Mary Webb – Silkscreen prints

Creative Quarter Over the Water

At Mandells’s Gallery, Elm Hill

Mary Webb has always made prints as a distinct activity but related to her paintings. She starts from a format explored in specific paintings that in turn lends itself to be translated into the screen print medium. Both the selection of colours and structures of juxtaposed hard-edged forms can be translated to the precision and process of printmaking. This attention to visual relationships is remarkable and the process is one of collaboration with master printmakers such as Mel Clark and more recently Kip Gresham.

Mary’s journey in printmaking started in 1968 at Norwich School of Art (now Norwich University of the Arts, NUA) where she met fellow teacher Mel Clark, who had set up a screen print unit. Both artist and printmaker formed a creative partnership and friendship that bore remarkable fruits over a long period. Inspired by the master printers such as Chris Prater OBE of Kelpra Studios in the UK and Ken Tyler of Gemini GEL in the USA they set out to demonstrate that screen print was a fine art medium equal with and not subservient to painting. Mary found affinity with the medium in its precision and inherent ability to lay down flat colour and its facility for clearly delineated shapes or forms. Each print comprises juxtaposed hard-edged forms, or complex shapes in dynamic visual relationships. The points where the colours and shapes meet are a crucial component of Mary’s work as sometimes the areas of colour are abutted together, yet at other times they appear to overlap and trap others.

In some of the prints a sense of collage is evident, providing an insight and reference to Mary’s working method. The precision is extended to the choice of colours. Mary carefully matches her colours to collages or watercolour studies. She always mixes the colours herself, with her print-making partners making adjustments to ensure correct consistency for printing. Mary has long been an adventurous international traveller and her colours are often inspired by specific places. Prime examples of this would be the dramatic effect of the colours associated with landscape such as the series Crete, Siena, Barbados, or the desert-rich tones of Utah. Manhattan inspired the more urban effect of the blocky built environment. The relationship between colour and place remains an ongoing interest. The registering of forms, colours, and light, relating to a specific place.

Mary has dedicated her art practice, spanning almost six decades, to the exploration of the abstract form through painting, printmaking and collage. At its core lies the considered relationship between colour and form, through which the artist renders the world around her as a timeless abstraction. Mary studied Fine Art at Newcastle University (1958-63), under the pioneering programme devised by Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton. She studied at postgraduate level at Chelsea School of Art in 1964. Her meeting with Sonia Delaunay in 1962 proved to be an inspiration marked by her 1969 screen print, Hommage a Sonia Delaunay. Mary lives and works in Suffolk.

Calvin Winner, Head of Collections, Sainsbury Centre, Norwich, UK