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Posts Tagged ‘Maureen Booth printmaker’

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An interview by Bart Sedgebear

Manchester Girl Came Long Way

Maureen is from Manchester, U.K. In her last incarnation there she was a suburban housewife with two small children. That was in 1964 and she was feeling restless again. She had always been restless, at school, in church, in her job as a secretary earning coolie wages in the Manchester textile sector. This time it was bigger. She wanted out of suburbia, out of Little England. She had experienced only two weeks of sunshine in the previous year and yearned to feel the sun. She had painted her children’s bedroom walls with a bullfighter theme. Painting made her happy. She had attended a few night classes with a professor from the Stockport College of Art. “I needed to know how to stretch a canvas,” she says. After a half-dozen lessons the art professor said to her, “You don’t need to come any more. Just go home and draw everything.” She sold her first couple of portraits and thought the life of the artist would be easy.

One day, when her husband arrived home from work as a sales rep, she said to him, “Let’s move to Spain.” They had been on holiday a couple of times on the Costa Brava on Spain’s northern Mediterranean coast and enjoyed it.

In July 1964 she stepped off a plane at the Málaga airport, a thousand kilometers south of the Costa Brava. She was shepherding her two children and struggling with the carry-on luggage. Her husband was waiting there to drive them to their new home, a cobblestone, Roman-tiled fishing village 50 kilometers up the coast. As she stepped out the door of the plane she was buffeted by a wave of heat like nothing she had ever experienced before. She wondered if she had done the right thing.

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Time Flies

Flash forward a half century. She’s sitting midst easels and etching presses, stacks of canvases and exotic papers, worriedly anticipating the return of the wren that built his nest outside her studio window last week–and looking back over a life that took her by surprise.

Q: What happened?

A: We sold our house in England and pooled the money with another English couple to build a restaurant/bar and 12 apartments on a bluff over a Mediterranean beach in southern Spain. We ran the business working alternate weeks for a few years, the wives cooking and the husbands doing the shopping and tending the bar.

A couple of years in I rented the whole top floor of an old house overlooking a big vegetable patch and made it into a wonderful studio. The woman who owned the house was called Conchita Bueno and she was truly buena. I would paint there during the off weeks and any other time I could steal. Sometime during the fourth year, with the business taking off and me selling some paintings, I got restless again. We didn’t speak hardly any Spanish and we had never really integrated with the villagers. What’s more, the town was turning into a tourist trap for wayward Brits and Northern Europeans who formed English-speaking cliques and whose idea of adventure was to go to a “native” bar. It wasn’t an ideal place to raise children. I felt that I needed to get out of there. But how? I badly needed some serendipity.

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It came along in the form of an American lad who wore cut-off jeans in mid-winter and always carried a couple of cameras. He moved into the ugly new block of flats opposite our restaurant and began coming over for breakfast, and we had time for long chats. It turned out he was writing articles for American newspapers and was determined to stay in Europe. He liked fried bread, had never heard of it. One morning he and I made mayonnaise together in the kitchen, him pouring the oil slowly into the bowl and me whipping it into the eggs with a wire whisk. Shortly afterwards we coincided at a party of those boring expats and spent the whole night in a corner reading aloud to each other from a book of Yeats’ poems. We read Beggar to Beggar Cried. That did it.

Q: What happened then?

A. Two weeks later I was back on the plane with my kids, headed to my parents’ house in Manchester. I was there for six months working in my brother’s flower shop while my soon-to-be second husband searched for a “real” Spanish village well off the Mediterranean coast, found one, rented a house there, and helped the owner install a bathroom. We’ve lived in that village ever since. It hasn’t changed much as it’s in a steepish valley that doesn’t have much room for “development.” Here we raised my two kids and one of our own.

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Becoming a Printmaker

Eventually we bought an old house and fixed it up. As we had no money left nor collateral, the village mayor co-signed a loan for us to do the renovation. That is how our pueblo has treated us. Some years later we built the studio and converted the goat shed into an office for Mike and have happily lived and worked here ever since. Much later we built a cabin to accommodate the print artists who came from all over the world to attend my printmaking workshops. Workshops are what you do when a disastrous world economic crisis slows your flow of art sales to a drip. Even in this I was lucky. My husband was a freelance journalist and photographer who had worked in PR in the US, so it didn’t take him long to adapt to being an artist’s online publicist. Try googleing “printmaking courses in Spain”  and see the first results.

This was the etching studio of the Rodríguez-Acosta Foundation in 1979-80

Q: How did you become a printmaker?

