Rob White: A Profile

SLAUGHTERHAUS is a broad church – it has printmakers who have specialised in print from art school; it has designers and architects and an interesting variety of others. But Rob White is unusual having come from the fine art editioning side of printmaking. He has now worked for sixteen years in two of the very best editioning print studios in the country – Thumbprint Editions (formerly Hope Sufferance Printmakers) and Paupers Press. In the process he has acquired immense practical experience in printmaking, experience he is keen to share. He has recently become a tutor in the printmaking department at Morley College while also a member of Slaughterhaus where he has conducted a number of courses for fellow members. While working on his own painting and printmaking, he continues to work at Paupers Press, editioning for well known artists like Stephen Chambers, the Chapman brothers, Grayson Perry and many others.

Rob is evidently a busy man – a characteristic he learned from his father. He describes growing up in Witham in Essex, the middle of three boys. The family were not well off but were close and his parents were supportive. He wasn’t academic and while at school was only interested in sport and drawing. So when his careers adviser suggested he work at Tesco’s, it wasn’t entirely surprising but he wanted to go to Art School. Luckily for him, his father was encouraging but said that if that’s what he wanted to do, he needed to appreciate that he would need to work as hard if not harder than any conventional career if he was to succeed.

Rob went to Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College in High Wycombe where he enrolled in Graphics and Advertising. One day a week he did printmaking in all it’s various forms and it was this that grabbed his interest. He loved using his hands and although he experienced lino printing, lithography, screenprinting and etching, it was etching that he found most exciting. It was the unpredictability and serendipity of the process that he loved, where something magic can happen as the paper is peeled off the plate. While in his last year his tutor, Tom Hammick, was working on a large woodcut at Hope Sufferance Printmakers and Rob was taken on straight out of college and ‘I learned by watching and asking’. He stayed there for eight and a half years ultimately as studio manager working on three or four projects concurrently. He then freelanced for a few months before being taken on by Mike Taylor at Paupers Press where he has worked since.

What has kept Rob away from his own printmaking in favour of helping others to realise theirs? He says he finds the collaboration between artist and printmaker really fascinating and he has learned a lot from artists who get involved. Some do so very much more than others and he says you can tell those who love mark making and the marks that are unique to printing. These are the ones who get engaged and engrossed in the development of the print as opposed to those who just want to reproduce an image through printing. But it is a two way process and the printmaker can contribute to and facilitate the artist’s development. This is the nub of his interest – the artists have helped him to understand the creative process and he has helped them to maximise their image making through printmaking.

Rob was unfortunate to be born with a rare congenital condition that restricts his ability to supinate and pronate his forearms (the motion that allows rotating the hand inwards and outwards). When he was young he found ways to overcome this such that he could do pretty much everything, but as he’s got older it’s made many of the processes inherent to printing, increasingly difficult. (Just think about laying paper on and off the press bed and how dependent that is on those movements). This is one factor that has made Rob think about where he and his career are going, but perhaps foremost is a desire to take his own printmaking forward. Armed with the skills he has learned and the experience he has gained through his working relationships with a number of artists, he is developing new work. He has an increasing interest in abstraction perhaps because it is unencumbered by obvious association with any particular subject and the purity of mark making dominates. He has particular regard for Sean Scully, Clyfford Still, and Mark Rothko. Meanwhile as this progresses, other printmakers at Slaughterhaus will hopefully benefit from his great expertise and teaching.

Interview by James Anderson.