J.P. Willis: ‘Utopia’

Above: J.P. Willis, The Flowers of Romance, 2009, archival pigment print, 55 x 55 cm.
Right: J.P. Willis and Sarah Bodman, How Do I Love Thee, 2009, handbound artist book, digital print and laser cut, 17 x 17 cm, Tate Britain collection, Art Gallery of NSW.
Below:  J.P. Willis, Utopia 5, 2017, archival pigment print, 105 x 150 cm.

J.P. Willis  discusses his latest exhibition, Utopia.

Q: What were some of the foundation ideas for this body of work, and how did you develop them?

JPW: My latest series of prints combines my ongoing interest in the landscape, initiated by a youthful education of growing up in the picturesque surroundings of my native Wales, and my ongoing exploration of beauty and mortality founded in the historical tradition of memento mori.

My formative years were spent working predominantly within traditional print media – etching, collagraph, etc. I saw these techniques married with my local vistas as a way for me to evaluate expansive mark making and extend myself technically. This idea of pushing boundaries with image and process is still predominant in the way I work and think today. I experiment with any innovative medium I can manipulate, producing artworks as an ongoing exploration on processes and rendering that persists into digital printmaking, extending my practice.

Early research into water-based print mediums, and more recently adopting digital and laser technology, are ways in which I investigate new products as they have become available, and I have an enduring fascination with producing works on less traditional formats and surfaces such as vinyl, artist books, and glass. This meditation on process and image has endured to produce my new series of landscapes, which combine a maturing vision with new production techniques.

Q: What were some of the technical challenges involved with making these pieces?

JPW: I see this new Utopia series of large-scale digital prints as paintings, works produced with unique digital brushes that combine traditional notions of mark making and digital printing. I have been lucky enough to work with master printer Brian Gilkes of Pharos Editions in Melbourne, and with his help and guidance we’ve been endeavouring to translate the subtle nuances of the images in the virtual matrix onto paper. This most recent way of presenting my work comes with newer challenges! I’ve been grappling with very large file sizes, hardware issues, catastrophic system failures (which included losing everything after six months of work, including back-ups!). This effort, combined with understanding the limits of new print processes, are all part of the quest that I consider a fruitful arts practice.

Q: What do you think are some of the advantages of printmaking over other ways of making art?

JPW: Print has many advantages, not just confined to editioning prints but multiples, which can themselves be manipulated by collaboration with artists in various locations to produce individual outcomes with the same roots.

This coupled with working with master printers and other collaborative partners brings an extra dimension to the work, stretches me and means I’m always learning in vision and technique.

Innovative printmaking expands an individual’s market, creating a wider audience for artworks therefore creating a means to expand their portfolio and network.

In some ways printmakers have a different outlook on making art! I find my peers are more engaged to the ideas of collaboration while being generous with help and advice, interesting to talk to and work with, and a source of inspiration.

Q: What are some of the future projects you are planning?

JPW: I’m currently working on a new series of metallic prints produced with high metallic inks. I have extended my Looking for Love series onto glass, as well as working with Brian Gilkes on large format light boxes with a continuation of my ongoing Flowers of Romance portfolio.

I am also working collaboratively with artist overseas and in Australia on several new print projects.

Utopia is at Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery 29 September-18 November.