Prior to the present series of Venice monoprints, Elizabeth Magill had worked on a portfolio of lithographs, Parlous Land, published by Paragon in 2006. Magill had relished the experience of working in lithography, a medium very sympathetic to her approach as a painter, building up an image layer upon layer. She had also enjoyed working with printers Michael Taylor and Simon Marsh of Paupers Press. When Charles Booth-Clibborn suggested the idea of working on another project, this time using etching, Magill agreed, looking forward to exploring a new technique.
Since 2002, in collaboration with the Scuola Internationale di Grafica in Venice, Paupers Press has run The Artists International Print Project, inviting artists to work within the school’s printmaking studios in the heart of Venice for a period of two weeks. It was decided that Paragon would sponsor the artist to work with the printers in Venice on a series of monoprints. In order to prepare, Magill went to Venice early in July 2008 to collect material she could use for her etchings. She spent a week in the city taking photographs, a selection of which was used to make photographic plates. These simple black-and-white photo-etched plates were taken to Venice the following month to provide the basic structure for the monoprints.
Magill frequently integrates imagery from photographs which she has found or taken herself into her work. During painting, subjects usually appear of their own volition as she applies layer upon layer of paint, without any preconceived idea of a locale. Contrary to her habitual way of working, for the monoprints the starting point was a very specific place – Venice – a city steeped in history and associations. With the photographic plates Magill had captured some of its topography and landmarks; the Grand Canal, its gondoliers, the walls of San Michele and the pigeons on the Piazza San Marco. On top of these primary photographic plates, additional plates, onto which Magill had directly brushed, rolled or splashed ink, were printed. Many of the prints also have additional hand-colouring and, for some, several different photographic plates were printed one on top of another. In what proved an extremely fruitful two weeks of working with the printers, Magill made over 50 unique etchings.
Some motifs, such as the iconic walls and cypresses of the cemetery of San Michele, became the subject of several prints. The various and vastly different treatments of such recurring motifs give a strong sense of the creative outburst that Magill experienced while working in Venice. As a group, the unique etchings oscillate between a rootedness in local, instantly recognizable, topography, and abstraction, achieved through a perilous use and layering of colour. In some there are only faint traces of a subject , but others slant towards the phantasmagorical: in one print, a mythical creature hovers in front of a cruise liner. The sheer breadth of imagery Magill produced in such a short time is remarkable.