From Dreamtime to Machine Time

Above: the article as it first appeared in Imprint Vol. 21 No. 3–4, 1986, pages 6–14.

‘Within the first weeks of taking office, the Government established a Department of Aboriginal Affairs, set up an enquiry to ascertain how Aboriginal land should be returned to its people, withdrew Australian forces from Vietnam, endorsed the principle of equal pay for women and increased funding for the arts. It was within this affirmative context, and with the desire to preserve and promote their visual culture and to achieve financial independence, that Aboriginals began experimenting with printmaking.’

Cover for Imprint Vol. 21 No. 3–4, 1986, featuring Johnny Bulun Bulun’s Goonoomoo, 1983, lithograph, 56 x 37.8 cm.

The following article was written thirty years ago by former Imprint editor Roger Butler, Senior Curator of Australian Prints, Drawings and Illustrated books at the National Gallery of Australia, and published in Imprint Vol. 21 No. 3–4, 1986. This was the first themed issue of Imprint and was devoted to the work of Aboriginal artists. This article was also the first overview of Aboriginal printmaking ever published.

From Dreamtime to Machine Time [1]

It is not by chance that Australian Aborigines began to produce prints in the early 1970s. The need to preserve and promote the rich traditions of their visual culture has laid the foundation of a vital new form of artistic expression. The emergence of prints by Aborigines must be seen in the context of their demands for self determination, the politics of the counter culture, and the development of printmaking in Australia in the 1970s.

For some forty thousand years Aboriginal people have inhabited the continent of Australia, each having a clan and totemic relationship to a particular place where their ancestors came from in the Dreaming, and where their spirit will reside after death.

For the Aboriginal people land is a dynamic notion; it is something that is creative … Land is the generation point of existence; it’s the spirit from which Aboriginal existence comes. It’s a place, a living thing made up of sky, of clouds, of rivers, of trees, of the wind, of the sand, and of the Spirit that has created all those things; the Spirit that has planted my own spirit there, my own country … It belongs to me; I belong to the land; I rest in it; I come from there.[2]

With the European invasion of Australia in 1788, the Aborigines were systematically dispossessed of their land which not only stripped them of their traditional sources of food but also struck at the very heart of their culture. Added to this was the breaking up of clan groups by consecutive government policies of integration. Although there was a continuous struggle for the recognition of Aboriginal rights, it was not until the 1960s that the modern Land Rights movement began.

On 28 August 1963 the Yirrkala people presented a petition to the House of Representatives. Written in their own language on bark, it requested that a special committee be set up to hear their views before granting of mining rights on the Gove Peninsula. They finally issued a Supreme Court writ against Nabalco, but the Court found that, although the Aboriginals had established a spiritual relationship with the land, they could not successfully claim it under common law.

By 1971 when this decision was passed down, there had emerged a generation of Australians who supported Aboriginal Land Rights; they were the children of the post-war baby boom who reached maturity in the late 1960s. Affluent and well educated, they often did not hold the same values as their parents. Searching for more enduring values than the rampant materialism which had flourished in the 1950s, they challenged conventions and embraced alternative lifestyles.

Major issues at that time were the end of the Vietnam war and the use of nuclear power; women’s and gay liberation; conservation and Aboriginal Land Rights. Some people sought to ‘opt out’ of the system, to return to the land and self-sufficiency, others embraced esoteric religions. Cheap overseas flights made the ‘global village’ a reality, while the relaxation of the ‘white Australia policy’ and the introduction of Asian students, all contributed to an increased awareness by Australians of this country’s multicultural make-up.

Alternatives were also being sought in the art world. Painting, particularly ‘hard edge’ colour abstraction imported from America, was rejected as ‘bank art’ – decoration for a capitalist society. Rather, it was unsaleable, ephemeral or democratic art forms that were taken up. Earthwork sculpture, ritual-like performance art, community-based co-operative projects, video, photography and printmaking became the most vital areas of activity.

Printmaking facilities were established in schools and commercial print workshops opened. Screenprinting was particularly popular, due to the inexpensive equipment needed, and the ability to produce multi-colour prints. The cheapness and ‘contemporary look’ of screenprints also led to their adoption by political artists.

These diverse elements came together in 1972. The Aboriginal Tent Embassy was set up on the lawns in front of Parliament House in Canberra; Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd was established at Papunya in Central Australia and Ernabella Arts Inc in Alice Springs; the Australian Union of Students began planning the Aquarius back-to-earth festival at Nimbin, New South Wales; the Australian Prints exhibition was held in London; the Earthworks Poster Collective was formed in Sydney; and in December 1972 a Labor Government, the first for twenty-three years, was voted into power.

Within the first weeks of taking office, the Government established a Department of Aboriginal Affairs, set up an enquiry to ascertain how Aboriginal land should be returned to its people, withdrew Australian forces from Vietnam, endorsed the principle of equal pay for women and increased funding for the arts. It was within this affirmative context, and with the desire to preserve and promote their visual culture and to achieve financial independence, that Aboriginals began experimenting with printmaking.


A continuing tradition

Australian Aborigines have no tradition in printmaking processes, other than the stencilled images (usually of hands) that are to be found on cave walls throughout Australia. Printmaking techniques have been acquired, initially, from school-teachers, craft advisors, or from white artists.

Some of the earliest Aboriginal prints were produced by Bede Tungutalum at Nguiu, Bathurst Island, some one-hundred kilometres from Darwin. The open sea which separates Bathurst Island and its neighbour, Melville Island, from Northern Australia, has led to the development of a culture distinct from the mainland. The Tiwi people are renowned for their singers, songwriters, dances, and their carved and painted wooden sculptures. Bede Tungutalum learnt the rudiments of woodblock cutting and printing from Madeline Clair, the local art teacher, and in 1970, together with Giovanni Tipungwuti, he established Tiwi Designs. Their woodblock prints of the early 1970s often resemble Tiwi carved designs and stress the interdependence of the different crafts. Birds such as that depicted in Tipungwuti’s Tiwi Bird Design feature in many Tiwi creation stories. By 1983 Tiwi Designs concentrated on screenprinted fabrics and employed seven workers.[3]

One of the printers was Ray Young, originally a member of Earthworks Poster Collective, and later a craft adviser to the area. The latter position was also once held by Colin Little, the founder of Earthworks, demonstrating the parallel concerns between workshops like Tiwi Designs and the political postermakers of the 1970s.

Other early examples are from Galiwinku (Elcho Island), which is well to the east of Darwin. Here there was a strong local tradition involving the engraving of designs on wooden smoking pipes. In 1971 John Rudder, who worked at the mission, provided Monydjirri, Charlie Matjuwi and Botu with lino blocks of a colour similar to the ochre Elcho Islanders painted onto the wood before engraving their designs. The designs they cut were on the same small scale as those on the pipes. Printmaking did not develop within the community, and the blocks were not printed until over a decade later.[4]

Non Aboriginal artists frequently initiated such isolated experiments. In early 1970 printmaking had been introduced to both Nigeria and New Guinea in this way.[5] In 1976, while visiting Arnhem Land, Jörg Schmeisser (Head of Printmaking Department, Canberra School of Art) traded information with Albert, an Aborigine of the area. Schmeisser demonstrated how prints were produced, and Albert demonstrated the preparation of bark for painting. This exchange resulted in Albert’s production of a small drypoint of animals, emu and fish, an impression of which is now in the Australian National Gallery collection.

In 1978 Schmeisser also worked with a now deceased Aboriginal artist and his sons while they were artists-in-residence at the Australian National University. They drew their images directly onto the zinc plates using lithographic crayon as a resist, (and in one example line etching) which were then etched and printed. Although the reversal of the images was unexpected by the artists, they were satisfied with prints like Bandicoots and viewed them as an interesting excursion into another medium, but one they found no need to pursue.[6]

The first products of the new-style Aboriginal art to become widely known in Australia, were paintings in acrylic on board or canvas from the central desert area of Papunya, three-hundred miles west of Alice Springs. In 1972, the Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd was founded to distribute and promote the paintings from the area. The production of prints was fostered by commissions given to already successful painters.

In 1978, Dinny Nolan Jampijinpa, a leading member of the Anmajera tribe from the central desert area, was commissioned by the Canadian Government to produce a print for the Commonwealth Print Portfolio. An artist from each country competing in the XI Commonwealth Games was flown to the University of Alberta, Canada, to produce the prints. Australian officials did not think Dinny would ‘be able to handle it’. Instead Lyndal Osborne, the co-ordinator of the project, flew from Canada to Melbourne where Dinny spent two weeks working at the Victorian College of the Arts under the supervision of Bea Maddock (‘Boss woman’). Dinny drew his design directly onto five lithographic plates that were then proofed by Osborne. Maddock remembers Dinny’s first reaction to the finished prints coming off the press; he considered them to be ‘white man’s art’ but later seemed happy with them. The final printing was done in Canada, but due to difficulties in printing, two of the lithographic plates were converted to screenprints.

The only other image in the Commonwealth Print Portfolio not produced at the University of Alberta was by Kenojuah, an Inuit (Canadian Eskimo) artist.[7] Like the Australian Aborigines, the Inuit people have no tradition of printmaking. But since 1958, when relief printing techniques were introduced to them, the Inuit have rediscovered their artistic heritage of stories and images. A strong market for Inuit art has developed enabling many of the artists to achieve financial independence. Inuit prints have been distributed through the Canadian Eskimo Arts Council since 1965 and exhibited in Australia in the early 1970s.[8]

It is likely that the success of such models influenced the Aboriginal Artists Agency (established in 1978) to produce a set of six screenprints by artists from the Western Desert. The project was initiated by David Rankin, director of the print publishers Port Jackson Press and Anthony Wallis, manager of the agency. The two artists selected for the 1979 project were Johnny Bulun Bulun and David Milaybuma, both from the Maningrida area of West Arnhem Land. They were flown to Melbourne and stayed at the Windsor Hotel while they worked at Mal Studio with the screenprinter Larry Rawlings.

In their bark paintings, both artists work in a traditional manner systematically applying one colour at a time to build up the easily recognisable images of the animal and plant forms of their region. A similar procedure was used in creating the screenprints with the artists sitting on the floor and applying block-out directly onto the screens with a twig brush. A proof of the first colour was printed, the second screen placed over it and the second colour drawn. The process was continued until the image was complete. The screens were then printed in thick matt inks mixed to match the samples of traditional earth pigments the artists had brought with them. The editions of 90 were then signed by the artists.

