Ian Bertram

I’m based in Wiltshire, but grew up on Tyneside in NE England. From there I went to University in Birmingham, after which I worked in the West Midlands, London, Tyneside, Wiltshire and Ireland. This plus holiday travels in Europe and the USA exposed me to many and varied landscapes. Even so, my mental picture of landscape comes from my childhood. I had family living on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors and close to the Yorkshire and Durham Dales. By contrast, Wiltshire is a much more manicured landscape. Magnificent Stonehenge and Avebury and the ever present signs of barrows and burial mounds are, however, a great compensation. I can see all these in my work with references to moorland, neolithic rock carvings, hill figures and standing stones.

Collagaph - Upper Teesdale
Upper Teesdale i, Collagraph

I don’t have any formal training in art, although I’ve been taking photographs since I was about 17. That’s now almost 60 years ago. I studied Planning and Urban Design at Birmingham College of Art, then spent 30 odd (some very odd!) years of my working life as a planner. I only began working seriously as a printmaker in about 2005, working digitally. On a chance visit to a print studio, I saw work by Howard Hodgkin and Gillian Ayres in progress. I was immediately hooked, enrolled on a print course at my local college, and haven’t stopped working at it since.

Artists I like

Artistically, I love the work of Gillian Ayres and Howard Hodgkin for their rich colours and textures. Other significant influences I think are the 50s modernists like Victor Pasmore and slightly later the work of Richard Diebenkorn, especially his abstracts. Others include Rothko, Matisse, Ben Nicholson, Robert Motherwell (especially his collage), Paul Klee and, more obliquely, Joseph Cornell, Kurt Schwitters and Joan Miro. I keep discovering new artists, though, and rediscovering old ones. I can only list them here, but all I think are worth a look.

Bert Irvin and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham both spent their last years making beautiful screen prints. I don’t know if they knew each other, but they seemed to be going in similar directions. Another painter who also works in screen printing in a very individual way is Martyn Brewster.

Finally, two painters in whose work I see a link, although in other ways they are very different. The landscape works of Joan Eardley are painted with a freeness I find very appealing. The work of Barbara Rae has that same freeness combined with intense colours and free mark making. I discovered her work some years ago and finally managed to see it in the flesh at the Adam Gallery in Bath. Like many of those I like, she combines painting and printmaking.

Other Influences

Perhaps in a hangover from my time in planning, I am obsessed by the idea of palimpsest. The term comes originally from textual studies to describe parchments that have been reused by washing off older texts. These older texts were rarely completely destroyed, and often re-emerged behind the later writing. These parchment sheets are known as palimpsests. By extension, the term became used in archaeology and architecture to describe the survival of elements of historic fabric into the present day. These survivals allow the history of a building or place to be ‘read’. A patch of brick in an old stone wall can be as revealing as the overwritten text in a manuscript.

I’m also fascinated by neolithic imagery. This includes standing stones and hill figures, of course, but also the rock carvings found across the North of England. Out of that developed a wider interest in such art worldwide, such as the Nazca figures.

My Work

A fascination with layers comes through into my art practice. My earliest prints were collagraphs, inspired by memories of the Yorkshire Dales, a landscape rich in history where every dry stone wall has a story to tell. By accident, I made some prints using two different plates on the same theme. The layering seemed to reflect the historic process that made the landscape, and I carried on working in this way. Many of these images became part of an exhibition called “The Landscape of Memory” that I self curated.

Collagraph print capturing a memory of the Dales
Dales Memories II, Collagraph Print

Over the last couple of years, almost all my work has been in the form of monotypes. I had experimented with monotype before, using oil based media. When problems with my foot stopped me standing at the press, I began to pursue it more seriously. This time I began using a process called gel printing. This way of working suited the ideas of process and gradual accretion I was developing and also to the intuitive, improvisatory manner of working that these ideas seemed to demand. The count of prints made since the beginning of the COVID pandemic is now probably at least 200, in various sizes. As a body of work, I am, unusually, very happy.

Working in series

I tend to work in series. The link is often fairly arbitrary. It may simply be temporal, as in the ‘Lockdown Series’, where whatever is in my head at the time creates a ‘family look. It may be tighter, as in the ‘Cross Series’ with a common motif, or It may be an actual theme, as in ‘The Landscape of Memory’. Sometimes it is simply size. I have four ‘Tiny Art’ series made over the years, each image no more than 20-30 mm maximum size on a side.

abstract monotype print inspired by Bert Irvin - red, green blue
Forbert – abstract monotype print

I also have an extensive series of open edition digital prints on a dance theme and a range of individual prints in various print media, including collagraph, drypoint, monoprint, silk screen and digital.

What’s next?

Before the COVID Pandemic, I was working on a series of collagraph prints to be called ‘Ancient Landscapes’. This imagines the survival of a range of Neolithic art into the modern landscape. This is currently on hold until my foot problems are resolved. I recently discovered that the British artist Eric Ravilious did something similar with a series of Zodiac prints. I may yet return to ‘The Landscape of Memory.’

collagraph print of horse hill figure
Pegasus on Fell side – collagraph print

Mars Landscapes

I now want to use what I have learned to work in a more directed fashion. I’ve been thinking about the evocative descriptions of landscape in the ‘Mars Trilogy’ by Kim Stanley Robinson for some time. He even uses the word palimpsest to describe the effect of billions of years of meteor strikes on the surface. I’m planning a suite of images based on those descriptions, beginning with some small monotype studies. For these to succeed, I will need to have much stronger ideas of what the final image will look like. This will be a new and more challenging way of working.

Image from sketchbook with idea for 'Martian Landscape' image
From the sketchbook – Craters

Digital imagery

Blog posts on this site have examined the use of my gel prints as a source for digital imagery. This is an area I intend to explore further. These digital images could also provide a route to interpreting the gel prints as silk screen, and hence as multiples. Because I don’t currently have access to the necessary equipment, that will have to be deferred for a while. I am however working on a range of purely digital prints. These are emphatically NOT reproductions. Every digital print is conceived and made in the PC, always with the intent to make a physical print.

Abstract digital image derived from scans of gel prints modified further with software
Digital image derived from scans of gel prints

I have perhaps 15,000 photos in my personal archive. This is a resource I really want to explore further. I have made a few digital prints from them, but there are several other avenues I can follow.

Digital print created from photograph taken at Birmingham Bull Ring.
Rain over the city – digital print derived from photograph of Birmingham

If you want more information, you can use this form on the Contact page, or you can email me.

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