Professor David Barker was born in Dorchester, Dorset in January 1945.
He was awarded a post-graduate degree from The University of London in 1967.
He studied Chinese at Goldsmiths' College, London in the 1960s and at The Chinese Peoples University, Beijing and Leeds University during the 1980s.
He retired from the University of Ulster as Emeritus Reader in Printmaking in 2005 having taught there since in 1968.
David Barker is an Honorary Professor of Printmaking at the China National Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou and at the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers.
His research interest is in the history and technology of Chinese printmaking and he has contributed to a number of books published by The British Library, The British Museum and The Muban Foundation.
His book Traditional Techniques in Contemporary Chinese Printmaking was published by A&C Black in 2005.
David Barker acts as Secretary to The Muban Educational Trust in London, Chief Editor for the catalogues of the print collection of Novel Energy Ltd in Beijing and is currently completing an expanded English-Chinese-English Glossary of Printmaking Terms to be published by the China National Academy of Fine Arts.
The Muban Educational Trust
According to the American print historian William Ivins many of the most characteristic ideas and abilities of civilisation have been related to the skills of producing so called exactly repeatable pictorial statements and the circulation of knowledge they permit.
Ivins goes on to suggest that one of the great failings of art historians is to have seen and perhaps continuing to see the value of these pictorial statements only in the context of fine art prints. Most printmakers would question whether prints have ever been exactly repeatable and many might argue indeed whether they should be.
These allegedly exactly repeatable printed images, of course, can be of anything and can embrace many forms and purposes and have had an incalculable influence on our knowledge and transmission of the sciences and the humanities. Plans, explanatory diagrams, didactic illustrations, herbals, posters and maps are some of the family of printed images that have allowed us to share a world of knowledge which would otherwise have been denied us.
The only restrictions on this conveying of information are those of the language of production and those that act upon us as receivers of that information.
Sadly, we know very little of the makers of pre-modern printed images and scarcely more of the details of the production methods they used. Abraham Bosse's small book on etching and engraving appeared only in 1645, Moxon's treatise on type was published in 1683 and J.M. Papillon's Traite, the first informed account of woodblock printing did not appear until 1766, around 1100 years after the first pictorial woodblock prints appeared in China towards the end of the Sui dynasty.
The same level of ignorance of methods and materials seems particularly true of China. From the early Ming dynasty onward, woodblock printed texts and their accompanying illustrations were so commonplace that few people thought it important to record their makers and how they were made. Luckily, many of these printed texts and images, even those printed on flimsy Chinese paper, have long outlived their makers and with careful interrogation can reveal much of their production history.
The Muban Educational Trust was established in London in May 2009 in succession to The Muban Foundation to contribute to the ongoing process of collecting and interrogating Chinese woodblock printed books, single sheet prints and artist’s books, together with a continuing contribution of publications to the field and the curating of exhibitions drawn from the collection.
The Trust now acts as the guardian of the largest privately held collection of Chinese woodblock printed works and related material in the world with around 5000 prints already catalogued and several thousand more awaiting identification and recording.
In an essay written for the catalogue to the exhibition Chinese Printmaking Today - Woodblock Printing in China 1980-2000, Christer von der Burg, Director of the Muban Foundation, acknowledged the catalytic effect of visiting the exhibition Images of the Western Lake: The revival of the Colour Print in Contemporary China on his own burgeoning interest in the collecting of Chinese woodblock prints.
The exhibition Images of the Western Lake was of colour woodblock prints by artists based in the Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou. Images of the Western Lake was curated by Anne Farrer, Assistant Keeper in the Department of Oriental Antiquities and was shown in the British Museum between November 1995 and April 1996.
The effect of seeing the prints by the artists from the Academy in Hangzhou was so profound that as a consequence, Christer von der Burg and Verena Bolinder-Muller 1923-2003 co-founded the Muban Foundation in June 1997 with the aim of collecting together as many woodblock prints as possible from contemporary and near contemporary Chinese printmakers. With funding provided by Verena Bolinder-Muller, the first of many visits to China to buy prints took place in October 1997. Prints were purchased directly from the artists, a decision seen as the cornerstone in the policy of promoting an open and transparent relationship with artists and in encouraging those artists to revisit woodblock printmaking, thereby helping to reverse the trend of printmakers to move away from this most significant of China's many inventions.
The collection now comprehensively embraces woodblock printed pre-modern books, modern woodblock prints and woodblock printed artist’s books, regarding the medium of woodblock printing as one of the authentic voices of the new China.
Such was the speed, scale and breadth of acquisition of the collection assembled by The Muban Foundation in the five years between 1997 and late 2002, that in curating the exhibition Chinese Printmaking Today - Woodblock Printing in China 1980-2000 shown in the British Library between November 2003 and March 2004, Anne Farrer now Course Director, MA Asian Art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art London was able to construct and present a convincing time line of contemporary Chinese woodblock printing development with prints drawn entirely from the collection of the Muban Foundation.
Chinese Printmaking Today, an intriguing reversal of creative sourcing, displayed around 200 works by 91 artists.
By far the most ambitious project of the Muban Foundation was the conception in July 1997 and commissioning in October 1997 of a portfolio of 60 new works by 60 of China's most respected printmakers.
The three principles permeating the project were firstly to support, encourage and promote the art of woodblock printing in China; secondly to document and present Chinese woodblock printing to a western audience; and thirdly to introduce the Muban Foundation to printmakers in China.
Most recently, the Trust was the enabling sponsor for and contributor to the Conference The Colour Print in China 1600-1800 convened by Anne Farrer and held at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London in June 2010.
The Conference included scholarly contributions from China, France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA and attracted an audience from those working in museums and public collections together with private individuals with an interest in Chinese prints and printmaking.
With fortuitous timing and clear evidence of the curatorial worm having turned full circle, the Conference was held against the backdrop of the most recent exhibition of Chinese prints and printmaking The Printed Image in China from the 8th to the 21st Centuries shown at the British Museum between May and September 2010 and curated by Clarissa von Spee.
Whilst not directly related to the collection formed by the Muban Foundation, the British Museum exhibition nevertheless shared many of the enthusiasms and concerns of the Trust and helped to confirm London as a centre for the study of Chinese printmaking.