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The Wall

by Hilary Paynter R.E.

Wood engraving can be a surprisingly lengthy process and I sometimes nurture an idea for years before transferring it to a block. Probably the most difficult part is deciding which of the ideas, teeming and agitating in my mind, are most worth pursuing.

Off and on, over several years, I have been working on drawings of Hadrian's Wall with its switchback hills and bleak outlook. This was an area I visited frequently when in the North East. It had been engraved many times before but I still wanted to do it, despite hesitating and wondering what I could contribute to such a familiar feature.

The Wall - wood engraving

Then, as often happens, I was distracted by a different, though related, idea and scribbled it down. My sketch had a similar snaking line through its centre, but this time the "wall" was a gulf: the invisible barrier that prevents people from communicating. I knew immediately that it would work as an engraving and a block was ready. The rudimentary sketch was sufficient for me to proceed to drawing the line of the wall-path directly on to the surface of block. This had been prepared with a thin coat of dark grey gouache which allows me to see both the black ball-point drawing and the white marks of the engraved image as it emerges.

Although the path itself remained fairly consistent with the original sketch, its appearance changed significantly, during the engraving, to accommodate the height of the people at its margins; otherwise it would have been obscured in the parts where it changed direction. I prefer to work in this way, intuitively and directly. The thought of, initially, drawing all those people on paper appals me; then to trace, transfer and, for a fourth time, to draw them all over again with the spitsticker (an engraving tool) would have killed all my interest in the project. It is risky, but exciting, to plunge straight into a block and work the engraving out as I go. Part of the pleasure is in not knowing what I shall eventually execute in detail in the supporting structure; wondering who these people are as I work on their heads and profiles; and, most of all, puzzling over why they are so prejudiced or perhaps apathetic. There is nothing to stop them from crossing the path and talking to those on the other side; one or two are trying but others are shouting abuse. There is tension. Many in the crowd are bewildered or frightened. Some are not sure if this is a rally or even a celebration.

As soon as "The Wall" was finished, I knew what I had to do with "Hadrian's Wall". In between, however, I swung from the wide-angled outlook of a whole nation to the individual in a similar predicament and engraved "The Neighbour's Fence". Here, the figure at the centre is erecting a precarious and absurd barrier when, instead, it would have been so simple for him to talk to his neighbour and resolve their difficulties.

Hilary Paynter RE

The artist can be contacted at:
19 Montague Road
Surrey TW10 6QW
Tel: 0181 9403553