A: More serendipity. Louise Waugh, a wonderful English watercolorist friend, stopped by the studio one day with some beautiful etching proofs. I was astounded. How did she do that? She said she had been accepted to study in the etching studio of the Fundación Rodríguez-Acosta in Granada. “You just take a portfolio of your work and leave it with them, and then go back after a week to see if you’ve been accepted.” I did. I was. A whole new world opened up for me. I worked there for two-and-a-half years, under the direction of the magical printmaking maestro, José García Lomas, “Pepe Lomas,” who had been exquisitely formed in Barcelona and Paris. Pepe liked his students to be earnest and I was certainly that, so he spared no effort to see to it that I mastered his traditional techniques. It’s a good thing I did. Everything starts there.

The Creative Life

Q: Let’s talk about the creative life. How do you see it looking back?

A: And forward. That’s something I need to clear up. A writer friend of ours recently turned 40 and expressed concern about being “past her prime.” What nonsense. You’re never past your prime until you stop struggling. I made my first print when I was 37. Consider Georgia O’Keeffe, nearing 98, virtually blind, and still painting.

As for “the creative life,” Mike and I have discussed it a lot. We agree that authentic creativity goes beyond putting paint on canvas or ink on plates. For us an artist’s first mission is to take responsibility for crafting a creative life. That can mean different things for different artists but the essential part is about making a vital and artistic ecosystem for yourself, tailor made for your own needs, tastes, challenges and aspirations. And don’t fail to leave some space for serendipity.

Don’t worry what other people think of your lifeplan. It’s for you, not for them. Do you want to raise chihuahuas or learn Mandarin. You can do that, and more. When I was headed back to Spain in 1969 to start a new life my two brothers, both successful businessmen, expressed their grave concern for me. They thought I was crazy. Forty-some years later they came down individually for visits, and both confided to me, “I wish I had done what you did.”

Q: Do you have any advice for young artists who are starting out, say, where you were in the mid-sixties?

A: I can make some general suggestions, but every artist is a world apart. First and foremost is the importance of actually working, filling sketchbooks, painting, making prints. If you don’t do that conscientiously it’s all pointless. Inevitably, what you are seeking, to live from your art, entails some risk, but it need not be an impediment. There’s a simple formula for taking the stress out of it: Figure out what your wildest dream is and give it a try. The worst that can happen is that you have to go home and get a job.

You’ll have to sell some work, of course. You’ll need to exhibit and participate in art fairs and other cultural events. Whether or not you ever sell much work over Internet, a compelling presence on the Web will be an important element in your success. Your story is just as important as your work and you’ll need to develop it and find interesting ways to divulge it. Right now the media for that are websites and blogs, videos and podcasts and, of course, social media. Later there will be something else but the essential element will still be your story: your humanity, your humor, your best teacher, your hopes, your unexpected successes, the morning light on your nasturtiums, your cat, and your trip to Tasmania or the Grand Canyon. Don’t worry about including any sales pitches. The captivating life and times of a full-time professional artist is sales pitch enough, and your potential clients will appreciate your low-key presentation.

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More Preparation

It would be good to study something, too, regardless of whether you get a degree. You will learn how to learn and this will serve you well when it comes time to build a a website or a sailboat. Don’t laugh. A dear artist friend of ours in Colorado makes lovingly- crafted three-quarter size Indian canoes and people hang them from their ceilings.

Travel all you can. Read all you can. Without it you cannot become a complete artist–or person. Read quality fiction and non-fiction. Everything fits into the artist’s blender.

Q: Do you have more suggestions, something to help artists survive a crisis?

A: I discussed that more extensively in an article I wrote some years ago. Here’s a link to it.

Q: What about working space and conditions? How important are they?

A: Ample workspace is essential for a visual artist, especially considering that you might need to mount courses in there. That studio is your sacred space and you must devote some thought and resources to it. You also need privacy and tranquility. At first you may need a day job, but don’t let it prevent you from spending quality time in your studio. Program that into your life. Set some objectives, make some plans. Write them down. They will help you navigate the hard times to come.

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Think about what kind of work you’re going to do, how commercial you can go without compromising your creativity and your self respect. Who are you going to sell to and how? Resist the temptation to spend time and effort cultivating rich clients. Normal people–teachers, nurses, programmers, office workers, small business people and the like, are better, more loyal and constant. They will think of you when they need wedding presents or portraits. Then, if a rich client comes along, that’s OK, too.

Don’t despise anyone. My best client for paintings (this was before etchings) when I started out in Granada was a young pharmacy employee. He would phone me occassionally and say, “I’ve got some money saved, Maureen. Can I come out and have a look-around?” We’re still friends.

