This weekend saw the launch and opening of the new Edinburgh Printmakers venue in Castle Mills. Formerly the headquarters belonging to the North British Rubber Factory, which at its peak employed over 3000 people and produced an assortment of rubber-based materials such as hot water bottles, tyres and the renowned Hunter welly boot. Renovated and revamped to meet the increasing demand for print facilities in Edinburgh, a city brimming with creatives in need of both traditional and digital printmaking facilities; the £11million renovation is set to bring a stream of creativity to the Fountainbridge area. An amalgamation of benefactors and patrons enabled this incredible transformation. Consequently the site is now set to become a popular production hub for the art community, with the Grade C listed building open to the public for the first time in its 160-year history, with Page / Park architects keen to remain faithful to the heritage of the site.
Opening weekend saw the building buzzing with visitors; tours around the building were taking place, the prints studios were in action with people taking part in print workshops – some of which were keenly observed through glass doors. The shop was satisfyingly bustling as people flicked through prints and local craft makers work. The café was filled with people enjoying the delicious menu and the exterior patio where the sun was shining.
Within these spaces, the building offers an access print studio, traditional and digital processes, a learning space, artist accommodation, art galleries, a shop, café and print archive. The expansion and renovated interior are both modern yet minimal. Clean cut, open stairways line the building. Large bay windows allow light to flood in. The print studio is littered with a variety of different presses, plants and concentrating technicians. The building successfully blends its creative hubs and social spaces to create an ambience of calm; a place where creatives can think and make work in peace and comfort.
The opening show for the site is The Politics of Heritage vs The Heritage of Politics by German-born artist Thomas Kilpper. A spectacle in both aesthetics and labour time, his work constitutes an impressive and expansive mural carved into the rubber floor. A copy of it also hangs on the ceiling, as if reflecting the floor itself. The mural features celebrity icons such as Ross Sinclair and his iconic back tattoo, Kate Moss in hunter boots and an assortment of factory workers, politicians and local figures. Accompanying artwork for the launch also includes an assortment of prints by Scottish artist Callum Innes; hung in the upstairs gallery where the light floods in and beautifully captures the precision and colour of Innes’ minimalist work.
Careful consideration has gone into every phase of development for the project; from Kilpper’s work which locates local histories and narratives, to the beautifully sculptured cast-iron gates by artist Rachel Duckhouse, which adorn the exterior. Exposed brick lines various parts of the interior, blending seamlessly into the remaining white walls. It is a beautiful building humming with creative energy which is ready to be put to the test. As Chief Executive of Edinburgh Printmakers, Shân Edwards states, “As one of the largest print studios in Europe Edinburgh Printmakers will be an international destination for artists and enthusiasts alike. Working closely with the Fountainbridge community over the past four years has been a privilege and we’re proud to be in a position to make Castle Mills a social hub at the heart of community once more.”