This time around we turn the spot light on the man who lurks in the shadows at Unit Twelve, Iain Perry, aka Print Garage who is these days a not so silent partner in the business. Responsible for the gallery’s digital presence and the branding (as well as being called on for various diy type problems), he also runs the monthly ‘Print Club‘ showing people how to screenprint. He describes himself as a ‘self-styled swashbuckling squeegee warrior’. It’s a colourful description, can you tell us a bit more about where that comes from?
I originally trained as a painter, graduating in ’99, my work moved through several phases – particularly collage and assemblage, but I was never really that satisfied with it. Jen gave me a workshop voucher a few Christmasses ago for a one off screenprinting workshop being run at Unit Twelve by Mandy Tolley from Hot Bed Press. Those six hours changed my life. Mandy just showed us some of the basics – making paper stencils. I was completely hooked. I immediately started pricing up some kit, bought a really modest little set up – a small screen, a squeegee etc and just got started. My first few prints were based around photographs I’d taken of some of my lego-men I’ve got dotted about the house. (I love lego and I love Star Wars, you can’t imagine how excited I was when they started making Lego Star Wars). Most of those prints were really small editions 5 or 6 of each – most of them have been sold and found loving homes to go to.
After that I decided I wanted to learn how to expose my own screens using light sensitive photo emulsion – so with the help of the internet and some books (not easy to track down) I eventually taught myself how and it took months of trial and error. Screen after screen, washing it down, trying to work out where I was going wrong, which variable needed changing – too much light, not enough light; I also figured out things like registration too – so that’s the self-styled bit, the swashbuckling I think probably relates to one of the early images I did of a pirate lego-man with a big red beard.
What about the warrior bit?
I think like all small(grownup) boys I’m fascinated by things like ninjas and samourai – there’s a book on one of my shelves called ‘Hagakure’ the Book of The Samourai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, it’s a weird little book, a kind of philosophy and moral code for the samourai class. I love Jedis too, but remember – Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.
And now you’re the one running the screen print workshops, that’s quite an achievement in such a short space of time. What can people expect from a Print Club session?
I offer two classes, a beginner and an intermediate. The beginner session is perfect for those who’ve never done it before, I show them all the basics- screens, squegee techniques, ink mixing and I show them how to make simple stencils and by the end of the day they all go home with a small edition of prints – usually 3 or 4 colours (sometimes more depending on how fast they work), everyone can work at their own pace, it’s non-threatening – a lot of people come to the class very nervous or they say they can’t draw. Everyone goes home with some finished prints and often the confidence to go off and take it a bit further on their own.
The intermediate is there for those who’ve done some printing before but this one focusses on how to expose screens and some basic registration techniques – to help get consistent results.
I think most importantly, the emphasis for both classes is firmly on how it is possible to set up at home. I don’t use high-falutin’ equipment – there’s no vacuum beds or expensive exposure units just affordable equipment that doesn’t take up too much room. (We also sell kits for those who want to get set up that they can take away with them – I also offer a screen exposure service as well).
(If you’re interested in finding out more or booking on a print workshop with Iain please click here for details.)
And now a few questions…
What’s the most interesting item in your studio?
My studio seems to attract interesting objects whether I want them or not – it’s our garage so I regularly have to reclaim it from all the stuff we throw in there whenever anyone comes round for dinner. Because it’s so cold there’s a shelf that doubles as a fridge. (Now my son has started eating food – we’re gonna need a bigger fridge). An artist friend of ours got rid of all her worldly belongings and became a buddhist nun – every other week she’d bring boxes of stuff round in case I could make anything from it. In there was an old slide projector and a metal box of slides, the photos look like they were taken in America back in the sixties, some kind of memento of a road journey – fascinating stuff. At the moment the most interesting thing in there is a small box of old typeset blocks, my great uncle used to run a printshop in Wales, mainly doing things like calendars (often with extra months in). I’m sat with an ink pad slowly going through the box and seeing what I’ve got – some ideas are starting to emerge at the back of my brain, playing around with found imagery I think might lead to some interesting semi-abstract work, could be my next project…
Who are your design heroes?
