Since graduating from MA Fine Art: Printmaking, Paul Wardski has been busy, winning multiple Printmaking prizes including the East London Printmaker’s prize, Bainbridge Print Studio prize and most recently the Clifford Chance Purchase prize awarded by Mike Taylor of Paupers Press.
Alongside all of this, Paul found the time to complete the Oficina Bartolomeu dos Santos (OBS) residency at the distinguished studio of Portuguese Printmaker Bartolomeu dos Santos in Tavira, Portugal. The residency is awarded to graduating students of MA Fine Art: Printmaking at Camberwell. The prize, initiated by Bartolomeu dos Santos, former Head of Printmaking at the Slade School of Art, awards the winner with complete access to the fully equipped studio which offers facilities predominantly for intaglio print, the technique that Bartolomeu himself specialised in. We caught up with Paul to hear more about his residency experience.
The Residency was for 2 weeks and I spent 15 days there in total, because you know, it’s nice to be on holiday for an extra day. Overall it went a lot better than I had hoped for, there is always a fear that you could just procrastinate and spend the whole time at the beach or in the bars. I didn’t expect to make as much work and material as I did.
It can be daunting when starting a new project, trying to think of something to make can be a little bit like staring at a blank canvas. From experience I know it can be tricky to get started when you have limited space and time. So I decided that I would give myself a little bit of a head start in the weeks leading up to the residency by researching the town of Tavira.
Once I had arrived in Tavira I used a technique that I applied at a previous residency, which took place in Austria in the summer. In this, the 2nd Ed residency, there were 4 other artists involved, we worked in a team and came up with a list of quests or prompts for each other as a way to generate material for our collaborative work. We then went out on a hike and found material, drew and took photos of things on the way responding to the quests. As this approach worked so well at the 2nd Ed residency, I decided that I would use this technique again in Tavira.
This process really helped when trying to gather material in a short amount of time. As I did at a previous residency, I started with a book of poetry and I chose the titles of the poems as quest guides or prompts for finding material.
The book of poetry I chose was by Antonio Ramos Rosa, a local poet from near the town of Tavira. It was titled the Book of Ignorance, which is what drew me to use it, as during the residency I would also be a person in a place that I have no connection to, making work. The version I had of the book was in French so I had to crudely translate the titles into English using Google translate.
On arriving at the studio I was greeted by a guy called Bartilio, who is a member of the studio when residencies are not running, he gave me a quick induction to the studio, the space is big and well kitted out, pretty much everything you could need for Intaglio print. There is also a decent kitchen so that combined with the local food market it was really nice to do a bit of cooking. The living quarters are literally up the stairs from the studio and connected to a roof terrace that looks out over the town.
The first couple of days I took the time to acclimatise and let the surroundings sink in, checking out local cuisine and trying (and failing) to avoid the Irish bar down the road.
On the Monday I set to work, polishing and grounding the plates. The first thing I etched was a test plate to work out the acid strength.
During the first week I would head into town each morning armed with a sketch book, a couple of ground plates and a camera, documenting and gathering material responding to the titles of the poems.
In the first week by collecting objects, taking pictures and drawing from around the town, aiming to respond to the poems’ titles. My work centres around found objects and the relation of these objects between the artist and its memory.
I took these back to the studio and started to draw them on the plates. It was really nice to be able to get up in the morning, head into town, get some lunch, bring back some drawings and chuck a couple of plates in the acid before tea. It became a bit of a rhythm. As you are there on your own it’s really easy to generate a mass of work in such a short time.
During the first week I built up quite a collection of prints and drawings, I hadn’t quite set out a final piece or even if there was going to be one and when it got to the second week and I sort of sat back and contemplated where I could take it next.
As I like working in large scale but didn’t have the means to transport it home, I decided that I could make smaller pieces that respond to the poetry and it could work as a continuous piece that connects up within a matrix of different sheets. I started building up the piece bit by bit using all the material I had collected over the last 10 days. On the 9th day just when I had started to get a little feral and cabin feverish Professor Paul Coldwell arrived. I had started to compose the final piece, so had 4 days left, his arrival was good timing as his input was really invaluable. I think he sensed that I was in need of company (as I did mention it once or twice) and invited me to breakfast and dinner with him and his wife almost every morning and night, which was lovely.
Having Paul around was great because he is really open to give advice and has a genuine interest in what you are making. We had some really great talks over a couple of glasses of wine. I think for me this was one of the most valuable parts of my time there.
Knowing that the residency was primarily for intaglio I decided that this would be a great opportunity to get acquainted with an old process that I had neglected over the last few years. In hindsight, I went a bit mental and bought way too many plates, it wasn’t fun lugging them from Catford to Tavira. I went a bit over the top with the paper too. I went for a classic Somerset Satin bought from JPP (John Purcell Paper) who shipped it to the studio for me so the paper was there waiting and the cost of shipping to the studio was unbelievably cheap. But then it’s never a bad thing to have too much material, if only it had been as cheap to send it back to London!
I found some Lino that happened to be laying around the studio and started making Linocuts. As well as unexpected Linocut printing, I experimented with other materials and printing on to different substrates. I used pretty much anything that I could run through the press, sandpaper for example. I focused on creating different textures.
I’m not the most accustomed to intaglio printing so I spent the weeks leading up to the residency desperately trying to learn the art of etching. Learning how to mix and prepare the acids was a little nerve wrecking as first, but luckily there where YouTube tutorials and some pro’s at Bainbridge Print Studio that gave me some last minute advice.
My work before the residency was mostly at a large scale, so having to down size was a challenge, I also had to think practically as I needed to take the work back home with me so anything that could not fit in a Ryanair carry-on was not going to happen.
Having the studio all to yourself, literally just from where you’re staying which is available 24 hours a day was something that you don’t get the luxury of very often so it was really great to have that for a couple of weeks.
Any advice you would give to future winners of the prize?
The first thing I would say would be to do some research before you go, not a crazy amount but just enough to get you going, also reaching out to previous artists-in-residence is also really helpful, I got some really sound advice from Luke Wade (2016 winner of the OBS residency) so it was great to know beforehand what you are up against.
I would also recommend bringing someone with you, or at least having someone visit in the first week for a couple of days as it can get pretty lonely.
Ultimately, I feel you shouldn’t be too consumed by perfecting a process, it’s pretty relaxed in terms of making as you are not expected to make anything, so the pressure is off.
I feel the time there is all about not being too worried about making a final outcome, but rather experimenting and seeing what you can get out of the time there. And it is really nice to have the freedom to just make work that you want to make.