Q: What about the coronavirus pandemic? How do you think that is going to influence the lives of artists?

A: I think that’s impossible to predict at the moment. The first thing that occurs to me is that involuntary lockdown has given artists valuable time to think and observe, time they have never taken before. I hope they take good advantage of it. As for national and world events, they could go from revolutionary social and political changes to just more of the usual muddling through. Only one thing is clear to me: our creativity–in the broadest sense of the word–will be stretched to its limits Artists may have to plant potatoes. In any case, look on the bright side. Creativity is what artists are good at.

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Back for Seventh Successive Year

This group of high-school juniors, from Germany, Russia, the USA and Spain all attend Bremen’s  International Baccalaureate school and study art under Brenda Eubank. This is the seventh (eighth?) successive year that Brenda brings her students to Maureen’s studio to do a printmaking workshop. (Note: Brenda notifies us by email that the first workshop Maureen had with the students from Bremen was in 2011, so this year’s visit was the ninth. Time flies.)

This year, under Maureen’s guidance, they made three collective artists’ books. It sounds complicated and it was but the results gratified everybody.

Have a look at the photographs, below.

(Thanks, Brenda, hope to see you next year.)

 

Photos by Mike Booth and Brenda Eubank
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Children Loose in My Studio with Indelible Felt Pens

Our friends ask me frequently, “When are you going to do a workshop for children?I would love for our kids to participate.” So last Saturday I invited  a group of friends’ kids, along with our own grandchildren, to a day of printmaking in my studio. Some of them didn’t really know why they were here; they were sent. Some were frankly reluctant at first.

How does one overcome that reluctance and get them centered on the work. I found out a long time ago that it’s not so complicated as it seems. You put a sheet of acetate in one hand and a felt pen in the other and tell them to do whatever they like. No art teacher ever told them that before and it makes them feel empowered. That, and seeing their first print, maintains their enthusiasm.

Aside: One of the fathers was there when I passed out the materials, actually a well-known local painter. He stood over his daughter and started giving her instructions.  I suggested he might be more comfortable out in the sunshine and she immediately got seriously to work. Moral to the story: Children are actually people and people like freedom.

After creating their first image, seeing it burned on a solarplate and run through an etching press onto paper, they wanted to do more printss. I couldn’t keep up with them. The only way to slow them down was to announce lunch. What do kids like to eat? Anything followed by chocolate pudding.

They all went home with a couple of prints, some more, and a new  experience under their belts. The parents were also delighted. Some of them actually expressed an interest in doing some prints themselves.

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Photography by Miguel Ángel Martínez and Mike Booth

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Good morning Frances

I found this note below written in my visitors’ book a few days after Frances and Mike Parker left. It made me so proud I want to share it with you.

Teachers are born with a gift and you have this gift in bucket loads.

How can I ever thank you enough for your energy, talent, passion, wisdom and generosity? I have learnt so much from you in such a short time. Not just about technique and process, much deeper lessons in how to live an artistic and creative life, lessons that I will take with me and draw on to enrich my work and relationships.

The studio space, the adorable Gallinero, the village, the river and most of all Mike and your hospitality and generosity have made our visit so memorable.

Frances & Mike Parker

Thank you for your too-kind words, Frances. I wish you and Mike the greatest success wherever you go, whatever you do. I suspect you’re going to etch a deep mark on Australian printmaking.

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Homenaje a Maureen

Somos Pineros

Homenaje a Maureen.
Hom

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In recent months a couple of my galleries in Granada have been asking, “Could you make us some miniature prints?” These are my first proofs.

 

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Your first portfolio is a milestone. This is the point where you’ve practiced enough printmaking techniques to make a respectable showing with your first formal project. Your confidence has grown to an almost viable level—along with an equally-heightened case of nerves and apprehension. This is the big time. What subject should you choose? What techniques should you employ for this first effort? If I may offer my advice, choose a subject that is familiar to you, something you love and is close at hand. As for techniques, keep it simple. You’re just starting out. There’s plenty of time to get fancy as you go along.

Shall I tell you about my first portfolio? It was 1978 and my maestro, José García Lomas (Pepe Lomas to his friends), suggested that I might be ready to make my first portfolio of prints. I had been studying with him at the Rodríguez-Acosta Foundation in Granada for more than two years. Pepe  offered to guide me through process of making the portfolio. What a luxury that was.

He was delighted when I told him I had chosen a nonsense poem, The Owl and the Pussycat, by the English artist, illustrator, musician, author and poet, Edward Lear. This was a poem that, for some reason, I remembered vividly from my childhood. Pepe agreed with me that it offered splendid visual possibilities.

