Erik Kok and Rudi Bastiaans’ explorations will feed into a wider research project between UCLan, AKI and University of the West of England

PRACTICAL – Tracy Hill reports on a recent symposium at which artists from many disciplines collaborated to revitalize the relationship between print and ceramics.

Print and ceramics have a long history of workingtogether, often wirh print applied to a form after it has been designed and produced in ceramics. This relationship has been widely recognized by both disciplines and there have been a number of publications and successful symposiums that have
explored the relationship between printmaking and ceramic production over the years. However, this relationship has often meant that printmakers were removed from the act of creating the form.

On 25 September 2014 ArtLab Contemporary Print Studios (ACPS) and The Silicate Research Unit (SRU) at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) welcomed guests for a four-day International Print and Refractory Concrete Symposium. Hosted by Tracy Hill and Alasdair Bremner this provided an important step into exploring further the possibilities of working across the ancient disciplines of fine art printmaking and contemporary ceramics.

Inspired by the research already undertaken by Hill and Bremner on the use of refractory concrete to create large-scale ceramic relief prints, this symposium brought together experts Erik Kok and Rudi Bastiaans from the AKl, Institute for the Arts in Enschede, The Netherlands, UCLan students and staff from printmaking and ceramics courses.

For a number of years, Hill’s practice has incorporated innovative ways of translating the marks from traditional intaglio plates and silkscreen images onto the surface of alternative materials to create experimental and multi-disciplinary installations. The interaction between surfaces such as plaster, metal, acrylic and ceramic and the relationship between the ink impressed from an intaglio plate and the floating layer of ink laid down by a silk-screen has always driven experimentation in Hill’s work. The many potential combinations form an intrinsic element to many of her works.

Bremner’s experimental research using castable refractory concrete to create large-format architectural ceramics provides a way to translate printmaking marks and images onto pieces that would have the scale and durability that was required by Hill for future installation projects. This industrial technology offered the opportunity to achieve the creation of objects that build not conform to the more traditional limitations of both ceramics and fine art print.

The symposium aimed to be a practical, problem solving collaborative workshop involving multidisciplinary artists. The four days incorporated the dissemination of practical information on safe use of materials and the opportunity to explore and experiment using the specialist studios at UCLan. The invited artists were given the opportunity to cast off etched, found and formed surfaces. During the first couple of days over 70kg of refractory concrete was cast creating the basis for printing with silk screens. These explorations established a familiarity with the new materials and built a confidence between the artists to share ideas and discoveries.

Hill and Bremner’s earlier research and experimentation had explored the use of creating a successful printing ink using oxides and plate oil. Mixing oxide as if it were pigment in the traditional way and applying it to an etched plate, the artists were able to transfer the image and intaglio surface by then pouring wet refractory concrete onto the surface within a mould. As the concrete set and the form removed from the mould the oxide was pulled from the surface becoming embedded within the concrete. During firing the plate oil was burnt off leaving a permanent print of oxide embedded within the refractory concrete surface.

The guest artists took these starting points and pushed them further, applying the oxide inks in different ways and experimenting with different ratios of oxide to plate oil. The ceramicists soon responded to working on the etched surfaces and explored the ideas of applying oxide and glazes to the intaglio surface as well as to the relief areas. Once fired some of the new cast pieces were then taken back into screen printing where alternative layers of oxide images and glazes could be applied.

For the printmakers the process of applying ceramic glazes was a challenge. Applying coloured oxides and glaze, which would change both physically and visually during firing was a completely new concept to artists who rely on visual and tactile strategies to produce surfaces from which to create their work. The two groups of artists collaborated and worked together sharing, exploring and embracing the chance to produce an exciting fusion of ideas.

Historically, within both disciplines there has always been a sense of innovation, discovery, adaptation, resolution and development. During the symposium the artists proved that when their knowledge is shared it pushes artists beyond the perceived limitations of their field and continues to challenge their respective traditions.

Results from Erik Kok and Rudi Bastiaans’ explorations will feed into a wider research project between UCLan, AKI and University of the West of England where it is hoped artists and students will continue to explore and disseminate their discoveries by using the project website to post developments and outcomes. A second symposium has been planned for July 2015. ACPS and the SRU are inviting artists to take part in the next symposium; for more details and to apply visit

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SOURCE: Printmaking Today, Spring 2015. TEXT: Tracy Hill