Peter Saville – who did a lot of the artwork for Factory Records (Joy Division, New Order etc). – really iconic work. (Tony Wilson is a bit of a hero as well).
I’ve got screen prints hung at home by Nigel Peake and Kate Banazi which I just love. I also really admire the work of Olly Moss who’s designed some fab alternative film posters.
From a painting aspect there’s people like Martin Kippenberger, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter and Bridget Riley.
Outside of the design world, I’m a bit of Carl Sagan fanboy, If you’ve never read or watched ‘The Cosmos‘, do so immediately or even better watch this (fav moment, 4:50):
My other big geek hero is Alan Turing, mathematician, inventor of the computer and cracker of the Enigma code – which helped the allies win the second world war. Without his efforts, it could all have been very different. Tragically he was prosecuted for being gay, was chemically castrated and eventually killed himself by eating an apple laced with arsenic.
Have you got a favourite book? What are you reading at the moment?
At the moment I’m reading ‘The Lies of Locke Lamora’ by Scott Lynch, which is a swashbuckling romp about a gang of thieves of call themselves the ‘Gentlemen Bastards’. It’s ace, kind of like a potty-mouthed ‘Princess Bride’. I’ve always been a sci-fi geek and love authors like Iain M. Banks, Neal Stephenson and Cory Doctorow. I’m not averse to the classics either, my rabbit is named after a Charlotte Bronte character – Edward Fairfax Rochester. It’s impossible to choose a favourite book, there’s far to many of them!
Have you got a favourite film?
Another tricky one – too many to have just one. Maybe at a push – Bladerunner. So cold and so beautiful. The Vangelis soundtrack is sublime. THAT monologue.
Where would you most like to see your work exhibited?
There are a couple of places in London that are uber-cool print shops – Beach and Print Club London. Print Club do a yearly competition called ‘Blisters’ where people submit alternative film posters of cult classics. I chickened out of entering last year – this year if it runs I will definitely go for it.
Here’s your chance to get on your soapbox – is there anything that makes you angry or frustrated within the world of craft?
Hell yeah, how long have you got? *rolls up sleeves, deep breath* Plagiarism is an obvious one for starters, a problem that seems to be rife in the world of craft. Be inspired, sure – I’ve got a list of people’s work who I’m inspired by that’s ‘longer than a Leonard Cohen song’ (to quote Malcolm Tucker), but I’d be mortified if someone accused me of ripping off their work – the key is to make something that whilst acknowledging your sources is still your own.
That’s an interesting comment, how would you that qualify that when looking at your recent prints that include Star Wars characters?
They’re Star Wars characters – everyone recognises them, I’m not pretending that I’ve created the character Boba Fett, the composition, layout and patterning that’s all mine. It fits within a context of appropriation and quotation – the culture of the remix. I’d even class it as fan art in a way. If I get the ‘cease and desist’ letters from the billion dollar corporation that is Disney then I’ll go consult my attorney.
What really annoys me (or at least makes my eyes roll) though is the derivative bandwagons that keep on trundling past all the time. Imagine a robin with a moustache, eating a custard cream, whilst sat in front of a ‘Keep Calm and dot dot dot’ type poster… horrendous, isn’t it?
Do you ever question what you’re doing?
Yes. Repeatedly. Many times a day. Our whole house is held together with gaffer tape. I’m driving around in a 15 yr old car that in the winter I have to defrost the inside!
What you do to take time out and relax?
Depending on the time of day: Eat Haribo or drink single malt whisky.
What’s your greatest achievement so far?
I’m really pleased with the work I did for a band, Scotoma, they commissioned me to create a series of images to go with their new album. Which you can see here.
We’ve recently finished a collaborative project (Jennifer and I) with Cannock Chase AONB and Kingsmead Technology College looking at notions of well being and using the great outdoors as a starting point. I really enjoyed working on it and the students created some amazing work. At the private view one of the boys who’d been a part of it, said how it made him feel really proud to see his work hanging on our gallery wall. You can’t top moments like that.
(Images from the project can be found here).