Jayson Lilley’s masterful hand finished screenprints of soaring skylines and iconic architecture, sitting on backdrops of shimmering gold leaf, blur the boundaries between editioned screenprints and original paintings. Since our last exclusive interview with Jayson back in 2013, his work has organically turned a new (gold) leaf that we are excited about delving into.
The cityscapes you create have a wonderfully heightened sense of reality, which is reaffirmed by the gold leaf skies, yet seem so familiar and accurate. Tell us about how you achieve this balance?
I take a panoramic photo of the cityscape or scene and then recreate that photo by re-drawing it in high definition multiple times, so everything is detailed. My panoramas are made up of about 100 shots in order to ensure everything is in focus, and I also increase the scale of important buildings by about 20%. It’s about finding the detail of a cityscape, finding the interesting things in a skyline. I will take a close-up photo of The Shard, for example, redraw it and place it into the image, this enables me to really capture the detail. These pieces take me a long time, up to 3 months.
With your past bodies of work, you have explored reducing iconic buildings to their simplest forms whilst still remaining highly recognisable. Is this a technique you still apply to your current work?
It’s about finding what parts of an image symbolise what it is. The details in the buildings are what makes that building, what lines, what windows, what shadow makes that building. With the Battersea Power Station it’s all about the ribs of the chimneys, and the shadows they cast. It’s simplifying but picking out exactly what makes it that building.
What new techniques are you bringing to your most recent works?
I am working in a more painterly way. I have bought some new paint pens to hand finish my prints, and I am getting looser and freer with the application of the ink. I want my prints to be a bit more like original paintings, they are still editions, but the prints within the edition will be more varied. The painterly aspect also helps with perspective, and giving the pieces a more 3D feel. The thicker, painted lines are in the foreground and the thinner printed lines are further away. I am screenprinting but trying to do everything a screenprint isn’t!
"The gold leaf changed my perception of working because the sky isn’t gold, and therefore I’m trying to produce something that isn’t there. It changes the way you look at things and makes me approach the print differently."
That’s true, and you are now hand applying gold leaf, which also adds another layer of originality. Talk to us about the transition between the flat block colour of past bodies of work, and the gold leaf. What did it bring to your work?
I was interested in creating more texture and making it less flat. It was also a way of learning new techniques. The gold leaf changed my perception of working because the sky isn’t gold, and therefore I’m trying to produce something that isn’t there. It changes the way you look at things and makes me approach the print differently.
You have really perfected your gold leafing process, it’s very impressive.
Thanks! It took me about a year to crack. Usually when I work I like to know exactly how things are going to turn out, and can get frustrated if they don’t turn out the way I planned. Gold leaf is more challenging in that respect, and there are always imperfections, but this just adds to each piece’s originality. Sometimes people see the marks and flecks in the gold as clouds, that’s not intentional, but it’s great that people see it in that way.
What would you say is your favourite part of the whole process?
The designing aspect - designing on computers is what I trained for and I still love it! I am a perfectionist and the printing is a real challenge, there are so many variables and things that can go wrong beyond the computer. I’m not a printmaker, I’m an artist - printing is just the way of achieving the aesthetic I want
You recently created your largest work to date, did you enjoy it?
Yes, because it was really hard and I love the challenge. Working on something large is fantastic because it pushes you, it’s really difficult technically, every single part of it, but it makes life more interesting.
Tell us about your love for architecture and iconic buildings?
Living in London, you start looking at buildings. It’s my environment, it’s the stuff I look at every day, and I see art in it. I often think in series too, I don’t just see one building, I see three so I always have to think of three buildings that I love. I don’t know why I see things like that.
Could it be because you wouldn’t just see one building in real life?
Yes, that’s true. When I started doing buildings I isolated them by putting flat block colour behind them, making them very much on their own, but you’re right, it’s possibly about building up a skyline and picking out the buildings that I love.
You recently created a New York collection. What was it like going to a new city with such iconic buildings?
Really difficult! I have lived in London for 20 years so I know London very well. Going to a city that you don’t really know makes it really challenging. I like to get under the skin of a city, and at the moment all I know about New York are those really famous buildings. I want to dig deeper than that, discover the lesser known areas, and lesser-known buildings. For example, the first print I ever did was of the Trellick Tower in 1999, I found it fascinating and loved the silhouette. I think I was the first person to do it, now you see it everywhere! You do the tourist tour and then you start getting in and under the skin of the city. You find the Trellick Tower of New York.
Do you have any other cities that you would like to delve in to?
I would love to do Japan. It’s fascinating. It’s either stark and contemporary or really old. You go down to the fish market in Tokyo which has been there for thousands of years, then you just go down the road, take a left and there are robots! I’d like to do a cityscape that shows the new and the old.
Berlin would also be great, I love brutalist architecture, concrete forms that everyone else hates.
Tell us about your ambitions regarding your practice for 2018 and beyond?
My ambition is to keep producing work I’m proud of and challenging myself all the time. It’s not about drastic changes, it’s about keeping work current, changing it in increments. It’s about using different materials, different sizes, different shapes, different formats, different crops, different ways of presenting the work. I have painted on canvas, wood, plastic, board, I am now doing stuff on paper. It’s not changing what I love, because I love architecture and scenery and views and landscapes, but it’s different ways of presenting it.