Artist Interview: Wuon Gean Ho, Batsford Prize 2022 Illustration winner
Introducing the Batsford Prize Artist Interview series! Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll get to know the five winners of this year’s Batsford Prize a bit better as they tell us about their work, influences and what winning the Batsford Prize means to them.
First up is the winner of the Illustration category, Wuon Gean Ho, who is studying for a PhD in Printmaking at the University of the West of England. Her winning piece Covid Tales responded to this year’s theme ‘Communication and Connection’ by exploring the absurdity of pandemic life.
Featured image: Lockdown Chop (2020) by Wuon-Gean Ho. Linocut and monoprint, 15 x 20 cm
Horror Scroll (2020) by Wuon-Gean Ho. Linocut and monoprint, 15 x 20 cm.
Wuon-Gean working in the RA school’s print room, London, 2016. Photo by Wuon-Gean Ho
Hi Wuon Gean, what was your piece about? Can you tell us what initially influenced it and what it means to you?
Covid Tales is a six-minute video that tells the effect of lockdown on a woman (myself) living alone in London. The prints that illustrate this video speak of humour and irony before the pandemic even started: showing me travelling to Bristol from London on crowded buses and cycling in the rain, and working with dangerous animals at the local veterinary clinic.
Once isolated, I experienced the freedom of working from the bathroom on the floor with no trousers on; attempted yoga with a mobile phone, cut my own hair, and hung out with plants instead of friends. After a while, the enforced isolation and sense of danger felt like wearing a poisonous cloak: I missed my family and worried about them all the time; started to eat to excess; sob off-camera in zoom calls and became completely engulfed by multiplying computer screens.
The video ends with me re-entering the world and meeting people again, with another dangerous but comical moment with a dog and its owner.
Twenty Twenty (2020) by Wuon-Gean Ho. Linocut and monoprint, 15 x 20 cm.
What mediums or materials did you decide to use, and why?
Each image is a linocut print made with two blocks. I started making the series in 2016 after my dad broke his neck in a tragic accident. He was trapped in a care home and needed cheering up. Prints are portable and colourful and quick to make. I started to leave them pinned to the walls of his room after every trip, so there are lots of hidden narratives and in-jokes that appealed to his sense of humour. To date I’ve made almost 200 images in total.
What made you want to study printmaking?
I love ink on paper and the magic of making something with simple materials. With my PhD I’m researching elements of tacit knowledge in relief printmaking processes: in particular the gestures and performance of making a print, and how we are attentive to sound, pressure and touch in ways which are rarely explained in words.
Screen Overload (2020) by Wuon-Gean Ho. Linocut and monoprint, 20 x 15 cm.
What are your biggest artistic inspirations? Are there other artists who you admire or who inspire you?
Pina Bausch is a huge inspiration. She was a choreographer who used gesture to convey emotion and eloquent movement to tell complex narratives and talk of power dynamics. I love the absurd humour of Daumier as well. For technicality and packing movement into an image: well, of course Hokusai. There are many contemporary printmakers who astonish and inspire me, in particular, Sabine Delahaut, Minna Resnick and Kathryn Polk. Helen Frankenthaler for her approach to colour… I could go on!
How would you describe your style? Would you say that it has changed over time?
My style is diaristic and personal. I employ a roving perspective in order to convey a sense of space that revolves around the central characters. I like using looping compositions that bring the eye from one character to another. I might use photos as reference material, but most of my images are drawn from the mind’s eye. The colours are rich and intense. My style has changed in the past few years my last project was to see how far I could make a binary image blurry –– so all the work was in black and white.
Big Bum Yoga (2020) by Wuon-Gean Ho. Linocut and monoprint, 15 x 20 cm.
What does winning the Batsford Prize Illustration Award mean to you?
I’m thrilled to win the award. Thank you judges! I know it is always a close call when faced with a shortlist, so I do feel very lucky as well. I’m going to use the money to pay for part of my ticket to go on a residency, so hopefully it buys me a bit of thinking time.
After you have completed your studies, what do you see yourself doing next?
Oh! The dream is to find a way of making a creative living, allowing me to make the work that is clamouring to be made. I would enjoy a sprinkling of teaching, talking, writing and collaborating as well. I’ve been invited to exhibit all the prints in one place in Hong Kong Open Printshop in 2024. I would also love to publish the prints from this project in a book format: so please let me know if we can continue our conversation at a later date!
The Scream (2017) by Wuon-Gean Ho. Linocut and monoprint, 15 x 20 cm.
The Batsford Prize is an annual award open for undergraduate and postgraduate students in the fields of applied art and textiles, fine art and illustration. View the winners and runners up of this year’s award here. The theme for the Batsford Prize 2023 will be revealed shortly…
Check back for more Batsford Prize Artist Interviews as we’ll be meeting Applied Art & Textiles winner Grace Faichnie, Fine Art winner Nelson, Children’s Illustration winner Justin Worsley and The People’s Choice Award winner Annabelle Booker.