Edward Bawden trained as an artist and designer under Paul Nash, with Eric Ravilious at Cambridge College. Nash helped him obtain his first commissions for posters and book illustrations and his early career was therefore centred around being a designer and illustrator. Like Nash and Ravilious, he was appointed a war artist, recording the evacuation from Dunkirk and later being posted to the Middle East. His single minded dedication was demonstrated by the fact he was one of the last to leave Dunkirk, and having been torpedoed and spent five days adrift in a boat, his response was to capture the episode in watercolour (Gentleman, 2004-14)
His work is centred around the essence of place and time; people captured in that moment in their context. As a war artist, he drew the local population and architecture, and his later famous linocuts such as Smithfield Market from his London markets series, 1967, create a similar snapshot of time and place. His war watercolours also show how he used a restrained cool palette and resolved the landscape into layers almost like stage flats.
The Smithfield Market print can be seen here:
I think this is a five plate print although, possibly, two colours might have been printed at the same time with local inking. Interesting technical or compositional points are:
- cool restrained palette
- cutting lines retained only in the organic elements, people and meat
- under inking for meat gives texture of fat
- overlaying of blues on right: layered pattern
- graphic effect of black to represent hard metal artifacts
- colour shapes overlap, for instance in the most distant figure, looks lees contrived and implies movement
- some shapes cut in positive, some in negative, for instance roll of columns upper left
- counterpoint of areas of pattern and areas of block colour
- most small details edited out, eg faces
- beautiful smooth cutting in linear elements – knife?
There is a huge amount to take away from this one print.
Edward Bawden’s son, Richard, followed in his fathers footsteps as an artist and printmaker in linocut. He talks about his work and approach in ‘Printmakers’ Secrets’, Dyson, 2009.
He offers several very useful, practical insights into his working practice:
- he cuts lino with a Stanley knife to get crisp lines
- he makes his own inks using linseed oil, dry pigments and a muller to get the exact colours and consistency he wants
- he takes a proof which he works on with crayon and watercolour before further plate development.
This print is very reminiscent of his father’s work and has a rather 1950s feel. The way in which he has handles the balustrade and roof echos the roof and columns in Smithfield Market. I enjoy the colour mix in this print but find it rather fussy. The detail in the mother’s face contrasts strongly with the way his father handled faces. The clean cutting of the many straight lines is superb.
Points to take away for my own practice:
- use of watercolour in developing a design
- overlaying blocks and patterns
- removal of detail
- interplay of positive and negative
- under inking
- delicate colours
- positive blocks of colour under negative shapes in darker layer, but not exactly matching in shape
- hard graft and dedication.
Dyson, A. (2009) Printmakers’ Secrets. 2009. London: A&C Black
Gentleman, D (2004-14) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online). Oxford University Press. Available from http://www.oxforddnb.com/templates/article.jsp?articleid=39953&back=