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The Rotherhithe Suite

From the late 1970s through to the early 1980s Maureen, my sister-in-law, lived on Barge ‘Olga’, which was moored in the Thames next to “Waterside”, a craft collective at 99 Rotherhithe Street. About this time I had become aware of the work of Gerd Winner, an artist and printmaker who had made a series of prints about the Docklands and East London. A BBC series ‘Artists in Print’ (1981) featured Gerd in the programme about screen-printing. It also made me aware of Chris Prater, the Godfather of British screen-printing. I managed to visit Prater’s Kelpra Studios, acquire one or three prints by Gerd Winner and plot my own version of the dockland prints.

Visits to Olga provided the subject matter for the erstwhile series but lack of technical savvy and other all-consuming projects scuppered its development in the 1980s. Time rolls by, negatives are re-discovered. A friend lets me into a deep Photoshop secret – there is a filter to correct parallax! So, buildings that taper to a point in the sky can have their perspective corrected. With a little (!) post-production tweaking, the Rotherhithe negatives came to life.

The Rotherhithe Suite, consists of 6 screen-prints, best seen together but hopefully interesting as individual images.

From Hope Wharf 2015

This is the view downriver from Barge Olga. Some subtle signs of gentrification have been removed but this is essentially postindustrial docklands. A modern view of the same riverscape would include narrow modern buildings built in the narrow spaces between the warehouses. The chimney in the middle distance is above “Tunnel Wharf” and the pedestrian tunnel to Greenwhich. The cranes remain!

Screen-print in 8 colours on Fabriano Tiepolo
Dimensions: Paper H 36cms x W 47cms, Image: H 28cms x 47cms Limited Edition of 25

Iron Works 2015

Barge Olga lies in the foreground. Here, in Princes Iron Works, is one of the remnants of the trade of barges and tugs that plied these waters. It looks closed up here, although Bert Wright’s painting ‘ Wharf’ shows the iron Works a week before closing. The only photo reference on the web is the street access on Rotherhithe Street.

Screen-print in 7 colours on Fabriano Tiepolo
Dimensions: Paper H 36cms x W 47cms, Image: H 28cms x 47cms Limited Edition of 25

Hoist 2015

This is one of the simplest images from my 1980s negatives yet it took an age to get the colour and texture of the brickwork sufficiently grimy. I admire the elegance of the cast iron hoist and its placement against the reinforcement roundel and the extractor fan made for a satisfying composition. My granddaughter was amazed that I took so much care to capture the pigeon poo!

Screen-print in 7 colours on Fabriano Tiepolo
Dimensions: Paper H 36cms x W 47cms, Image: H 28cms x 47cms Limited Edition of 25

Two Cranes

From the deck of Barge Olga we are looking at the west end of Hope Wharf. The red crane is still there but the larger grey crane has been removed so that the new building, that stands in the space between the two wharves, has a river view. Making this print was probably the most difficult technical task I have faced, as a printmaker. The geometric construction of the crane jibs leaves a complex set of spaces between the struts - the negative space. As I use transparent inks, and the two set of colours have to meet perfectly, that was not easily achieved. I enjoyed creating the various colours and textures of the brickwork. See Andrea Byrnes' A Rotherhithe Blog for more information about the buildings.

Screen-print in 9 colours on Fabriano Tiepolo
Dimensions: Paper H 36cms x W 47cms, Image: H 28cms x 47cms Limited Edition of 24

Rotherhithe Warehouse

This is the largest of the six prints. Attempts to join smaller photo-positives together proved impossible, so a trip to the Goldmark Atelier in Uppingham was required to source the photo separations. A conversation that revealed they were working on an edition of 250 prints in 40 colours put my struggles in perspective. River craft are often moored in parallel, so I was able to step back from Barge Olga and include her in the photograph of 99 Rotherhithe Street. The sweep of her stern and the red mass of the gas bottles contrast nicely with the geometric complexity and textures of the cranes.

Screen-print in 11 colours on Fabriano Tiepolo
Dimensions: Paper H 76cms x W 56cms, Image: H 60cms x 40cms Limited Edition of 25

Rotherhithe Waterfront

Originally designed as the image for the Rotherhithe Suite poster, I decided it had value as an image in itself, following on from a similar composition in “Gates & Gauges”. The print attempts to give a 360-degree view of the area around Barge Olga and, by draining the colour from the images, unify them and emphasizes the textures of the crumbling paint and brick.

Screen-print in 4 colours on Fabriano Tiepolo
Dimensions: Paper H 46cms x W 46cms, Image: H 40cms x 40cms Limited Edition of 25


Rotherhithe Poster

Screen-print in 4 colours

on Fabriano Tiepolo mould-made paper

‘The seventh print in the Rotherhithe Suite’

Rotherhithe Poster is the seventh print in a series that feature the Rotherhithe waterfront in the late 1970s. This poster is part of a portfolio of prints inspired by the work of German printmaker Gerd Winner. I took a series of photographs of the riverfront which, in this instance, combines nine of the photographs. It has taken 40 years to develop the skills to make these prints. The Images remind me of the time when these properties were the workplaces of artists and craftspeople.  

Rotherhithe Prospect




For more information about the process of colour screenprinting see my Techniques page.

John McGowan
January 2016

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