My kite prints are as much about the craft of making as they are a gentle delight in challenging the notions of what constitutes a print and where the perceived borders between the fine and applied arts end and begin. In the U.K. there are still very distinct borders between that which is perceived as art and that which is then deemed craft. A denial of craft skills seems to me as an educator a sad consequence of current trends. Fortunately this view is changing and I find great enjoyment in making craft works that are shown in an art context.
I first came to kites in the mid-1970s with what would now be termed a gap year between my undergraduate art degree and moving on to a master’s program in fine art printmaking at the Royal College of Art in London. At the time I had no studio facilities but had recently discovered David Pelham’s Book of Kites published by Penguin Books, which offered over 50 scale plans of kites from around the world. Inspired by Pelham’s book, I started making kites as a substitute for making art. The first kite I made was a large Malay about two meters (six feet, six inches) across, which was made from red and black nylon (a cheap lining material for coats and dresses, which was relatively air opaque), with wooden dowel spars. Once bowed, it was a beautifully behaved, tailless kite and still one of the best I have ever made for its flying characteristics.
Subsequently I made a series of deltas and colorful rokkakus whilst learning the basics of kitemaking and flying, then really branched out to make a Lecornu’s Box from ripstop nylon with glass fiber spars, which I never managed to fly. Whilst ripstop was a great material for the manufacture of kites, I feel very little empathy for it as a material in its own right, and it certainly has none of the inherent qualities of a beautiful sheet of handmade paper. In addition, it is one of the most difficult materials I know to print on. Glass fiber rod however was a revelation. It was immensely strong, came in a host of different diameters, and was able to bend into compound curves without snapping. Also unlike bamboo, it did not need to be spliced with a knife, thus avoiding the dangerous potential of further visits to hospital when the knife slipped. Once sleeved inside an aluminum rod, the aluminum could be drilled and a split ring passed through, thus making more resilient compound joints.