Mark properly introduced me to the Curwen studio. He’s worked with the studio since 2005 and is deeply loyal to it. I knew a little about the Curwen studio as Tate published a book called Artists at Curwen - Art & Print.
However you have to feel this place and be in it to understand how special it is. Stepping into the world of the Curwen studio is like stepping back in time to a bygone age where quality and craftsmanship ruled and time was a different commodity to what it is now. At the risk of sounding a little odd… this place has real soul!
You can feel the warm, open and honest approach as soon as you enter. The creative freedom is very apparent and you can certainly feel the history. The trusted worn machinery, the smells of inks and old papers (which took me right back to my art school days which I miss to this day!), even the old chipped mugs. Curwen has a very impressive list of artists who have had their work printed here. So many artists return over and over again as there is a unique understanding and trust between the small expert team who work at Curwen who have a huge amount of technical skill and the strong relationships they’ve built with these artists.
I don’t want to bore you with tons of facts and dates but the history is so interesting! Its been going since 1863 - they encouraged artists to work directly on lithographic stones and plates, and helped to generate interest in the potential of lithography for mass production of original work. The Press started a design revolution in typography and illustration in the 1920s when it commissioned work from artists including Edward Bawden, Paul Nash and Eric Ravilious in an era which contributed dramatically to their lasting reputation. What is so interesting is that it is a very forward thinking and free environment. Each person will work in his or her own unique way which is what makes the relationship with the artists and the process so exciting - the inventiveness of each person and their desire to challenge the possibilities of non-digital lithographic printing.
It’s run by Jenny Roland. As she is the granddaughter of the old MD for the Curwen Press, I knew there must be some fascinating stories she could share and she didn’t disappoint with this:
William Scott once put his cup of tea down on the zinc plate that he was working on and chose to include this in the print rather than scrap the work already undertaken and start again, It was a mark that couldn’t have been created in another way.
Whilst proofing an image on stone for Paula Rego the stone cracked, due to a fault in the limestone. It might have been considered a disaster, as the time that Paula had spent on drawing the stone would have been rendered useless, however the crack in the stone couldn’t have been in a better place, as it accentuated the story being told in her image.
For me that is the beauty of this form of printing… you create the work as you go along. Wonderful.