In the space between words
their intention—before the image
I came late to visual art — or more properly ‘returned’. I was born in Bethesda, Gwynedd, grew up in Reading, England, studied at the Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff, and since then have worked largely with words: first with Penguin Books, and more latterly with student writers at universities both in the United Kingdom and abroad. Throughout, I have written poems — a good many have appeared in literary journals (PN Review and Stand amongst others). In 2021, faced with redundancy and thinking about what then to do, I took a weekend course in linocut. It was like discovering a lost city within myself.
I work in grey lino as it affords a delicacy akin to engraving and also the opportunity to work at a scale which would be difficult to achieve with wood blocks. Whilst referred to as linocut, I find the process better described as carving rather than cutting, and it was the motion of carving through soft lino to produce my first work (‘It would make you weep’) that initially drew me to the medium. I row at sea and the movement of the gouge felt like the easing of an oar through a slow, fat sea; a new poetry. I was captured.
In the main, I use Pfeil gouges when carving. Lino that is cut away prints white, and it is the eye and close work that produces grey. I am drawn to contrast and inconstancy, to the drama of sea, and mountain, and sky, and I work largely with black ink as it accents contrast. Most of the carving I do is with a very small v-shaped gouge (Pfeil L12/1) and a small u-shaped gouge (Pfeil L9/2). Larger gouges come into play when clearing broad areas of lino; I also use a wood engraver’s stippler to pick at lino between close lines and sometimes when dotting.
As a poet, much of my work focuses upon transience — the fleeting moment of things — and I find it somewhat paradoxical to now also be working in a medium that holds things beyond their moment. It is the making rather than the image that interests me: the possible, the unseen. In producing a print, I work from photos, sketches, and my own writing, and I spend a considerable amount of time on small studies in lino before tackling the larger piece. That said, rarely do I have a complete sense of what I want to achieve before I begin to carve. The gouges talk and I follow them: I like to feel from them what together we will do. That which remains thereafter is a fraction of all that was possible. A beautiful husk.