Talented artists helping to put print back on the map

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Behind the scenes of a new exhibition, Sarah Freeman reports on how Steel City is forging a reputation in the world of print.

The city is Sheffield is known for many things. There’s the steel industry, of course, its two rival football clubs and there’s something about the place which keeps producing talented musicians.

Fast forward a few years and it just might also be known as the home of print. There has been something of a renaissance in the art form with the likes of Jonathan Wilkinson, Kid Acne, Joe Peel and James Green all using traditional techniques to create striking contemporary images.

In recognition of the revival, the city’s Millennium Gallery is about to stage an exhibition celebrating the work of more than 30 Sheffield-based best printmakers.

Among the collection, which opens to the public tomorrow, will be new silk-screen editions by Kid Acne, atmospheric aquatints by Neil Woodall and graphic screen prints by Joe McDonnell and Emma Shore.

“It has been a bit of a quiet renaissance, born out of a number of different activities,” says curator Alison Morton. “Yorkshire Artspace, which provides studio space for artists in the heart of the city centre, has always been something of a champion for printmaking and the result of their continued support is really now coming to the fore.

“We are also incredibly lucky in Sheffield that we have a large number of galleries which exist not just as commercial enterprises, but offer things like framing services to the city’s artists.

“If you go into any of Sheffield’s many studios, these days you’re guaranteed to find printmakers at work. In the last few years I think we have just reached a critical mass and printmaking has become a really dynamic scene.”

Historically, traditional artists have been a little sniffy when it comes to print. They see purity in producing a one-off work of art, while the nature of print, producing copy after copy, smacks too much of commercialism.

“The great thing about print is that it can create really affordable work and I don’t buy into the argument that it’s somehow a lesser art form,” says Alison. “What’s great about the current crop of artists is that while they share the same medium they all approach it from a different direction.

“There is an incredible diversity of work, some features fantastical characters while others are very architectural in their design.

“The reason for the exhibition was to bring these artists to a much wider audience and show the breadth of talent that we have in the city from screen printing to etching, lithographs and digital printmaking.”

Visitors will also be able to take part in the print revolution as many of the works, as well as a selection of unframed editions, will be available for sale.

Printing Sheffield, Millennium Gallery, January 25 to June 15. Entry to the exhibition is free. For more information call 0114 278 2600 or visit the website at www.museums-sheffield.org.uk

Leading lights in Sheffield’s Dynamic scene

Jonathan Wilkinson: The Sheffield Hallam graduate takes his inspiration from the brutalist surroundings of Sheffield’s urban landscape and has developed a pared back architectural style.

Kid Acne: While studying fine art in Sheffield, his work was spotted by Warp Records and he has never looked back. His designs have since adorned everything from T-shirts to pizza boxes.

Jo Peel: Like Wilkinson, the Sheffield-born artist also focuses on city scenes and as well as her print work she has also created a series of large murals in both this country and Brazil.