Monday, 12 December 2016

Places, Politics and Printmaking – The Artwork of Imogen Thea Humphris


Guest post by Lynn Reynolds

It’s always a pleasure to discover art I’ve never encountered before, and the recent Festival of Print held by East London Printmakers was a veritable wunderkammer of talent.

Imogen’s work was on display at the Festive Open Studios segment of the event, modestly occupying the table furthest away from the nibbles and mince pies. The first thing to catch my eye was this:

 

It’s a map of the strip clubs of east London, produced for the East London Strippers Collective. The collective, I was delighted to learn, is a real organisation dedicated to improving the image of and working conditions for professional strippers in the capital’s easternmost boroughs.

And of course there’s a story behind the map. “I wanted to capture a snapshot of the strip club industry in east London as it was at the time, because Hackney Council (among others) is making it harder for these venues to become licensed,” said Imogen.

As I browsed through the other prints on Imogen’s stall, it became clear that her work is all about expressing the struggles and conflicts which happen in different places. One especially striking image, a photogravure, depicted a chaotic tower of shipping container-like structures reaching for the distant sky, a Heath Robinson-style tower of Babel.

 

The whole thing is topped by a sign in Hungarian. Most of us can’t read it, because this is not a language we’re familiar with. This is the House of Refuge, a fictional structure created by Imogen to represent the experience of refuges travelling across Europe. It’s not clear whether the house is a sanctuary, place of hostility or all of the above. We’ll just have to wait and see.

It wasn’t surprising to learn that Imogen’s background is a rich one, filled with diverse influences. She studied architecture for six years, but knew early on that practising this profession wasn’t for her. Instead, she focused on international development and conflict, and set out to explore this specialist interest as a fine artist.

This strikes me as a timely decision.

We now live in a world where it’s hard to ignore the consequences of war, climate change, oppression and poverty. Our politicians are masters of chaos, and society is becoming ever more polarised.

It seems to me that we need artists like Imogen more than ever. The beauty and virtuosity of her work connects with the viewer on a deep level, and helps us move beyond the reassuringly simple ‘us and them’ perspective sold by the people in power.

When I went to the Festival of Print I didn’t expect to find a beacon of sanity for our times, but that’s exactly what happened. That’s why I hope ever more people get to experience the work of this fascinating artist.

Imogen Thea Humphris, Artist and Illustrator

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