Printmaker Chris climbs mountains to find fresh perspective and height
Chris Norman has a head for heights. He climbs the highest mountains and knows that the hard graft of tiredness, altitude sickness and gritty determination is worth it for the awesome view awaiting him.
It's this same approach – whether he realises it or not – which he applies to his method of printmaking.
His chosen discipline is screen printing, something not for the faint-hearted or for anyone wanting instant results. It involves layering upon layering, altering, blocking out, and using different colours to build up texture, tone and depth.
Chris has some idea of what he wants to achieve, as if he was looking down from a high cliff and seeing the full picture of what's below him. And because of this long-term vision, he can take the steps and maintain the patience to get there.
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As part of IMPRESS 13, Chris is showing a set of screenprints called Places and Some Faces at Hobbs House Bakery until April 8.
His title is a play on words and in view of his mountaineering and rock climbing, the faces are not necessarily human.
Chris will also be exhibiting in the Silk Road show at the Parabola Arts Centre in Cheltenham until March 31.
His images have a serene clarity to them, compositions are not complicated and are easy to read and appreciate. Yet the process involved is far from simple. I have watched Chris work at the recently extended studio space at Gloucestershire Printmaking Cooperative (the organisation responsible for hosting the current international printmaking festival) at Griffin Mill in Thrupp.
His approach is considered, careful, organised and well planned – the same methodology he uses when organising an outdoor expedition. One needs the right equipment, gear, and a confident skill for navigation just as in screen printing. And there is of course a logical order to each stage. One thing has to happen first so that the sequence works. Take one instruction out and one is truly lost.
"I often make a list of what is to go on the screen and what colours I want to use because there are so many layers to it. I cannot skip a step. There does have to be some methodology to it," admits Chris.
"You can control it as much as you can and I do like preparing things and thinking the process through. But the outcome cannot always be predicted. It gives me great satisfaction when a print sometimes comes out a bit better than I thought it would."
And yet this disciplined and pristine way of working doesn't match up with the interior of his studio at home in Nailsworth.
"My desk at home is always piled with papers. I am an extremely messy worker, my studio is creative chaos at home, but I know where everything is and I always manage to produce a well ordered piece within that chaos," Chris confesses.
After spending his early childhood in Coventry, Chris moved to Gloucestershire with his parents and three sisters in the 1950s. He admits to struggling with dyslexia at school, yet hurdled over academia to achieve what he needed and specialised in typography and general graphics. His career has been varied and as well as teaching graphics, professional practise, visual studies and print making at GlosCAT, he has worked for animation companies and worked for Robert Maxwell, designing book jackets for scientific and educational books in the infancy of Pergamon Press.
Married to Angela, Chris bought a former railway station in 1973 in the Highlands of Scotland, where he had his own printing studio, and helped his wife run a bed and breakfast. It was here where their two daughters Anna and Sarah were born. Interestingly, their former home featured on a recent BBC Two programme called Great British Railway Journeys with Michael Portillo.
Six years later the family returned to Gloucestershire to care for relatives and stayed. Chris got a job with a design company responsible for the BBC Blue Peter annual. His work involved drawing, illustrating and designing lay-outs.
Today at 66, he is concentrating on his own compositions which reflect his passion for travelling and seeing new sites. He climbs mountains in his spare time. With his love for climbing, Chris often sees views the not so brave miss. It means his work often has a fresh perspective and a height.
What amazes me is the detail he is able to convey through his screen prints – crevices in the rock have texture, depth and look realistically menacing, helped by the multiple layers of colour – sometimes as many as 12.
Visit Hobbs House Bakery in the coming weeks and you will get a taste of the places Chris has enjoyed discovering. Scenes of Scotland hang alongside those of Wales, New Hampshire and California. Rock faces mingle with real faces – the faces of musicians indicating another interest in Chris' life – jazz.
There is a musical, rhythmical quality to his crisp, visually uplifting prints. They are unobtrusive and refreshing, compliment the bakery environment and add to the ambience. They act as windows into an often adventurous terrain and deserve to be part of the conversations which will take place in this wonderfully informal setting over the coming weeks.
For information about IMPRESS 13 log on to www.gpchq.org.uk. For Chris' work, visit www.chrisnormanarts.com.