The following is an excerpt from Bewick’s Legacy: Six Contemporary British Wood Engravers. Read on to learn about Hilary Paynter and the projects represented in this exhibition:
Central to the re-founding of the Society of Wood Engravers in 1984, which told wood engravers everywhere that they were not alone and theirs was not a vanished art, Hilary Paynter has been its lynch-pin ever since, as secretary, chairman and continuous point of reference. In 2006, she was elected President of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers. In addition, she had a parallel career in education and educational psychology for 30 years, leading to an MA and MSc in Psychology. Her book Full Circle [also currently on view in the gallery], published in 2010 with over 600 illustrations, reaffirms her work as an artist, which her career in the ‘politics’ of art might almost overshadow. It contains all (yes all!) her wood engravings, from her student days in the 1960s at Portsmouth Art School, to date.
To beat the pressures on her time, Hilary developed rapid engraving methods. From the social sciences she brought to her art very different concerns from the literary or visual ones of many artists. Her background in sculpture (rather than painting or graphics) makes her landscapes uniquely tactile. She engraves directly into the wood, with only outlines drawn to suggest ideas she has already refined in her head; she always has more ideas than she can use; and keeps several blocks on the go at once.
The Metro Project was commissioned in 2003 by the transport company, Nexus (which serves the Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead areas in the north-east of England), to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Thomas Bewick (see p.2) with the work of a modern engraver. 14 blocks were engraved. The images were cut into 31 narrower sections, photographically enlarged (by 10) to 2 metres high, printed in vitreous enamel onto steel panels and installed at Newcastle Central Station to stretch 22 metres from the northbound to the southbound platforms of the Metro.
Holding Out, was inspired by a house seen here in Washington about twelve years ago, on the edge of a temporary car park behind the botanical gardens: the memory, stored until it was ‘ripe’, of one smallholder’s resistance to the inexorable destruction of ‘progress’.