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Photography by Dan Weill
10th May 2017

Design Undefined #3: Q&A with Alex Booker

There’s immense satisfaction in the gentle but firm resistance that pushes against your hand as it cuts into wood, but the real magic lies in the hands of someone who can turn rough indentations into bold patterns and vivid prints. Alex Booker is a print artist specialising in the art of woodcut-relief printing. His Limehouse studio is a cavern of creative experimentation, the home of Booker Print House and the venue for his much-loved workshops. His projects have seen him work with WeTransfer, Ma-tt-er, Trad Academy Sea Shanty Choir, PATTERNITY, Maersk and Quodo — as well as being exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition. His study and exploration of woodcut printing has provided him with the knowledge and skills required to seamlessly blend ancient craft with contemporary narratives.

As part of Design Undefined #3 at Clerkenwell London, Alex will showcase a series of new portraits based on the study of Clerkenwell’s diverse history and the personalities that shaped it. Exhibiting alongside one of the godfathers of modern print art, Anthony Burrill, Alex will also undertake the challenge of creating a limited-edition piece available exclusively from Clerkenwell London that will be put together during the course of the exhibition.

As he prepares for Design Undefined #3 (which you can visit for the duration of Clerkenwell Design Week), we caught up with Alex to learn more about his upcoming showcase and how he is bringing old school craft to a contemporary crowd. 

Alex, this is your first time exhibiting at Design Undefined, what are you looking forward to most?

Really excited about showcasing new studio work that is new and specific to the area of Clerkenwell.

What does Design Undefined represent to you as an artist?
The opportunity to work alongside celebrated designers and makers that inspire me in my own practice is very humbling. I can't wait to become immersed in the energy of ideas and skills by countless individuals! 

Can you tell us a little more about what you’re going to be showcasing at Clerkenwell London?
I’ll be exhibiting new portraits of Clerkenwell’s rich history of rebellious characters such as chartists, socialists, trade unionists and the wonderful ‘Joey the Clown’. Architectural prints of the area, maps and works relating to design trade will adorn the walls of the Clerkenwell London shop, with workshops providing the chance for people to learn and print woodblocks in the shop space.
Photography by Dan Weill
Your work focuses on characters from the local area, did you know much about the history of the area beforehand?

I knew some of the trade history such as watchmaking and jewellery but not the significance of the area for political change and social reform which galvanised the working classes through unions, marches and mass gatherings on Clerkenwell Green. Lenin and Trotsky plotted the seeds of the Russian revolutions in the local pubs, the suffragettes rallied support on the green and the British political elite were challenged and reformed with the area's community to monumental effect  for the greater good.

What is your favourite character/story that you’ve discovered so far?

My favourite individual so far is Joseph Grimbaldi who performed as an actor at Sadler’s Wells from the age of three years of age. Grimbaldi’s original ‘Joey the Clown’ performed during the 1880’s to huge crowds and was the most famous clown of his day.

Design Undefined is all about breaking convention, what’s the most radical thing you’ve ever done? 

Teaching woodblock workshops in temporary spaces to large groups, have been some of the most challenging and rewarding projects. Most recently I had a series of woodcut prints projected on to the stage of Wilton's Music Hall for the Sailor Town Festival, seeing smaller works become giant images was really exciting and dramatic! Running regular workshops from my studio is becoming a monthly fixture in teaching new printmakers. 
You work in a traditional medium that is steeped with amazing history, do you see any changes in it in recent times? Have you made your own changes to the process and materials?

Like all print mediums there is so much scope for experimentation in relief printing, especially with the ever expanding technology of modern tool design, whether it's routers, rail-saws or multi-tools which help ambitious projects. I for one, love seeing the wider community of makers on social media, I often see and learn new techniques from an array of talent this way.
What are you looking forward to seeing most during Clerkenwell Design Week?

I'm really looking forward to seeing the diversity of the industry and the international movements and individuals that are shaping research, education and thought provoking design.

Visit Design Undefined #3 at Clerkenwell London 23–25 May 2017, during Clerkenwell Design Week, and join Alex Booker for his two workshops on 25 May.

Photography by Dan Weill

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