We are delighted to have been advising and supporting Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair for a number of years. At the 2019 edition of the Fair, the Boodle Hatfield Printmaking Prize was launched, followed by a prize giving evening in late February 2020 at which the shortlisted prints were displayed and the winner announced. At the 2020 edition of Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair, members of the Art Law & More team selected their shortlisted prints for the 2021 Boodle Hatfield Printmaking Prize. Over the coming weeks we are getting to know some of our ten shortlisted artists through a series of Q&As. We are continuing our Q&A series with Virginia Bridge, a printer based in Bristol, who is shortlisted for her Southbank Series of prints.
Virginia Bridge lives and works in Bristol. She is a founder and co director of Bristol Print Atelier, in South Bristol; a brand new studio, where they specialise in intaglio techniques and lithography. She came to printmaking quite late in life, after a strenuous, London based, career in education. She graduated from the University of the West of England in 2019, with an MA in multidisciplinary printmaking. Her work, whether abstract or more representational, is rooted in mid twentieth century art and design, reflecting its concern with form and materiality. The starting point for all her work are the shapes and geometries found in the urban environment, but she is also interested in the connections we make with objects, such as buildings, and how these can evoke subconscious feelings or emotions.
What is the inspiration behind your shortlisted print?
The Southbank series encapsulates both my interest in architectural geometry and my love of brutalist architecture, which began with Denys Lasdun’s buildings that form the University of East Anglia, where I studied in the early 1980s. In the use of reinforced concrete and steel, architects found liberation from the design constraints of working with bricks and mortar and this enabled the use of the exciting and innovative geometries that characterise the architecture of the mid 20th century. Lasdun also designed the iconic National Theatre, the subject of my Southbank 3. The Southbank area became a favourite place to walk, to meet friends or to just sit and contemplate, during the 30 years I spent living in London. Wandering through the buildings that make up the Southbank complex, I would be fascinated by the different compositions that confront you, as you turn a corner or change viewpoint. With their bold geometries, these buildings embody some of the optimistic ideals of the mid twentieth century, which I find particularly appealing in the current climate.
What methods of printmaking do you do?
I mainly specialise in traditional etching techniques. I use copper plates, which I cover with a ground; a waxy coating that resists attack by acid. Lines are drawn into the ground before it is placed into a bath of ferric chloride. The acid attacks the acid, etching the lines into the copper. To create tonal areas the plate is covered with an aquatint; a rosin powder, which is then fused with a heat gun so that it hardens. This creates thousands of tiny rosin dots, which means the acid can only attack the areas between the dots. Any white areas are protected by a bitumen like substance called stop out and variations in tonal values are created in the same way, by increasing the time in the acid bath with lighter areas ‘stopped out’ and darker areas left exposed. In a colour print, each colour is on a separate plate, made in the same way.
How did you get into printmaking?
My first encounter with printmaking was as a young child, taught lino cutting by my father, who was a keen amateur artist. My early career, as a school teacher, enabled me to learn and vicariously experience some types of printmaking that could be done in the classroom, without a press, but as my career progressed, I could only fulfil my love of the medium by going to exhibitions and perhaps purchasing the odd print for my home. It wasn’t until 2012, when I left my job as a head teacher, that I was able to seriously learn to print for myself. I was thoroughly determined to make the most of the time left to me and to develop a second career as a printmaker. I attended many courses at the Double Elephant Print Studio in Exeter and elsewhere, learning not just etching, but as many techniques as I could. In 2016 I was accepted onto the 3 year MA in printmaking at the University of the West of England.
How has the pandemic affected your work – on a practical level and in terms of inspiration?
Like many printmakers, I was dependant on access to a community print studio to access the equipment needed for printmaking, so, when the first lockdown began, I was stopped in my tracks. I was in the middle of making the plates for Southbank 3, so it was extremely frustrating. Travel restrictions during lockdowns have also been a significant impediment to inspiration, as I always start with a site visit, taking hundreds of photographs from different angles. I was due to make a trip for new inspiration when lockdown 3 was announced.
In the summer of last year, I got together with two other Bristol printmakers and we decided to set up our own studio, Bristol Print Atelier. Combining resources enabled us to rent a space and afford some of the equipment we needed. We now have a large enough space to continue working through lockdown, in a safe and socially distanced way. This might not have happened, if it hadn’t been for the pandemic and lockdown! Once social restrictions are lifted again, we plan to run courses and workshops, so that we can pass on our skills to other people in the community.