April’s Print of the Month is by Sylvia Hemmingway
What is the background to this print?
This is the first print I made on my journey into the world of DNA, heredity, and the chance element so intrinsic to our identity. The lady in the print is my grandmother, Marie, who gave me my lifelong love of making when I was a small girl. The chance discovery of my grandparents’ names on a ship manifest from 1920 made me wonder about their experiences and the consequences to heredity that came from those experiences.
Epigenetics is an extra layer to genes beyond DNA. It is like a system of switches that turn genes on or off. It suggests that experiences (like diet, stress, environment) control the switches and cause heritable effects. It is the idea that the lives of your grandparents – the food they ate, the air they breathed, even the things they saw – can directly affect you, decades later, despite your never having experienced these things yourself.
A fleeting moment, which may have occurred 100 years ago, has the power to affect the make-up of someone’s actual identity in the present day, altering heredity, disrupting repetition, and literally changing your life.
Tell us a little about the technique you used to make this print?
The print is made with three aquatinted copper plates. On the first plate I built up my grandmother’s image, repeatedly drawing and etching until I was happy with the image. The 2nd plate is my own fingerprint, etched on the plate using sugar lift technique. Plate no. 3, text from the ship manifest, is sugar lift again.
What do you love about print?
I tend to think of the process I use to make an artwork as part of the piece. It says something. Printmaking is very appropriate to my subject matter because you can make repetition and you can make uniqueness. Repetition is inherent in genetics, as is the interruption of repetition. I like the making involved, adding, taking away and working the plate – and, every time, the excitement of pulling back the paper to see the image.
Which print/artwork would you love to own?
‘In Search of Lost Time’ by Peter Milton, a colour-blind American printmaker, who often compresses long periods of time into a single moment in his prints. His skill is amazing! Any of Norman Ackroyd’s beautiful atmospheric prints.