Kelly Stewart: Screenprinting and why Swansea's special

Esteemed Edinborough based illustrator and printmaker Kelly Stewart has kindly created a series of original artwork specifically to showcase in Gower Gallery. Kelly, who has exhibited in the Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts and the Royal Scottish Academy, will be hosting an artist talk at the gallery on Saturday, October 16, at 7 pm.

 

Given Gower’s coastline is the jewel of the peninsula and inspiration to an abundance of local artists, Kelly Stewart’s response to why she makes the annual journey south from Edinburgh is slightly surprising. Kelly reveals: “It’s the people, being Australian we’re quite a friendly lot, down to earth. In Edinburgh, they’re not unfriendly, just a little more reserved, but Gower reminds me of home.”

Immediately, Kelly’s passion for our corner of South Wales is evident. However, her enthusiasm isn’t rooted exclusively in the spectacular landscape. Architecture is also a significant source of inspiration, and she has a uniquely nostalgic view of Swansea’s skyline, saying: “I know Swansea was bombed a lot during the war. It saddens me to think what’s been lost. Near the Marina there are some lovely old buildings”.

Yet, despite first arriving a decade ago as part of a residency programme between Edinburgh and Swansea Printmakers Workshop, listening to Kelly, you realise she still views Swansea with fresh eyes, weather permitting.

“I don’t tend to do drawings outside so much, mostly because of the weather. I’m not one of these hardy people who sit out on a hill drawing away while it’s blowing a gale. It’s just not me,” Kelly freely admits.

Pair often unfavourable conditions with overly curious members of the public, and it’s easy to understand why Kelly prefers to “capture the essence of what I want to draw, quickly” before immersing herself in the studio. She begins by drawing, focusing on the overall composition, to use as a reference point. Each drawn layer becomes a hand-crafted stencil, resulting in endless opportunities to combine drawing, mark making, collage material, and handwritten text.

When time isn’t a factor, Kelly gives the impression she experiences pure joy from trialling new layers, playing with sizing, orientation, and colour, continually reassessing her work with every addition. 

Kelly’s use of the photocopier best represents the experimental nature of her artistic process. To us, a photocopier is a mundane machine, but Kelly describes its endless possibilities as if she’d just unboxed one on Christmas morning, eyes fixated on the illuminating lamp travelling back and forth. “Say you have a small leaf, you may try blowing it up to 400 per cent, then you’re getting the veins, and maybe you might pick up a book and put the text on the glass, so the text runs right across the leaf,” Kelly explains, brimming with enthusiasm.

Listening to Kelly, it’s impossible not to consider how engaging her course at Swansea Print Workshop must be. She admits, “I look at what each student is doing, their capabilities and I really push them as much as they’ll let me, and by the end of the workshop, we’re all exhausted”.

At that point, the group gather to celebrate what they’ve created with a hard-earned cup of tea. This year they’ll print onto two contrasting-coloured papers to highlight the role background plays. Students will also overlap their stencils on a massive A1 cartridge which will be cut and concertinaed to form an artist book, created using the same layers and screens as the limited-edition originals.

Initially, the idea behind the exchange between Edinburgh and Swansea Print Workshop was to “share ideas about different skills and equipment”. However, South Wales might have offered more than Kelly anticipated, “I just got on well with everybody, and I’ve been back almost every year since”.

Along with the people, Kelly’s been captivated by Swansea’s maritime history, and it’s reflected in her visually and creatively distinctive artwork. Bursts of colour and intricate linework personify marine machinery, often pulling her subject in front of its setting. The Helwick is a striking example, highlighting Kelly’s ability to convey mood and, in particular, the vessel’s presence.

When Kelly began to capture the boat in Swansea Print Workshop, she started it small due to a lack of space. However, after she applied the first three printed layers, she realised, “this needs to be big, it’s a big boat, and it has the wow factor. I got sheets out that were double the size”.

Some residents of the marina likely stroll past The Helwick without giving it a second glance. Meanwhile, Kelly immediately sought to capture the ship’s presence, highlighting her genuine affection for everything Swansea has to offer.


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