Meet a member – Tom Ratcliffe

Tom Ratcliffe is an artist and art historian who lives and works in Brighouse, West Yorkshire. Tom creates artwork in a variety of media including painting, print and sculpture.


What was your path to becoming a printmaker?

Printmaking, for me, is one of a range of practices. I do not think on myself as a printmaker per se, but as an artist/printmaker who uses various processes to explore my inner thoughts and ideas. As a Fine Art student at Newcastle I became interested in coloured etching and later silkscreen printing in the context of larger mixed-media constructions; I suppose one could call these printed sculpture. Unable to pursue these in a post art school world, after a long pause, I have returned to printmaking and more specifically coloured etching, where I have been re-examining 40 years of ideas that are now being realised as a result of WYPW and the availability of suitable equipment.

Who are your biggest influences?

I am generally more interested in artists that operate on the cusp between figuration and abstraction or who fuse disciplines like printmaking and sculpture or painting. Apart from some of my fellow students, all of whom were working with similar concerns, Robert Rauschenberg, Willem De Kooning, Peter Lanyon, Jasper Johns, Francis Bacon and more recently Norman Ackroyd would be the artists to whom I constantly return.

How do you keep yourself motivated/inspired and what are those sources of inspiration?

This has been difficult in the age of Covid-19. However, I am very selfish about my work and enjoy the uninterrupted solitude of my studio, which happens to be relatively isolated. I find the more I work the more the process becomes self-sustained, the more ideas flourish and grow. Inspiration has come from a variety of sources, some emerging from the concerns of my Phd and others as prosaic as my recent visit to Skye – there is something moving about the landscape as nature changes before you. In this sense the subject matter of my work is quite conventional, aspects of still-life, portraiture and landscape feature strongly, but these are all contained within a concern for art as a language, a dialogue between the sign and the signified. Hence the red marks in my work were inspired by a walk in the woodlands, where trees were marked for felling and which emphasised the space and complimentary colours, creating a movement, dancing before the eye. Each mark becomes a ‘node within a network’ to quote Michel Foucault, and within each mark is an archaeology of meanings.

What printmaking techniques do you use in your work and are there any new ones you would like to learn?

In the last 12 months I have worked exclusively using intaglio techniques. The seductive element of this is the exploration of the unknown and the opportunity for endless experimentation. I usually make only small editions of each print after numerous experiment with the order of the plates and different colour ways. The process constantly presents a range of pathways, even more so in platemaking, where aquatint, soft and hard ground combined with the veracity of copper sulphate on metal are unpredictable and exciting.
I hope to make some much larger works using silkscreen printing on perspex and/or canvas. I am also interested in combining techniques to bring out the intrinsic quality and unique marks that each process holds. Considering my long absence from printmaking these are areas that will require some induction work, especially as the technology of preparing stencils has moved on. For my next piece of work I will need to re-visit the process of preparing solar plates, a technique which similarly has developed since my last excursion into photographic imagery. As an artist/printmaker I am always looking for new ways and open to learning about my own practice.