“Woodcut is a medium that appeals to my graphic and sculptural sensibilities; I enjoy its direct and irreversible nature. There is this vital friction between the material which is laborious to carve and my intention which is trying to shape it. The printing process is something I do by hand and can be extremely physical, sometimes it actually feels like I am having a fight with the paper ink and block. So there is this sort of performative energy that it gives off. And with the printing there is always the softness of the grain, the beauty of accidental marks or abrasions which brings a whole new layer to the work. I like the relinquishing of control and how you get a very interesting surface in a completely automatic and uncreative manner.
The woodcut also resonates with words as well as images and so the medium is a good vehicle for my text-based pieces; concrete poetry is an obvious influence here. I think of the word as a sort of actor and the print as a stage, its meaning is enacted or reflected through how it’s positioned spatially in relation to other words, whether it rises or falls, recedes or protrudes.
The edition number varies but tends to be quite small, as the printing process is exacting and laborious. I prefer small editions as they are more intimate, being only one of a few. Some of my prints are also ‘unique’ and in that sense are very close to monoprints or paintings.
The works are expansive in that they invite multiple interpretations. The Discomfort Cabinet Triptych presents figures trapped in furniture-like objects, decorated with geometric patterns. These ornate mini-prisons might be a metaphor for how people are physically confined by culture but could equally speak of the very real claustrophobia of lifts, micro-apartments and crowded airplanes. They also aim for metaphorical richness: Ego Drums presents an object that could be simultaneously a pair of bongo drums, a creature with giant eyes, a pair of astral spectacles, or two cylinders inscribed with alien pictograms.
Many of the prints mimic tribal art, the sort of objects people enjoy having in their homes. I have re-appropriated these culturally de-provenanced forms so as to create a picture of a self in perpetual flux. Like Kurt Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, we are in a state of constantly becoming unstuck, jumping across dataflows, emotions, histories. As subjects I don’t think we have complete control of our physical or mental movement, it is more like this great acceleration of information is making us jump up and down like popcorn in a microwave. We are always travelling now, across media, mental states, aspirations, desires... as Marshall McLuhan said: “you can’t go home again”. Unconsciously I believe the polysemic nature of my work reflects this spiritually and physically restless state.
Finally the show’s title adapts the first line of Virigil’s Aeneid “I sing of arms”, appropriating the heroic register to describe domestic objects and experience, reflecting the way our personal existential myths have come to replace the grand epic stories of nations embodied in long dead heroes. The title speaks of the transition of the global system from a state of war to commerce and the enormous growth in private power.”
- Declan Jenkins