Artistic License: Jean Bardon

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Bardon’s new exhibition of etchings is an ode to autumn, reinforcing her love of botanical art and pattern inspired by a trip to Tokyo …

What was the starting point for this new exhibition, “Pressing Matters”?

A glimpse in a Tokyo museum of a beautiful botanical album opened on a page displaying simply depicted red autumn leaves, made my heart leap. The vermilion colours of the shrines in Kyoto surprised and delighted me. The surrounding mountains covered in trees, where the autumn colours intensified day-by-day, were spectacular. The whole experience opened up a new colour palette to me, colours which stayed in my head long after we returned home. On walks in the gardens of Kyoto and the art island of Naoshima, I picked up coloured leaves and sprigs of foliage – some familiar, others not – putting them between the pages of a book to take home with me. I had no plans for them but months later I found them again and began arranging them, playing around with the shapes of the leaves. This was my starting point. I added to the collection of leaves and ferns on walks in gardens and parks here and the work developed from there.

The use of gold leaf is integral to this exhibition …

There is certainly a lot of gold leaf in “Pressing Matters”. I started working with it many years ago, never thinking that it would become such an integral part of my work in the long term, but I haven’t yet tired of it. It is the final element added after the image has been printed. First, the background is painted in red watercolour, and then I apply the gold leaf and suddenly the finished print seems to be in some way elevated by the addition of a gilded background. I especially like the way the print changes in different lights. When you consider how gold was traditionally used in Italian churches for example, lit by candlelight, or softly lit simple traditional Japanese houses where a gold screen might be the only decorative element, moved around to create different spaces depending on the needs of the residents, catching light differently all the time and reflecting it back into the room. I think my prints do the same thing in a modern setting.

My work has evolved quite organically. I see this new work as a continuation of what I have always been interested in – pattern, botanical subject matter, creating something I hope may be considered beautiful. It has become simpler, more concentrated, focusing on the design element of the shapes of the leaves, and creating a balance between those shapes and the gilded background, which takes account of both negative and positive spaces.

Where and how do you work?

My working life is divided between Graphic Studio Dublin, a printmaking workshop on the North Circular Road, which this year celebrates its 60Th anniversary, and my home studio, a purpose built space at the end of my garden. The drawing, research and preparation work for my etchings, and the final application of gold leaf is all carried out here. The printmaking studio is where all the technical elements take place. There I can use the specialised equipment – a metal guillotine for cutting copper plates, nitric and ferric acid in order to bite the lines I have drawn on to the plate, resin for applying an aquatint and of course printing presses for editioning the finished etched plates.

In normal times, the print studio is an exciting and supportive environment to create work. The interaction with other artists, the sharing of technical information and the stimulation of being surrounded by so many people, each creating their own works, is something I value deeply. At present access to the studio is limited with only a few people able to work there on any one day. The atmosphere is subdued and urgent as artists seek to make the most of their curtailed hours.

Your favourite image?

The final etching I made for the show, “Autumn Song”, is my favourite. It is one of the most simple and condensed images in the exhibition, but I love the composition, the placement of the leaves and above all the impact of the two dark leaves and the scarlet one against the gold. The dark leaves and the red one are Cotinus Coggygria from my garden, the larger green leaf is one I picked up in Mount Usher Garden.

Need to Know: “Pressing Matters” by Jean Bardon is currently on at Graphic Studio Gallery, Through the Arch, Cope Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2 until November 7; www.graphicstudiodublin.com.

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