These were the first prints produced by Aborigines that were marketed widely. Colour brochures were sent to twenty-two thousand American Express card holders, but despite this wide publicity only fifty-four prints sold; the most popular being those like Bulun Bulun’s Flying Foxes. They were then distributed through regular Port Jackson Press outlets and later the Aboriginal Artists Agency. A second set of three prints by Willi Tjungurrayi, working collaboratively with his brother, Charlie of the Pintubi Tribe from the Western Desert, was printed in 1981 – Bandicoot ancestors fighting over fire at Taltaltanya is a typical example.[9]

Johnny Bulun Bulun is of the Ganulpuynga clan of Central Arnhem Land, and a supporter of the Out Station movement whereby Aboriginal people return to their ancestral lands and teach traditional values to the young. Bulun Bulun has moved his own family from the main Government town of Maningrida to establish his own settlement at Gamedi. Though living in this remote area, he travels to other States to promote Aboriginal work at exhibitions and to attend conferences. In 1983, he attended exhibitions in Canberra in July and December and on his second visit once more experimented in printmaking.

Theo Tremblay, Lecturer in Drawing and Printmaking, was instrumental in making the facilities and expertise of the print workshop of the Canberra School of Art available to Aboriginal artists. The lithographic process proved an ideal method of working for Bulun Bulun. His print Goonoomoo has a sensitivity that seems lacking in his earlier screenprints. Perhaps the process of working on stone – creating the design by a combination of painting then scratching in the cross-hatching – had more affinity with traditional modes of work than drawing onto acetate overlays.[10]

Joe Croft, who acted as publisher, also arranged for England Bangala to work with Tremblay at this time. Bangala was born at Gochan-Jiny-Jirra, near Maningrida, West Arnhem Land, and is an important ceremonial person of the Gunardba tribe. This collaboration resulted in two lithographs.[11]

The Second Briennial Conference of the Institute of Aboriginal Studies held in Canberra at the Australian National Gallery in May 1984, brought together large numbers of Aboriginal artists, craft advisers, teachers, historians and anthropologists. It was the venue for much trading of information. Banduk Marika was one Aboriginal artist who attended the conference and her meeting with Tremblay resulted in her being appointed artist-in-residence at the Canberra School of Art later that year.

Marika was born in 1954 at Yirrkala Mission, near Gove in Eastern Arnhem Land, and moved to Sydney in 1973 (at about the same time that Nabalco started mining). After a time in Darwin and a broken marriage, she returned to Sydney in 1980 and began painting. With the support of Jennifer Isaacs she began to produce linocuts, the technique she is primarily known for today (although she has also worked successfully in lithography). The cutting of her blocks is closely linked with the engraving of designs on wood, common to people along the coast of North Eastern Arnhem Land. Marika first exhibited during the Women’s Art Festival in Sydney in 1982 where, together with Isaacs, she collected and presented an exhibition of Aboriginal women’s craft work.[12]

Western society has marginalised women’s art including that produced by Aborigines. It is slowly being acknowledged by Europeans that Aboriginal women, due to their relationship to the Dreaming, are the custodians of certain ceremonies, stories, music, dances and images. If Aboriginal women have been acknowledged at all in the arts it has been for functional wares. Baskets and string bags, often woven in intricate patterns or decorated, have been produced by women since the Dreaming. More recently the art of fabric dyeing has been introduced, the best known being the batik fabrics produced at Ernablla since 1972. In 1980, the Pitjantjatjara Women’s Council was established, and Aboriginal Women’s Arts Exhibitions held. However, encouragement for Aboriginal women to produce paintings and prints has been relatively slow.

The only community to promote women printmakers is at Indulkana. Situated in the north west of South Australia it is a settlement of about two hundred and fifty Pitjantjatjara and Yankuntjatjara people. The linocut process was introduced to the community in 1982, by a Flinders University student, Adrian Marrie, and since then many women have been producing prints. Initially, the prints were monochrome, but now multicolour works are also produced. The introduction of an old proofing press has speeded printing. In 1983, an exhibition of linocuts by Lippsie Everard, Kanakiya, Josie McArthur, Eileen King, Suzie Presley, Sylvia Derose, Margo Brown, Sadie Singer and Joanne Winjin was held at the Women’s Art Movement Gallery in Adelaide.[13]

In Western Australia a number of Aboriginal artists have made their first prints at classes run through the Prisons Department Art Programme at Fremantle. Linocut printing has been taught since 1979, and from 1984 etching. The workshop is currently run by Steven Culley and David Wroth. Some Aboriginal artists trained at the centre are now producing work on outstations, and other Aborigines are learning the processes from them.[14]

As with the Indulkana community the prints cross cultural styles. Some images are traditional, some are in a western manner, others a mixture of the two. Prints by Jimmy Pike have been exhibited widely in Australia over the last two years and he is the best known of the Western Australian group.[15] Born in the Great Sandy Desert, Pike’s early life was spent as a member of a nomadic group, with his family living in a traditional style, hunting, gathering and moving according to the seasons. Later when his family moved north he began working as a stockman in the Fitzroy Valley.

In 1980, while at Fremantle, Pike began to paint, drawing upon the lore of his ancestral country and the stories he had absorbed as a youth. He mostly works in the simple linocut technique but engraves his blocks with such vigour that they are in danger of breaking up. For this reason most of Pike’s prints have been transferred to screenprints for editioning. Some such as Mirnmirt, are translations of traditional sand drawings while other prints have more recent events as their subjects. Jarlujangka Wangki deals with irresponsible bomb-dropping exercises held in the desert during the Second World War. The non-traditional subject matter produces a corresponding change in imagery. Since 1985 Pike has also produced colour screenprints.

Dennis Phillips Deeaggidditt was born in Leonora, four hundred kilometres north-east of Perth. His linocut The Blind Man tells one of the stories of his people, some of which have been passed on to him by his great grandfather. Mervyn Street, another Aboriginal artist who has worked at Fremantle, has also recently begun making linocuts based on traditional stories.

One of the few traditional Aboriginal artists to produce etchings is Martin Dougal, from the Broome area. His paintings, etchings and linocuts convey the intensity of light, colour and heat found in ‘the breakaway country’.

Another innovative project being undertaken by the Western Australian Aboriginal artists is the illustration of the story The Girl who danced with Brolgas. Jackie McArthur, Dennis Phillips, Wilbur Porter and Jimmy Pike – all artists from different areas – have pooled their feelings about this particular story and their land and expressed them in a series of monotypes, which will be published shortly in book form.


Urban Koories

In her introduction to Koori Art ’84 the Aboriginal rights activist Bobbi Sykes commented that

While the world would rather think of Aboriginal artists as frozen in the pre-Cook era, contemporary black artists confront the conscience of the global public with images of our modern reality … this provides the black artists with their subject matter, and, often their means.[16]

Koori art is produced by urban Aboriginals who are often trained in western traditions but, as Sykes notes, have ‘one foot firmly in each world’.

Most of the urban Koories are younger artists (born in the 1950s or early 1960s) who grew up after the breakdown of the government’s ‘assimilate at all costs’ policy. But the distinction between traditional and Koori art is not hard and fast; for instance Banduk Marika, whose traditional prints have already been discussed, lives in Sydney. She exhibited in Koori Art ’84 as did Ernabella Arts Inc, Alice Springs, which promotes Pitjantjatjara women’s art.

It is not always easy for Koori artists, much criticism coming from within Aboriginal society. Some are criticised for not being the rightful owners of the images they use and are sometimes regarded as little more than fashionable image scavengers.

Raymond Meeks was born in Sydney in 1957 and after gaining a Certificate of Art in Queensland, completed his Diploma and post-graduate studies at Alexander Mackie College of Advanced Education in Sydney. He was awarded his Bachelor of Arts from City Art Institute, Sydney, in 1984. Although primarily a painter and printmaker, Meeks has also produced illustrations for the Aboriginal newspaper AIM, posters for Koori Art ’84 and Jack Davis’ play Honey Spot, and he was commissioned by Australia Post to design the Australia Day stamp for 1986.[17] His linocut Mimi displays the crisp cut and the immediacy that he likes in this technique. It also shows his use of often familiar Aboriginal motifs from different tribal areas. He explains, ‘I am obsessed by that imagery – Papunya, Maningrida, Yirrkala. I am trying to blend them because it works for me. I am hunting for lost pieces of myself.’[18]

The Koori art movement is strongest in Sydney. Fiona Foley, born 1964, studied at East Sydney Technical College, and Sydney College of Arts. During 1983 she was a visiting student at St Martin’s School of Art, London, and on her return to Australia worked as an assistant at Max Miller’s printing workshop in Sydney. She has frequently produced etchings that have been printed in a monotype manner. Sea Shells on the Sea Shore is typical, with the realistically depicted shells floating over a nebulous background of sand, sea, spray and stars.[19]

In 1985 Foley travelled to Aboriginal communities at Bathurst Island and Raminginging in Arnhem Land, where she developed a few drawings which she would later use for etchings. ‘Watching the freeness of the children paint and the political subject matter they painted has also enabled me to feel free to choose topics and styles in which I can depict another view on Australian history.’[20]


Political posters

The political poster has been the main vehicle for overt political statements by Aboriginal printmakers. In this respect they take over the work begun by the Earthworks Poster Collective and others who produced posters demanding Aboriginal Rights in the 1970s, some of whom are still active in this field. Ray Young works at Tiwi Designs, Marie McMahon has worked for Mimi Arts and Crafts in Katherine, and Chips MacKinolty works for Jalak Graphics in the Northern Territory.

Avril Quail, a 1985 graduate of the Sydney College of the Arts, participated in the first Truth Rules OK?, a national touring exhibition of socially/politically orientated posters. Her screenprint No Tresspassers – Keep Out was produced at the Tin Sheds, University of Sydney, where the Earthworks Poster Collective originated. In Koori Art ’84 she exhibited a linocut portrait of a Christian and a screenprint Wulula, My Mother’s Land. More recently she has been working on a mural at The Settlement in Chippendale, an inner Sydney suburb.[21]

Community-based screenprinting workshops and projects have given many artists the opportunity to produce posters. Alice Hinton-Bateup was first employed by Garage Graphix in 1983 under the Wage Pause Programme and later under the CEP Scheme. She was able to continue her work in 1985 when the workshop received grants from the Aboriginal Arts Board. She has worked closely with the local Koori community, printing t-shirts, calendars, jigsaw puzzles and posters.[22] Dispossessed and Lost Heritage, both colour screenprints combining hand drawn and photo images, focus on the Aborigines’ loss of rightful heritage as they are distanced from their traditional land.

