay. Out of the window in the foreground are an assortment of my daughter’s surf boards but beyond is the bay and Godrevy Lighthouse. Below me is the house Ben Nicholson lived in, so I love the thought that we share a view – hopefully my surroundings and his influence rub off slightly.
Within the studio is an antique plan chest and a Victorian etching press, frames carefully stacked beside handmade papers and the printing plates neatly and safely packed away. Inks and rollers are in line and ready for the next proof. As I begin work each morning there is a military tidiness to the space. By mid-afternoon if the day has been productive it’s a mess of paints, inks and associated chaos.
Can you tell me about any current or future collections that you are working on its focus?
I’ve almost finished two large relief prints of Hepworth’s Garden. It’s a magical place and with it being just a minute’s walk from my studio, I thought I should pay homage to the sculptor and her garden. These pieces started life this spring, and are going to be launched through Eames Fine Art in London, twelve months on from their conception, in the spring of 2022.
They will then be available in Cornwall, along with my other prints, at the Porthminster Gallery in St Ives and Circle Contemporary near Padstow.
Finally, what would you like people to take away from an encounter with your work?
I strive to be a master of my technique. Art is so subjective so I certainly don’t expect everyone to like my art (you need a thick skin sometimes as an artist!), but I do hope there is an appreciation of the technique and an understanding of the patience required to make such work. If 10,000 hours is the benchmark, then I’ve done that several times over in my 35+ years as a printmaker.