Seacourt Print Workshop

With traditional and contemporary printmaking, this exhibition marks an impressive 30 year anniversary

The Seacourt Print Workshop’s latest exhibition, at the Strule Arts Centre in Omagh, is the perfect way to mark its activities and achievements over the past 30 years. A wide variety of colours, themes and artists are on display.

SPW, which is based in Bangor, was established in 1981 as a facility for artists of all abilities to make original lithographs, etchings and relief prints. It has flourished through the years, and now has 60 artists using its facilities as annual subscribers.

When SPW30: Celebrating 30 Years of Excellence was originally developed, the exhibition displayed 30 pieces of work. It has already travelled around a number of venues across Northern Ireland. For its latest showcase it has been re-designed to fit the intimate but adequate gallery space at Strule.

Perhaps the most interesting and important thing about this exhibition is the insight it gives into the art of printmaking. All of the works are original prints, as opposed to a printed reproductions.

It is clear that each participating artist takes a very different approach to their work. The mix of traditional and contemporary printmaking provides a selection of images that are both eye-catching and intriguing. A small information panel also accompanies each image, relating its history and the story behind the printmaking process.

One of the most striking images is Merve Jones’ ‘Last of the War Chiefs’ (above), which combines the head of Ian Paisley with the body of the last Navajo war chief. While this may sound disturbing, it is, in fact, extremely impressive and thought-provoking.

This piece was created as part of SPW’s Arizona State University project, Response. During the project, artists were asked to select and work with photographs of native Americans, which were taken between 1902 and 1908. Jones’ relief print is of a very high standard and the image is captivating.

Penny Brewill, a master printer and former research technician with SPW, is another artist who has produced interesting and vibrant work for the exhibition. Her work is an excellent reflection of the training that takes place at SPW.

At present, the workshop is the only one in Ireland with an active research programme exploring print processes that are safer for the artists and the environment. Printmaking is the perfect medium for Brewill’s work, as it demands deeply etched lines, screen-printed photographic details that, it might be argued, only this medium can offer.

Other pieces to keep an eye out for are the prints created by Neill Shawcross and Basil Blackshaw, who have also worked with SPW printmakers to realise a series of edition prints. Drawing on SPW's extensive archive and covering the group’s innovative educational and research programmes, the exhibition is a superb example of the many skilled and innovative printmaking artists living in Northern Ireland.

For those who may not necessarily have a background or interest in printmaking, this excellent exhibition gives an insight into the creative process, and shows the lasting impact that a relatively small workshop can achieve.

SPW30: Celebrating 30 Years of Excellence runs at the Strule Arts Centre in Omagh from Decemeber 19 to January 02, 2012.