Meet the Artist
PrintMaking in the Somerset Levels, we interview Myrtle Pizzey
- Written by Vanessa Champion Vanessa Champion
Myrtle Pizzey won Best Work in Show at the SGFA annual exhibition 2015. Known for her abstract responses to colour, shape, space, and form not only does she achieves stunning realistic images but she is a prolific print-maker and a most interesting and thoughtful artist. She has won a whole stash of Strathmore Print Paper.
First of all congratulations on winning the Strathmore Artist Papers prize at the SGFA annual exhibition this year. Stunning piece. Can you tell us a bit about the winning image, what it represents, what inspired you to create it, any challenges in making it?
The scene "Cattle on Hay Moor" is just around the corner from where I live. Our next door neighbours are farmers, and like a lot of small farmers have given up milking to breed beef cattle, changing the landscape from one dominated by black and white Friesians to a various mix of all types of breeds. Several of my prints include parts of this scene which has changed quite dramatically over time. The silhouette of trees in the distance in winter etched out against the bleak sky and the willow trees in the foreground are so indicative of the Somerset Levels. All the fields in this part of the world are surrounded by rhynes or ditches that act as a reservoir for the surplus water in the winter and also as a barrier to prevent the animals straying. I stood on the verge of the rhyne and took a David Hockney type photograph scanning the area. The resulting image distorted the lane into a curve, and the cattle came to watch! The previous year I created a print as a commission for a local couple, so decided to create this image to the same dimensions as the print called "Sheep on Common Moor". It is very reminiscent of the Somerset Levels. The print in the SGFA Exhibition was just in black and white, however I do sometimes watercolour them.
You are a brilliant print-maker, what got you into it? You say on your website that you started out as a painter? What brought about the shift?
I trained as a painter in the painting school at the old West of England College of Art, now part of the University of the West of England. Len McComb now a famous sculptor, was one of my drawing tutors and Paul Feiler was head of painting. Paul was very much an abstract painter, but he knew a great deal about colour and tonal contrast he said very little but what he did say was always very pertinent.
As part of the course we had to take a craft and I experimented with stone lithography, etching and linocutting. I liked the tactile element of cutting the blocks.
Almost immediately after qualifying I married and had three children who took up much of my time for several years.
Do you still paint? Your influences are close to my heart too, Ravilious, Sickert. Where did you first come across their work and how do you find the connection manifesting itself in your work?
Very little with oil , sometimes with watercolour on my prints , but my knowledge of composition and colour transfers to my pastels , It is a way of mixing colour on the paper rather than on the palette the same principle as Seurat and pointillism but using strokes of colour.
Influences well.......... The Renaissance painters I admired for their ability to compose a painting, and at my home on the dining room walls we had reproductions of the Dutch painters, Vermeer and de Hooch and I used to use the basis of their compositions for my own work, initially being unaware of the mathematical skill and precision represented in them. Ravilious used line and pattern so well and in the early years as a painter I warmed to the English earth colours used by Sickert. I remember we were set a project in the painting school to select a painting in the Bristol City Museum to reproduce. I chose a painting by Joseph Herman. It was of two peasants harvesting in the fields of his homeland and he used raw umber, burnt umber and ochres, I was disappointed to discover he used cobalt not Prussian Blue! Cold stream is a painter I have much admired, there is a gentleness in the work a calm element, I like how he combines construction lines within a painting and how he returned to a painting for a year or more even when it appeared complete.
Inevitably Edward Bawden, and his bold linocuts have been an influence his combination of colours and by contrast the bold black and white prints. My prints are more elaborate, using pattern and texture as tone.
Escher produced some amazing wood cuts and I could go on ... Van Gogh's expressive style in his later years plus his early pen drawings.
You say that “Teaching students helps you to clarify your own thoughts and responses to a subject or process”. How has this manifested itself in your practice? Do you find yourself working out a problem in the classroom?
I no longer teach in an institution, I taught in a sixth form college for almost 20 years, mainly teaching A level students drawing and painting with printmaking as their main craft. Once I had gained their confidence experimentation with process was something they enjoyed and through which I learned a great deal. I took early retirement and now do my own work. I do run the occasional course from my studio, small groups, no more than 4 for 2 days in lino and various other forms of printmaking.
I find your prints, flamboyant, full of rampant colour and fabulous textures, can you describe the process of printing? From prelim idea to completed piece? How do you feel when it’s finished?
Initially my interest in relief printmaking began all those years ago at college. I joined a group of screen printers as my children were growing up, but hated it! It was such a mechanical process. I noticed an Albion Press in the corner of the studio so asked if I could use it and haven't stopped since! My early paintings were very free and in some ways seemed undefined, when you create a block you have to be decisive about things, so I felt printmaking was helping me be more decisive in my work.
In the majority of my prints drawing is at the core. I walk the local landscape with my dog, Noah, and discover potential places to draw, then I go out into the landscape with my easel, paper and charcoal . I am quite good at finding places to hide easels in trees or brambles, so that I can return (weather permitting) for a few consecutive days to complete the drawing. I also take photographs and use those to define, dramatise or create depth of tone in the studio.
Once the drawing is complete I trace it onto acetate with a permanent marker, then I reverse the image onto the lino. I put carbon underneath the tracing and having attached the two surfaces to the lino to retrace it. I then have, with the help of the carbon image to re-draw it in reverse! The cutting, depending on the size of the block, can take 3 to 6 weeks, I usually cut from back to front. In other words the sky then the far distance, then the middle distance, then the foreground. The foreground is the hardest to get right, so i sometimes do a proof print at the middle distance stage just to assess how the image is working in tone and space, light and shade. It is easier to remove more at this stage but can't put it back once you have cut it away.
I don't like proofing because I just know it will need adjustments. I do like the final stages when almost complete.
'The colour prints are produced by reduction using 2 blocks. But that is another story!
Your pastels have that same graphic quality with a torrent of rainbows threading themselves through each creation. The quietness of the charcoals are in brilliant contrast. What do you prefer working in?
We are lucky enough to live in a country with a wide range of seasons , so in spring/summer I am drawn to colour the, vibrancy of the garden and the country side.The barley rippling in the wind and the variations in light at differing times of day, so my pastels come to life here. Autumn can be colourful but as the weather breaks into winter the skeletons of the trees are revealed etched out against the sky, so charcoal is more appropriate to record the drama of black and white.
You must have a lot of kit in your studio, which item is the most important to you, might be a tool, a finished print plate or something sentimental? And Why?
The favourite thing in my studio? The box that houses my lino tools, made for me by my father as a birthday present when I was five, and painted pink containing silk threads, cottons needles and fabric. Then transformed by my son, years later. He stripped off the pink made little trays to go inside, fitted brass clasps and a handle, so it could accommodate my lino tools. It is a treasure!
And a fun question, if you were a Strathmore paper, which one would it be?
What are your online links?
www.myrtlepizzey.co.uk I also have work with INPRINT, a web page for buying original prints www.originals-inprint.com I am on Facebook , Artists 303 blog www.artists303.org.uk, and the SGFA web site www.SGFA.org.uk