Printmaker Gail Brodholt talks to Kate Romano about creating her striking, vivid linocuts and the appeal of overlooked, unexplored places in London
Gail Brodholt likes in-between places; motorways, stations, subways, fleeting glances from a train window or the upper deck of a London bus. She depicts them in vibrant linocuts, transforming the mundane routines and habits of our lives into a series of intricate lines and curves and introducing striking new colours to old familiar views. ‘I’m intrigued by the places that people don’t really see’ she says. ‘The alleyways, the back of shops, the forgotten, unexplored and quiet corners. I like the idea of travelling; everyone is so focussed on where they are going to end up that they don’t notice the details of the journey’.
The humble linocut became a medium for the masses in the 1930s with the trailblazing work of artists Claude Flight, Sybil Andrews and Cyril Power. They captured interwar Britain, revolutionising the genre with exhilarating scenes of late nights in the city, buses hurtling down Regent Street, swing boats, aeroplanes, skaters, racing cars and commuters, all created from sweeping graphic curves and sharp lines juxtaposed with soft grainy colours.
The linocut has far less status than etching or lithography, ‘Anyone can do it‘ says Brodholt. ‘We’ve all done potato printing at school’. Linocut printing developed in the 1860s, driven by German expressionists and Russian constructivists. Lino was cheap, easy to get hold of, was more tractable than wood and easier to gouge or cut into. Claude Flight, lino’s tireless pioneer, believed in the linocut as a democratic medium for the working classes. He wrote instruction books, organised travelling exhibitions and taught the medium at the famous Grosvenor School of Modern Art, where students could apply to study art for as long as they liked without any qualifications. Flight’s own subjects were those chosen by most of the Grosvenor School; depictions of the heady speed of urban life, transport and sport. Bucking an artistic trend for a reassuring post-war ‘return to order’, Flight and his students were excited by the relentless pace of the machine age, and the necessity of creating a ‘real and vital art of tomorrow’.
Selecting scenes-in-transit without obvious edges or boundaries is part of the appeal for Brodholt, ‘I have to create the scene and I do this firstly by travelling around and just looking. When I find a place I’m interested in, I make a note and then every time I do that journey I have another look, and then I start to do a lot of little sketches. Finally, I’ll take some photos for reference. But sketches are far better than photos; photos flatten everything out and it's too easy to get distracted by all the detail. Sketches help me to work out how it all sits on the page. I’m interested in things looking like they should do, but my images are not wholly accurate. If you overlay a photo on top, you'd see the difference. I might widen roads or buildings and I shift things around and bring things to the fore which I think are important in the view.’
Brodholt’s striking colours are the result of a lot of trial and error. ‘I love colour’ she says. 'No colour is off bounds. I like to think that my colours both are and aren't realistic. Even if the colours aren’t representative of what I’m actually seeing, they have a dialogue with each other. For instance, if a light hits something in the scene, that brightness will be reflected in the colours I’m using within their relationship to one another.’
What's the lasting appeal of the linocut? I ask Brodholt. ‘I think it's the immediacy’ she says. ‘There’s no secret as to how it's done; you can grasp very quickly how the artist has created a print. Craft is not like fine art; there is no mystique. Anyone can take up a bit of lino and make a little print with it. For me, the pleasure is all in the making and the working things out. Once my prints are exhibited, once all the decisions have been made, I move on to the next one. It's the anticipation of the next adventure ahead of you.'
17 November 2023 - 11 February 2024