This theme of loss is also evident in the work of Byron Pickett. Originally from Western Australia, Pickett was appointed a trainee community artist with the Eyre Peninsula Cultural Trust from August 1984 to July 1985. His position was funded by the National Employment Strategy for Aboriginals and the Aboriginal Arts Board. During his period of training Pickett worked with many groups including Port Lincoln school students, the Community College, Port Lincoln Prison and Adult Aboriginal classes.

Research for his prints took Pickett to Adelaide, Port Augusta and the Flinders Ranges where he studied photographs and books and talked to many Aborigines. His colour screenprints often combine photographic imagery with text. Family painfully describes the dilemma of many Aboriginals.

In all these political posters the recurring theme is the loss of, and the need to protect, Aboriginal land. This is not surprising considering how little has been achieved since the Land Rights proposal of 1972.

Compared to the number of Aboriginal artists producing paintings on bark or canvas, there are only a few who have so far worked as printmakers. However, the very nature of printmaking – its ability to replicate an image – has enabled these few to reach a wide audience. Prints using traditional images, those produced by Koori artists, and political posters, will all contribute to the increasing self-determination of the Aboriginal people.



[1] The title of this article is taken from Trevor Nickolls’ exhibition From Dreamtime to Machine Time, Canberra Theatre Gallery, 1974. Nickolls is a Koori artist presently living in Sydney.

[2] Father Pat Dodson, ‘MSC in Report of the Third Annual Queensland Conference of the Aboriginal and Islanders Catholic Council of Australia’, January 1976: 16, quoted in Lorna Lippmann Generations of Resistance, Melbourne, Longmans Cheshire, 1981, p.46.

[3] See Adrian Newstead, ‘Tiwi Aboriginal Designs’ in Craft Australia, Spring 1983. Tiwi Designs, Sydney, Hogarth Galleries, 1982. Bede Tungutalum exhibited 2 woodcuts in the Print Council of Australia’s Second Western Pacific Biennale, 1978.

[4] Information from Theo Tremblay who also printed the blocks.

[5] Jean Kennedy, ‘Printmaking in New Guinea’ in Artists Proof, Vol. 11, 1971; for Printmaking in Nigeria, see ibid., Vol. 7, 1967. It might also be noted that the best known American Indian artist Fritz Scholder began making prints in 1970. See Clinton Adams, Fritz Scholder, Lithographs, Boston, New York Graphic Society, 1975.

[6] Information from Jörg Schmeisser, who printed the plates.

[7] Discussions with Anthony Wallis and Bea Maddock, August 1986. See also brochure accompanying Commonwealth Print Portfolio, This was supplied to me by Anthony Wallis.

[8] See Ernst Roch (ed.), Arts of the Eskimo: Prints, Montreal, Signum Press.

[9] Telephone interview with David Rankin, August 1986.

[10] Theo Tremblay has supplied the following details of this lithograph’s production:

Hand printed stone lithograph. Johnny applied gum acacia to areas designated white first. He then applied oleified bitumen in areas designated black. Finally a tone was created by air brushing the bitumen into areas traditionally reserved for areas of tone such as yellow ochre. An edition of fifty was printed onto Fabriano No. 5, 300 gsm cotton paper, as were five additional proofs reserved for the printers, the print workshop collection, and Joe Croft, publisher. An additional five proofs were pulled on bleached bullrush paper, made by Gaynor Cardew especially for the project.

[11] Discussions with Theo Tremblay, 1986.

[12] Biographical information derived from Urban Koories, Sydney, Workshop Arts Centre, 1986, and conversations with the artist.

[13] For information on the Indulkana community see the article by Janet Maughan on pages 16–17 of this issue. See also Minymaku Council Kulintja, Alice Springs, Pitjantjatjara Women’s Council, No. 1, 1985; Setting the Pace, Adelaide Women’s Art Movement, 1984; ‘Aboriginal Women: Ritual and Culture’, Diane Bell. Interviewed by Lesley Dumbrell in Lip 1978/79, Melbourne, 1979, pp. 5-9.

[14] Information about this Western Australia group of artists was provided by Steven Culley and David Wroth.

[15] See Jimmy Pike, his art and stories, Perth, Desert Prints, 1985.

[16] Bobbi Sykes introduction to Koori Art ’84, Sydney, Artspace, 1984.

[17] See Stamp Bulletin – Australia, Melbourne, No. 182, January 1986.

[18] Quoted in Urban Koories, Sydney, Workshop Arts Centre, 1986.

[19] Illustrated in Koori Art ’84, Sydney, Artspace, 1984.

[20] Urban Koories, Sydney, Workshop Arts Centre, 1986.

[21] Biographical information derived from Koori Art ’84 (where her work is illustrated) and conversations with the artist.

[22] Urban Koories, Sydney, Workshop Arts Centre, 1986.

Photopolymer/Solar Plate Printmaking

A page from the original article published in Imprint winter 2010, Volume 45 Number 2

‘All that is needed to make the plate is a UV light source and water to wash out the exposed plate. Simple, quick and safe! No acids, rosin powders or bitumen grounds.’

Cover for Imprint winter 2010 Vol. 45 No. 2 featuring GW Bot‘s Paddock Glyphs – Garden of Poets, 2008, linocut on Korean Hanji paper, artist’s proof, 94.5 x 61.5 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Australian Galleries.

The following conversation between Sandra Williams and Susan Baran was published in the winter 2010 issue of Imprint Vol. 45 No. 2.

In 1972 Dan Welden, a master printmaker from the USA, started experimenting with light sensitive photopolymer plates commonly found in the commercial printing industry. By exposing a plate in the sun, he found he could produce a high quality intaglio image that was a safer and simpler alternative to traditional etching. He coined the term ‘solarplate’.[1]

Sydney-based artist Susan Baran has keenly embraced this printmaking process and has been working with photopolymer plates for over a decade now. She talked with Sandra Williams about her way of working with the plate.

SW: Susan, how would you describe your printmaking before you started using photopolymer plate?

SB: My printmaking experience was firstly with screenprinting using very toxic inks and solvents, then as an etcher using nitric acid, rosin aquatint and more solvents. I was satisfied with this way of working though concerned about the fumes I was being exposed to.

SW: How did photopolymer plates become a key element of your printmaking practice?

SB: I joined Warringah Printmakers Studio in 1999 looking for a place to print. I had vaguely heard of ‘solar plate’ but was not really interested until I saw what was being done at Warringah with this new type of plate. It was a period in my life when my children were young and etching was proving to be too slow for my limited studio time. This new technique appealed to me because I could make plates so quickly.

SW: Was the transition from traditional etching to making photopolymer plates difficult?

SB: No. I just loved the ease of the whole process and was really interested in learning how to work in a safer, less toxic way.

SW: Why is this way of working less toxic?

SB: All that is needed to make the plate is a UV light source and water to wash out the exposed plate. Simple, quick and safe! No acids, rosin powders or bitumen grounds.

SW: Can you explain in more detail your method of working?

SB: Instead of working the plate I prepare a transparency. I photocopy objects, fabrics, drawings and photographs to create a collage on paper. I then make the transparency, again using the photocopier. Finally I draw onto the transparency with an etching needle, working into the black areas, and add to it with crayon, lithographic pencil or Indian ink. This is the stage where I push and pull the image. When I feel it is resolved I expose the plate.

SW: Can the plate be altered after being exposed?

SB: No, not a lot. With an etching you work the plate until you are happy with the image, but with photopolymer plate you must work the transparency before exposing it. However, there are a few things that can be done. The polymer surface is very receptive to drypoint lines so line work can be added at any time after exposure. Gesso or acrylic medium (with or without carborundum for blacker tones) can be painted onto the exposed plate to add tone or to cover up something if desired.

SW: What effects can be achieved with photopolymer printmaking?

SB: I have described the way I choose to work, but it is a very versatile method where a variety of effects can be achieved, for example by drawing and painting either onto acetate/drafting film or directly onto the plate. Prints can have a lithographic feel by painting or drawing onto sandblasted or grained glass just like you would on a stone. Plates can be exposed without a dot screen and washed out for a long time to be suitable for relief printing. Photographic or computer-generated images can be used just like they have for screenprinting in the past.

SW: You mentioned a dot screen. Can you explain what that is and why it is used?

SB: A dot screen is to a photopolymer plate what an aquatint is to an etching. Whereas an aquatint uses tiny rosin particles to create tone the dot screen is a high-resolution film covered with minute, random, opaque dots. The dot screen is exposed first, then the artwork. If a dot screen is not used a type of open bite effect results, and sometimes this is preferred by the artist.

SW: How are the exposure times determined?

SB: There are different brands of plate available (Mavelon, Printight, Torelief) – all with different exposure times. Then it depends on whether you are using the sun or an exposure unit. Generally test strips are done to work out the preferred exposure time for a particular image.

SW: What is the best way to learn about photopolymer printmaking?

SB: Ideally it is best to do a workshop. The process may sound complicated, but it is really very simple and straightforward with enormous potential for making great prints.


[1] Solarplate is Dan Welden’s registered brand of photopolymer plate.

Multiple deletions and additions on stone

A page from the original article published in Imprint autumn/winter 1986, Volume 21 Number 1–2.
Top l-r: drawing on the masked-out stone with gum nitric solution to burn out grease reservoirs, photography by Vicki Ripper; re-working the stone for third colour, photography by Steve Gray. Both images accompanied the original article.

‘This process is useful when there is a shortage of stones and time is limited, and also offers an interesting way of working for the lithographer who enjoys building up an image fairly quickly.’

Cover for Imprint autumn/winter 1986 Vol. 21 No. 1–2 featuring Joyce Allen’s Family at Work, 1973, linocut, 32 x 21 cm.

The following technical article was written by Kaye Green and published in the autumn/winter 1986 issue of Imprint Vol. 21 No. 1–2.

While working at Griffith University I used a technique of printing multi-colour lithographs from the same stone without graining between each new colour. This process is useful when there is a shortage of stones and time is limited, and also offers an interesting way of working for the lithographer who enjoys building up an image fairly quickly. I have used the process up to eleven times on a single stone without re-graining and find it an excellent method which suits my way of working. It is also helpful when introducing people to colour printing for the first time.

The process depends on successive printings with part or all of the image being eliminated after each printing and new work being added. The element of risk involved occurs because all impressions of the edition must be printed in the first colour before the image can be altered for the following colour. There is no possibility of retrieving the original drawing and so judgements regarding colour must be accurate.



