Galleries - March 2019

Fantasy and fact are not always mutually exclusive when it comes to depicting fauna. It’s a paradox that Northumberland-based artist Olivia Lomenech Gill faces regularly in her work. Though as a printmaker and illustrator she draws from life, depending on close observation, she is probably best known for her illustrations of JK Rowling’s 2017 edition of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ – the fantasy bestiary from the magical Harry Potter universe. In that work, her weaving together ofimagination with scientific examination likens her creations to earlier works ofnatural history such as Conrad Gessner’s ‘Historia Animalium’ (1558). This monumental four volume encyclopaedia was the first modern zoological work that attempted to describe all the known animals. Comprising more than 4500 pages, it contains depictions and descriptions resulting both from the Swiss physician’s own observations as well as his research into classical and modern texts. To modern eyes, Gessner’s beasts are often fantastical, though he strove to separate the real from the mythical. Besides his inclusion ofa unicorn and a hydra, some of the subjects included are distorted, reliant on third person accounts. His giraffe, for example, is distinctly goat-headed with long, curling horns. The rhinoceros, meanwhile, uses Albrecht Dürer’s print ofthe beast (itselfmade without first- hand observation) as a source. The resulting creature is covered with ribbed and spotted armoured plates. For Fantastic Beasts Gill not only took inspiration from the distinctive look ofGessner’s woodblock prints, but also mirrored his knack for blending the known and unknown. Her phoenix bears a distinct resemblance to the secretary bird but with fabulous scarlet plumage. Her whimsical depiction ofa ‘snidget’ portrays it as a sort ofinflated golden kiwi. A show this month at Abbott and Holder, ‘A Parlement of Birds’, features recent works coloured by Gill’s own interests and imaginings, informed by the fables and myths that surround various creatures and drawing again on a blend of the mundane and the magical. Patricia Darby Here is a paradox: printmaking has always been a key activity for virtually every 20th century artist from Picasso and Matisse via Rauschenberg and Warhol to Bourgeois and Richter, and nearly every contemporary artist has made prints at some point in their career. Yet somehow the art form remains under the radar of contemporary consciousness. Plenty of artists continue to do it, exhibiting societies promote it, magazines write about it, but still it refuses to enter a wider popular imagination on a permanent basis. That is not to say that it hasn't had its moments – the 1920s and 30s was one of them with Austin, Brockhurst and Sutherland among them, and the 60s was another when the technical innovations of screen printing in particular provided a perfect foil for the brash innovations of Pop and Abstract Art – but try putting together a big contemporary print exhibition at a public gallery and you soon run into trouble So all credit to that bastion of professional printmaking standards, the Printmakers' Council, founded in 1965 out of that enthusiastic moment, by Michael Rothenstein, Julian Trevelyan, Birgit Skiöld and others, and now the driving force in an excellent looking new exhibition, entitled 'Journeys' at the London Print Studio then moving to Portsmouth’s Jack House Gallery. Encompassing everything from imaginative dream journeys to the harsher realities of migration and immigration, it provides a powerful demonstration of printmaking's ability to be an utterly relevant means of contemporary expression. Nicholas Usherwood R OUND-UP 6 GALLERIES MARCH 2019 from left H elen Benson ‘Walk to the Sameba Church’ Printmakers Council at London Print Studio and Jack House Gallery Olivia Lomenech Gill Abbott and Holder B ird call Print proof