Iona Monks on printmaking during a pandemic and the accessibility of exhibitions

Heavily inspired by magical realism and folk tales, Iona Monks’s etched and aquatinted prints reflect fantasy, violence and cruelty. She tells me that by doing this she intends to “create pieces rich in both narrative and symbolism”. I interviewed Monks, who won the MAFA Award for Fine Art, for our series examining the impact that the first lockdown had on Manchester School of Art students.

She cites Paula Rego, Kiki Smith, and Georgina Clapham as influences; all of whom are powerful female artists who create work with depth and intrigue. There is a strong resonance of this in Monks’s own work, in which animal imagery is a constant feature through which “human nature can be explored”. She reflects that her work “deals with themes of the uncanny, magical realism and feminism, seeking to be as beguiling as it is disquieting”.

PRINT EXCHANGE 2020 by Iona Monks
Iona Monks, PRINT EXCHANGE 2020, linocut on Zerkall smooth paper
Used with permission from Iona Monks

When the first lockdown happened last March, it disrupted Monks’s usual method of creating art. Her printmaking needed specialist equipment that the art school had. “I’m a printmaker, so being unable to access the print workshop means I’m having to alter my practice to focus on things I can create in my bedroom with simple materials”. At that time it was very difficult to make new work, she tells me.

“Two of the most vital aspects of the art school are access to a studio space and specialist facilities, and due to the pandemic, unfortunately we now have neither”, she says.

BIRDS COLLAGE by Iona Monks
Iona Monks, BIRDS COLLAGE, cut & pasted printed paper on paper
Used with permission from Iona Monks

Like many of the artists interviewed for this series, Monks was disappointed by Manchester School of Art’s decision to cancel the degree show. “The degree show is essentially the culmination of three years of work and most students consider it integral to an arts degree”, she says. It enables audiences to “get up close to the work, see the details, interact with it, appreciate the scale and see it in the context its maker intended”.

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Despite this desire, Monks identifies an issue that has been overlooked even under normal circumstances. That is the art school’s inaccessibility for people who cannot use stairs easily.

She tells me that “galleries can alienate people” and that the Grosvenor building where most of the Fine Art degree show is held is not accessible to all due to its architecture.

HANGING UP THE BATS by Iona Monks
Iona Monks, HANGING UP THE BATS, etching & aquatint on paper
Used with permission from Iona Monks

“There is only one room that is fully accessible, and even then, it’s not very easy to get to […] there are just too many stairs and not enough lifts. I think the best option for future events would be to have both a physical and accessible show and an accompanying online exhibition”.

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As always, we ask our artist being interviewed which Instagram accounts our readers should give a follow to stay up to date with Manchester-based artists.

STORK by Iona Monks
Iona Monks, STORK, etiching & aquatint on paper
Used with permission from Iona Monks

Monks suggested @msoa_fine art which is run by Manchester School of Art students. For print art specifically @msoa.teamprint offers technical advice to those eager to learn more. If you want to take a look at work by 2020 graduates give @sadgrads2020 a follow.

“It would definitely be nice to see the trend of spotlighting the work final year art students continue – at least it would be one positive thing to come from lockdowns!” Monks concludes.

Follow Iona Monks on Instagram and purchase artwork from her online shop.