All that’s new and fit to print

illustrated: Strawberry 2 1972 – screen print edition of 75

 The Third British International Print Biennale in Bradford –  Merete Bates writing in the Arts Guardian, Tuesday March 5 1974

Bright yellow AA arrows dedicate the route to the third British International Print Biennale in Bradford. And although attempts to besiege the mill-owners – busy buying and selling in the Wool Exchange with prints failed, 500, selected from an entry of 3,360, overflow from the Cartwight Hall down the hill into the public library. The main aim is to bring prints to people. So, as indicated by the AA signs, publicity has been more ambitious, thorough, and successful than ever before.

Top artists have been asked to submit work – Kokoschka from Austria, Raveel from Brazil, Miro from France, Lucaci-Baias from Romania, Lichtenstein from the United States. Other entries have rolled in freely, uncensored by state control. And John Thompson, the director, has not only complied a catalogue with useful illustrations of each print and its price, but has a running sequence of detailed slides in the hall, and upstairs many prints in polythene – easy to pick up and handle, if not slip casually under your coat. It is exciting and should go like a bomb. It lasts until September 30.

Particularly from close up the prints bristle with variety and individuality. More than before, there seems absolutely no rule dictating what a print should be. Pure design or comment? Poetry or propaganda? Nostalgia or wit? Delia I: Fabre draws a distant horseman – “Caballero Andante” – riding in the white space of his nude dream, in Argentina, whereas Justin Knowles lays three black rectangles on white in Great Britain. It is personality, not nationality, now, that decides both subject and style. Without a catalogue, it would be impossible to guess which work came from which country. “Palermo” is brush-sign, zen print in earth and ochre from Germany. “Reflection”s is a pure, still print of water and mountains from Canada.

Prints today can use the infinite tones and shades of colour, the most delicate and accurate processes available to technology. But surprisingly the strength of this exhibition is not in its visual impact. No work here stuns you sensually, so you can hardly stand. This may be because printmakers, unlike most painters, sculptors, or musicians, have increasingly come to split the mind from the body. Many work quite happily giving directions to technicians without ever touching the materials themselves at all. Physical involvement and facility is not so important. Luckily what it misses on vibrating bodily, it makes on vigorous mental relationships. These works draw you to interest, amuse or disturb.

Jeffrey Edwards show a clear, pointed “Persistent Door Slamming whereas David Platts delights with fresh, shimmering rows of strawberries, For fun that is tolerant rather than vicious, there are healthy, no-nonsense, assertive couples in Douglas de Vinny’s “Volkswagen Portrait”. Jules Bekker jumbles striped shirts, breasts, sunglasses with clouds on the back of a calmly coping quadruped in “American Tourists on a Dutch Cow”. Stephen Morris saucily writes: “O please do touch me. O!” inside a lacy pair of pants.

To disturb, many prints simpy connect events by reproducing their documentary evidence. Llewellyn Xavier superimposes on a poster FREE GEORGE JACKSON, a letter to him about his book “Soledad Brother” a graffiti among chains, “not the result of chance”. Franciscus Oudshoorn piles a climax in three prints of “War”, starts from a plane dropping minute parachutists in a huge sky and finishes with a shot of Rod Steiger in “Waterloo” but with a soft, GI face, a torn French letter and blood spotted ground.

But in all the works, there is a new, awkward dilemma. At times it is the idea, the concept that holds. At others it is the form. Only rarely do both fuse with equal strength. Thus one of the most powerful works is “Mes Obsessions” by Argentinian Alejandro Marcos, that sticks kitchen knives in the heart of a US couple. It is ugly, and, predictably, not a prizewinner. Yet the much hackneyed, if attractive print of a shirt or the front and back reproduction of a nostalgic post-card do win prizes. This failure to distinguish between concept and appearance, even more to estimate the importance or vitality of the former, could prove a serious stumbling block in the selection, let alone the judging of the biennale.

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