Jack Clayton – Street food Quadriptych

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Copyright Jack Clayton

Printmaking means to me: Experimentation, using intuitive methods to achieve unique effects! I like the problem-solving aspect of the printmaking process and also the expressive limitations and possibilities provided by the natural structure of the medium.

When I print: I like to allow freedom into my actions and experiment with unusual methods of carving or mark making. Bright colours and careful layering allow me to build the image step by step, constantly changing and evolving as I go.

A woodblock is: The start of a new image! Once I have seen the block I start to build a mental picture of the final image and can work from there.

My name is Jack and I am a woodcut printmaker from England. I grew up in London. After that, I moved out to Canterbury and Leeds for my foundation in art then my degree in Graphic Arts & Design. After I graduated, I decided that I had enough of England. Together with a friend, I travelled to Australia to spend 2 years working and travelling.

When my visa was up I wasn’t done! This led me to Asia. I travelled for 5 months then finally ended up living in Ho Chi Minh City where I have been for the last five years. Whilst living in Ho Chi Minh City I have been an active member of the local art scene. It all started by contributing to art markets and events.

I have now started to host woodcut workshops for adults to learn printmaking skills. I also teach creative classes to kids. I try to exhibit as much as possible too. My recent exhibition was at Soma Art Café in District 2, the opening was 27th January. Throughout my early artistic life, even into my degree, my tutors suggested printmaking as a medium. They thought that it would fit my style of illustration. But, I wasn’t convinced, sticking to my preferred drawing/collage/photography style.

Yet, in the last year of university, I found the medium of woodcut and I have been carving ever since. For my whole life, I have been interested in drawing. In my childhood, I used to love reading books like Roald Dahl’s ‘The BFG’. Looking at the pictures, I was always interested in being able to re-create them. My grandfather was a brilliant magician who was part of the magic circle. He always showed me hundreds of tricks without revealing the secrets. That really inspired me into the world of illusions and tricks of the eye!

Artists that have inspired me come from a range of times, practices and mediums. For printmakers, I have always loved the works of M.C Escher, Frans Masereel (I completed a short residency at his centrum in Kasterlee through university), The German Expressionists and also Japanese woodcuts from the Ukiyo-e era.

Recently I have been looking at Vietnamese Dong Ho paintings from the north of Vietnam. I am intrigued by their use of natural materials to create beautiful, long-lasting prints.

Other influences include Francis Bacon, Dali and the surrealists, primitive art such as the indigenous cave paintings in Australia (which I was lucky enough to see whilst living in Kakadu National Park).

Also through university, I was interested in a lot of the ‘skater art’ such as that by Bryan Mcgee and ‘The Beautiful Losers’. My most difficult project has to be the ‘Saigon Compass’ illustration. It took me many months and it got thrown to the back of the studio on many occasions and left for weeks on end. It was a truly mammoth task. To sum up the city and each of the districts into one single cohesive object. But, I was happy with the outcome and it’s still now one of my favourite pieces to date.

When I create a print or an illustration, my aim is for it to resonate with the viewer personally. Perhaps spark a nostalgic memory or even make them contemplate themselves. I want the viewer to look through the aesthetics and bright colours to gain a better understanding of the subject. All whilst touching on the humorous side of human nature and practices.

Recently I have been looking at Vietnamese Dong Ho paintings from the north of Vietnam. I am intrigued by their use of natural materials to create beautiful, long-lasting prints.

The actual process of carving the wood is quite therapeutic. After all the hours of graft, there is nothing quite as satisfying as pulling the final layer print from the block and seeing the image revealed. I like the fact that you never know what the final image will look like until the very end. There are many factors out of your control. Especially with regards to the many layer reduction process.

In the coming years, I will work to combine my practice into a more cohesive portfolio. Also, expand on the medium of woodcut by involving paints and illustrations into the prints. Plus look to work on a bigger scale, with a more free approach.

I have a habit of sticking in my comfort zone which I would like to break away from. I want to challenge myself more plus I would like to exhibit more frequently.

Street food Quadriptych is my latest work and is a series of 4 images, designed to be put together to make a larger image. The main edition is a compilation of all 4 printed by hand onto authentic Vietnamese Dzo Diep paper.

It uses 4 blocks each with a 3-layer reduction process. The paper is extremely fragile compared to other types. You have to be ultra careful when printing and some small in-perfections are to be expected. For me, this gives them a unique quality which matches the old hand-painted street signs seen on small shops/carts around the country. It mimics the common aesthetic of old, naturally decaying walls which can be seen everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City. It is also a common link to the historical past.

Trying to capture this same aesthetic in my woodcuts, by using the expressive limitations of my materials and medium, was a challenge.

Another challenge of this project was to shine a light on a common sound heard everywhere through the streets of this city. ‘Hot Vit Lon’ or ‘Balut’, ‘Hot Vit Dua’, ‘Truong Cut Long’ and ‘Bap Xao Day’ are a selection of street foods.

They are commonly served together on drive-by food carts around the city. The sellers blare out the names repeatedly on their built-in stereos. Each woodblock was assigned a dish. I chose to make 4 separate dishes as these were the original food snacks on offer and it is also a lucky number!


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