On Prints and Berenice Sydney



Printmaking can be an unforgiving art form. Whereas an accident in painting can be fortuitous, it is rarely happy in the print studio, where a technical error can ruin days of creative work. But Berenice Sydney made it look so effortless, which is remarkable in the absence of any formal training in printmaking. A glance through her type written studio notes, extensively annotated with further observations, reveals a methodical mind, interested in the minutia, but with an artist’s eye to its creative potential. 'Any solvent for printer’s ink may be used as a thinner…turps tends to make the ink slippery…Toluene (?) is an excellent thinner and induces transparency…when printed on white paper the colour glows!i. Many artists defer to a professional printer to steer them through the technical challenges - a perfectly acceptable creative collaboration between artist and technician with a venerable history. It is rare however to find an artist like Berenice with such a flair for doing both.

In the two decades in which she was active as an artist, Berenice produced an impressive body of work in all the major print media, working largely in open access print studios such as the Islington Studio set up by Hugh Stoneman. Her corpus includes a few early figurative woodcuts of mythological subjects, reminiscent of Picasso and Matisse but whose eroticism is transmuted by the female gaze; to anthropomorphic abstractions, etchings, lithography, screenprints and monotypes, redolent of Miro and Max Ernst, but with a mischievous humour and lightness of touch all of Berenice’s own. These later works, at first glance abstract, when looked at more closely reveal the artist’s puckish wit. Revelling in whimsy and double entendres, Berenice’s titles will often give us a clue - Tiny etching with Surprised Girl or Tiny etching with One Chap - sending the eye on a wandering search for a quirky vignette amidst the maze of glyphs and squiggles. When discovered it elicits a Where's Wally? moment, a gasp of AHA from the viewer. But more often she seems to be gently pocking fun at us - Brush Drawing on Tiptoes, Exploding Cigar, Monotype with Small Flying Shapes - inviting us to don the jester’s cap and play, to let our imaginations run riot too, to abandoned our silly art world pretentiousness and join in the fun.

Berenice Sydney: Dancing with Colours has done something magical. These works, which have been stacked against walls and sequestered in chests for over thirty years since Berenice’s tragically early death, have been brought into the light of the gallery. And don’t they sparkle for us.

Murray Macaulay
Director of Prints at Christies, London


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