Pop artist Colin Self reveals his new etchings

Ian CollinsA rare artistic treat in Norwich from unites a great British Pop Artist and a great American print-maker. Ian Collins welcomes the unveiling of Colin Self's new suite of etchingsIan Collins

In December 1956 artist Jackson Pollock crashed his car into a tree in a certain street on New York's Long Island. He was 44. The fatal smash in the Hamptons ended a career which had reached a peak further down that road before coming to an alcoholic halt.

In a nearby studio dripped and dribbled Abstract Expressionist paintings had literally poured forth in a great burst of energy and are now among the most prized exercises in 20th century art.

Hold that thought, but fast forward more than half a century - to the happy fact that Norfolk pop artist Colin Self, whose fame spread round the globe between his childhood near Rackheath and his maturity in Thorpe St Andrew, has been reunited with celebrated American print-maker Maurice Payne.

The two men had worked together 40 years ago on a series of etchings following our home-grown star's first blast of fame in London.

He came to prominence then with drawings of sofas and cinema foyers, of fur-coated Christine Keeler-types and snarling dogs on missile bases which do much to define the 1960s to this day. He gave Pop Art not just a political tension but an air of nuclear explosion.

Anyway, the trans-Atlantic collaborators drifted apart, not least because Colin Self, Norfolk native and East Anglian nationalist, went to ground when returning to his home patch.

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In this act of apparent retreat he drew on the depths of creative inspiration and advanced across painting, drawing, sculpture, watercolour, collage, ceramics and prints - as a composer embraces the instruments of the orchestra.

Telling the story now, Self paraphrases another pop hero - David Bowie: 'Sometimes I like to go out. Sometimes I stay indoors and get things done.'

Well, in the 1990s both Self and Payne went out to the same David Hockney exhibition party in London, where they, again, got on like a house on fire. And their working relationship was resumed recently after the American holidayed in North Norfolk.

'He said he'd love to print anything of mine,' the artist recalls. 'So he printed some of my, by now, distressed Slade School student plates with a rare empathy. The prints were startling, rich, exact.

'Delivering them from Long Island, he left a number of different sized new plates around my working area. I could simply 'fall out of bed' as it were, remain in my indoors, daydreaming, subjective state of mind and work - away from the printhouses, cities, studios and everything of the outer macro world.'

In a state of 'owing nothing to anyone', he felt he could produce something as free and personal as a loose visual diary.

Some of the resulting etchings derived from drawings created as a break from the organising of last year's hugely-successful retrospective show at Chichester's Pallant House gallery. All fit together like a piece of music.

Colin Self says: 'I often work like I imagine a classical composer works at a symphony. Separate parts making a whole.

'Prelude, pastoral, crescendo, climax, soft, loud - different instruments orchestrating the overall vision.

'Different and all necessary moods, sounds, colours - but as one interconnecting overall piece. The weight of a double bass, kettle drums giving way to the triangle.

'If anyone says that some of these etchings are 'easy'… well, that's exactly what some of them are - the triangle in the orchestra.

'I've come to understand that, most of all, these new etchings are about serendipity - a quest to discover something sensed which never gets uncovered, yet discovering by chance many other things one never knew existed, for which one was not even looking.'

One such chance discovery came in a phone conversation with Maurice Payne, whose etching press and studio is on Springs Fireplace Road in East Hampton. Why that evocative name?

'He said the 'Fireplace' was from pre-USA bonfires lit at night to guide in pirates such as Captain Kidd and Bluebeard.

'Maurice then mentioned that Jackson Pollock had his studio 50 yards down the road and that the tree Pollock crashed his car into still stands by the roadside.'

So, by more serendipity, Springs Fireplace Road became the name of the new etchings suite - a wholly new act of homage.

Springs Fireplace Road - 30 etchings from the new suite by Colin Self - can be seen at Art 18/21, in Augustine Steward House, Tombland, Norwich, from October 24 until November 21. More information on: 01603 763345 (www.art1821.com).