"That which is good for the working class I esteem patriotic" James Connolly,
Reads the top of the front page of the Limerick Socialist newspaper from June 1981. Underneath this quote an image of Jim Kemmy is revealed. Fist clenched, Jim's face tells a story, his distinctive features lend themselves well to portraiture. A task which I was about to try tackle through the medium of lino printing.
Research for this print began online. Audio documentary's were my first insight into Jim, eventually I was led to the wonderful Limerick City Archive. Here I came across the Limerick Socialist Newspaper. Initially I had planned to recreate a page of the newspaper. But as I dug into the archive I noticed that Jim often used lino cut images as the front page cover. Delightfully cut lino prints adorned the front pages of various editions depicting images related to political issues.
Images of the LImerick Socialist Newspaper from Limerick City Library Archives
I decided to recreate the image on the front page of the June 1981 edition. It lent itself well to relief printmaking. Jim has had many portraits commissioned. Painting was the medium of choice for these portraits. If you were to divide the areas of art into the left and the right I would argue that painting would fall on the right and printmaking to the left. But that argument is for another day. Deciding that lino printing was the correct medium for Jims print was an easy decision and one that seemed most fitting.
To create a lino print first you need a drawing. I took Jims photograph and tried to break it down. Taking his defining features I needed to abstract the image so it was carvable but still recognisable. The initial drawings were not promising, they never are. But eventually he began to take shape and I refined the image to where I started to see Jim.
Original drawings from my sketchbook.
Once the drawing was complete, I needed some reassurance, my father would often mention Jim when talking about Limerick of old sohe was an ideal candidate to see the original drawing. Would he recognise Jim? I messaged him. A painfully slow few minutes passed, his response "Big Jim!". Now that the drawing had external approval it was time to transfer that drawing onto the lino block.
Print in progress. Second plate because I messed up the first one.
When lino printing you have to draw a mirror image so when it's printed, the image is orientated the same way as the original drawing. Once the line drawing was transferred onto the matrix I began carving. A gouge is used to carve the image, this part is therapeutic. Each line that is carved, slowly reveals the portrait, you just keep taking away the parts that don't look like Jim.
I wanted the image to be clean, so I carved deeper than usual. It was going splendidly. Each line perfect, I was celebrating before the print was even finished, planning my next portrait and then, the gouge slipped and I carved a hairline scratch across Jim's tie. Bolox. Feck. Bolox and started again.
Matrix that was carved and tools that were used in the making of the print.
I carved it again. No mishaps this time. I inked it up with an oil based ink, pure black. As the ink rolled over the surface the portrait looked promising. On the matrix the image is reversed so it's still hard to tell if I had done the job right. I put the matrix through the printing press. As the image is rolled through the press, you get worried, thoughts flutter in, did I just waste the last twenty hours, why did I bother to do this, what will I have for dinner, this might work, jaysus I'm starving, but it might not, it only takes 10 seconds for the print to pass through the press but these thoughts pass faster that I can print.
The beautiful printing press used to print the lino.
I pull up the felt blanket to reveal the print. In the next second I will find out if it worked. I love/hate this moment, it could be one of celebration or defeat, an act of creation, whether you like it or not, in that split second something is created that previously did not exist. A big bang moment. It's a wholesome and nourishing experience, especially when it goes well. To my delight it worked, Jim was still recognisable and I hoped that I had done the original photograph justice.
Want to watch a video of the process? Check out this link: https://www.youtube.com/shorts/TfRh3gXDIEo
Jim Kemmy. Printed on Fabriano paper, with a deckled edge. Edition of 50. Signed and Numbered.
Release date: October 21st 8:00am.