Today is the opening of Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair – the UK’s largest fair entirely devoted to contemporary prints. The fair is on a mission to make the medium accessible to all, offering visitors the chance to discover and collect some of the most exciting work around today. Featuring almost 1,000 carefully curated works, sourced from over 500 artists and galleries, WCPF21 truly is the perfect opportunity to #FindArtThatFits.

Joining the WCPF line-up are prominent printmakers Conrad Shawcross, Julian Opie, Eileen Cooper and many more, as well as leading galleries such as Jealous, Atelier Rose & Gray and TAG Fine Arts. However, as well as hosting some of the biggest names in contemporary print, WCPF also offers visitors an insight into the emerging art scene. The only fair to facilitate a unique model of 50% exhibiting galleries and 50% independent artists selected through an international open-call, WCPF gives a platform for up-and-coming graduates to exhibit next to the biggest names in contemporary print. Amongst the successful independent open-call artists are several promising young Russian & Eastern European artists, who will be drawing a spotlight on in this article.

“I have always been drawn to Russian art and the qualities within it from the early 20th Century aesthetic, to the narratives of folklore and social history that can be excavated within it. I was lucky enough to grow up with a number of Russian artists’ works in my home by celebrated artists such as Gluklya and Kirill Sokolov.” Lizzie Glendinning, Curator, WCPF

Evgeniya Dudnikova, The Spirit of The Three-Piece Pine (2020). Linocut. Edition of 8 @Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair

When asked to name his top picks from the WCPF21 line-up, celebrated artist Stephen Chambers RA hand-picked The Spirit of The Three-Piece-Pine, stating “I like the unrefined inventiveness of this image; exposed, tender, witty, and inventive. Feels fearless.” Indeed, Russian printmaker Evgeniya Dudnikova unflinchingly challenges the viewer to immerse themselves in the surreal fantasy and embrace the ‘spirit of the three-piece-pine’, whatever that may be.

This artwork is typical of Dudnikova’s transcendental style, which stems from her fascination with philosophy and dreams, and their intertwining with nature, culture and historical legacy. She applies an air of supernatural and fantastical to everyday objects, transforming something as ordinary as a horse into a unicorn without actually depicting it.

Dudnikova’s detailed application of colour is also central to her approach. Working with many different hues – between 10 and 40 in a single artwork – her linocuts and monotypes often resemble paintings, or multilayer mosaics.

Mark Nikitin. To The Sun II (2021). Monotype. Edition of 1 @Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair

Similarly inspired by his surrounding natural and cultural environment, self-taught Russian printmaker Mark Nikitin makes comment about the destruction of his beloved homeland. His artwork speaks of the contradictions of Northern Russian life: urban pollution juxtaposed with a deep-rooted societal connection with nature. However, in this monotype triptych, To the Sun II, the artist depicts the perseverance of nature throughout with the raw texture and intense sun.

The young artist takes inspiration from the avant-garde art of the late 19th – 20th centuries, in particular from Germany and Northern Europe. He works in various printing styles, though primarily monotyping.

Olga Tuchina. Sunny morning (2020). Etching. Edition of 14 @Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair

Sunny Morning reminds one of a Sunday lie-in, with soft morning light being gently filtered through the curtains. This sensation of sunlight is quite typical for Moscow-based artist Olga Tuchina, who attentively draws on air and light in her etchings through her skillful use of colour. The sepia-light quality works in combination with the highly detailed ornamental lamp and potted plants offering a sense of tranquil nostalgia to the artwork. 

Although Tuchina also works in lithography and pastel, etching is her preferred medium and now the subject of her teaching at the Surikov institute in Moscow.

Kirill Romenskiy. June (2020). Etching. Edition of 10 @Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair

Kirill Romenskiy is another Russian artist to join the ranks of WCPF’s 2021 line-up. Similar to Dudnikova’s admission, Romenskiy’s artwork June carries an otherworldly quality to it, with the warm glow of the light drawing the viewer in, and highlighting an exceptional technical ability to produce such a luminosity. Monophonic, entrancing, and calming all at once, the artwork is reminiscent of one of many Russian folklore stories. Characterised by the depth of duality of what is happening, each specific detail of the print – the flowers, the woman, the light – plays its own role.

Yuliana Gornaeva-Knigina. Illusions II (2016). Photo etching. Edition of 200 @Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair

Stepping away from nature, and towards the urban environment of industry is Russian printmaker and WCPF artist, Yuliana Gornaeva-Knigina. A graduate of the Moscow Aviation institute, the artist draws on her engineering knowledge to make comment on the close of Russia’s golden age of industrialisation. She then went on to study design and applied arts, leading to her taking a course of Mokuhanga – traditional Japanese woodcut – at the Mi-Lab residence, Japan. Constantly reacting to her environment, you can see the Japanese influence grow on her portfolio, as she depicts modern life there in mokuhanga technique itself, as well as linocut, etching, and cyanotype. This chopping, changing and combining of classic and experimental printing techniques is typical of Yuliana.

Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair is one of many events to celebrate Russian achievements between November and January.