Industry meets country: a printmaker’s perspective

Peter Shread says he’s always on the lookout for shapes and colours created by changes of light.

This is perhaps why he is drawn to abstract art, his beautiful woodcuts and linocut relief prints conveying the mood of a landscape in the suggestion of outlines, the contrast of colours and tones drawn from a particular view.

‘I like the simplicity of printmaking,’ he says, then goes into great detail about all the stages that make up the process, making you wonder how simple it actually is, to the uninitiated at least.

‘I will work from a charcoal drawing in the first instance, using no more than four or five colours. I colour the charcoal drawing with, say, yellow or blue or red, then make a tracing of that drawing.

‘The relief prints are made by drawing a design on a block of lino or wood, then cutting away the background with a knife and gouges. The finished block is then inked with a roller and printed in a press.

‘To make a colour print a separate block is cut for each new colour. These are then printed in sequence, one colour over another, until the image is complete.

‘By adding a transparent medium to the ink it is possible to overlay two colours to provide a third.’

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The work is satisfying, methodical, repetitive… the process of producing woodcut and linocut relief prints not unlike manufacturing, each one worked with a roller and printed by the artist on his own hand press.

He is drawn to the decorative and topographical aspects of landscapes, and finds the local unique mix of industry and countryside a constant source of inspiration.

‘You find, for example, with the canals that there’s the mix of the man-made locks, bridges etc. contrasting with the surrounding landscape.’

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Peter has produced a whole series of prints inspired by the extensive canal networks of the Black Country, and finds inspiration in rural locations too.

‘My canal pictures started in the early 90s, and I’ve also featured the Clent Hills, Wyre Forest and Wales.

‘My Royal Academy prints were of the Elan Valley and Black Mountains. I did a lot of walking in Wales and got many of my ideas from there.’

Born in Birmingham, Peter trained at Birmingham College of Art to study painting then Moseley Art School. At art school, studying graphic design, he found himself drawn to classic poster series, the type of modernist works so popular as reproductions today.

‘Many were influenced by Cubism, by Nash and by Edward Bawden, but they still retained an interest in the figurative. I found my own influences in Picasso, and Abstract Expressionism.

‘Edward Wadsworth, the Vorticist, came to the Black Country once and did a whole series on the slag heaps and furnaces.’

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Edward Wadsworth, ‘Blast Furnaces in the Black Country 1919’ Woodcut

The influence of Wadsworth is clear, though on moving to the Black Country himself in the 1960s, Shread admits he experienced something of a culture shock.

‘In those days you could actually tell the difference between the accents… people from Quarry Bank sounded different to those from Dudley, who sounded different again from people from Netherton. Of course it’s all changed now. Back then,  some of the lads I taught had never even travelled as far as Birmingham.

‘There was a chainmaker’s  at the bottom of the school garden and we would sketch the men working. We’d go to the pit banks at Saltwells Wood and Doultons clay pit.’

Saltwells has a long history of coal extraction going back to the 1300s and the wood was planted to mask the scars left by industry. Shallow depressions and hummocks reveal the presence of out-cropping and bell pits surrounded by banks of soil are still visible. Large mounds mark the gin circles where horses would drive the winding apparatus.

Whether the boys took in any of this with an artist’s eye is anyone’s guess. Peter continues:

‘I remember some of them were talented kids, but most were just glad to get out of the classroom. We could do that in those days, before health and safety.’

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As well as appearing at the Royal Academy in London, Shread’s work has been frequently exhibited in the Black Country: murals featuring enamelled panels based on his landscape prints were a striking feature of an underpass in Stourbridge until they became so badly scuffed by the wear-and-tear of passing pedestrians that they were removed and stored safely away.

‘The sculptor and public artist Steve Field has got the panels now,’ Shread says. ‘Lumps got knocked out, and so they decided to tile it all over, and the work was taken down.’

Peter Shread trained at Moseley School of Art and taught in Dudley for many years. He is a member of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and Midland Printmakers. Peter has exhibited widely, including at the Royal Academy, and has won a number of prizes including the Manchester Academy Prize and the First Prize in the RBSA Open Print Exhibition. He was asked to deliver a public art commission for Midland Metro stations. Peter now produces woodcut and linocut relief prints and paintings.

Black Country angels… finding inspiration among the dearly departed

Lynn Jeffery started taking photographs of fallen angels when she was working as an art teacher, and found that she couldn’t stop.

She found plenty of them in Cradley Heath, living as she does near the local cemetery.

‘My daughters thought it was normal for five-year-olds to play out and go exploring the local graveyards,’ she says.

But as her interest grew, she found herself travelling, to Netherton and Bewdley, and then further afield, to seek out more subjects for her art.

‘I was fascinated. The angels get defaced and are broken and vandalised. One was found with a ring of barbed wire round her neck.