The stone is grained thoroughly to ensure a good stable ‘tooth’. I use #80 to remove the previous image and the ghost image, and then #120, #180 and #220 or #240 three times each.

The drawing of the image for the first colour is made on the stone (normally the ‘key’ drawing) and it is processed and printed in the usual way in the required colour, making sure that the registration is accurate from the outset. I always take an extra print at this stage, onto a sheet of acetate, to help later with registration.


When all the prints in the first colour are complete, the image is rolled up fully, dried, rosin and talc applied and a layer of gum buffed in tightly. The ink is washed out thoroughly with turps, making absolutely sure that the stone is completely clean. Once a check has been made to ensure the stone is clean, then it is wiped down and fanned dry. At this stage the stone is lying with a gum film stencil on the negative areas and is open on the image areas.


The next step is to burn out the exposed grease reservoirs of the original image areas by painting out the parts of the drawing to be eliminated. This is achieved with a gum etch solution of twelve drops of nitric acid: 1 oz [30 ml] of gum arabic. Tests have shown that strong burn-out etches are of no greater efficiency than repeated mild etches. A good layer of the etch needs to be applied into the reservoirs as the grease reservoirs not completely destroyed by the burn-out etch will return as scummy images.


When the gummed out areas are thoroughly dry, a coat of asphaltum is applied, the gum is washed off with water, the stone is sponged down and the remaining image is rolled up fully in black roll-up ink. Rosin and talc is applied and a counter-etch solution applied to re-sensitise the stone for new drawing. I use a fairly weak solution of 6 oz [180 ml] of acetic acid: 1 gallon [3.79 l] of water, which, although effective in re-sensitising the stone, does not tend to greatly coarsen the grain of the stone. The counter-etch is applied three times, rinsing off with water each time and the stone is finally rinsed thoroughly, sponged down and dried.


New work may now be drawn onto the stone, adding to what remains of the first image. When the additions are completed, rosin and talc are applied, and gum is buffed in lightly. After thirty minutes, the stone is re-gummed and buffed down tightly. Although I usually wash out the drawing and roll up straight into the new colour and print, if large editions are intended, it is recommended that the image is first rolled up in black, etched with a mild etch, rested and then washed out and rolled up in the second colour for printing.

If the original drawing is excessively greasy, there is a possibility that deleted areas may re-appear. If this occurs at any stage, it is necessary to immediately clean the scummy areas and re-etch the stone.


Exactly the same process is then used to eliminate parts or all of this image and to add new drawing for the third colour and so on.


The constant counter-etching causes the ghost of the original drawing to fade until it often becomes difficult to see where to introduce new work accurately. This problem is easily rectified by taping the printed acetate sheet into position by using the registration marks and then tracing through a red oxide sheet.


It has been suggested that parts of each drawing be left and added to by each successive drawing; naturally, the entire image can be totally deleted by painting the burn-out etch over the whole stone.

There is a danger when printing in colour, in that the coloured inks available are usually extremely loose. I use a fairly stiff ‘lean’ ink modified with Magnesium Carbonate for maximum stability and desired print quality.

This process has certainly added enormous possibilities to the sorts of qualities I seek in my lithographs and has more than halved the processing time usually involved in printing a multi-colour lithograph.


Tamarind Technical Papers, No. 5 April 1976, pp. 60-61; No. 2 July 1974, pp. 14-20.

Flashback Friday: An interview with Sharmini Pereira of Raking Leaves

A page from the original article published in Imprint spring 2014, Volume 49 Number 3.
Top l-r: The Incomplete Thombu by T. Shanaathanan (2011); The Speech Writer by Bani Abidi (2011); Name, Class, Subject by Aisha Khalid (2009).

‘The impulse to set up a publishing initiative grew from a fascination with production and how an appreciation of materials and design working in unison with content could result in works that had an inevitability about them as books … Raking Leaves was born out of the simple assumption that everyone was familiar with a book.’

Cover for Imprint spring 2014 Vol. 49 No.3 featuring Ciara Phillips’s A lot of things put together (detail), 2013, screenprint on cotton, 400 x 500 cm.

The following conversation between Trent Walter of Negative Press and Sharmini Pereira of Raking Leaves was published in the spring 2014 issue of Imprint Vol. 49 No. 3.

Raking Leaves is an independent, not-for-profit commissioner and publisher of art projects, founded by Sharmini Pereira. Taking the form of book projects and special editions, Raking Leaves’ publications are marked by a conceptual rigour in both form and content. I corresponded with Pereira, a renowned curator and publisher, about Raking Leaves’ initiation, projects and expanded activity via email while she travelled between Toronto, London and Colombo from late June to early July.

What was the impetus to start Raking Leaves?

Firstly, it was a desire to work with interesting artists without the constraints of an exhibition. As a curator this involved teaching myself how to be a publisher, which I was motivated to do because as an independent curator you are constrained by many factors that I felt shackled by. The impulse to set up a publishing initiative didn’t actually come from a love of books either. It grew from a fascination with production and how an appreciation of materials and design working in unison with content could result in works that had an inevitability about them as books. I liked the exclusivity of something being a book and not an exhibition in order for it to be engaged with in the world. Raking Leaves was born out of the simple assumption that everyone was familiar with a book. Books hold no kind of exclusive membership yet the work contained within Raking Leaves’ book projects is, in most cases, exclusively made to be a book and I’d add, behave as a book.

Is this the kind of conversation you would have with an artist in anticipation of working with them on a publication with Raking Leaves? In so much as the book form can provide a space for a contemporary art project, rather than being a document of it. Can you talk about the various ways that artists have responded to this?

Conversations with artists begin in all kinds of ways but they do tend initially to go in the direction of discussing the merits of a book versus an exhibition. Or the reasons why a book lends itself to presenting a certain kind of work. In the case of Aisha Khalid, for example, her idea for a book project was clear from the start. She wanted to work with the old-fashioned copybooks that were used in school to teach handwriting. We got together lots of samples and studied how they were made: usually poorly printed on flimsy paper and with recycled covers taken from food packaging. At least that’s what the ones we sourced from Lahore were like. By contrast, T. Shanaathanan wanted to create a book project that would make the reader feel like they were ‘holding’ a series of documents or an official file, like the ones you get in south Asia that are produced from buff, recycled paper that fade in the sunlight. Form following function is most clearly displayed in Bani Abidi’s book project The Speech Writer, which consists of 10 flip books. The flip book predates moving film and led to silent cinema. It was obviously a wonderful form to work with for someone that works with video and photography without any dialogue.

What I find impressive about Raking Leaves publications is their conceptual and formal rigour: how the book form emulates the artist’s practise rather than being a sideline to it. These are thoughtful projects and I imagine that their development is an involved one. Can you elaborate on the process of developing Bani Abidi‘s project?

Bani’s project began in 2010, was printed at the end of 2011 and launched in early 2012. We started working with Astrid Stavro early on. She was chosen as the designer because she has produced several interesting books in serial format and became instrumental in the discussions and production process. This was the first time she had designed a flip book but once she knew what it was, she began doing research on the ways in which 10 books could be housed together. Bani wanted to present the books flat so that the first page of each book was shown, as opposed to a series of book spines. Monotype was used on the cover where you find the fictional interview about the character of the speech writer featured in the book project. Again this was something that took several discussions and involved various design options. Creating the box was also involved. Finding a printer that could produce something this intricate that was not over engineered took several months of dummies and print buying in Europe and in Asia.

As a publisher, how involved do you become in the form of the book? Is the artist given carte blanche or are there practical limitations imposed on the artist from the outset of the project? 

I am involved in the book from conception through to delivery. The role begins curatorially and evolves into that of a publisher. I’d like to think that the artist is given full freedom in that the book projects are not based on templates or part of a series. From experience most artists enjoy being given parameters of a kind. As an idea for a book project develops practical limitations do arise. Rather than see them as restrictions, I tend to see them as questions that require solutions. Costs are obviously a big factor, too, but like anything else if the idea necessitates a certain level of investment, and it’s a good idea, then this is what I will work to ensure is produced.

Do you consider Raking Leaves publications within the canon of artists’ books?

They might influence the canon but I don’t know if they sit that comfortably within it. I prefer to view them as belonging to the fields of critical publishing and public art for example, in terms of the etymological relationship between ‘public’ and ‘publish’, which often gets forgotten. The audience for artists’ books is fairly small and of the art world, largely based in Europe and the US. Raking Leaves’ books have a much broader appeal. A number of anthropologists and legal theorists, for example, have been writing about and referencing The Incomplete Thombu in relation to displacement and legal debates around land rights in Sri Lanka.

I imagine, though I may be mistaken, that these are difficult conversations to have given the current political climate in Sri Lanka. Was there any trepidation in deciding to publish T.Shanaathanan’s The Incomplete Thombu? And if so, what was the nature of these thoughts or conversations?

Prior to publication, trepidation arose more out of wanting to be respectful to those that contributed to the project and being careful not to sensationalise the subject matter, but not from any fear of censorship. Since publication the situation has been different. Whichever way I think I choose to speak about the situation it will be interpreted as a form of self-censorship. The reality is more a case of understanding that in Sri Lanka anything can be construed to be something that it is not in the hands of someone ready to jump to conclusions when they see the words ‘Tamil’ or ‘Jaffna’. If this was an artwork in a gallery I doubt it would court any kind of interest from the authorities. By being a book it circulates more readily and freely. It’s accessible to everyone who can interpret it as they want. I don’t think I, or the artist, would want it any other way, in spite of the risks this may or may not involve.

There are a lot of conversations in Australia about the centre and the periphery with regard to the global art world. What influence does being based in Colombo have on Raking Leaves?

Being on the periphery of south Asia informs the situation in Sri Lanka more closely than the relationship with the global art world in terms of the centre/periphery debate.  For Raking Leaves Sri Lanka provides a base and therefore a centre from which its activities are generated and distributed, irrespective of any geo-political centre. There are not any comparable initiatives in the region that are doing similar work which means we exist in a vacuum at times. Being off the radar has its advantages too, however. I don’t think what we do is particularly cutting edge or fashionable in that sense. I think this ensures some kind of engagement and sustainability for when audiences do come into contact with Raking Leaves.

Does having no comparable initiatives in the region mean that Raking Leaves’ activities have expanded beyond publishing?

