Surya Bajracharya: Passengers

Above: Surya Bajracharya, Untitled 2, 2018, monotype, 40x40cm. Right: Untitled 3, 2018, monotype, 40x40cm. Below: Untitled 7, 2018, lithograph, 40x40cm.

Surya Bajracharya reflects on a recent exhibition and residency at Megalo Print Studio + Gallery.

Imprint: What is the premise for this exhibition and how have you been working towards it?

SB: The beginning of Passenger was mid-2016 when I was awarded a six-week residency that I painfully stretched out to late 2017… maybe even some of early 2018. (Thank you, Megalo—I love you.) This residency was a chance to work freely, unobserved and unhindered by old ideas.

Two independent series of work emerged. Initially, other than the 400 x  400mm format, I intended no real connection between the imagined monotypes and the photo-based lithographs, that I was simply leaving one for the other: a reactive release, giving in to the impulse to do so… I found it restorative, a way of balancing the differences in process, hoping to sustain/foster the excitement I felt making prints again, a way to ward off the onset of stagnation/boredom.

At some point, as I shuffled prints around from drying stack to plan draws to cardboard folders, I began to play with various arrangements, setting lithographs and monotypes next to each other, then separating them into pairs… things started falling into place, I could now visualise how it might all set together.

‘Passenger’ is a word that somehow felt right, fit perfectly, a word that seemed to drop out of the sky and explain something of the lithographs and monotypes I’d been making.

Imprint: What are some of the foundation ideas for the work in the exhibition, and what are visitors likely to experience?

SB: We are all passengers. Some of us have destinations in mind, while others, are happy to stick a thumb out and chance a random ride.

As passengers, we are free to observe, daydream, contemplate, and half knowingly set aside responsibility in an uneasy equilibrium, that the fate of our journey is ultimately beyond control.

 The exhibition was opened by artist, friend and mentor Patsy Payne, and she found a quote by Aldous Huxley that I think sums it up well: ‘My fate cannot be mastered; it can only be collaborated with and thereby, to some extent, directed. Nor am I the captain of my soul, I am only its noisiest passenger…’

Hopefully visitors will be able to reflect on the works and align them with some of their own experiences. This is one reason I’ve left the works untitled—I wanted to make a space that was open to a viewer’s interpretation and that would let them engage on their own terms.

Imprint: How was the work developed technically and what were some of the challenges involved?

SB: The residency gave me the opportunity to try my hand at monotype, and I found its immediacy and simplicity really appealing and refreshing. The process lent itself to creating more emotional responses… images from memory and the imagination.

Lithography meanwhile has long been a primary medium for me, and it sat well alongside the monotype works to capture different aspects of the same idea. The extreme detail of the lithographs, working from photos, pushes realism into abstraction. The biggest challenge with litho, and so with creating this exhibition, is the huge time investment and labour-intensive process.

Imprint: What future projects are you working on?

SB: For now I’m having a bit of a rest and regroup, cooking up an idea for a show I’d like to curate with some Canberra region artists. Later this year I’ll have some work in More than Human, Anthropocene curated by Julian Laffan and Natasha Fijn for the ANU School of Art and Design Gallery.

 

 

RMIT ‘Open Bite’ auction

Above: Hannah Caprice, The Dry Salvages, 2017, etching and aquatint,  56 x 38 cm, 5/10 Below: Dan Zhou, Caosu-Mountain Inn, 2017, collotype print on Japanese paper, 24.8 x 18.6 cm, 2/5

Georgia Steele reports on the annual fundraiser for RMIT print imaging and photography.

What: RMIT Print Auction

When: 17 August, 6pm-10pm

Where: Location: Building 49 level 2 RMIT, 67 Franklin Street, Melbourne, Victoria, 3000

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Print Imaging Practice—Open Bite fundraiser

The popular annual RMIT print auction for graduate printmaking and photography students is here again. Each year students, staff and alumni donate work for the Open Bite print auction, and the funds raised go towards funding the graduate exhibition for third year print imaging practice students.

