I was very sad to see that Peter Reddick has died (there is a precise & worthwhile obituary in the Guardian 25/11/2010).  Peter, dubbed the tallest wood-engraver in England, was a cousin by marriage, and a major presence in my growing-up.

My father was a marine insurance clerk by day, his intelligence ignored during a working life with Willis Faber and Dumas. Most of that life he commuted to London from Southend. As soon as he got back and had dinner he was out in the printing shed, adjacent to the house, where he would work until about 10 listening to the radio and setting type, dissing it, or printing. As the electricity to the shed was connected in a gimcrack fashion, my mother was able to communicate with him by switching the light on and off.  The actual printing was done on a large cast iron upright Adana machine, with a foot-treadle and a large fly-wheel.  You could work up quite a speed on this, but it could equally crush your fingers or toes if you weren’t careful.  Derek Nice and I set and printed Al Alvarez’s pamphlet of poems The End Of It, with our illustrations, out there.

The big printing time was Christmas.  My father did up-market Christmas cards – mostly black and white- at something like 3/6 a dozen, name and address printed inside for a further 1/6. (I may have got the prices wrong, but you get the idea).

That was in the ‘forties and ‘fifties, and Peter Reddick provided most of the wood-engravings – many of them of Brixham or thereabouts. (An early printed card, above, has a note to my father thanking him for advice about  printing, the card being the result).  At that time his work was more conventional, with formalisations which belonged to the wood-cut revival of the ’30s.  The fluidity and silvery tone came later. I didn’t know before reading the obituary that he could draw on the block in wash and then freely interpret the tones – but that makes sense

Because his work was all over the house and the shed, Peter was always present. On one early visit I was rude about his hair, which was long.  I hope he forgave me that. Later, when I was drawing and painting as well as doing school studies, my parents(or perhaps just my mother) said that I didn’t want to be an artist, surely, did I, and live in a caravan with long hair and no money? I don’t think I even tried to reply.On another occasion Peter told me “You should always use the largest brush you can handle.” I reminded him of this about forty years later at an exhibition of his work.”God how arrogant” he groaned, and I replied “No. It was one of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given.”

In the last couple of years he wrote that he had given up engraving – too intense. But he sent me a DVD of a sort of tape-slide programme which merged natural images of the near and far landscape into and out of one another, with hypnotic regularity, over a classical sound-track, (A Dissolving World, 35 mins) A very simply organised meditation on photographs of his subject matter which I continue to enjoy watching. The Abstract Garden, to poems by Philip Gross,  (Old Stile Press) was probably his late masterpiece.

Castel Dinas Bran wood engraving by Peter Reddick

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