I established the Sri Lanka Archive of Contemporary Art, Architecture and Design in 2013 as part of a collaboration with Asia Art Archive and their Open Edit: Mobile Library initiative. Interest and support towards the archive was overwhelming and Raking Leaves was approached to establish it as a permanent physical archive in Jaffna. It has a staff of four people and has staged seven talks and five screenings attracting a total of just under 1000 people in it’s first six months. Collecting materials connected to the development of Sri Lankan art, architecture and design remains our primary focus while the talks and screenings act as a way of bringing people to the material. Working with the Asia Art Archive and having the archive in Jaffna have certainly provided Raking Leaves with opportunities to work beyond its publishing activities in a related but broader engagement with printed matter.

Workshop: The Painterly Print

Top: Bruno Leti, No. 6 from Intonaco Series, 2015, oil monotype (unique), 76 x 56 cm.
A page from the original article published in Imprint Autumn 1997, Volume 32 Number 1.

‘The monotype surface, although flat and relatively smooth, fully records an active and varied manipulation of pigment that precedes transfer to paper, in reverse. This transfer of a fresh painting or drawing is meant to yield just one (‘mono’) print (‘type’). Therefore, they are unique images rather than multiples. So, strictly speaking, they are neither paintings, drawings or prints!’

The following article was written by Bruno Leti and published in the Autumn 1997 issue of Imprint Vol. 32 No. 1.

Monotypes are printed paintings or printed drawings; they resemble no other prints, be they engraved, carved, etched, lithographed or computer-generated. The monotype surface, although flat and relatively smooth, fully records an active and varied manipulation of pigment that precedes transfer to paper, in reverse. This transfer of a fresh painting or drawing is meant to yield just one (‘mono’) print (‘type’). Therefore, they are unique images rather than multiples. So, strictly speaking, they are neither paintings, drawings or prints!

As a painter–printmaker, the monotype satisfies both my urges to paint and print. There is no preparation of a matrix and little if any technique to speak about. Having pulled scores of editions in various mediums over the past thirty years, it is a wonderfully freeing experience not to cut, etch, engrave or chemically treat a plate to resolve an image. With ‘monotyping’ a sequence of images can be attained immediately in the procedure to resolution.

The monotype first came to my notice in high school art rooms in the fifties. I remember a young enthusiastic art teacher and artist, Barry Gange, who, with the help of art students, made a crude etching press from a mangle. He demonstrated to us the many possibilities of attaining an image by pressing one surface against another surface. These early, unique, rough images had a lot of charm and immediacy which inspired my imagination. But it was not until I began to travel in the mid sixties that I first saw monotypes made by Degas in Paris, and those made by Picasso in Barcelona. They beauty and freshness of these prints remained ‘impressed’ in my mind for a long time. Some years later in the United States, I also saw monotypes made by Milton Avery and those by Richard Diebenkorn which reinforced the idea that this medium had great potential.

It seemed to me from the start that making monotypes was another way of making paintings. The ‘push’ and ‘pull’ of creating an image with oil paints and printing ink was an exciting alternative to directly painting on canvas or board. There were obvious limitations of course: you could not apply paint too thickly or it would ‘squash’ under pressure and the image would be reversed after the pressing. However, because I prepared monotypes on the back of discarded etching plates, I was quite comfortable with painting on a hard surface not unlike the Masonite I used in the early days.

Historically, the monotype technique goes back to the mid-1640s, to painter–etchers such as Rembrandt in Amsterdam, and Giovanni Castiglione, a lesser-known Italian from Genoa. It was probably Castiglione who began to manipulate printing ink on copperplates so as to print a continuous tone, analogous to an ink watercolour wash. Both artists were deeply involved with the texture of paint, making hundreds of painterly drawings using brushes or other drawing tools that produced a broad stroke. In their prints, both artists sought tonal effects through the use of drypoint burr, and by utilising accidental or intentional granular biting. The only true printmaking practice available at that time that produced a continuous tone was mezzotint, then still in its early days. Neither artist attempted this method, but instead painted with printing ink on the surfaces of copper plates. Rembrandt left ink ‘smeared’ on selected areas of his etched plates but it was Castiglione who actually made drawings into thick ink spread on a smooth copper plate which produced the first true monotype.

One of my favourite artists, the poet William Blake, developed a method of transferring his handwriting and drawing in monotype onto copper plates, etching these in relief, and printed from the surface of the plate. This evolved from his explorations of printing book illustrations in colour. The first complete book he produced in this method was Songs of Innocence. Blake used the monotype combined with hand-painting and colouring.

From the end of the eighteenth century, when William Black executed his highly original ‘printed drawings’ until nearly the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the art of the monotype largely lapsed into disuse.

Around the 1860s, there was a resurgence of the technique by the painter–printmakers Adolphe Appian and Ludovic Lepic in France. They were interested in the dramatic effects of light and dark and the rich tonalities that could be obtained by wiping and brushing ink over an etched matrix, which provided a linear quality with tonal effects. However, it was left to Edgar Degas, probably the greatest exponent of the monotype in the nineteenth century, to add another dimension which made the technique more viable and important by experimenting with wiping, brushing and often retouching the finished works with pastels. It was a time when Degas was seeking a release from the tradition of precise linear draftsmanship. This new freedom to manipulate paint and printing ink resulted in a different aesthetic, more akin to the Impressionist ideal. Other artists such as Pissarro, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Mary Cassatt, and the American painter-printmaker Whistler, made monotypes near the turn of the century and into the twentieth century.

The modern monotype has attracted artists from Degas to Gauguin to Munch to the German Expressionists. The craftsman-like approach to printmaking by the Bauhaus teachers also encouraged students to experiment with monotypes. Picasso, Rouault and Matisse produced monotypes during their time and when Dada and Surrealism emerged in Europe, the acceptance of any material at hand as a potential ingredient of art cleared the way for many artists such as Dubuffet, Tobey, Ernst and Klee to extend mixed media processes in conjunction with monotype. Frottage, ink-blots and other transfer or pressed methods were incorporated.

The appeal of Oriental art and calligraphy with its scribbles, strokes, drips and smears is seen clearly in the work of Gottlieb, Motherwell, Jasper Johns, Sam Francis and Miro. Their love of free lines and natural textures so much in evidence in their paintings also appears in their monotypes. Today, print workshops around the world have taken an active interest in the monotype, aided by master printers, technical inventions and ongoing experimentation.

It has been said that most artist–printmakers discover the mysteries of monotypes on their own, working along with other mediums and through trial and error. I have found the right balance and comfort zone for me, with an emphasis on the direct and the forthright which requires that a picture’s surface, its pigment, and the presence of the artist be immediately felt. Monotype is a painter’s medium. It was born of a painter’s imagination and restlessness and is a perfect tool for improvisation and realisation.


Adhemar, J. 1975, Degas, The Complete Etchings, Lithographs, and Monotypes, Viking Press, New York.

Brown, K. 1992, Ink, Paper, Metal, Wood, Crown Point Press, San Fransisco.

Grishin, S. 1994, Bruno Leti’s Monotypes, Transart, Melbourne.

Plows, P. 1988, Collaboration in Monotype, University of Washington Press.

Reed, S. & Ives, C. 1980, Monotypes from 17th Century to the 20th Century Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


A monotype is made from a ‘pure’ painted image on a smooth surface (e.g. copper, zinc, perspex, etc.), which is then pressed onto paper to yield one unique impression. A monoprint matrix has some fixed elements together with unique, hand-painted areas on its surface which can be somewhat replicated when painting.

Bruno Leti was recently awarded the Print Award in the 2016 Swan Hill Print and Drawing Acquisitive Awards for his monotype No. 6 from the Intonaco Series (pictured at top).

Regionalism–Localism: The Debate Goes On

A page from the original article published in Imprint Autumn 1992, Volume 27 Number 1.

‘Anyone living and working as a visual artist in Central Victoria encounters difficulties similar to those artists working in almost any isolated area of Australia, be it Perth, Townsville, Mildura, etc.’

Cover for Imprint Autumn 1992 Volume 27 Number 1 featuring Filomena Coppola’s Retrospect, colour Xerox print, 28 x 38 cm.

The following article was written by Barry Weston, author and former Head of Printmaking at LaTrobe UCNV, Bendigo, and published in the Autumn 1992 issue of Imprint Vol. 27 No. 1.

In 1986, four Western Australian printmakers put together a funding submission, presented to the government, to establish an access print workshop in Perth. That year was not a good year for financial support towards print workshops – however, Mr Chris Prater, master printer and founder of Kelpra Studios, London, was in Perth (the final venue for a series of PCA organised workshops) and in his letter of support for the original submission, in part, stated that of the printmaking he had seen in WA, he was pleasantly surprised at the high level of technical proficiency and also of the strong conceptual content of the prints, given limited resources away from the mainstream of contemporary printmaking in a geographically isolated city such as Perth.

Anyone living and working as a visual artist in Central Victoria encounters difficulties similar to those artists working in almost any isolated area of Australia, be it Perth, Townsville, Mildura, etc.

It is extremely difficult for artists working in geographically remote areas not to be affected by the very vastness of this country, well away from what is regarded as the ‘centre’ of contemporary art practice and debate. It is easy to withdraw artistically and to create works whose criteria rely upon the standards of interest, originality, forcefulness and quality which exist and are nurtured outside of our own backyard – becoming regional – within this context, the meaning of regionalism is one of acceptance – the acceptance of simplistic answers to complex artistic questions – an art form not of identity but of artefact.

In fact art is culturally dependant, if artworks do perform a didactic function by reflecting the values, taste, sensitivities and concerns of a particular artist’s socio–cultural environment, it is very difficult for artists working in remote areas of this country, confronting contemporary art concerns, to have support and interest from that community for an art form whose criteria of relevance is not only visual but also conceptual.

Ironically it is not a geographic/isolation factor alone, nor is it one of population density which makes a city/town develop an exciting, stimulating community with sincere interest in the arts – this depends upon the quality of the artists themselves, the dialogue and interaction between themselves and the community and the community’s support and understanding. The town of Castlemaine in Central Victoria is an excellent example of this, sustaining an aware and enthusiastic interaction between artists and community, and also hosting an annual arts festival with diverse artists invited.

Bendigo and its region are served by Artspace Incorporated, an alternative gallery for contemporary art which also offers studio space. In the past Artspace has attempted to produce a quarterly art journal, specifically for addressing contemporary art ideas and debate. Little finance but great enthusiasm has kept this alternative venture going.