The live auction is an exciting event for students as well as the printmaking and photography community in Melbourne. Visitors can bid on quality art work at a fraction of gallery prices. There is a selection of both emerging and established artists’ work available, including that of RMIT staff such as Richard Harding, Andrew Gunnell and Richard Dott. Work will span mediums, including digital, collage, etching and screenprinting. Among the alumni exhibiting is Kyoko Imazu who graduated in 2007 in printmaking and who is well-known for her etchings, artist books and ceramics. The auction is generally seen as a great chance to acquire work from young artists before they become better established.

This event, accessible with a gold-coin donation, is the chief fundraising event of the year.

 

Viewing: 6-7pm

First-round auction: 7-8:30pm

Second-round Auction: 9-10pm

Jennifer Long: In Full Flight

Above: In Full Flight 3, 2018, collaged lino print, rust transference, etching, ink & wax on Hahnemuehle paper, 15 x 20 cm. Right: Passengers 1, 2018, solvent transfer image on white BFK Rives paper, 27 x 39 cm Below: The Waiting Game, 2/10 St1, 2018, 3 plate, 3 colour intaglio etching on white BFK Rives paper, Plate size 30 x 40 cm  Paper size 35 x 45 cm

Jennifer Long reflects on her exhibition In Full Flight at Northern Rivers Community Gallery.

Imprint: What is the premise for this exhibition and how have you been working towards it?

JL:

The premise for this exhibition started with thoughts about our common connection to longings for freedom, the uncertainty of this and its loss in times of conflict. It also evoked thoughts about our journeys in life and where these lead us.

My previous two exhibitions ‘Flight’ and ‘Flight Path’ explored this theme but with ‘In Full Flight’ my latest solo exhibition I venture to suggest that the loss of freedom is overcome and through journey, escape or flight, hope becomes the intended outcome. More of the imagery in this exhibition is focussed on the birds in flight and tradionally the bird in flight epitomises freedom.

Imprint: What are some of the foundation ideas for the work in the exhibition, and what are visitors likely to experience?

JL: 

The original inspiration for the work came from my father’s stories as a Lancaster pilot, his wartime log as a POW in Stalag Luft 111, and his Jewish family’s escape from the 1906 Russian pogroms. Pared with the current global refugee crisis I saw common links.

This was the start of a body of work, experimenting with different media and the metaphor of flight.

As an artist I am drawn to the disparate. Imagery is both familiar and obscure sourced not only from family history but from global events, landscape and found objects. Often I find the detail in my art descibes a broader landscape or a bigger picture.

Visitors will see images of bird and cage, evoking ‘flight’ and its loss; boat, water, tower and tunnel suggesting journey and escape; feathers, nests, tangled and fragmented forms hinting at calm and turbulence.

Imprint: How was the work developed technically and what were some of the challenges involved?

JL: 

I decided to use a variety of media and different techniques of printmaking, collaging to layer and overlap materials to suggest ideas of transparency and opaqueness, absence and presence. This is particularly obvious in the paper and wax ‘postcards’, rice paper and wax vessels and 3D assemblages in paper, wax and aluminium.

In exploring a range of mark making I have repeated personal symbols to form common links across all the works. In many of the images in the etching series I have interchanged multiple plates or parts of them during printing. In the solvent transfers and watercolours I have reconfigured and repeated images to give a continuity to mark and meaning.

I create my own interior landscapes of layered and symbolic narratives to evoke memory, emotion and imagination in the viewer.

Imprint: What future projects are you working on?

JL: The plan is to begin new work for another solo exhibition next year and produce a large scale version of one of my 3D recent works.

 

 

 

National Works on Paper Awards

Above: James Tylor and Laura Wills, The Forgotten Wars, 2017, coloured pencil on photographic print, 5 sheets, each 50 x 50 cm. right: Solomon Booth, Dhangal Urgnu Tadiak, 2017, lino cut print, 190 x 124 cm. Below: David Bosun, Kubilaw Ulakal, 2017, lino cut print, 240 x 124 cm. Bottom: Godwin Bradbeer, Imago – 1000 Tears, 2018, chinagraph, pastel and acrylic medium, 152 x 128 cm.

