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Printing with the colours of winter

by Eloise Carolan April 3, 2018
Printing with the colours of winter

Australian exchange student exhibits work as part of Concordia printmaking class

During Ali Watson’s first Canadian winter, she featured her artwork in a Montreal gallery. The 21-year-old exchange student from Australia’s Curtin University faced a starkly different reality this semester compared to the year-round heat of her hometown of Morley.

Her series, featured in Atelier Galerie A.Piroir, contextualizes her experience of being in Canada. It is a response to this new environment and the environment she sees outside.

While on exchange, Watson has lived on Concordia’s Loyola campus, where the view outside her window inspired her artwork, a series of four seven-by-seven-inch woodblock prints. “It is a study of a bush outside of my room’s window […] depicting different weather conditions at various times of day,” she said. “I look out my window everyday and see the bush.”

“I mixed my own ink for my series,” she added. “The colours I used reflect what I saw outside, particularly greys, whites and light purples.”

Watson is a printmaker in her last semester of a fine arts degree. “I was chosen in my print processes class to be featured in the annual printmaking exhibition; it focuses on woodblock printing,” she said. Along with other Concordia students, Watson had the opportunity to help set up the opening of the exhibit, which consisted of curating the works and displaying them in the space.

Ali Watson’s piece is made up of four seven-by-seven-inch woodblock prints. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

“I really didn’t think much about it before I did it,” Watson said with a laugh, reflecting on the inspiration for her project. She described her untitled series as being “about winter and the visibility that winter has on nature. I tried to focus on snow and how it changes the outside landscape.”

A theme throughout her work is the connection she feels with places even when she is not there. “It is kind of like a tactile memory that forms. I focus on structural surroundings that create a sense of memory and familiarity—the constant things that are always there,” Watson said.

Places that evoke nostalgic memories subconsciously create the meaning behind her work. “My work is always about what’s around me. In Montreal, everything I have made has been about being here.”

According to their website, the Atelier Galerie A.Piroir specializes in the creation and exhibition of printmaking. Although she was familiar with the printing process, Watson had never used woodblock prior to this experience, and the carving element was new to her. “I haven’t worked with imagery in a while, because I usually focus on installations. To actually have to design something was challenging.”

Woodblock printing is a detailed and timely process. Once the artist has carved the wood with chiseling tools, it is inked with a roller and run through a press. Every print goes through the press at least three times and holds multiple layers of ink. Printmakers carve out different sections and print on top of them to achieve intricate designs.

“My work portrays home, but not in the traditional sense,” Watson said, referring to the typical use of people to symbolize home. Instead, the colours and textures she chose reflect this theme, and she relied on icons to “reflect a sense of home and belonging.”

“I think home is a feeling that is created,” she added.

When Watson started printmaking three years ago, she did not like it. “I came to realize that it let me produce the most exciting outcomes,” she said. Since learning the process in Australia, printmaking has been Watson’s focus for the past three years.

“I was a boring painter,” she said with a sigh. “I do like sculpture though, and some of my prints become sculptural, as in they aren’t just flat on a wall. The paper itself becomes a sculpture.”

Watson said she hopes to work as a practicing artist and business owner in the future. “I want to eventually do a master’s degree in something that isn’t necessarily art. I would like to maybe do social work and then find a way to link the two,” she said.

The exhibition, which features the work of Concordia printmaking students, is on display at Atelier Galerie A.Piroir until April 7. The gallery is open from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday to Friday.

Photos by Mackenzie Lad

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