Abstraction, gossamer layers of overlapping colour, inventive palettes offset with bright, pulsating neons… Jonathan Lawes creates beautifully nuanced silkscreen prints, so it gives us great pleasure to introduce him as the latest addition to the Look Up roster. What a great way to start the year.

If you follow Look Up, you'll know that we rarely add new artists to our roster; our fledgling gallery is a streamlined operation, with a focussed, curated aesthetic. We receive regular emails from artists keen to join Look Up (which is hugely flattering – please keep them coming), but we're planning to cap the roster at around 25–30 artists, so we usually have to say no. However, every now and then an artist comes along, shows us their work, and we can't resist. Enter Jonathan Lawes, a Berlin-based Brit with a natural flair for silkscreen printmaking.

'Mono 2' – silkscreen edition (image 10cm x 10cm) created for Look Up by Jonathan Lawes 

We'd been in touch with Jonathan for a while before we finally met in November, and boy – was it worth the wait! As we looked through an outstanding selection of prints we talked about his love of the process, and it soon became clear that Jonathan's practice is driven by a questing, experimental spirit – an unfettered desire to create images. It's the kind of restless, inventive attitude we're keen to celebrate, so we invited him to join our roster and in December we launched his first Look Up editions. To find out more about the man behind the prints, we had a chat with Jonathan.

Look Up Have you always been fond of making images, or is it a more recent compulsion?

Jonathan Lawes It goes back to my final few years at school. A new teacher arrived in the art department and completely transformed it. From then on, the subject became something I looked forward to more than anything else. I went on to complete an art foundation in Bournemouth and a degree in printed textiles in Leeds, so I've never looked back since then really…

LU What was special about the new teacher?

JL My previous teachers had been at the school a long, long time. They were great, but there's only so much you can get out of John Constable style landscapes painted with powder paints! A much younger, more energetic teacher arrived and taught us all to let go and loosen up. I filled sketchbook after sketchbook with experimental studies and fell in love with abstract art. 

'Study to Homage to the Square: Aurora' by Josef Albers (1957) – from the 'Sunny Side Up' exhibition at David Zwirner London (Jan–March 2017)

LU Which artists, movements, designers and creatives have inspired you over the years?

JL Inspiration is an ever changing thing; it comes in waves. In general, I've always been inspired by the likes of Joseph Albers, Mark Rothko, Henri Matisse, and their attention to colour, composition, and shape. I also love the sketches and free drawings of designer duo Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. And French-Swedish artist duo Christian Gfeller and Anna Hellsgård. I spent a very enjoyable year in their Berlin studio and learned a great deal. 

LU When did you first get the printmaking bug?

JL I first tried silkscreen in my final year at school. Although it was fun, I remember using oil based inks and spending the best part of an hour at the end of the day cleaning the screen with white spirit… Giving myself a headache and thinking "I’ll never do this ever again!" The next time I ventured into a print room was on my art foundation course, but luckily for me things went better the second time around.

'Autumn 01' – silkscreen monoprint (20cm x 20cm) by Jonathan Lawes

LU What role did printmaking play in your degree at Leeds Arts University? Did you try different processes? 

JL It played a major role. The course focussed predominantly on silkscreen and digital printing, but during my second year I took extra classes in more traditional methods of printing such as lino, woodcut, and etching. The facilities were great and gave us the opportunity to experiment freely with lots of different techniques.

LU Are you planning to explore other processes in your current practice? 

JL I’ve had my lino tools on my desk for some time now. I really should just get them out and start playing around. I’ve recently started adding textures to parts of my work, so lino printing would be perfect.

A6 notebook designed by Jonathan Lawes 

LU What do you think it is about silkscreen in particular that engages you, creatively?

JL I just really like the whole process. It’s very hands-on, manual work and something that I enjoy doing. Printing 'zines and books in high volumes, you get in the zone and become like a machine. It sounds weird, but it can be very therapeutic and rewarding. I like to experiment with the process too. You can be very precise, match things up perfectly, but also just open yourself up to mistakes: playing with the spontaneity of screen printing and discovering different outcomes.

LU Is it fair to say that screenprinting provides the initial creative spark for most of your projects (including commissions and stationery), or do you make sketches before you get busy with a squeegee?