Nicolas Rivet finds out about the winning entry in the National Works on Paper prize at Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery.

 

After a lengthy selection process involving more than 1000 applications, the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery’s National Works on Paper was awarded to James Tylor and Laura Wills for their collaborative work The Forgotten Wars—an allusion to the Australian frontier wars between Indigenous Australians and white settlers spanning almost 150 years.

 

Established in 1998, the National Works on Paper award is now recognised as one of the country’s most prestigious awards of its kind, and with its biennial exhibition, it intends to support and promote contemporary Australian artists who work on or with paper.

 

This year’s judges—Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery Director Jane Alexander, TarraWarra Museum of Art Director Victoria Lynn and Ian Potter Museum of Art Curator of Academic Programs (Research) Kyla McFarlane—spent an entire day shortlisting 63 finalists whose works were later displayed in the exhibition. There, the judges eventually returned to select a winner.

 

The gallery’s senior curator Danny Lacy attributes the challenging process to the incredible quality of work submitted across the board.

 

‘The great thing about National Works on Paper is the diversity you see within the works,’ Lacy says. ‘It really does capture an insightful snapshot of current contemporary practice. Paper is the foundation and the many ways in which artists use it never ceases to amaze our audience.’

 

With such a range of techniques having been incorporated into the works, the prize showcases everything from traditional drawings and digital prints to sculptural pieces.

Described by Lacy as a ‘beautiful but conceptually intelligent piece of work’, the winning entry is composed of five panels that overlay Tylor’s black and white photographs of the Australian rural landscape with Wills’ coloured drawings, influenced by various cartographic sources referencing the colonisation of Australia.

 

Lacy says the artists succeeded on several levels. As the two layers interweave, viewers are initially intrigued until, on closer inspection, they are confronted by the complexity of the work.

 

In their statement, Tylor and Wills say: ‘This collaborative project between an Indigenous and a Non-Indigenous Australian artist helps to find a way to decolonise the telling of stories about Australian frontier wars in mainstream society in Australia.’ This, according to Lacy, raises an important discussion about the history of this nation and the rethinking of its representation—an idea that is sure to resonate with viewers.

 

National Works on Paper is on display at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery until 9 September and features the entries of all shortlisted finalists.

mprg.com.au

 

 

From Velvety Depths: Graeme Peebles

Above: Graeme Peebles, Remember, 2010, 90 x 140 cm. Right: Graeme Peebles, Cave of the Green Aurochs, 2013-17, 30 x 50 cm. Below: Graeme Peebles, Drinking Straw Midden, 2017-18, 45 x 60 cm. Bottom: Graeme Peebles, The Swimmers, 2015-17, 60 x 90 cm.

 

 

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Nicolas Rivet explores the depths of Graeme Peebles’ new exhibition.

 

Graeme Peebles had no plans to assemble another solo show in the short term, but when prompted about a potential exhibition for Queenscliff’s recent inaugural winter arts festival Low Light, he wanted to support his local community.

From Velvety Depths is a collection of Peebles’ recent and earlier works, and the title referencesthe nature of mezzotint, whose method involves roughening the metal plate with a rocker to create rich velvety background blacks.

Though the results are highly admired, the entire process is extremely time-consuming and requires an incredibly advanced set of skills to master. Peebles, however, has produced hundreds of mezzotints since he graduated from RMIT more than 40 years ago. Today, he is regarded as Australia’s leading artist in this medium.

‘I was attracted to mezzotint for a number of reasons,’ Peebles says. ‘Primarily [because of the] control I had over the image without having to use acids, along with the ability to do tonal rendering. In this sense, I find it similar to painting in the way that you can create the image.’

Peebles describes the show as ‘a bit of a survey exhibition’ as it embraces archaeological findings of ancient art and tries to establish a connection to current art and environmental themes. He explains how the work stems from the discovery of some 10,000-year-old abalone shells in a cave in South Africa that are believed to have held pigment for cave paintings.

