Exploring the world through art: a British printmaker’s links to Estonia

Bob Sparham is a printmaker and art history lecturer who had never encountered Estonian art, until a visit to the country sparked his interest.

This led to a residency. He tells us more about how he created his two works in the current Members and Associates Exhibition…

My prints in the show were produced during an artist’s residency in the Estonian Printing and Paper Museum, Tartu, Estonia. February 2018.

When I travelled to the country as a tourist in 2015, I visited the KUMU Gallery in the capital Tallinn. During that visit I was very impressed by the quality of the artwork displayed and I wondered why I, as an art history lecturer, had never seen the work of a single Estonian artist before.

When I returned to the UK I began to study Estonian art, particularly printmaking. I began to make friends with Estonian printmakers and was further struck by the co-operative way they traditionally worked together to promote increased civic rights in their country. As a result, printmaking is at the very centre of their cultural life, in a way that is very unfamiliar to British printmakers.

Perhaps surprisingly after Estonia regained its independence Estonian printmaking was put under threat in a way that it never had been in the Soviet period, because younger artists turned away from established printmaking methods towards computerised methods and towards installations.

These established printmaking methods still remain valid and important.

I decided to make whatever small contribution I could and was accepted to join the Association. My residency in the Estonian Printing and Paper Museum came about as result of the contacts I have established, contacts which have proven to be very fertile and creative for me and have given me the chance to exhibit my prints internationally.


Spaaremma in the Snow

How the works were created…

I have a printing press in my studio, known as a letterpress proofing press. I use it to print my lino-cuts with water-based printing ink to get subtle shades and gradations of pastel colour that I use to try to represent the colours of light in the landscape.

The Estonian Printing and Paper Museum has similar printing presses and I settled upon an old green Russian book cover press to print my work. The press worked quite well, but what was not so successful was the use of water-based inks in the winter in Estonia.

In Tartu, it was on average -12 Celsius and there was about a foot of snow on the ground outside the museum. Apparently such temperatures have the effect of removing water from the atmosphere. My water-based inks dried out very quickly and I was not able to use the Rainbow Rolling and overprinting of blocks method that I use here. Luckily my friends at the museum were able to help me with a transformation to oil-based inks so that the results were not too bad for the exhibition at the end of my time there.


Kasari River 4

The Members and Associates Exhibition

To me, contemporary art means art that is produced fairly recently whereas Contemporary Art reflects the concept that there is an overarching process of modernization marching through the centuries and that therefore history has natural laws just like physics does, laws which artists should reflect in their work by creating new methods of working.

The Members and Associates Exhibition is very diverse, with many different methods of representation and uses of different conventions. As such, it is more to do with the former definition, I feel than the latter

An investigation into light itself or rather an investigation of how we perceive light, is the objective of my Printmaking. I am interested in the transformation of how the ink on my lino block, rolled with the rainbow rolling technique, comes to be seen by the viewer of my prints as light in the landscape.

Gombrich, my hero art historian, argues with his beholder’s share’ hypothesis, that the contribution a viewer makes toward understanding an image is in many ways the most important part of a picture.

In my recent residency in Tartu I made a print of a windmill which is seen in this show, my point being not that windmills are interesting in themselves, but rather that what is interesting is how the viewer perceives windmills, and how far can that perception be pushed.

Just how little information can they be given to enable them to make it happen?

Visit the Show!

Our Members and Associates Exhibition is on until December 24… so there’s plenty of time to find that perfect Christmas gift.

With most works of art for sale, this annual showcase of the lifeblood of the RBSA is an ideal opportunity to find that unique Christmas gift.

You’ll find a beautiful selection of landscapes, seascapes, still lifes, portraits, sculptures, abstracts, prints and more!

#artexhibition #contemporaryart #estonianprintmaking #RBSAgallery

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