Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Katharine Jowett: forbidden city
Your visual education has to start somewhere but with the British printmaker Katharine Jowett (1890 - 1965) we do not know where that was. Most readers are probably not familar with the west front of Exeter Cathedral but looking at her prints, they make me think its great carved screen and ornate towers. But then I know that her father was a minister in the town. Even so, almost all her prints are architectural and they have a similar articulate flamboyance.
I can't offhand think of any British artist who achieved such depth of colour in their linocuts. By comparision, some Grosvenor artists look almost insipid. And, of course, this is exactly what she is noted for. How she achieved this is another matter. Because she appears to have left Exeter or Devon in the 1920s when British linocut was was only getting started and went to China where she stayed untill the end of the second war. In that time she made a minimum of about twenty five prints,with variations, and as she was interned by the Japanese during the war, she probably worked for no more than about fifteen years. And for those fifteen years she had one subject only and that was old Pekin.
It was a ready-made subject because she lived there. But it obviously interested her a great deal. She moves from one view to another, almost to the point of monotony. Many of the subjects are similar but some prints are more expressive than others, the viewpoints less conventional, the vigourous use of colour as fauve as any English artist. But she isn't Bloomsbury; she is remarkably free of affectation for a thirties printmaker.
Ironically, this is what I like about her. She apprehends the physical world and renders it with tremendous purity. I have to assume this came about becase she had talent but wasn't trained and stood outside the trends at home. Somewhere she learned to make linocut - quite possibly from one of Claude Flight's books and through another printmaker. (The person she has most in common with is Isabel de B Lockyer who also had Devon connections as it happens and occasionally their architectural views are similar). I am not trying to present her as a naive artist in some way; I just think she was independant. In this she is clearly different from travellers like Elizabeth Keith and Charles Bartlett who both turned their watercolours into prints. Funnily enough, the work you see here by Jowett is more intense and painterly than theirs but basically is conceived in terms of linocut and nothing else. For this, if nothing else, she deserves credit.