In an article in the December–January 1991-92 issue of Art Monthly Australia, Mr David Hansen reports on the recent ‘Off Centre’ conference organised by Umbrella Studios, Townsville, which addressed a number of issues raised here. In part, the article states – ‘Naturally, there was no consensus in this debate. Sarah Follent warned against regionalism as rhetoric, while Helen Waterman insisted that art is a silent practice. Some called for workshops, residences and seminars to bring the regions “up to speed” on current issues … All called for better utilisation of local media to promote and review regional art making.’

I would tend to agree with the consensus of this conference – that it should be possible to be confident of ‘making good art, right here, right now.’ However, the making and understanding of art is not a simplistic endeavour. It requires effort, imagination and an ability to articulate those specific concerns pertinent to the artist.

A good analogy is that of learning a second language – but a language which constantly changes its rules of grammar. In learning this language one has to accept constant re-learning as one works and views, for art is a self-conscious language, and understanding, describing and relating to the world is a very important part of its function. Sad to say there are numerous people in both city and township who see no relevance in ever attempting to learn a second language.

Nevertheless, there are artist/printmakers who produce strong work both technically and conceptually outside of the hermetically sealed Melbourne–Sydney axis, and those do address issues not of a localised phenomena, but, through the force of their own vision and determination, produce work that is of an international standard. Many of these are young women artists who have a commitment to content and expression as their foremost concern; they seem to have a more coherent attitude to the need for content and relevance in their art. The reasons may be varied, but this attitude has become a positive source of energy and intention for the present generation of emerging artists.

Two printmakers working in Central Victoria who readily come to mind are Ms Karen Hepworth and Ms Filomena Coppola.

Karen Hepworth works predominately in the mediums of screen, relief and corborundum prints. Her work deals with a broad and subjective analysis of the issues and social problems which concern her. Through all of her work there is an underlying feeling of black humour – these works revolve around exploitation, sexuality and sensuality. They become an attempt at resolving the dilemma of what is the difference between eroticism and pornography, of sexuality and sensuality. Is sexual behaviour (whether portrayed or enacted) anything to do with morals? Her work also attempts to visually represent gender differences specifically involving differences of emotional response.

Filomena Coppola works in the mediums of lithography, and screen, although she has worked in suites of colour Xerox prints. Thematically her work revolves around multiculturalism – the problems of an ethnic upbringing in an Australian environment, of attempt of reconciling a European cultural heritage with a white Anglo-Saxon tradition, a tradition which, until quite recently, has been intolerant of anything ‘foreign’.

In recent debates on multiculturalism issues, little has been addressed towards assimilation and its affect upon the first generation of migrants born in this country. Ms Coppola’s work addresses these issues with compassion and sensitivity and serves as an explanation from her point of view.

Her work attempts also to reconstruct a cultural identity, to answer specific questions of identity by utilising images, memorabilia, family photography, etc., in an attempt to clarify, to some degree, her confusion; to find answers to questions and simultaneously find her own specific identity. Her large screenprint A1 loves Betty and Betty loves A1 probably comes closest to resolving some of these questions.

In Decline of the West, Oswald Spangler wrote that art – ‘is a seismograph that gives advance notice of subtle changes in rhythm, the stirrings and rumblings from within a culture.’ Both of the artist/printmakers mentioned are among a large number of artist/printmakers, working in central Victoria, away from access print studios, contemporary art debate, major exhibitions, interactive dialogue, etc., but who nevertheless have addressed themselves to contemporary visual art concerns of our time and culture.

The regional artist who attempts to address such issues constantly find themselves in a frustrating dilemma; however, there are a number of strategies which can be utilised to overcome these problems.

Networking – loose associations of artists with similar interests and concerns; exchange print exhibitions – utilisation of local media to stimulate community support; co-operatives of pooled resources – utilisation of electronic media (e.g. fax exchange prints, etc.).

It is interesting and surprising for the artist who believes that they are living and working in a geographically isolated area to discover that within their own community there is enormous peer group and community support if they make that initial move to locate, explain, exhibit and discuss their work. Australian printmaking as an art form, has hopefully passed through the era of being the poor cousin to painting and sculpture, passed through the concept of being seen merely to be about its own internal dynamics of technique. Hopefully it has now reached the point of maturity to discover its true potential; to respond to the cultural, social, economic and political development of our society/culture at large.

Photocopy Transfer for Lithography and Relief Processes

The original article published in Imprint Summer 1995 Volume 30 Number 4.

‘I first used the wintergreen oil in Albuquerque during a four-week workshop at Tamarind Institute of Lithography. I purchased a small quantity at a local ‘drugstore’ and brought it home carefully wrapped in my hand luggage.’

Cover for Imprint Summer 1995 Volume 30 Number 4 featuring David Brand‘s Blue Bird, 1995, etching, 29 x 22.5 cm, printed by Martin King and Rob Dott at the Australian Print Workshop.

This article was written by artist Kaye Green, former lecturer in Printmaking, Monash University College, Gippsland (now Federation University), and published in the summer 1995 issue of Imprint, Volume 30 Number 4.

After using thinners or acetone for many years for transferring photocopies onto lithographic plates and stones, I was pleased to learn that Methyl Salicylate (wintergreen oil*) gives a better result and is much safer to use. Recently I needed to transfer a great deal of detailed information onto lino and as I pondered over the time consuming task ahead of tracing the information, I decided to try using the lithographic photocopy transfer technique with my lino blocks. The transfer worked perfectly and I have also successfully tried the process on wood. The process is similar for both litho and relief print transfer.

Transferring onto lithographic plates or stone
Prepare a reasonably fresh photocopy (24 hours) of the material to be transferred. Place the matrix onto the bed of the press and set up normal printing pressure. Pour the wintergreen oil onto a clean soft rag and spread evenly onto the stone or plate using enough to leave an even film of the oil on the surface of the stone. Position the photocopy face down and cover with a sheet of acetate and newsprint. Position the tympan and run the press through three times in the same direction, fan dry and either process or add further drawing.

Transferring onto lino or wood
Prepare a reasonably fresh photocopy (24 hours) of the material to be transferred. Place the matrix onto the bed of the press and set up a normal printing pressure. Pour the wintergreen oil onto a clean soft rag and spread evenly onto the lino or wood using enough to leave a smooth even film on the surface of the lino or wood. Position the photocopy face down and cover with a sheet of acetate, newsprint, a sheet of cardboard and one blanket. Run the press through once and check the transfer. If necessary, run the press through again for a stronger impression.

The transfer can be washed off with turpentine (lino or wood) or wintergreen oil (stone or plate) within ten or fifteen minutes but if it is left for any longer it is very difficult to remove.

I first used the wintergreen oil in Albuquerque during a four-week workshop at Tamarind Institute of Lithography. I purchased a small quantity at a local ‘drugstore’ and brought it home carefully wrapped in my hand luggage. When I arrived home I realised I would need more. I started worrying that I might have to have emergency supplies sent to me from the USA if I had trouble finding it in Australia. I need not have worried. My precious bottle of wintergreen oil purchased in Centre Avenue, Albuquerque, had been manufactured by Boronia Oils, Batemans Bay, New South Wales!

*Wintergreen oil may be obtained at pharmacies or health food shops.

Kaye Green now lives and works as a full time artist in Hobart.

Bea Maddock: A Lifetime of Innovative Printmaking

The original article published in Imprint Winter 2013 Volume 48 Number 2.

‘For Maddock the process of creating the work of art is an essential element of the final result, requiring concentration, stamina and conceptual rigour.’

Cover for Imprint Winter 2013 Volume 48 Number 2 featuring Tony Ameneiro‘s Floral Head with Infinity Ear, 2013, multi-plate colour monotype, 76 x 56 cm.

Following the sad news of Bea Maddock’s death last weekend, and as a tribute to this inspiring artist, we revisit an article written by Alisa Bunbury, Curator, Prints and Drawings, NGV, and published in the winter 2013 issue of Imprint, Vol. 48 No 2. It appeared during the NGV‘s survey exhibition Bea Maddock, 14 February to 21 July, 2013.

Bea Maddock is one of Australia’s most significant artists, recognised in particular for her innovative and evocative prints. Through her art Maddock explored issues of loneliness, vulnerability and autonomy, and in her later work pursued investigations into place, environment and Australia’s contested histories. Maddock’s name and art are less widely known than might be expected for an artist of her stature. Although she exhibited widely over many years, she never catered to the art market. Her printed editions were small and her art was acquired more frequently by institutions than by private collectors, and in her later years she opted out of the commercial gallery system. A survey of her art was held at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1980 and major exhibitions were organised by the National Art Gallery, Wellington, which toured New Zealand in 1982–83, and jointly by the Queensland Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Australia, which toured Australia in 1991–92. Thus the current exhibition of Maddock’s art at the NGV is the first to survey her entire output. Based on the Gallery’s strong holdings, it inevitably omits some key examples of her art held in other collections, but nevertheless spans from the earliest etchings to her last great panoramic work, completed in 1998.

Born in Tasmania in 1934, Maddock trained and worked as an art teacher before heading to London to undertake post-graduate study at the Slade School (1959-61) where she first had access to printmaking facilities and training. Her earliest prints include a number of painterly lithographs and prints exploring the tonal possibilities of hard- and soft-ground etching and aquatints, primarily based on life studies undertaken at the School and strongly influenced by the prints of Georges Rouault.

On her return to Tasmania Maddock taught art at the Launceston Teacher’s College, painting, drawing, printing, making ceramics and creating the occasional sculpture in her own time. Lacking access to a press, she printed relief prints and lithographs by hand. She held her first solo show in a Launceston shopfront in 1964. The positive reception of this exhibition encouraged her to move to Melbourne, where fellow Slade student and friend Murray Walker included her work in Six Young Printmakers, at the Argus Gallery later that same year. However the move did not result in opportunities for employment and exhibitions as she had hoped; instead it was a period of great loneliness and introspection. This is apparent in the woodcuts and drypoints Maddock made at this time, which are powerful investigations into isolation and identity. Always frugal, Maddock used wood from fruit packing crates for roughly cut woodcuts, inspired by German Expressionist prints that she had seen on visits to the NGV. The small drypoints, and full editions of the woodcuts, were printed on her return to Tasmania.

For the next five years Maddock continued to work in Launceston, exhibiting in group exhibitions, being selected for print shows and winning several art prizes. Survey exhibitions of her art were shown in Ballarat in 1969, and in Launceston in 1970. During this period Maddock began to explore screenprinting, which had principally been a commercial process but was proving to be the perfect medium for pop art’s incorporation of advertising and contemporary visual culture, and the current movement of Colour Field painting, with its bold use of solid colour. Despite the lack of a darkroom, Maddock’s desire to incorporate photography into her prints was such that she even hand-copied enlarged dots onto screens, one of many examples that show her determination to achieve the desired result, however laborious the process may be.