‘Another two were uncovered, completely intact, during a renovation up at Cradley. A pair of hidden, forgotten angels they didn’t even know they had.’

A wealth of monumental masonry in the Black Country is slowly being lost to vandalism, but in turn its demise has provided Lynn with a rich source of inspiration.

Her pictures often include relief prints from found materials which she reproduces as screened images or prints from directly.

‘I also add to the work with painted ink or mono prints. I enjoy producing unique pieces of work by overlaying and piecing together arrangements of objects.

‘I believe that art should be about our responses to the world about us, and recording the changes in society, in a visual way, is part of that process.

‘I present angels from different places, sometimes including other items of interest. ‘Lately, I’ve been working on a smaller scale than usual, which has given me the chance to experiment with distressing techniques: I have added gold, brown and red ink, then removed them to give a worn effect.’

 

People make things in the Black Country. They form things, mould things, bring things into being, and even with the demise of industry, the act of creation continues through art, poetry and fiction.

Lynn, who moved to Cradley Heath from Liverpool in the 70s says: ‘People have always worked with their hands round here, and so it’s natural for them to continue to produce stuff.

‘People who were pattern makers, who made casts for industry or the jewellery trade where you get, for example, lost wax castings of silver, they all worked with their hands.

‘And they took things from the ground. It’s an incredibly rich place, and so in Brierley Hill you find minerals for glass, just as you do in Ravenhead, St Helens – both places are huge in terms of glass production.’

Lynn says that coming from a photographic background, she’s always been aware of her surroundings and is drawn to the world around her.

‘Over the years, I have built up a large collection of photographic images. I rarely photograph people as I am more interested in an apparently timeless world, which often disappears without warning to accommodate a road or supermarket complex.’

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She has witnessed first-hand the changes that have moved through the Black Country, sweeping much of its heritage away. But a strong image comes to her as she talks, one linking her back to her Merseyside roots.

‘When I consider the industry of the area, I imagine a great chain stretching from the Liverpool docks, and from our maritime heritage, all the way over to the Black Country, where chains and anchors were made, and then on to the Jewellery Quarter where the tiniest links go into necklaces. For me it’s like an extension of Liverpool, and it’s one of the reasons I felt instantly at home when I moved here.’

The artist has returned to her roots and become part of the current Liverpool School, exploring urban geometric influences in her work.  What’s striking about this series is the use of vibrant colour, slashing across the sharp shapes and outlines of modern architecture.

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Lynn Jeffery, ‘Liverpool Reflections’

‘Driving through the Black Country and up to Liverpool, you see the way reflections of old buildings appear in the new glass frontages of offices going up.

‘You start to experience a whole new perspective and see that the geometry is so different, and so colourful.

‘For me, it was a case of feeling we’d reached the stage where we thought we were coming out of a long recession and I wanted to put some colour back into life. We needed cheering up, and so I looked for bright colours, blues and oranges, which appear in my work.’

Lynn worked for 20 years with the late Cradley Heath printmaker Paul Hipkiss, who was her head of department when she taught art.

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Lynn Jeffery, ‘The View from the Cube’

‘He was so great to work for because he had a way of persuading you softly to do things.

‘He had a vision and was always open to ideas. He was a celebrated local name, and one of the artists who exhibited in Black Country Visions, which appeared at the RBSA Gallery, Wednesbury Art Gallery and Dudley Art Gallery too.

‘It’s such a rich environment for artists. The canals have that blend of the natural world and industry; it’s as though nature is taking the land back.

‘You see it in artist’s work again and again.’

 

 

Biography

Educated: Holly Lodge High School for Girls

Higher Ed: St. Katharine’s College of Ed. Art & Craft (Print & Photography)

1975-2011 Teacher of Art & Design in Liverpool and the West Midlands

2005- Freelance artist, teacher and tutor

2003 Elected Associate Royal Birmingham Society of Artists

2006 Elected Member of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.

Exhibitions 

RBSA Open Exhibitions & as an Invited artist since 1998

RBSA Associate & Member 2003

Mid Art 1998-2004

DSOA Dudley Art Gallery From 1997

Gateway Shrewsbury Open Print Biennale 2004-08

Gateway Shrewsbury Mirror Image (invited) 2005

RBSA Café Gallery Solo Show 2005

RBSA Black Country Visions 2005

Dudley Museum, Black Country Visions 2006

“Take 12” Artist/Teachers Walsall New Gallery 2006

Derby Open 2007

Birmingham Open 2007

Russells Hall Hospital 1st Floor Exhibn. Area 2008-11

RWE Open Print Exhibition Bristol 2009

RBSA Craft Gallery Solo Show 2009

DSOA Botanical Gardens Spring Exhibition 2010

RWE Open Bristol 2010

RBSA Craft Gallery Solo Show 2011

RBSA Metropolis Exhibition 2017