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Robert Macdonald

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Participating Artist in the ImPORT/ExPORT exchange programme with EDINBURGH PRINTMAKERS

Before I was able to go to art college I had an earlier career in journalism, and I began my working life on a small country newspaper in New Zealand. I spent my first year pulling and reading galley proofs, writing articles, wrapping up newspapers and sweeping up lead dust surrounded by presses and linotype machines and ink-stained printers. The process of printing fascinated me and it was natural that when, eventually, I left New Zealand and enrolled as an art student at the Central School of Art in London, that I should find myself most at home in the etching and blockprinting workshops at the Central. Merlyn Evans was in charge of etching and the approach of his department was deeply influenced by the ideas of his friend Stanley William Hayter. In my year at the Central I began showing etchings in the St. George Gallery, Cork Street, and was represented in the first printmaking exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery. Although my lack of finances forced me back to journalism I returned to the Central School printmaking workshop whenever I could save up enough cash to give up regular work. As a very mature student I was able to take a diploma in advanced printmaking studies at the Central in the early 1980s, and although after moving to Wales in 1989 my special interest in printmaking had for a time to be abandoned, it has begun to blossom again since I discovered in Wales the resources of the Swansea Print Workshop.

My own personal background leads me directly to a possible area of visual exploration to fit in with the project – IMPORT/EXPORT.  I would like to focus on the idea of the import and export of people, as historically political and social upheaval and migration have affected both Scotland and Wales, Edinburgh and Swansea (and been the major shaping influence in my own family history).

As my name indicates, my family background on my father’s side was strongly Scottish and my paternal grandmother was a native Gaelic speaker from the Isle of Lewis. However I grew up from the age of 10 in the far north of New Zealand, living in a farming community established in the 19th century by Highland Scots who travelled to New Zealand in a fleet of six sailing ships from Nova Scotia. Known as the Waipu settlers, many of the founders of this settlement were refugees from the Highland Clearances. My paternal grandfather was born in Southern Ireland and his family claimed descent from Jacobite Macdonalds who fled to Ireland after the battle of Culloden.  My mother was a South African whose parents travelled in ox wagons when young from the Eastern Cape to settle in the Transvaal.

Movement, travel and upheaval are etched deeply into my own consciousness and I would hope to reflect this in my work – in a series of prints combining people, landscape and a sense of journeying.

Robert Macdonald Llyn-y-Fan Fach, Moonlit reduction linocut, 2008