Ken Currie (b.1960) is a painter who rose to fame in the 1980s as one of the highly-acclaimed ‘New Glasgow Boys’ alongside fellow Glasgow School of Art graduates: Steven Campbell, Stephen Conroy, Peter Howson and Adrian Wisniewski. Currie represented a bold shift from traditional figurative and portrait painting. Returning to the Glasgow Print Studio for the third time, Currie’s latest exhibition New Etchings & Monotypes may be modest in its title but his paintings are quite the opposite. With no conclusive form or theme, the show is brought together by the two materials he creates with. The mixture of etchings alongside Currie’s monotypes co-exist in utter harmony as viewers are invited to explore their subject matter.
Monotyping is the process in which oil paints or printing inks are used to paint onto glass or metal. Typically, a printing-press is then used to transfer the image from the glass onto paper by pressing the two materials together. Whereas, etching is a technique that requires the artist to scratch directly onto a copper or zinc plate, removing a special resin before placing it in acid. By removing the ground, the created incisions are then left exposed for the applied ink to form a picture when placed directly on paper.
Methodology is important to printmakers. Unlike fine artists who may discard or abandon a ‘failed’ artwork, printmakers will claim every print as an edition. Their irregularities are part of their success. By examining Currie's prints, it is clear that he is an artist with a flare for experimentation and precision that can only occur from hard graft. His etchings alone are so sharp and succinct that a particular study of a skull could easily date back to the renaissance; a time where artistic vision was dominated by an obsession to replicate life and death in the truest form possible. In the same space, a pair of monotype portraits can be seen to be more expressive and abstract; evocative of Marlene Dumas.
Throughout the exhibition there are references to other painters. An etching titled Portrait of Edvard Munch hangs on the far wall, while three editions (monotypes) of Francis Bacon are also on display. It goes without saying that its a brave move for any artist to try and depict any other artist, but these compositions go beyond the ideology of portraiture. Interestingly, both of these artists chronicle the same melancholic feeling that assimilate in Currie’s work; death and the afterlife (or underworld) which symbolises the perpetual anxiety we feel in trying to search for who we are, but more importantly, why we’re here. Even as a seasoned artist with a long and well-acclaimed practice behind him, Currie continues to ask questions.
The three monotypes of Francis Bacon are a perfect example of Currie’s experimentation via the medium of printmaking. The white, whispery highlights echo one of Currie’s earlier works, Three Oncologists. Painterly in approach, the monotype has been layered with three separate tones: black, red, and green - seeping at the edges, it reveals the ever-reverent process which has formed these particular set of prints. Look closely and you can see tiny marks where the oils have lifted from the surface. The abrasive nature of these accidental marks appears differently, with different pressures and emphasis upon the image, as does the colouring of the print. The compositions of these prints can be deconstructed right down to the tiny details that make each work individual, yet part of a unified whole in their given set or series.
Each of these groupings of Currie's work, reveal how an image can evolve from print to print. This is particularly evident when examining a collection of portraits which mirror the studies of Bacon from either side. I’m reminded of another commonality within these editions: the absent, sallow faces of the people he invents; a characteristic digression of their own isolation. Looking at Currie’s work, you often feel alone, quiet and contemplative. A perfect example of this sensation stems from Fisherman at Night; the eyes of strangers, a hallowed cathedral. The entire exhibition is full of slight, wonderful moments like these; observed and captured, be it in the mind’s eye or from meticulous observation.
Fishermen at Night, signals a shift from Currie’s dealings in darker, more occult subject matter. Aligned like a storyboard, the men move together through a moonlight landscape, playing across the gradient from light to dark where large areas are blocked out by solid black - a sign of a detailed plate, where the harshest tones require the most work. Inversely, the areas with the highest impact are often the lightest where parts of the composition have been left untouched, or ink has been polished away. However, in order to create a true contrast, this level of detail has to exist. The same can be said for any practising artist wanting to develop their practice, where the most striking work has to be produced with equal measures of labour, planning and spontaneity.
Glasgow Print Studio has an extensive history as a facility designed to educate, as well as inspire their audiences. Currie - whose work spans figurative studies, still life, landscape and portraiture - makes for a portfolio like no other.
Ken Currie - New Etchings and Monotypes is on at Glasgow Print Studio until the 18th of October. For more information, please visit the Glasgow Print Studio website: http://www.glasgowprintstudio.co.uk
All photos courtesy of John Mackechnie and Ken Currie, 2015.