Beth Munro Printmaker ‘Creative Expression’ – Rame Peninsula – Dasson: Issue one

As I stare out of the kitchen window to the point where the sky meets the ocean, wondering how to write about my work, I realise that I have spent most of my life living by the sea, sailing on the sea, thinking about the sea, or swimming in the sea.

I grew up in a small village outside Brighton on the south coast. Family weekends and holidays revolved around picnics, rockpools, salty skin and sandy feet. Both my parents have an enduring love of the natural world which included making vast collections of bird nests, iron nodules, interesting pebbles, flint, shells, strange fish bones, smelly starfish, feathers, small insects, in fact, anything that they thought would entertain and educate us.

Today my own pockets are filled with the natural detritus from the shoreline, so I guess I inherited the collector gene.

I also inherited the artistic gene from my father graduating from Art college in 1990 with a degree in Environmental Sculpture and Spanish. This led to a 25-year career in garden design and landscaping. In 2003 my husband and I decided to move to SE Cornwall, principally to give our own children the opportunity to grow up by the coast, as I had done.

We settled in the little coastal village of Downderry which looks East to the Rame Head Peninsula and West to Looe Island and beyond. At low tide Downderry becomes a rockpooling heaven, revealing a plethora of marine life, seaweeds, and seashells.

In 2013 I re- acquainted myself with the world of Printmaking taking an evening class at Plymouth College of Art followed by etching workshops at Tamar Valley Printmakers with Mary Gillett. I completely fell in love with print and found that I really enjoyed the process of printing, the problem solving and the excitement of the reveal. I began making work that reflected my lifelong passion for the natural world, especially marine life. As a printmaker I use techniques that best describes the subject of the image, be it Etching, Drypoint, Linocut or Monoprint. I like to showcase individual species, drawing attention to their beauty, their personalities and in some cases their vulnerabilities. I often include some human element in my images to remind us of the symbiotic relationship we have with the natural world.

In lockdown, all our lives shrank to our immediate surroundings, for me it was the shoreline. I made daily walks on the beach and started to become much more aware of the rhythm of the tides, the footprints left by the weather systems, wave activity and wind direction. Seaweed became my first obsession and the subject of many sketchbooks, pressings, identification logs and a series of monoprints that hopefully describe my imagined seaweed underworld using actual seaweed, colour, movement, and light. I’m still developing my printing processes for these monoprints which has led me to explore how printing inks can be altered using natural ingredients to create interesting effects.

During this time, I also became much more aware of the human debris which would wash up each day. First it was fishing rope, netting and plastic bottles, easily seen and therefore easy to pick up and take home. Then it was the small stuff, bottle tops, earbud sticks, tampon applicators, straws, and bits of random plastic in all the colours of the rainbow.

I decided to make a daily collection of small things, labelling the bag with the date, and keeping them to use as an artistic resource. One day I found a sushi soy sauce bottle in the shape of a fish caught in a rockpool which inspired me to start making work about the impact of our material lives on the ocean, marine life, and our beaches.

I wanted to consider the strange dichotomy we have with the natural world; how we are so connected and disconnected at the same time. We humans, on the one hand, connect with the natural world through television or with a cuddly octopus toy or a cute pair of shoes in the shape of a shark, and on the other hand, seem utterly disconnected from the reality of what damage we are inflicting in the process.

For instance, if we looked at octopuses in the wild, we would find them in decline through loss of habitat and lack of food sources.

This has led to developing a series of images that look at the complex relationship we have with our material world and the natural world. In Victorian England the natural world was venerated above almost all things. It was a time of exploration, scientific advances, plant collecting and species identification. I am using traditional Etching processes to create images of Victorian glass display cases encapsulating my small finds, intermingled with the natural debris, found on an exact date in time.

Transforming waste into an ornamental table piece, a talking point, to illicit a connection between cause and effect, between human activity and its consequences on the natural world.

I hope that these images will be thought provoking, or even, a call to action. My own call to action has been to collaborate with marine biologists and explore the nature of this connection through my work.

If you are interested in seeing more of what I do:  Follow me on Instagram

Find out more about Rame Projects and Dasson publications

F.Y.I – Dasson magazine is a Rame Projects community-led publication and is funded by The National Lottery Community fund.
sister publications include the Stonehouse Echo and Coxside Echoes.