Boodle Hatfield Printmaking Prize with Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair – Q&A with Shortlisted artist Maite Cascon

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 ten shortlisted prints for the 2021 Boodle Hatfield Printmaking Prize. Over the past few weeks we have been getting to know some of our ten shortlisted artists through a series of Q&As. We are continuing our Q&A series with Maite Cascón , a printer from Spain, who is shortlisted for her print Tricksters Tree I.

Maite Cascón’s practice is based in figurative etching works, full of symbolic references influenced by psychoanalysis and folk tales. In her process, she uses drawing on different semi-transparent papers which she overlaps to create surreal and hybrid characters within a dreamy space that later on transfers to a series of etchings.

Maite’s work has been exhibited in the UK and Spain. After graduating with an MA in Print from the Royal College of Art, her work was awarded with the Gwen May Award from the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, the Young Artist Award from the Society of Women Artist Mall Galleries, Thames Side Print Studio Prize, Eames Fine Art Award and shortlisted for the Ingram Collection Young Contemporary Talent Purchase Prize.

Her most recent shows include Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair 2020, ING Discerning Eye 2020, Society of Women Artists Summer Exhibition 2020, The Contemporary Young Artist Award of the Biscuit Factory Foundation 2020 and London Original Print Fair at the Royal Academy 2019.

What is the inspiration behind your shortlisted print?

“Tricksters Tree I” is inspired by two Spanish folk tales about witches from the North of Spain – both of which occur somewhere along the Santiago Pilgrims Route. In the first tale a nun is sexually assaulted by three pilgrims but luckily when she screams, hundreds of nuns come flying to her aid and kill their attackers. The pilgrims bodies are found the next day by local neighbours completely dismembered. When the neighbours carry the bodies to the nearest convent for burial they are unaware that it’s the same one that the nuns belong to. While officiating the funeral the nuns are unable to stop laughing which suggests they are not nuns but witches. The second tale narrates the story of a man who beats his wife. The pair cannot have children so he decides to go on a pilgrimage to Santiago to find a miracle cure for infertility. Halfway along his journey he stops next to a group of sheep and asks aloud for the time. At this moment one of the sheep transforms into a woman. She answers his question but also warns him that unless he stops beating his wife the sheep-witch will kill him. We never find out if the couple were able to conceive but the story ends with the husband resolving to treat his wife with respect for the rest of their lives.

I was profoundly struck by the witches in these strange old Spanish myths – stories that somehow have been forgotten. Like all tales, their origins are unknown but surely relate to the medieval period. These types of narratives were popular at a time when Spain was trying to promote the mystic ordeal of the Santiago Pilgrims Route. Those in power wanted people to believe that the route was one where travellers would expiate their sins by confronting demonic forces such as the witches in these tales.

I was interested in the feminist perspective that both tales have gained throughout the years. The first time I read the tale about the witch-nuns I had in my mind a humorous yet powerful image of nuns flying through the sky, united like a nest of angry wasps. This was a ground-breaking concept at a time when women were completely dependent on men and brutally punished when considered sharp-tongued or disobedient.

The second tale makes use of one of the stereotypes of the witch being this one depicted as a sheep. A witches ability to shape-shift into an animal is a typical stereotype in which they are depicted as the embodiment of sinful primal behaviour associated with the wild. The use of this symbolic image had no other function than underrate women who would defy the gender roles of women. Since a husband’s supremacy was considered sacrosanct I was interested in the opposition between the idealized ‘submissive’ woman and the morally weaker woman, the witch. In a misogynistic society a husband’s abuse would have been commonplace so I was amazed by how explicitly the witch confronts the man.

Both legends seem quite advanced compared to the times they were told and to other legends that reflect the misogyny within culture. These two tales discuss women’s rights issues and question male power yet aren’t considered as relevant in Spanish culture as those that tell of male control and success.

Clearly the witch has become a contemporary symbol of feminism since it portrayed all the unwelcomed features in a woman, being perceived as a threat to the patriarchal society for subverting the gender roles of their time.

I found these tales fascinating so decided to combine both in one etching. An important part of my work is the research I do on folk wisdom, exploring myths and rites which still live on today through traditional festivities and storytelling and have helped shape human behaviour. In this print I tried to capture how the rise of feminism has challenged centuries of literature and the visual stereotypes of women. It is a joy to find these tales and to see their significance reshaped through our modern eyes.

What methods of printing do you use?

I use etching, aquatint, drypoint and mezzotint. I have been astonished by these intaglio techniques ever since the moment I first tried them.

I was heavily influenced by artists like Goya or Paula Rego who through etching made uncanny images that relate to the darker side I was interested in. I love the aesthetics of intaglio prints, the deep-black almost velvet-like texture and the high level of detail that can be achieved. As a draftsman artist you can be more precise and detailed than with other printing techniques which is extremely positive for symbolic works like mine. Still, etching allows more spontaneity and you can produce painterly effects that give a freshness to the image. I enjoy combining all of the techniques to create intricate plates.

How did you get into printing?

I got into printmaking whilst at university and through being inspired by other artists works. When I tried intaglio – which was the medium that the artists I admired were using – I found that you really don’t know how the image is going to come out. There is a point where you just have to surrender to the image, forget your initial idea and just let yourself be guided by what the image in the plate needs in order for it to be a good print. The excitement of the unknown image, the experience of working with accidents and the challenge of trying to control the acids kept me hooked.

How has the pandemic affected your work – on a practical level and in terms of inspiration?

Last year was a difficult one for everyone. I feel that I can’t complain in comparison to other people that have suffered so much in these months. In my case, the pandemic has affected my work delaying the production of my ‘Tricksters Tree’ etching series , since I could not have access to my studio for several months.

I moved back to Spain at the end of 2019 after being granted a bursary for a free studio space in Madrid. When the pandemic struck, Spain was among the European countries with the highest number of coronavirus cases which meant we had to go through a very strict lockdown. I wasn’t able to visit my studio for four months. However, this gave me the opportunity to take the time at home to experiment again with oil paints, something I hadn’t done in a long time. During those months I finished three landscapes based on a trip to The Arctic Circle, something quite far from my usual practice. I guess it was a way to have contact with nature when I couldn’t do it.

Playing with colour in a canvas made me consider adding colour to future projects in print. I usually work imaging very dark surroundings in my etchings, but I think after spending months at home not being allowed to go even to the park has made me want to explore other tonal values apart from black and greys.

In terms of inspiration Spain has encountered one of the worst political crises in addition to the ongoing health crisis. Spanish politics has lacked any consensus or collaborative spirit while managing the pandemic which has led to ideological extremism throughout a great part of the population. The previous government’s austerity measures reduced the capacity of the healthcare
system which has had a crucial role in the large number of deaths too.

Spain is still suffering with a high infection rate meaning that wearing masks outdoors as well as indoors is now mandatory. When you walk the streets it feels that we will never recover, that we will never again see the faces of strangers.

I love the works of artists like Bosch or Bruegel the Elder. This last one has a famous painting “The Triumph of Death” where he depicts the apocalyptic atmosphere during The Black Plague. I could recall paintings from that period while the worst part of the lockdown at home. Watching the news made me think about the traumatic experience when the presence of death is in everyday life, so common in the past and how unusual it was through the last years until now in Europe. Maybe once I get some perspective I will reference in future etchings the consequences of the pandemic since these are definitely something that have a huge impact on our society.

Tricksters Tree I

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