Edinburgh Printmakers, until 29 October.
Gathering an impressive 47 works and some big names together in the Printmakers, The Writing on Your Wall is visually bold and politically relevant.
This is a timely bit of curating by Rob Tufnell: the second room of the exhibition focuses on anti-Murdoch propaganda from the 1980s. With their striking trichromatic images, these posters serve as a fitting reminder that News Corporation’s recent behaviour is just the latest in a lifetime of conglomerate bullying – making The Writing on Your Wall’s celebration of the free press even more meaningful and commendable.
Radical printmaking is nothing new, of course, and the exhibition rather pleasingly opens with James Gillray’s 1805 print The Handwriting Upon the Wall. Gillray was a hugely prolific printmaker in the early nineteenth century and while he may not have been politically radical himself, the content of his work was certainly deliberately designed to rile mainstream thinkers.
Provocation continues into the main room of the exhibition with Art & Language’s journal covers. In black and white, their chunky, compelling typography is reminiscent of the early twentieth-century DADA magazine.
Like their imagery, their political agenda is far from oblique: one cover reads “When management speaks, nobody learns.” This socialist tone is further reinforced by Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan’s I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so, so sorry! (An indirect exchange of uncertain value) and its cartoonish, Marx-referencing parrot. In the second room, a collection of booklets includes Daniel De Leon’s Socialism versus Anarchism: An Address and a 1912 publication by the Fabian Society, William Morris and the Communist Ideal.
With its intellectually inflammatory content, this is all perfect fodder for a museum collection. Lucky, then, that the window into the printmakers’ studio below reminds us that this is art – political art, yes, but its position in a gallery forces us to acknowledge its visual impact.
And what an impact this is. The works in this exhibition are completely arresting. From the typically popping colours in Alasdair Gray’s four pieces of work, to Ruth Ewan’s block typed screenprints – produced with pupils from a local school – and back to the tricolour posters and badges, the eye, as well as the mind, is constantly challenged (albeit most pleasantly). To free-thinkers, word-lovers, radicals and aesthetes, I say – go.
Originally published in The Student, 4 October 2011