During the hustle and bustle of The London Illustration Fair back in December I was finding it rather hard to find people to feature on the blog. It's great that the place was so busy but I also felt slightly overwhelmed and like I couldn't actually see work amongst all the people and all of the prints. Thank goodness for Jenni Allen (part of the East London Printmakers collective) - this ladies prints pulled me in to the wall and had me staring into another world, as sad as that sounds.
All of her pieces are hand-drawn and then manipulated into the intricate geometric forms you see below. I particularly love the more detailed pieces layered with bold colour (the top image had me looking at the lines for ages) but the block pieces also provide a more refined approach. Her inspiration for pieces mainly comes from internal and external structures of religious buildings which gives a nice narrative behind the initial decorative looks. Jenni is fascinated by the Metropolitan Cathedral up in Liverpool and describes it as having a "crazy and overbearing presence". I would say her prints strike the same chord, in an extraordinarily good way of course.
First off, can you tell me a little about how it all started for you?
I graduated from Middlesex University with a BA in Printed Textiles & Surface Decoration. Whilst on the course I fell in love with screen-printing because it's a process that can be used on all sorts of surfaces. After graduating, I worked for a couple of years with designer, Zakee Shariff - a small fashion label that produced really cool, innovative prints for clothing, accessories and homeware. It was an amazing experience. I then went onto work in a number of varied roles, all within the creative industries, which were enjoyable and of course paid the rent. However, they drew me away from printmaking which I always knew I wanted to get back into so that I could start creating my own work.
And boy is that work good, where did the love of geometry come from?
I am inspired by all sorts of stuff but I guess deep down I am really drawn to simple forms, and block colour. The work of Sonia Delaunay and the textile works of Constructivists Liubov Popova and Varvara Stepanova are the kind that make my mouth water. I love the simplicity of their lines & forms as well as the organised composition and use of flat colour.
Most of my artwork starts with hand drawing from my own photograph or found imagery. I then cut up the drawing and collage it to make a new image to draw from. I might do this several times eventually picking out elements that I can manipulate to create a design. Even though the final piece may be quite ordered, behind the scenes there has usually been a degree of organised chaos!
I love that concept! You're now part of the studio group, East London Printmakers, how is that for you?
I am key holder at the studio, which gives me access to the studio for 4 days a week, which is brilliant. I have the opportunity to take part in open studio days, group exhibitions and other events. East London Printmakers is a not for profit, artist run printmaking studio. It is a professional space with fantastic facilities for all sorts of printmaking and I am surrounded by a great group of artists and designers at all stages of their practice.
Anyone we should be keeping an eye on?
- Jairo Zaldua & Nicola Green for their super detailed portraits of their imaginary friends.
- Fabio Lattanzi Antinori, for his amazing interactive screenprints. They are printed in conductive ink that he links up to soundscapes that he has composed.
- Yann Brien, for his superbly executed geometric prints.
- Rhed Fawell is a collagist and printmaker, what can I say…I just love her work!
I'm always trying to demonstrate that this industry takes plenty of guts, determination and years of hard work - how has it been for you and what advice can you offer to those thinking of giving up?
My work really started to come together when friends of mine offered me a small solo show in their bookshop. This really helped me focus, get organised and think about my work in a more cohesive manner. To my amazement I sold 8 prints, which really boosted my confidence so, last year in the run up to Christmas I applied to take part in several fairs including The London Illustration Fair. I had amazing feedback and again more sales than I had anticipated. I finally feel legitimate and my low confidence has faded into the distance!
I do keep myself in check though, it’s not always about selling work, which of course is a bonus. For me it’s also about getting my work out there, being able to talk confidently about it and connecting with people. I would say that giving up is the easy way out. Don’t get me wrong, I have felt like it once or twice in the past but I know for a fact that if I wasn’t producing work, it would torment me, so I choose to face the challenges instead. I don’t wish to sound like I am spouting out a load of clichés but I think it’s really important to be yourself and don’t concentrate on pleasing others - you’ll never win that game. Give yourself time to play and enjoy making your work but also take some time out every now and again. Speak to other people about your work as it really helps put another perspective on the things and even if you don’t completely agree with what somebody has said you can usually get something positive from a conversation.
What are you up to at the moment and what are your plans for the future?
I'm currently developing some prints that are more complex in regards to the amount of layers and colours that I have previously used. Last summer I visited the Agnes Martin retrospective at the Tate and I was really struck by the almost invisible quality of her colours on the canvas. I am going to challenge myself by trying out some very translucent layers of colour in my work. My prints quite often allude to a repeating pattern, so with this in mind I am also looking into using them as surface decoration for textiles and maybe some ceramics products. Mostly I just want to keep enjoying what I am doing!