I must confess that the five plates that I created for The Owl and the Pussycat were not precisely simple. I worked on them for six months, pulling untold proof prints. Encouraged all along by my maestro, who wanted to see me show off the techniques he had taught me, techniques that I had practiced every weekday morning for more than two years, I went to work enthusiastically. So the etched zinc plates incorporated line work, aquatint, and soft ground. The Rodríguez-Acosta workshop had a wonderful big aquatint box with paddle bellows and we were still in the age of immortality. I suspect we all breathed a lot more resin than was good for us.

Before I even touched the first plate I did sketches for all five of them. Any comments Pepe made were always limited to technical considerations, as he always scrupulously respected his students’ artistic criteria. I started by varnishing five zinc plates and lightly etching in the basic drawings, then working the plates all up together starting with the aquatint. Though all the plates were different, this approach insured some degree of coherence across the whole portfolio.

We decided on an edition of 50 portfolios and 50 loose sets. Multiply that by five etchings plus a cover illustration and it adds up to 600 prints. Pepe insisted that the whole job be done by Angel and Pepillo, the workshop’s two printing technicians. The artists at the Foundation seldom touched the etching presses. While they did that I went off to find an offset print shop to print the cover text and colophon.

I presented The Owl and the Pussycat along with other work in an exhibition at Granada’s wonderful Palacio de la Madraza, the 14th-century building opposite the cathedral. La Madraza housed Granada’s first university and belongs to the University of Granada today.

This was the most successful portfolio I ever did.

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“I’d like to go back home and teach these techniques…”

Jess is a lovely girl and was a pleasure to work with. She seemed to have a sense of purpose beyond her 20 years, learning the techniques of creative printmaking very fast. I was able to let her do her own printing after a few days. She has a lot of natural charm and also very keen to learn about solar plates and the liquid metal technique. Jess left with some very interesting prints which we made together and also a lot she created on her own. She also loved the city of Granada, where she would go lots of afternoons using the local bus service. We will miss you, Jess. Come back when you can.

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.From the visitors’ book:

I will always remember my time here with joy. I have learnt so much about art, Spain and myself. It’s an experience I will always treasure. Maureen, you and Miguel have been more than accommodating during my time here. So thank you. You have taught me such a mass of things. Perhaps I will see you in New Zealand!

Love, Jess — Keep in touch!

17 August 2015

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Mel & Bernice Strawn, Salida, Colorado, USA

Mel and Bernice Strawn are a young couple whose entire lives have been dedicated to art. He taught at universities in Michigan, Colorado and, I think, Chicago. She is a painter and sculptor with a long trajectory of incredibly imaginative and delicate work. When Mel retired from teaching they made their home outside Salida, Colorado, high in the Rockies, where they still live. Mel has the honor of being one of the world’s very first digital artists.

He and B came to the Gallinero and my studio in February of 2011 to work on solarplate prints. Mel had already done some solar work but, tireless researcher that he is, he wanted to delve further. Working with them was a delight and a learning experience for me as Mel questioned and experimented every step of the way, while B did what she is: pure creativity.

We’re still in touch via email and Mel is still experimenting with new solar plates. (The manufacturers should supply him with plates and pay him for  publishing his findings!) Thanks for coming, Mel and B. It was a pleasure to meet and work with you. You’re two wonderful role models for the creative life.

Here’s a longer article on the Strawns from the Colorado Central Magazine.

From the visitors’ book: “My husband, Mel, and I have stepped out of the cold February weather of Colorado to enjoy the sun on the little deck to draw, work on prints and sip a little afternoon wine.  The view across the valley to the south dips to the River Genil  and then up the steep terraced hillside carpeted with green and glowing with blooming almond trees. The Booths have cultivated an exotic garden here which immediately captivated me.  The local nopal, prickly pear cactus clumps, are fascinating and I did several prints based on those forms. In Maureen’s studio you can try out different approaches to printmaking and with her help you can find one that relates to the direction of your art. Maureen and Mike are very generous in their concerns for your comfort and the success of your art goals. We couldn’t have asked for more caring and attentive hosts.

Bernice and Mel Strawn, March 2011

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Fran Ramírez, Madrid, Spain

Fran Ramírez is a talented and dedicated artist. We have been doing collaborative work together in my studio for more than 10 years. As you can see from the images below, Fran has his own particular view of life in Spain plus a unique vision in his paintings and prints.  He has recently finished the restoration work on a new studio in Madrid for himself and his photographer wife, Marta. It also includes a discreet exhibit space. We’re anxious to see the work they hang up there.

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