Oxford Printmakers’ Co-operative hosts exhibition celebrating 40 years of existence

'The beauty and richness of a collaborative workshop is that techniques and ideas around creating work can be shared, discussed, and experimented with'

Oxford Printmakers’ Co-operative has launched an exhibition focused on celebrating its long history. The show, which is on display at the SJE Arts in Oxford, features artwork by former and current members.

The co-op is one of the oldest printmaking workshops in the UK and was set up in 1997 by ex-students and staff of the Ruskin School of Drawing (now Ruskin School of Art).

Printmaking requires specialist equipment and training and skilled technicians, which can be expensive. Through the co-op, members can access printmaking facilities and state of the art presses. The studio is also available to non-members, who pay a higher rate to use it.

Michael, Roger and Jenni, three of the founding members of the co-op

As well as holding regular exhibitions, Oxford Printmakers’ Co-operative runs courses on many of the print processes: relief, etching, monoprinting, screenprinting, collagraphy and stone lithography. These courses offer anyone with an interest in printmaking the opportunity to get started or to learn more from specialists in the field.

The co-operative currently includes over 100 members, many of whom are professional artists who exhibit in the UK and abroad. The venture is run by a management committee elected from the wider membership and is entirely self-funded through membership and other income generated.

“Making artwork can be a curious, exhilarating, isolating and challenging experience for some, but the beauty and richness of a collaborative workshop is that techniques and ideas around creating work can be shared, discussed, and experimented with; the individual can be encouraged and inspired by fellow artists throughout the complex journey of printmaking,” said Catriona Brodribb, one of the co-op’s two part-time technicians.

“It is this inspiring and dynamic ethos that has been carried through the last four decades, that still keeps the workshop alive and afloat today. This big new exhibition Celebrating 40 Years reflects that strong continuing spirit. It is probably the most ambitious show that we have ever staged.”

Founding member Helen Ganly added: “Financial hardship, battling to get grants and struggling to keep going were endless problems throughout the workshop’s history. One year we ran a fundraising jumble sale in the workshop and were depressed to discover that we raised more money from this than by trying to sell our laboriously made prints. We felt demoralised so abandoned this form of fundraising.

“Now, 40 years on, to be able to say we are 100% self-funded by sales and teaching and enterprise is a point of great pride. It is proof of the ability of the OPC to survive and move with the times.”

Anne Desmet RA speaking at the opening of the exhibition

The exhibition covers a diverse range of techniques, styles and subject matters, with over 260 handmade prints on the walls from 108 artists and a further 250 prints in browsers (print racks).

The show was opened on 9 June by Anne Desmet RA, a wood engraver member of London’s Royal Academy of Arts and former member of the co-op’s workshop. It will run until 24 June.

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