Duncan Pass is making an impression

Picture by Nick Lockett
Picture by Nick Lockett

No matter how high the mountain Duncan Pass will keep on climbing until he reaches the summit.

The artist reckons that if you continue to tackle what is in front of you and simply don’t give in you can achieve anything and overcome the most challenging of obstacles.

As proof of his passionate belief the 45-year-old opens the door to the shed at the end of his garden to reveal a Tardis-like room housing a magnificent printing press that he built himself.

Duncan is a modest, quiet sort of man, but when it comes to his beloved press he clearly takes great pleasure in seeing your jaw drop in admiration and his pride in what he has done is visible.

He pre-empts my first question, which would have started “how on earth…”, by declaring that he is not an engineer or interested in engineering.

“I had finished my degree in illustration at Falmouth where they had all the best equipment freely available and I realised that if I was going to earn a living as an artist I was going to have to have my own printing press.

“Buying one was simply not an option financially so that meant I was either going to have to pack it all up and give up on being an artist or get inventive.”

Duncan, who lives near Chesterfield, with his author wife Emma, researched online and in books and worked out what he needed to do.

He sourced the raw materials of RSJ girders, steel bars, the insides of railway wagon wheels and raw steel tubing, enlisted the help of Beth Engineering in Clay Cross near Chesterfield and set about painstakingly building it.

In the end it took him five years to construct and several more years to get operational – mainly because a few weeks after he finished the couple decided to move house and he had to dismantle it again – but that is a whole other story.

“It wasn’t until earlier this year that I finally used the press to print my engravings. A few days before my first exhibition at Art In the Round in Derby I was frantically working at getting enough printed to sell but it was a fantastic moment and the feedback I have had has been brilliant.”

Duncan left school with no qualifications because as he puts it: “The tram lines of formal education didn’t work for me.”

He had spent most of his spare time as a competitive swimmer and therefore ended up working as a leisure centre attendant.

“I wasn’t really content and I felt I wanted to do something else but I wasn’t sure what. As a teenager I had been totally focused on the swimming and competitions and never had time to do anything else.
“I guess after a while you guide your own learning and when I was 24 I found an access course I wanted to do in art and design.

“That was it – the course at Chesterfield College unlocked something in me, I realised I could draw and it changed my life.”

Duncan’s parents both had a creative side – his dad taught graphics and his mother ceramics – and he says they always told him he would find his way when he was ready.

“All you need is encouragement and it is amazing what you can do. The tutors on the course gave me the support I needed and from there I was able to go to university and I got a degree. A bit late but I did it.

“I didn’t give up whatever challenges I faced at the university and with my background it wasn’t easy – but I really do believe that the key to achieving things is just don’t give up.”

Duncan’s work is inspired by landscape, nature, myths and legends, history, industry – and his two greyhounds. He paints, draws and makes prints combining traditional woodcut techniques with modern materials such as engineering plastic.

As well as his first roller press he now also designed and built a second press which uses bottle-jacks for compression and LandRover springs for the return.

His painting Zoomies was the winner of the 2013 Melbourne Festival Open Exhibition and he has just won a Derbyshire County Council Award at the 2014 Derbyshire Open.

As a result of his first stall at Art in the Round he was offered a solo exhibition at the Whynot Gallery in Burton upon Trent and he will be at the Melbourne Festival again this year.

“I like to tackle one challenge at a time,” he said. “I got the training, built the press and the studio and now I am getting my work out there for people to see and I am finally building my reputation as an artist.”

To find more details about the story behind the building of the press and to see more examples of his artistic work go to http://www.duncanpass.com