In the latest instalment of our new series, The Artists’ Journal, we interview Alex Booker, a woodcut printmaker. Alex’s prints often feature the natural world – eye-catching designs in striking colours. As well as making prints in his studio in Limehouse in East London, Alex loves teaching the art to others. So how did he first discover printmaking?
Printmaking began for me back in 2000 on my Art Foundation course at the University of Northampton. It was such an exciting year, unlike anything I’d known before, as I was brand new to the smells, alchemy and machinery of the print room. The following year, I started my printmaking degree at the University of Brighton, which resulted in three years of experiments, mistakes and a pretty ambitious final show.
Can you tell us about the Booker Print House? The studio is somewhere that feels or evokes something quite romantic to me. It’s not a noisy powerhouse, but a small creative haven – just me going solo with all my tools, memories, visions and ideas. Working as a printmaker involves lots of experimenting, trial and error, intimacy with materials and a sharp focus on process. (They’re not that dangerous, but distraction can easily lead to injury.) The ‘factory’ is the printing session; hand-printing editions is a strange robotic dance gliding through rhythm and repetition.
Can you describe your process for making new prints – do you spend time drawing and then take those to the wood block, or does it start by looking at photographs or books for inspiration?
My process begins with the pulling together of books, photos, travel sketches, found imagery (often old postcards or magazines), sketching on my plywood blocks by hand and often with a projector… then mark-making with my hand tools. The final stage brings together the paper, rolling the inks and woodblocks to produce the final print edition.
How often are you in the studio and can you paint us a picture of your typical day there?
I’m in the studio anywhere between two and five days a week, depending on other work I also carry out as a gallery tech and teacher. I always start the day on my bicycle – first stop an early swim at the Lido, then to the studio for black coffee and some porridge, to power me up for the day. Depending on where I am with a project, I’ll start with drawings, block cutting or mixing inks for printing. After lunch, I try to read for half an hour or so before I’m back at the workbench. My days are commonly soundtracked by BBC Radio 4, Radio 6Music, loads of political or conversational podcasts and music singing in my headphones.
Teaching the art of printmaking is very important to you – can you tell us more about your courses?
The workshop teaching is something that has become really important to my practice – introducing people to the ancient art of woodblock printing and this wildly versatile print process is so much fun. I’m often amazed at the talent that people bring to the sessions — it’s really inspiring! Teaching has definitely made me a technically better printmaker and hopefully better artist.
What’s your home like?
Our flat is a tranquil space, lots of artwork hanging on all the walls, plants everywhere, possibly too many unread books and an eclectic mix of furniture. Full credit to my partner, Sabine, for her obsession with pottering (everything moves a little every week) and her commitment to creating a calming, sanctuary atmosphere. When we got back from Mexico in January (2020), we started block painting great swatches of the place, which has changed it completely and how we interact with our collective art collection. Amazing how a bit of colour can transform a space and its energy.
Who inspires you?
I’m inspired by history, romance, fiction and the wonderment of nature. But the biggest influence over the past few years has been the Algerian-French philosopher and author, Albert Camus. His writing is timeless and lyrical, communicating the realities of the human condition, our existential challenges and the philosophical idea of the absurd – finding personal meaning in a godless world or a world fraught with an unknowing truth. These ideas have acted as tools to investigate new directions and themes in my studio work or at least frame a new kind of personal discovery through my art.
What are you working on at the moment and what can we look forward to seeing next?
A new series is loosely inspired by landscape imagery – photos taken in the Scottish Highlands, and lake stills from many trips to Finland over the years. An ongoing project bringing together fictional narratives – a mash-up of known and unknown places is something I keep returning to. I’d like to think Camus has his input, even if just subconsciously.
Photos by Andy Dunn, Dan Weill and Veerle Evens.