Originally a London lad, Jack Clayton graduated from Leeds Met with a degree in graphic arts and design before leaving the UK in 2010 bound for Australia. He spent a couple of years there, enjoying life and working odd-jobs, before setting off with a friend to continue his travels exploring Southeast Asia.
Following the well trodden tourist trail of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, he ended up in Ho Chi Minh City with the option of teaching English. The city ticked a lot of boxes and wanting to settle for a while, he decided to stick around and see what unfolded for him. That was six years ago, and like many of us he has no plans to leave.
The flexible timetable of teaching English has allowed him to reconnect with his artistic talents, gradually reducing his teaching load and spending more time focussing on his art. While in Australia he had spent time living in Kakadu National Park where he was inspired by the textures and methods of rock paintings by the indigenous people.
During his time at university Jack developed his skills as a printmaker and illustrator and now specialises in woodcut printmaking, taking inspiration from the traditional Vietnamese woodcut art of places such as Dong Ho village in Ha Bac province, just north of Hanoi. Dating back before the Ly Dynasty of the 12th century, Vietnam has a long history of capturing folk tales in woodcut prints with intricately carved blocks of wood depicting cultural scenes handed down from generation to generation.
The traditional styles of Vietnamese woodcut art vary, with some based on the concept of don tuyen binh do, or single line simple drawings, and others using the thuan tay hay mat technique, meaning easy to draw and easy to see. Many of the styles have been influenced and adapted over the years, but the work of Dong Ho has remained unchanged over time, said to reflect people’s innermost feelings, wishes and simple dreams.
Taking further inspiration from Frans Masereel, a Flemish artist known especially for his street scene woodcuts, Jack’s works combines traditional techniques in images inspired by his travels around Vietnam, especially those he encounters in daily life. Streets of Vietnam, his first exhibition of 2018 displayed at Soma Art Cafe, was a loosely curated collection, drawing upon street culture art he had seen while traveling, blended with his own style.
Often basing his work on photos he has taken, Jack relief prints his images by hand, first drawing the scenes on to the woodblocks he works with before carefully carving out the scenes using a reduction technique.
Mirroring the final image, he works the block backwards starting with the lighter colours, white or empty space, then cutting out further for each layer of the print and reducing the block further while building the final image itself. Once the final image has been printed the block can no longer be used.
His upcoming exhibition in December this year will be displayed at the March Gallery in Hoi An and use natural materials including local hand-made paper for a more traditionally authentic look and feel.
Still unnamed, this collection will again take inspiration from Dong Ho and Frans Masereel, capturing the colours and architecture of Hoi An in a continuation of his Vietnamese street scenes. The exhibition will feature one large illustration, depicting a visual representation of the tourist mecca’s old town, and a series of smaller woodcuts showing day-to-day scenes captured around the city.
With a constant flow of tourists visiting Hoi An, the collaboration with March Gallery represents an exciting opportunity for Jack, showing his art to a much wider, international audience. He will visit London again this summer, taking his art with him and finding further inspiration for future collections.