Orwell: The Road to Wigan Pier
A variable edition of four screen prints Six layers; acrylic, acrylic silver, adhesive and graphite powder. March 2017
George Orwell has for me, that most unusual knack of being able through his writing style, to place me as the reader at the very centre of the action; as the protagonist. When I am reading him, I am Gordon Comstock, I am Winston Smith, I am George Bowling. I am the passenger on the train crossing the North of England catching sight of the woman clearing the drain…* A very few books have placed me in such a position. “Catch 22” did; “Moby Dick” too. Orwell achieves this with a consistency I cannot find in any other of my favourite writers -not even Sterne. I use this sense of subjectivity to excuse my hubris in placing myself as the image in these prints on the same surface as the great man’s name.
The composition of tonal blocks separated horizontally and then overlapped into strata was employed to suggest a vertical cross-section mapping through the earth; vital information in the search for valuable coal seams worth mining.
Graphite powder was utilised to echo the dust and grime associated with the activity and products of heavy industry. “The Road to Wigan Pier” is a book so evocative of its geographical and economic setting that after each reading, I find myself inspecting my fingernails for any buildup of coal dust and metal particles under them. It seemed logical that my treatment of this particular book in Orwell’s canon should be monochromatic, rather than the multiple colour layers I used for other prints in this series. Another; “Homage to Catalonia” was printed using a brick red of the earth and the red and yellow of the region’s [country’s] flag. British newsreels from the 1930’s were shot on black and white film stock; we view the period through archived treasures such as Picture Post and the BBC Hulton Picture Library. People of course lived this age in colour; we find it difficult to acknowledge this, such is the pervasive power of the photographic image.** Only our own lives are lived in glorious technicolor.
The Orwell covers will be on view at Printfest @printfestnews in Ulverston in April.
*“The train bore me away, through the monstrous scenery of slag-heaps, chimneys, piled scrap-iron, foul canals, paths of cindery mud criss-crossed by the prints of clogs. This was March, but the weather had been horribly cold and everywhere there were mounds of blackened snow. As we moved slowly through the outskirts of the town we passed row after row of little grey slum houses running at right angles to the embankment. At the back of one of the houses a young woman was kneeling on the stones, poking a stick up the leaden waste-pipe which ran from the sink inside and which I suppose was blocked. I had time to see everything about her—her sacking apron, her clumsy clogs, her arms reddened by the cold. She looked up as the train passed, and I was almost near enough to catch her eye. She had a round pale face, the usual exhausted face of the slum girl who is twenty-five and looks forty, thanks to miscarriages and drudgery; and it wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate, hopeless expression I have ever-seen. It struck me then that we are mistaken when we say that ‘It isn’t the same for them as it would be for us,’ and that people bred in the slums can imagine nothing but the slums. For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal. She knew well enough what was happening to her—understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold, on the slimy stones of a slum backyard, poking a stick up a foul drain-pipe.”
** The Hellenistic world is also viewed as a clean, ‘white’ age, thanks to the exhumation of sculpture and architecture bleached and weathered of its original polychromy. By contrast, the Renaissance may seem to us a riot of colour, thanks to the efforts of Van Eyck, Titian and Veronese [-and an absence of any monochromatic photographic archive]