JL The majority of my work starts on the printing tables. I usually have a vague idea of what I'd like to do, but more often than not it ends up going off at a tangent… Sometimes that can be frustrating, not completing a task, but that spontaneity is also good and something you need to embrace as an artist. The majority of my recent work for Tektura Wallcoverings has all come about in that way. Working initially with larger screen prints, focussing in on smaller sections, and developing them further.

'Shatter' – digitally printed wall covering designed by Jonathan for Tektura

LU You've lived in Berlin for a few years now – do you think it's influenced your approach and/or aesthetic?

JL Berlin is a great city, but I don’t feel it’s had much of an impact on me, aesthetically. In the nicest way possible, it’s pretty ugly and grey for most of the year! But the people I've met and worked with have certainly played a part in my development.

LU And the city's creative spirit? Is it still alive and kicking? 

JL It’s still a great city with lots going on. I know a fair amount of creatives, especially in my field, who have left for new adventures... I’ve been here for some time now, coming up to 7 years, and I feel like I’m ready to start afresh; try somewhere new.

Silkscreen monoprint (50cm x 70cm) from a series of seven

LU You mentioned earlier that you worked as a print assistant at Gfeller + Hellsgård. What kind of things were you working on?

JL Working with Christian and Anna was an absolute pleasure, and it certainly helped to push me on to the next level. I started by helping out, learning little things here and there, before moving on to printing books and mini 'zines in large editions... 

LU Having regular access to that kind of studio set-up must have been fun...

JL Yes, going in twice a week, finally feeling that printing was becoming more of a job. It became the highlight of my week. It was the best learning curve and on top of it all we had fun in the studio.

Silkscreen monoprint (20cm x 20cm) from a series of 40 (available from Jonathan's online store) 

LU What's your studio set-up like now you're focusing exclusively on your own practice?

JL I spend most of my time at Stattlab, the studio where I’m a member. It’s a non-profit screen print and black and white photography lab in north Berlin. Although we have a fair few members, it’s open 24/7 with unlimited access and so we all get time to work on our own projects. When I’m not in the studio I work from my desk at home, editing things and doing more general computer work.

Silkscreen monoprint (50cm x 70cm) from a series of eight (available soon via Print Club London)

LU Just before you joined Look Up you had what looked like a fantastic exhibition of monoprints at Whitegrid Gallery in Berlin. Can you tell me about your relationship with Whitegrid, and about the prints you created for that show? 

JL Thomas and Doris, the owners of Whitegrid Gallery, found me initially through Instagram. They've shown great support and enthusiasm towards my work and loved the idea of creating one-off unique screen prints. I created a series of six 40 x 40cm prints for the exhibition, focussing on my geometric style in combination with flashes of bright neon colours.

'Mono 1' – silkscreen edition (image 10cm x 10cm) created for Look Up by Jonathan Lawes 

LU We're really excited that you're involved in our fledgling gallery/collective. What are you looking forward to most about working with Look Up?

JL I’m excited to join the great roster of artists at Look Up. I’ve followed their progress for a while now and to be part of Look Up along with them makes me very proud. Hopefully I’ll get to meet them all some time in the near future.

LU What are you working on at the moment, and what's coming up in the near future – any new projects, commissions, or exhibitions coming up?

JL I’ve recently finished a new series of large scale abstract monoprints for Print Club London. The previous collection was very popular and so I wanted to do more. The prints are almost like paintings, with working marks, textures, and deckled edges. It’s a really fun and expressive way of printing. I’ve also just finished collaborating with Paper Collective in Copenhagen and two new designs will be launched by them very soon.

'Mono 3' – silkscreen edition (image 10cm x 10cm) created for Look Up by Jonathan Lawes 

It seems we're not the only ones to have fallen under the spell of Jonathan's prints, which is surely cause for more celebration. The more support galleries like ours can offer emerging artists like Jonathan, the better. It also means that you lucky people have more chance of buying their work before they become better known, without breaking the bank. Think of it as an investment for the future... We'd advise you to start your search by checking out his first Look Up editions, but keep an eye out for future releases too. Welcome aboard Jonathan. Viel Glück!

You can see Jonathan's first Look Up editions here.

Jonathan Lawes on Instagram