Ken Currie: A Bestiary: Ground Floor Gallery

3 May - 1 June 2024

Glasgow Print Studio are delighted to present a new suite of 7 etchings by Ken Currie based on the poetry of Ted Hughes.


On Ted Hughes


Like many Scottish teenagers I was introduced to Ted Hughes's poetry in my 5th year at secondary school in the 1970s. Our English teacher presented us with poems from Hughes's Lupercal collection from 1960.  For me, the poems that stood out were Relic, Hawk Roosting and Pike.  I was stunned by the imagery and Hughes's entirely unsentimental view of animals and the natural world.  The poems spoke to me of my own experience in my home town where violence toward, and of, animals was a commonplace spectacle.  And, of course, the violence that went beyond the animal, into the human world. Often it seemed as a young teenager that my own home patch, my neck of the woods, was one long drama of violence, human and animal.  The debt I owe Hughes is that his work, among others, was instrumental in setting me on a path that pulled me out of that world, opening up new horizons.


Later, when I went to art school, I was introduced to the work of Francis Bacon and his early paintings of animals seemed to me to viscerally connect with Hughes.  At art school I read Hughes's Crow collection again and again.  This work confirmed for me that our world of violence and brutality could be transfigured through poetry into something altogether mythic - in other words, into great, tragic, cathartic art, like Bacon's.


His work has stayed with me ever since, its power undiminished and in fact, ever more revealing.  Hughes is someone I have returned to throughout my life.  I find in the poems that most interest me an incredible incisiveness in the language - visceral, gory and unflinching.


For many years I have wanted to somehow make images after Hughes's poems.  I felt it as an irresistible pressure.  Painting them seemed like some obvious, overblown thing but to translate them into graphic works, etchings - that felt absolutely right.  In a way etching is about doing violence to a pristine sheet of metal - gouging, biting, scraping and through huge pressures imprinting an image onto paper.


In these seven new etchings I hope I have done justice to Hughes's brilliant imagery.

I would like to thank Glasgow Print Studio for the opportunity to make editions of these prints and would particularly like to thank Master Etchers Stuart Duffin, Alistair Gow and Ian McNicol.  Without their expertise and tenacity the prints you see before you would have been impossible.


Ken Currie, April 2024


Master Printer Alistair Gow reflects on the making of 'A Bestiary'


Ken Currie is a master of his craft. To see his painting is to be in the presence of something special and his prints are equally affecting. Ken has honed the craft of making etchings at Glasgow Print Studio since the early 90's developing a way of working that produces prints full of incredible depth and draughtmanship that draw you in for close inspection.


We are lucky to have three printers working with etching at GPS: Stuart Duffin, Ian McNicol and myself. We were all involved in the plate making, proofing and finally editioning of Ken's 'A Bestiary', a suite of 7 prints based on the poetry of Ted Hughes. Stuart and Ian have been working with Ken for decades and I was welcomed into this artist/printer relationship in 2015 working on a series of prints. Still early in my career as a printer, it was thrilling to see the trust and openness with which Ken worked with us. Etching is an old way of making prints that survives as an engaging medium for contemporary artists because techniques, ways of working, are passed on and developed.


Whilst at art school I was shown how to use soap ground (sometimes called white ground) with aquatint - a technique that can produce painterly tonal marks in etchings. Working with Ken for the first time, I showed him the basic method and within a day or so he was using it to make marks rarely seen in the medium, both abstractly beautiful and figuratively descriptive. It quickly became a new tool in his kit for making etchings.


Ken's approach to etching has always been to push the varied processes of the medium to their limits, adding to and adapting any new techniques to his growing vocabulary. This openness and passion for pushing the possibilities was again evident when in 2018 Ken came to the studio to start work on the Bestiary. He had thought to use photo etching to establish text on the etching plate whilst etching his images, something he hadn't done before.


Copper plates were prepared with a hard ground and delivered to Ken's studio where they were drawn up over weeks. We etched the plates before taking proof prints that Ken reviewed, deciding where the text should go within his compositions. The text was established on each plate as a protective layer of photo sensitive ground - cooked by light to remain acid resistant while Ken defined and layered tones over his etched line drawing. Over a couple of weeks Ken worked on the plates, with us pulling proof prints. Most of the plates went through multiple stages with Ken layering more tones to create the depths visible in the prints. We reached the point of having a BAT (Bon à Tirer - the print that an artist signs off for a printer to match an edition to - literally 'good to pull' ) for each of the 7 prints. Then we waited to check details relating to the text.


Time passed and then the Covid pandemic came. Once we were able to get back to the studio we found there was issue with the text essential to the Bestiary and it seemed the project may not be completed. Thankfully Ken devised a way to alter the text to make something new and this is where the flexibility of etching came to the fore. The photo sensitive ground still on the surface of each printing plate was removed and parts of the original text were physically scraped away before being etched into the tones of the images. Etching plates are only finished when the artist is done! The plates were ready to be editioned and we began work to print a new BAT for each of the 7 prints. When we print to get a BAT we make several copies to ensure a consistency before the artist signs off one print.


Ian, Stuart and I printed different plates. 'The Bear' was the print I began first. It was printing consistently. Ken came in to review and highlighted a couple areas of light in the print. There is lightening striking behind the tree line in the background of the image and there are some other subtle areas that Ken asked me to give an extra wipe. The result, made from a slight shift in highlight, transformed the image. The images are richly dark but are all the richer for the breaks of light that come through.


These prints are a testament to Ken's vision, patience and flexibility.


Alistair Gow, April 2024


The Ted Hughes poems that accord to each work, in order: Two Legends, Pike, Relic, View of a Pig, Hawk Roosting, The Bear, Examination at the Womb Door.