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Monotony of the pandemic inspires Abi’s Identical Days

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Testing boundaries: Identical Days, an exhibit by Abi Box, opens today at the Bermuda National Gallery (Photograph supplied)

Abi Box’s new exhibit is a departure from the oils on canvas she has typically shown in Bermuda.

In Identical Days, the British artist explores “the possibilities of monotype printing”.

It wasn’t work she had planned to show, but on a tour of her home studio Mitchell Klink and Eve Godet of the Bermuda National Gallery were impressed.

“It was kind of a throwaway comment about how I’d started making these monotypes and Mitchell said, ‘Oh, can we see those too?’”

Abi had created the pieces during the early days of the pandemic when everyone was stuck in their homes and days seemed to roll into one.

“I found a portable printer that I could have in our living room. I’d just had my first child around that time, a new baby. So I had these pockets of time that I could work in but they were very short and sporadic.”

Monotypes, where “a unique print is pulled by hand from paint and applied directly onto a Plexiglas plate”, were a perfect fit.

“The other reason I started making them was I was pregnant at that time and I used to work exclusively in oil paints. But of course oils incorporate so many fumy mediums like turpentine and white spirits and all that. It’s quite toxic, really. So I thought, while I was pregnant I probably shouldn't be locking myself in a small room with all that. So I gave it a break.”

The nine pieces she selected for Identical Days are all watercolours. The exhibit is a first – apart from two she put on display in the UK, Abi hasn’t shown her monotypes in public.

“I don't think I considered exhibiting them before having that chat with Mitchell and Eve; I think I needed a push.

“I'm excited about them. They're very different to my works on canvas. The works on canvas tend to all be very large and all the monotypes, the maximum size I can make on the printer I have is around A4 letter paper size and so the scale alone means I have to work in gesturally different ways.”

Identical Days, an exhibit by Abi Box, opens today at the Bermuda National Gallery (Photograph supplied)

Most noticeable was how differently paint reacts to canvas than to Plexiglas.

“Canvas is fairly absorbent, and it means the paint sits on it nicely and soaks into it a certain degree. You have quite a lot of control, whereas the plexiglas is completely repellent.

“It means working with something wet is difficult because the paint pools and fragments. But as it starts to dry, you can work into it with a bit more definition and you get these really lovely, crisp marks alongside these big pooling areas and it’s very satisfying.”

Abi, who moved to the island from London, England five years ago, studied at Glasgow School of Art and Camberwell College of Arts.

She was introduced to monotype printing in England about ten years ago when a friend, Tamsin Relly, held a workshop.

“I've dabbled in it ever since but until now never experimented with it enough to get to grips with it. There's so much room for error – which is also kind of a nice thing about it. It means, for me at least, that I don't get quite as attached to the plate that I'm painting on as I do to a painting because it could still get ruined in the printing process. It's quite brutal.”

She loves that they were accepted into the BNG, a place that often inspires her work.

“I visit the National Gallery a lot and the exhibitions they put on, I find a reference piece here and there; I'm a sponge for other people's techniques and styles.”

Identical Days, an exhibit by Abi Box, opens today at the Bermuda National Gallery (Photograph supplied)

In Testing Boundaries, an exhibit that included work by Christina Hutchings, Abi noted how the artist had painted in the margins of her work and decided to do the same.

“So all of the monotypes, the plate is one size and the sheet of paper is larger. They’re all different sizes but they all have a margin of paper framing them.

“Christina's was on a really large piece of paper, but the actual content of the piece was a lot smaller and then the margin had been painted another colour. It was a really nice structure I thought, so I borrowed [it].”

Overall she found the monotype process “liberating”.

“My paintings on canvas take a long time. I'll come back to them and decide how I want to continue and how they're going to evolve.

“With the monotypes I tend to make them either in one or two sittings. Then they're printed and they're done. You can't edit them after that. It's a liberating way for me to paint.

“As the printing processes they never quite look how they do on the plate; you never know how they're going to turn out. And so I try to print everything – whether or not I like the plate – because often something I wasn't that fond of I love, my worst one will be my favourite.”

Identical Days opens today in the Project Space at the Bermuda National Gallery and runs until May.

Also opening today in the Humann, Young and Upper Mezzanine Galleries and running until September is Simplicity of Form: Unfolding Abstraction, a selection of contemporary works by artists such as Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland and Bridget Riley from the Green family's private collection.

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Published January 27, 2023 at 8:14 am (Updated January 27, 2023 at 8:14 am)

Monotony of the pandemic inspires Abi’s Identical Days

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