In the studio with Oxfordshire printmaker Jon Mackay

Down a quiet road in the pretty village of Charlbury, Oxfordshire, printmaker Jon Mackay creates handmade screenprint art, including posters for some of the world’s best-known artists and festivals. Chatting about his work and his inspiration in the leafy Cotswold garden behind his home studio, which is open for Oxfordshire Artweeks this month, it’s amazing to think that the posters made here promote world-class acts and events, including Gary Barlow to The Vaccines, from the Latitude festival to Download, and that they can be seen internationally, on the London Underground, in New York, and beyond – including, we think, the Whoniverse.

‘Last year, I made the posters for a major Chinese tour by the Welsh band Novo Amor, and my prints were selling across Singapore and the Far East,’ he smiles. ‘Funnily enough, that print was based on a group of trees I drew on the edge of Cornbury Park one evening while I was walking the dog – however, it just seemed to fit the mood perfectly!

‘In my art, I’m inspired by landscapes from around the world, from here to Tasmania,’ he explains. ‘I develop ideas linked to a sense of a place, conveying atmosphere and emotion rather than them being a realistic representation, and they’re generally unpopulated as I am often drawn to the idea of being small in a big world. I try to encompass a feeling of space, emptiness, and fragility, too, giving the viewer both a sense of perspective and the idea of new horizons.

Great British Life: Oxfordshire printmaker Jon MackayOxfordshire printmaker Jon Mackay (Image: Jon Mackay)

‘I’m also really interested in the edges of memory within my work; the way memories fragment, merge and fade as time moves on and we get older. I’m fascinated that over time memories change, so the places and scenes that we think we remember clearly are often largely imagined. Our minds play tricks and confuse things, merging memories, poetry, and lyrics. I often explore the way a place or the memory of a place makes me feel, the joy of the moment that is fleeting, and to convey this in my use of mark-making and colour in each of my silk screen prints. I like the idea that my prints then evoke stories in other people’s minds as they connect with the imagery in a different way.’

Jon’s ethereal landscapes are wonderfully evocative: they’re gently upbeat (‘My philosophy is that things generally turn out alright,’ he smiles), generally calming, often nostalgic, and occasionally moody. Lining the walls of his studios, indigo tones underpin many of his pieces as sunlight dances across the surface of a lake between wind-swept leaves; foliage reminds us of nature’s riches, and the speckled skies above seem majestic and celestial.

Although you might not see it at first glance, if you look at Jon’s work as a collection, with its vibrant colours and intricate design, a slight Japanese flavour is evident. This, he explains, was never intended: it’s the result of many trips to Tokyo to visit his brother who lived there for a time.

Great British Life: Wilderness Festival poster, 2022, by Jon MackayWilderness Festival poster, 2022, by Jon Mackay (Image: Jon Mackay)

Although Jon’s prints have five or six colours on average, Jon sometimes uses up to 20 different colours; for example, on the poster for the 2022 Wilderness festival. ‘I like to include lots of detail: I use Indian ink to create tones and texture. I squeeze as much out of every colour as I can!’ he grins. ‘When I first learnt to screen print in sixth form, I had a very ‘Andy Warhol’ approach, but I’ve come a long way since then. My teacher was Mr Dukes whom I very much admired, and quite recently by pure chance his son bought one of my prints. When I mentioned to him that I’d been to art college in Worcester, we realised that his father had taught me. That was a wonderful moment!

‘Even back then I was into music of all different types. I like lots of Indie bands, and I’m interested in emerging artists,’ explains Jon. ‘I was in a band in my teens, playing the tambourine and the maracas, and I loved it. It was only later that I realised that I was probably included because I was the only one of us who had a car!

‘I have just finished a poster for the rapidly-ascending Irish band Kingfishr’s spring tour. It’s inspired by a drawing I did of the Lake District, a landscape that’s similar in look to the lush green mountains in County Limerick. The scene resonated with their lyrics which are poignant, soulful and heartfelt, and it also ties in loosely with the artwork on their latest album, Live from Doonane, which is an interesting mix of a traditional old oil painting that’s been slightly digitised to give it pixellated elements.

Great British Life: Jack Savoretti: One Night in Portofino poster, by Jon MackayJack Savoretti: One Night in Portofino poster, by Jon Mackay (Image: Jon Mackay)

‘In the last few years, I’ve done a number of prints for Jack Savoretti who, funnily enough, I first met by chance at Kwik Fit in Chipping Norton. We got chatting, and he asked me to print for his Singing to Strangers Tour, and then artwork for his Europiana album, which went to number 1 in 2021.’

This May, as well as opening his studio for Oxfordshire Artweeks – the county’s giant open studios and pop-up exhibition event – Jon is also keeping a keen eye on the new series of Dr Who: one of the sets is expected to contain Jon’s print On The Road to Find Out, a six-colour screen print of one of his original illustrations in which a dripping sky, the red of sunset, looks otherworldly, a perfect sci-fi backdrop. ‘Actually, this print was a mixture of influences from the paintings of Mark Rothko and the music of Cat Stevens,’ explains Jon. ‘When I was growing up, the music of Cat Stevens was a great influence on me, so I decided to name this print after his song On the Road to Find Out from his album Tea for the Tillerman. I like the idea of life being a journey and the discoveries that you make along the way.’

Great British Life: Soak It Up, by Jon MackaySoak It Up, by Jon Mackay (Image: Jon Mackay)

And there are plenty of other art-related discoveries for Artweeks visitors who make their way to Charlbury! Oxfordshire Artweeks is the country’s biggest open studios and pop-up exhibition event, with as many as 2,000 artists taking part in 500 art spaces across the county, and in Charlbury there are more than 20 artists and makers along an easy walking trail. Just a few doors down from Jon, award-winning artist Elaine Kazimierczuk focuses on the natural world, painting vibrant semi-abstract landscapes of wildflower meadows, hedgerows, cottage and botanic gardens, as well as threatened or vulnerable habitats. Often large-scale with bold colour and beauty, each is, she says, a personal account of her encounters with places, each an intricate assembly of wild species.

Four-hundred metres away, be intrigued by contemporary art in Janet Thwaites’ ‘Silent Music Project’ including Doghouse inspired by the work of Elvis Presley and other pieces developed from Puccini’s opera Madam Butterfly, and elsewhere in the village there’s an opportunity to see ceramics and stained glass, to visit a stone-carving studio and see a jeweller at work, or chat to a group of artists in the lovely St Mary’s Church.

Other festival venues include University of Oxford’s Rhodes House, The Bibliographical Press in the Old Bodleian Library, and the National Trust Heritage and Rural Skills Centre in the Cotswold village of Coleshill. Across the county, expect the unexpected, as you find exquisite papercuts, five-minute portraits, locally-created pigments, and art inspired by poetry, traditional boats, contemporary concrete creations and even Japanese Ikebana.

For more information on Jon Mackay, and the many other venues open for Oxfordshire Artweeks, which runs from May 4-27, visit Entrance to all venues is free.

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