In 1970 Maddock moved to Melbourne again when she was appointed as lecturer in printmaking at the NGV Art School (in 1973 this became part of the VCA). Here she had access to state-of-the-art facilities including a darkroom, with students keen to learn new methods. However, Maddock soon abandoned screenprinting in her own art and turned to photo-etching. One of the very first artists in Australia to explore this technique, Maddock learnt from a commercial photo-engraver. Using photographs selected from newspapers and magazines, and later her own photographs of personal items and surroundings, she then worked onto the plates by hand, creating powerful representations of contemporary life, ranging from images of war, such as Gauge (1976), to objects of daily use such as Chair II (1974). These enigmatic prints were challenging to many, but soon gained Maddock widespread recognition – three prints were acquired for the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1973, and by the end of the decade she was selected to represent Australia in Indian and Canadian art exhibitions and projects. In 1979 a substantial twelve-part mural was commissioned for the newly built High Court in Canberra.

As a counterpoint to the large-scale prints and commissioned works, in the later 1970s Maddock began producing art that was increasingly tactile and textural. She returned to painting, which she had ceased since moving to Melbourne, and began to combine techniques and media such as paper making, book binding, letterpress text and encaustic wax. For Maddock the process of creating the work of art is an essential element of the final result, requiring concentration, stamina and conceptual rigour. The inclusion of text in her art became increasingly evident, as in paintings such as Disquiet (1981) which was influenced, as was much of her work, by the art of Jasper Johns. Maddock resigned from the VCA in 1981 and taught part-time, inviting students to share the facilities at her Macedon house and studio. This was destroyed in the disastrous Ash Wednesday fires, thirty years ago this year, and her house, possessions, equipment and art collection were lost. Maddock stoically continued with plans to return to Launceston later that year, while also establishing a studio in the Victorian goldfields town of Dunolly, which she visited regularly until 1990.

A forty-day voyage to the Antarctic in the summer of 1987 inspired a return to the landscape as subject matter, for the first time since her student days, and encouraged an increasing awareness of Tasmania’s Indigenous history, which she explored in subsequent works of art. Panoramic multi-panel landscape paintings and prints form the majority of Maddock’s later work, few in number but each the result of considerable thought, preparation, research and sketches. The most magnificent and overwhelming of these is her final panorama TERRA SPIRITUS … with a darker shade of pale (1993-98), a view of the entire coast of Tasmania depicted from the sea in which issues of traditional ownership, British colonisation, recognition and reconciliation are evoked with great beauty, simplicity and power. Made from local ochre mined and prepared by Maddock herself, the work comprises an extraordinary fifty-one sheets (plus title page) which, when installed, spans forty metres, and was made in an edition of five, plus an artist’s proof. Maddock called on her decades of printmaking expertise and created the work using stencils to impress the outlines into the paper, working the ochre either into the lines, like an intaglio plate, to create the dark forms of the mountains, and leaving the lines free of pigment, like a relief block, for the highlights of the sea. The geographical locations are named, in letterpress text for the English place names, and in cursive script for the Indigenous names that appear to float across the sheet. While its vast size limits its exhibition (the NGV has twenty sheets displayed) and its reproduction, and thus a more widespread awareness of this drawing-print, it is, without doubt, a master work.

Since completing TERRA SPIRITUS in 1998 Maddock has been working to record her life’s output, in conjunction with many staff at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston. Through her generosity, QVMAG holds the most substantial collection of her art, including prints, paintings, drawings, sculpture, ceramics, studies and numerous sketchbooks. A result of this diligent cataloguing and researching was published in 2011 in the catalogue raisonné of Maddock’s art from 1951 to 1983, edited by Daniel Thomas. This weighty tome is both informative and accessible, containing an overview of Maddock’s oeuvre, a biography, and an analysis of her materials and techniques during these decades, followed by entries for over 900 works, many with comments by Maddock herself. Volume two, examining Maddock’s art from 1984 to 1998, is currently being prepared by Irena Zdanowicz. In addition to these, a small publication accompanies the NGV exhibition.

Fred Genis: Master Printer

A page from the original article published in Imprint Winter 2010 Volume 45 Number 2.

‘Genis provided his own model for the modern printmaking studio. Contrary to the communal atmosphere of Stanley Hayter’s Atelier 17 model, where both emerging and established artists often worked side by side, Genis preferred working with one artist at a time, creating the right environment to work in and produce art at a peaceful, unhurried pace.’

Cover for Imprint Winter 2010 Volume 45 Number 2 featuring GW Bot‘s Paddock Glyphs – Garden of Poets, 2008, linocut on Korean Hanji paper, artist’s proof, 94.5 x 61.5 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Australian Galleries.

This article was written by the current PCA President Akky van Ogtrop and published in the winter 2010 issue of Imprint, Vol. 45 No 2.

Akky van Ogtrop presented a public ‘conversation’ with retired master lithographer Fred Genis at Tweed River Art Gallery in Murwillumbah, NSW, in conjunction with the exhibition Printer’s Proofs: From the Fred Genis Collection. Here she reflects on Genis’s career and its effect on Australian printmaking.

When lithography was established in the late eighteenth century in Germany and spread throughout Europe, it became a known fact that the European printers always kept the mysteries of lithographic processing firmly to themselves. In the 1950s a number of lithographic studios were set up in America to explore and de-mystify these processes. Treating lithography as a science, they exposed all the wonderful techniques now available to others. By 1960 the USA took the lead in the advancement of lithography as a fine art form, as important graphic workshops were established: Universal Limited Art Editions [ULAE] on Long Island, founded by the late Tatyana Grossman, and the Tamarind Workshop, starting in Los Angeles and now located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, under the direction of June Wayne. These provided opportunities for collaboration between artists and master printers, which frequently resulted in innovative prints of great technical complexity. Other printing studios experimenting with combinations of photolithography and offset lithography have further expanded the potential of this medium.

The career of master printer Fred Genis coincided with this high point in printmaking. After studying in the Netherlands at the Amsterdam Graphic School[1], and many years of travelling and working mostly as a commercial lithographer around the globe, Genis went to the USA, where he was able to realise his dream of working as a lithographic printer in a number of fine art lithography studios.

Genis tells the story that, after reading an article in Newsweek[2] about June Wayne, the founder of Tamarind Workshop, he wrote her a letter asking if it was possible for him to study at Tamarind. To his surprise he received a letter back from her. She could not give him a grant but offered him a fellowship at the studio. His experience at Tamarind allowed him to develop skills through research and practice[3]. There he met Ken Tyler and worked in his workshop, Gemini in Los Angeles, before joining Irwin Hollander in partnership to form Hollander Workshop. Hollander Workshop printed the majority of the most important American Abstract Expressionist prints of the late 1960s. Painters such as de Kooning and Motherwell made some of their first lithographs in this innovative workshop.

According to Genis, de Kooning hated working directly on lithographic stone when he first tried it. He also quickly rejected aluminium plates. Genis and Hollander offered him transfer paper so that he could work in a manner more familiar to him. De Kooning spread his drawings on the sheets of transfer paper on the floor. He then cut them up and re-aligned sections of them to make collages. These collages were then transferred to plates for printing.

Genis has an impressive American track record but after eight years in the USA and then a further five years of working in the Netherlands, he finally decided in 1979 to move to Australia permanently. It was the right time because custom-printing had become a significant part of contemporary Australian printmaking practice. In the mid-to-late 1970s Sydney was the hub of custom-printing, mainly due to the activities of Port Jackson Press, established in 1975 by David Rankin.

Genis brought with him his complete lithographic workshop and settled with his family in Kenthurst in NSW. There he created a studio in the most idyllic environment. Since settling in Australia he has worked with Lloyd Rees, Brett Whiteley, Robert Jacks, Colin Lanceley, John Olsen, Guan Wei and many others. As each artist brought their individual talents and ideas to the studio, wherever his studio was, Genis was able to facilitate and extend the possibilities available to them.

As with Willem de Kooning, some of the Australian artists like Lloyd Rees also took some urging to try out lithography. But in 1980, after much persuasion from David Rankin from Port Jackson Press, Rees agreed to work with Genis and created The Caloola Suite, a suite of 67 lithographs. Genis continued to work with Lloyd Rees and printed his entire lithographic oeuvre.

His first Australian assignment was with John Olsen for a print commissioned by the Print Council of Australia. Genis recalls that the stone broke in two. He rang the Print Council to tell about this disaster. After some thought, the Print Council person asked him if it was possible to glue the stone together again.

Olsen lived close to Genis’s studio in Kenthurst. Genis invited Olsen to make a series of lithographs: Down Under. As with de Kooning, Genis introduced Olsen to transfer paper, and the directness of the process allowed the prints to have a freshness and spontaneity not possible with etching. For Olsen this method was ‘fabulous for picking up brush marks, any stain or blot’.

More than other printmaking techniques, artists using the lithography medium still largely depend on access to a good printer, and the development of the medium has been greatly influenced by when and where master printers have established their studios. Colin Lanceley remembers, when he came back to Australia in 1981, one of the first people he met was Fred Genis: ‘Fred is a wonderful lithographer. I’m sure you know his work. It’s been a tremendous privilege to work with him. I don’t think I could really, sort of, make prints at all – I have no equipment at home, for instance. I depend very heavily on the technical help and expertise of masters like Fred Genis.’[4]

Genis provided his own model for the modern printmaking studio. Contrary to the communal atmosphere of Stanley Hayter’s Atelier 17 model, where both emerging and established artists often worked side by side, Genis preferred working with one artist at a time, creating the right environment to work in and produce art at a peaceful, unhurried pace.

Teaching was another part of Genis’s career. From 1980–1982 he was employed as a lecturer by Sydney College of the Arts, where he set up the lithography studio, and in 1997 was appointed Head of Printmaking at the National Art School, Sydney. During these years lithography still formed an important part of printmaking education. However, with the introduction of new techniques, many art schools have since stopped teaching lithography and training opportunities are no longer available[5].

In 1993 Genis moved his studio to Blackwattle studios at the end of Glebe Point Road, overlooking Blackwattle Bay, where he continued printing and publishing until the studios were pulled down to be replaced with apartments. In 1999 he relocated with his family to Possum Creek in Northern NSW, where he continued to print for some of the artists that he had worked with previously.

Genis has now retired from printing. As he tells it: he started his printing career in Australia with John Olsen and he finished with John Olsen[6].

