Tim Mara

Posted: May 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: interviews | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

In the hierarchy of fine art, printmaking is usually associated with craft skills – with technique. And that gets in the way. My work was always about the ideas more than the medium‘.
Tim Mara

alans room

Alan’s Room, 1974. Courtesy of Alice & Emily Mara

Tim Mara (1948-1997) was a respected Professor of Printmaking at the Royal College of Art in London and was awarded with numerous prizes. His screenprints, which often took up to three months to complete, offer multiple colours over black and white collages.

Printmaking is the process of making artworks by printing, usually on paper. It normally covers only the process of creating prints with an element of originality, rather than just being a photographic reproduction of an image. Except in the case of monotyping, the process is capable of producing multiples of the same piece, which is called a print. Printmaking is not chosen only for its ability to produce multiple copies, but rather for the unique qualities that each of the printmaking processes lends itself to.
Prints are created from a single original surface, known technically as a matrix. Common types of matrices include: plates of metal, usually copper or zinc for engraving or etching; stone, used for lithography; blocks of wood for woodcuts, linoleum for linocuts and fabric plates for screen-printing.

Tim Mara’s engagement as Professor coincided with important changes and developments in print technology, especially in computerised and digital processes. Tim Mara embraced these exciting advancements and instigated the fine art computer cluster into the department complete with inkjet printers, computers and scanning plus processing technologies.
He was wise enough to view these new technologies as an addition to the family of print mediums not a replacement for its existing processes. He continued to promote and encourage usage of the traditional means of expression alongside and often integrated with these new developments. Needless to say his perfectionism led him to process the prints himself.

four heads

Four Heads, 1980. Courtesy of Alice & Emily Mara

His work was often considered as ‘revisiting Pop Art’, indeed everyday life subjects were displayed in bright colours. However Tim stated he was particularly interested in showing still life: ‘I know that the pop thing was going on – screen printing was there, photography was there, the everyday objects were there – but I was much more interested pictorially in Velásquez and Vermeer. Those prints had much more to do with painting. Just because I was using imagery that was contemporary and easily read, because I was trying to speak to the person who was looking at the picture, didn’t mean that my prints were related to Richard Hamilton’s collages‘.

The early prints depict mostly interiors with elaborated composition and some narrative content. They are full of details and made of collaged black and white photographs and as many as fifty or sixty separately printed colours. Both great ability and patience were required. After he graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1973, his patterns became more simple with isolated objects, rather than arranged compositions featuring people and objects. He then achieved technical mastery and was able to reproduce the aspect of any material, from glass to steel. He was really interested in optical perception, rather than in demonstrating manual ability. He wanted to tell stories.

picture window

Picture Window, 1980. Courtesy of Alice & Emily Mara

I saw myself as a film maker who also made prints. I didn’t want to draw or make a piece of work which relied on manual skill. When you make a film, you prepare the shots, shoot them and edit them but you never touch them – even though you are very involved emotionally and intellectually. I wanted to make pictures in the same way.’
He was the author of many articles and essays on printmaking, and in 1978 he was commissioned to write The Thames and Hudson Manual of Screen Printing.

After his postgraduate degree, Mara joined Bagnigge Wells Stuidio in Kings Cross, and then set up Errol Street Studio with other printmaking graduates Chris Plowman, Tricia Stainton, Phil Griffin and David Jacobson. In 1989 he set up a larger more comprehensive workshop at Wildman Corner Studio in Walthamstow with two friends and ex-students Eric Great-Rex and Martin Barrett.

At the end of the 1980s, he started to juxtapose two pictures of everyday objects. Composition was less dense and narrative content was over. At the time, Tim Mara was trying to achieve a visual connection in his prints. He later continued by experiencing contrasting materials, for example cardboard and wired glass.

reeded glass

Reeded Glass and Shadow, 1997. Courtesy of Alice & Emily Mara

Born in Dublin, his family moved to England in 1953. He attended St. Joseph’s College, London, Wolverhampton Art College and the Royal College of Art, London, from he graduated with a Masters Degree.
He taught as part-time lecturer in printmaking at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, and Brighton Polytechnic before taking up the full-time post of principal lecturer in printmaking at Chelsea School of Art (1980-90). He was appointed Professor of printmaking at the Royal College of Art in 1990 and was head of the School of Fine Art between 1993 and 1995.
During his career, he participated in more than forty group exhibitions and had ten solo shows. He was also awarded with numerous prizes, including the Major Travelling Scholarship by the Royal College of Art (1976), the British International Print Biennale (1982 and 1984) among many others.
His work is represented in several public and private collections worldwide. Some of his work is part of the Victoria & Albert Museum collection.


While in London, I met Alice Mara, one of Tim Mara’s daughters. The meeting point was Walthamstow, North East London, where the Maras are established for several decades. We spent several hours talking, and I felt myself in a privileged position, being able to have a look at all the stored prints.

What do you remember of your father?
I remember I always used to go to his studio, I loved it, and he showed me how to make a positive and other things so I always worked alongside him from a very young age – 8 or something.
Then he decided to give up the studio and work from home. We had a shed in the garden so he built a studio in there. It was quite a big shed actually. He was always cleaning the pictures and silkscreens. He used to take photos of me, my sister and my mum in different outfits for his prints. He used family and friends basically.
I just remember he was always kind of sketching away, always thinking of new ideas. A couple of times, I went out with him to take photos in the street, it could be objects or anything else.
Also as he worked at the Royal College, we would go and visit him there. He was interested in everything that was around him you know: architecture, history, art, news. Near his most recent studio there was a shop called Wakefields. They sold metal buckets and objects that were depicted in the imagery. So my dad enjoyed going there a lot.


Power Cuts Imminent, 1975. Courtesy of Alice & Emily Mara

You told me he was sketching a lot. Did he also use photography?
He was not using photographs to prepare work, he would rather draw in a sketchbook. Some artists paint or do spectacular stuff in their sketchbook, he did not do that. It was more quite more technical in his case I think. He used photography as a separated element. For Power Cuts Imminent he would take pictures of my mum and the television set on the sofa so he sort of directed what he liked. In the late years, for the prints with the single objects, he took a few pictures of the objects he bought.


Tim Mara’s sketch. Picture by the author. Courtesy of Alice & Emily Mara

Tim Mara was also a reputed teacher.
Well, I never witnessed him teaching, that is a kind of aspect I never saw. I know he was friends with his students, and I always see people saying ‘I knew your Dad‘. So I rather know about their perspectives than his. I remember he was talking about his students quite often, he was also kind of proud of them as well, especially when he was teaching at The Royal College. They were really good students, pretty motivated. I remember actually, he worked in a place called Wigan, in the North. He was working with little kids. He did a residency there and he really enjoyed it. The kids were asking really funny questions about printmaking. It was the same with his students. I remember one day, I came home and there was about eight Valentine cards. I asked him if it was somehow related with some project with his students. He replied that he just got these on the morning. I think the students were quite devoted to him.

Mara + Mara
The Eagle Gallery, in association with Sarah Brundle at One Offs, is proud to present Mara + Mara, an exhibition of rare prints from the Tim Mara archive and ceramics by Alice Mara, which have been made in response to her father’s work.
Emma Hill Fine Art Eagle Gallery
159 Farrington Road London
13 May – 11 June 2010