Georgia Stoneman Fine Art is still heavily linked and influenced by Hugh Stoneman, Georgia’s late father. Here we would like to dedicate some space to the man who made such a mark in the print world and who is still very missed both professionally and personally.
Studio Practice, Sara Lee (Hugh Stoneman: Master Printer, Tate 2008)
In the realisation of a fine art print, the role of the master printer is usually one that is kept in the shadows. With the opportunity to see some of the extraordinary output from Hugh Stoneman’s studios collected together for the first time. It has been said that the relationship between the printer and the artist is similar to that between conductor and composer. It is a musical analogy Hugh would have liked.
When asked, Hugh would often describe himself, and those of us lucky enough to work alongside him, as ‘backroom boys’. Inky fingered printers ‘stuck somewhere back in the eighteenth century’. He was referring, I think, to the raw materials of the studio space - copper plates, ink, scrim, dampened paper, wool blankets, presses - none of which changed very much in over two hundred years, or would indicate that anything ‘cutting edge’ might take place.
A master printer works alongside an artist, offering suggestions of technique in order to achieve the image the artist seeks. Perhaps technique then is what this master brings. Hugh certainly had immense technical ability and was constantly inquisitive about adapting and applying it. The techniques he used - etching, gravure, woodcut - are also from a long tradition and again would not immediately suggest the contemporary practice with which he was so evidently engaged.
Intensely private and unerringly modest, Hugh would have found the attention of his role somewhat uncomfortable. It was always the image that held his focus and it is this, perhaps, which is the key to his contribution. For Hugh, a successful print was not about technique but imagery.
With the image-making dominant, rather than materials or technique, the stage was set for an often magical time. Hugh certainly had something of a conjuror about him: his commitment to a project and total immersion in it was coupled with a light touch. It allowed artists to feel at ease and yet aware that here was a place of serious endeavour. With all other work cleared from the studio, each collaborating artist felt that they had his complete attention. His ability to respond intuitively at each stage of the plate making process, often with an innovative approach, sometimes pursued over several weeks or months, meant that frequently something unexpected would be pulled from the hat.
What appeared to be magic was in reality the result of hours of careful research and preparation. Hugh’s day began early, long before anyone else arrived. With the music of his beloved Purcell for company he would begin: dampening paper, preparing plates, mixing colour, writing notes on off-cuts of beautiful paper in his illegible hand and setting the studio straight. Days of time and energy were spent in pursuit of the perfect print.
His mischievous wit and wry humour kept studio sessions - with cricket or classical music on the radio - sane and far from worthy. Hugh ran his workshops with generosity, creating a genuine and enabling sense of being part of a team. With an extraordinary attention to detail and exacting standards, all were encouraged to give their best. He was incredibly proud of the tradition from which he came, but always willing to try a new or alternative approach.
Hugh’s untimely death in 2005 meant that there was still much he would have liked to achieve. It is typical of his dedication that he continued to work until the week before he died: he had always been happiest talking about length of etch, dampness of paper, or whether to hand, tissue or just scrim wipe - or gossiping of course. The contribution he made to contemporary print practice is enormous. The many groundbreaking images with which he was involved, as master printer indeed, now stand as permanent testimony to his ability in the maddening and magical world of relief print, etching and gravure.
Hugh Stoneman Obituary:
Hugh Stoneman Master Printer, Tate St Ives:
Georgia grew up surrounded by printmaking and artists, with her father's studio attached to the family home, spent much of her childhood sitting on high stools in inky studios taking in every aspect of the artistic process.
“Terry Frost, Breon O'Casey, Patrick Heron, Ian McKeever, Richard Smith, Arturo Di Stefano (the list goes on) were regular visitors to my parents house and would often stay with us so after work, it was dinners together or trips out for walks and lunches.
I fondly remember Richard Smith insisting we all went to the fun fair in Penzance, aged 10 I thought it was a great relief from art chat. I used to also love Terry’s work schedule, he would insist on starting work early (dad was always up and in the studio by 5am anyway so it suited him) so he could get back home at lunchtime for a jacket potato and Neighbours. The intimate details of how artists worked really was a privilege I am only now coming to appreciate. I spent hours sitting in while proofing of work went on, cricket or classical music on in the background. I would be given a stack of off-cut paper to draw on and would inevitably end in my hands becoming covered in ink or paint, and then washing my hands in white spirit!
Decisions on colour, tone, ink density and paper weight became a language I would absorb in a way which has built an internal understanding for art and craft. It was an education I now treasure over and above anything I learnt in a classroom.
Dad left us too soon, one can only imagine what another 15 years of his career would have produced. It is incredibly special to me that I am continuing to work in the art world as it really is something I believe enriches my life daily, as well as keeping a channel open to Hugh who I loved so dearly.”