Fred Genis sold his entire workshop to The Art Vault in Mildura, where one of the focal points of the gallery is the hundred-year-old lithography press.

His story is an extraordinary account of artist/printer collaboration in the post-war era of printmaking.


The exhibition Printer’s Proofs: From the Fred Genis Collection showed prints made by eminent Australian artists in collaboration with Genis over a period of 15 years. It was displayed at Tweed River Art Gallery, Murwillumbah, NSW, 26 March – 9 July 2010.

Fred Genis published many portfolios in partnerships that aimed to encourage artists to use lithographic processes and promote lithography to the public. In 1995 he established Sherman Genis Graphics in partnership with Sherman Galleries. He also worked closely with publisher Lou Klepac from Beagle Press.


Additional notes from Fred Genis’ conversation with Akky van Ogtrop at Tweed River Art Gallery, Murwillumbah, 28 March 2010.

[1] On the advice of a family friend, Genis went to the Amsterdam Graphic School to learn lithographic printing with Coen Hafkamp: ‘As soon as I saw the hand presses I realised that I liked this medium and would focus on becoming a steendrukker (stone printer) and not a machine printer … I realised that I liked working with [artists] and I had skills in adapting to each artist’s style’.

[2] In conversation, Genis credited Newsweek with this article but Julianna Kolenberg refers to it in Time in her introduction to From the Studio of Master Lithographer Fred Genis, a retrospective exhibition 1963-1995, Melbourne: Westpac Gallery, 1997.

[3] ‘At Tamarind I needed a chop mark. Most printers used two letters but I wanted something different. I like chooks so I thought: why not a chook? That’s how I have a little chook chop mark. At Tamarind it also was customary to acknowledge the printer in the description of the print, something which is becoming more recognised now in museums and galleries.’

[4] Colin Lanceley, transcript of paper presented at the First Australian Print Symposium, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1989.

[5] ‘Lithography is disappearing at the moment at art schools. It is a medium which is hard to learn and it takes a long time … so the failure rate is high. With lithography you have to keep on doing it.

[6] ‘When we moved to Possum Creek… I thought that it was a good idea to make a print with John Olsen again. This time I decided that I would … take it easy. No large edition and no hurry. But the strange thing was that everything in the printing of the edition went wrong … Finally it clicked though, and I thought: I am going too slow. In printing an edition rhythm is very important. So I decided that instead of seven prints I would finish this one and quit. I told Rina (my wife) I have stopped printing, this is it and, yes, now I have to get used to this idea of retirement.’

An Interview with Pat Brassington

A page from the original article published in Imprint Winter 1998 Volume 33 Number 2 featuring Pat Brassington‘s In My Mother’s House, 1994, silver gelatin prints, each 65 x 70 cm, collection of the AGNSW.

‘Perhaps without my stint in printmaking I would not have found ‘my way’ around photographic processes and without this engagement perhaps I would not have been prepared to embrace and explore digital technologies.’

This interview was conducted by the Tasmanian writer and curator Diana Klaosen and published in the winter 1998 issue of Imprint, Vol. 33 No 2.

With the Fremantle Art Prize for 1998 soon to be decided, it is timely to survey the work of last year’s winner, Tasmania’s Pat Brassington, nationally and internationally known as a photographer, whose work increasingly utilises computer technology and digital printing techniques. Pat combines her visual arts practice with her work as Co-ordinator of the University of Tasmania’s Plimsoll Gallery, arguably Tasmania’s major non-commercial art space, at the Centre for the Arts in Hobart.

The Centre’s Digital Art Research Facility (known as DARF) has, since its inception only a few years ago, won numerous accolades and major awards and grants. It was set up to capitalise on and promote contemporary interest in the new technologies in art-making and to give staff and PhD students a well resourced, supportive environment to explore the possibilities of this significant new medium. The Centre has several students working at PhD level. Amongst School of Art staff who were instrumental in establishing DARF are printmaker Milan Milojevic, painters Geoff Parr and Mary Scott, computer specialist artist Bill Hart and Brassington herself.

As an undergraduate at the Tasmanian School of Art, Pat specialised in photography and printmaking and her subsequent highly acclaimed work has reflected both influences and incorporated aspects of both.

Her work exemplifies art-making in what Walter Benjamin famously called ‘the age of mechanical reproduction’ – it inherently engages with the idea of the multiple, moreover it is resolutely post-modern in its reworking of a multiplicity of images and its willingness to embrace the new techniques and make of them something original and resolved. I spoke to Pat recently about her current work and her influences.

DK: You are working as a printmaker, using digital imagery, at the moment – manipulating photographic images. Do you see yourself as a photographer still … or a printmaker these days? Given that there’s this ‘need’ to categorise artists …

PB: Neither really. I’m an artist who chooses to use certain media and methods that suit my purpose. I should probably stress the point, though, that I did study printmaking and photography simultaneously and at that time (eighteen years ago) tended to use each process with a distinctly different aim in mind. I did enjoy the etching process very much, I recall, but there came a point when I had nothing to ‘say’ to the ‘inert’ plate. I guess clicking a shutter took over.

I remember you saying (to me, some time ago) that whilst studying Photography you came across the work of Julia Margaret Cameron and thinking, This is better …

Yes, there was a hint of something in her work that attracted me. I was intrigued by Bellocq’s and Weegee’s output also. Contemporary photographers whose work I also liked at the time included Peter Peryer, Grant Mudford, Ralph Gibson and some of Lee Friedlander’s ‘interior’ works. Then came Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Laurie Simmons, Barbara Kruger et al. But amongst all of this I was also particularly drawn to aspects of Surrealism and this abides with me still. I did not feel comfortable with the prevailing conventions, or the canons of photography if you like, that tended to dominate the filed at the time – ‘photography for the sake of photography’, the religiosity or the mystique about modelling the light, the laborious editioning of a fine print, the prevailing aesthetic criteria and concerns, and the role models offered to aspire to.

It seemed too prescriptive?

Yes, a rigid way of working. I think I was probably still carrying with me the desire to just get on with it, after the relatively gay abandon with which I had approached an aluminium plate with my burin and the concurrent acid bathings. But by doing all the ‘wrong’ things in photography I eventually landed on procedures and processes that best suited my needs. It was a frustrating time, but fortunately I was not discouraged by my supervisors and I began to see ‘a light at the end of the tunnel’. One thing that sticks in my mind from that time – I was seduced by the monochrome image.

In part, the procedures I felt most comfortable with, for example the manipulation of my negatives while developing and enlarging, making collages from my prints to rephotograph again, and sometimes again, under the copy camera I can now emulate without ‘vagrancy’, digitally.

What drew you to the digital process?

Curiosity. Its initial attractions were the ‘manipulative’ tools available in the Photoshop program. I like to collage images sometimes but collaging photographically is difficult and in my case I was not always convinced by the end result. My small output of digitally produced works thus far have all been ‘single images’ and all have used a collage technique. My photographic work consists mostly of multiple images, in which the interaction between images is a major factor.

Have I found a ‘better’ tool? I can emulate some of the photographic procedures I had adopted in the past using a scanner, a Photoshop program and an ink jet printer and I enjoy the process but I hasten to add that to get to the nitty gritty is no better or worse. Perhaps without my stint in printmaking I would not have found ‘my way’ around photographic processes and without this engagement perhaps I would not have been prepared to embrace and explore digital technologies.

There is one significant departure I should mention in relation to my digitally produced images, versus the preceding chemically based black and white photographic work, and that is the introduction of colour into the former. I would suggest that you do things by degrees. I have mentioned my sensitivity to black and white images – possibly an offshoot of an internalised visualisation technique on my part and I can’t imagine that I would abandon it but at the same time colour has its attractions. Maybe it’s a matter of ‘stepping lightly’ between the options.

How do you feel about the current state of digital art-making?

From where I am coming from, some of the 2-D work is awful. But you have to familiarise yourself with the ‘intent’ before judgement. Look, digital technology and processing is a fact of life. It’s not going to go away. Think about the precursors and how the invention of printing and then how the invention of photography radically altered our perception of the world.

Will you be continuing to work with the extraordinary and unsettling found images you are often noted for?

Why wouldn’t I? The world is paved with images and I’m into the business of visual communication after all.

As for subject matter and themes Pat wryly notes that she explores:

‘The depths of my soul’. It’s not driven by autobiography, it’s a combination of one way of interpretation tempered by a wider context. If I said I’m drawn to the ‘underbelly’ and not the darker side of the human psyche I could be getting closer to the point. But that is too cut-and-dried, too succinct and, if you think about it, doesn’t really get to the point either. So, I hope there’s more to it than that. I’m not as humourless a personality as that might suggest! I enjoy slippery slides.

For want of a better word, I’d say there’s almost black humour in your work – a quirkiness, anyway.

Yes. Black humour is hard to define and to pull off. Peter Greenaway immediately comes to mind here.

As for exhibiting, I’m aware that we don’t get many opportunities to see your work in Tasmania – although, having said that, I realise that you do have work in the current show at the University’s New Fine Arts Gallery.

The New Fine Art Gallery exhibition you refer to comprises recent works from artists involved with DARF. On reflection, I would suggest that somewhere, at some time, some of my favourite works have been displayed in Tasmania. I’ve just completed a large work that is going to Sydney for inclusion in the Telling Tales exhibition at the Ivan Dougherty Gallery. It’s a black and white photographic piece, by the way. I am amongst many Tasmanian artists who seek a national audience. The realities are these – Tasmania is a small place; it has a very lively art community and a lot of work is shown here. At the same time many Tasmanian artists recognise the need to exhibit in the wider arena. I do, and I’m sure others also always keep in mind that showing work in Tasmania and showing elsewhere are compatible aims.

Imprint readers will generally be aware of the Fremantle Art Prize and its importance as one of the main printmaking awards in this country, so we probably don’t need to explain the prize itself … but I’d be interested to know your reaction to winning it last year …

Well, I was very pleased that my entry had been selected for exhibition in the first place and then surprised but really delighted that Akimbo was a winning entry.

It’s a very subtle work – I’ve seen it in exhibition, it would be quite difficult to do justice to in reproduction, I think.



In March 2016, Pat Brassington was awarded the 2016 Redlands Konica Minolta Art Prize alongside Sydney-based artist Jack Lanagan Dunbar. The 2016 Redlands Konica Minolta Art Prize exhibition will be on display from 14 March to 14 May 2016 at the National Art School Gallery (NAS Gallery), Sydney.