‘It’s also reflective of shell middens which were fairly abundant where I grew up as a child in Tasmania,’ he says. ‘I guess it’s a way of looking at what we leave behind.’

While the exhibition features an array of Peebles’ work, a large part of it incorporates pieces he has produced over the past seven years as well as a few major pieces from the past twenty years. Notably, these include recent landscapes created in Italy’s Umbria, as well as a series of cloudscapes from the Snowy Mountains that were developed over a decade.

With so many works to consider, he finds it hard to name a favourite, but suggests that Remember—essentially a ‘memento mori’ piece of a mass of living fish fleeing from a dead one—is significant in the sense that it is the largest print he has ever worked on.

Though the individual pieces are complete, Peebles acknowledges that the collection is ‘still a work in progress’ and believes it will take another four or more  years before it is recognised as a complete body of work.

From Velvety Depths is at Queenscliff Gallery and Workshop until August 12.

qgw.com.au/event/from-velvety-depths/

 

 

Inside the Cover: The Bookplates of Adrian Feint

Above: Adrian Feint, Bookplate for Ursula Hayward, 1937, woodcut. Collection of the Carrick Hill Trust; donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2017. Below: Max Dupain, Adrian Feint, 1939, gelatin silver photograph. Collection of Carrick Hill Trust; donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2017.

 

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Katarina Klaric explores the bookplates of Adrian Feint.

Adrian Feint (1894-1971) belonged to Sydney’s vanguard of stylish modernity in the 1920s and ’30s, to which he contributed a keen sense of innovative design in both his commercial and personal artistic endeavours. His graphic art capabilities were employed by the prominent cultural figure Sydney Ure Smith, in both his advertising agency, Smith & Julius, as well as in his influential art and lifestyle publications Art in Australia and The Home. Feint also found success in his landscape and flower oil paintings to which he dedicated the latter part of his career. However, it could very well be argued that it was in his ingenious skill at creating bookplates that he achieved mastery above all else. The recent exhibition Carrick Hill exhibition, Inside the Cover: The bookplates of Adrian Feint (7 March-30 June) highlighted his prolific output of bookplates, the adroit inventiveness of their designs, and the patrons for whom they were made.

These bookplates have been recently donated to Carrick Hill by collector Richard King, who has managed to bring together all but five of the 221 that Feint designed. The significance of their place at this institution lies in the relationship the artist had with the original owners, Edward (Bill) and Ursula Hayward, who were great patrons of the arts and knew and supported Feint during his career. The Haywards were established members of Australia’s cultural milieu, regularly providing their hospitality to prominent visitors to Adelaide and arranging exhibitions to promote artists they admired. They were thus linked to a broad network of people, many of whom ended up with a personalised bookplate by Adrian Feint.

Bookplates have a history almost as long as books themselves, and are essentially markers of ownership, thus commonly referred to as ex libris (from the books of…). Their significance traditionally lies in ensuring a claim on the object itself, books customarily holding the status of precious object, as well as acting as miniature representations of their owner, as one’s library was often seen as an extension of oneself. For this reason, bookplates often internalise their function in that they tend to contain personalised motifs that reflect the patron in a personal or symbolic way.

Feint’s bookplate for Ursula Hayward depicts a bust of a woman, presumably representing her, looking outwards through a curtained window onto a vista bearing resemblance to Carrick Hill’s view of Adelaide, where land melds into sea. Books are scattered around, reflecting the patron’s love of literature and the arts, and what appears to be boards of canvas upon which the bust’s reflection casts a shadow – perhaps representing Ursula’s nurturing influence on the work of artists she supported. This wood-engraving used three colours, with two of the original blocks also on show in the exhibition. Most of Feint’s bookplates used only one colour, usually black, dark green, dark blue or brown, though there are a number of examples with two or three used together.

Feint took up etching in the early 1920s, exhibiting with the Australian Painter-Etchers’ Society, and the Society of Artists, Sydney, and later becoming a regularly featured artist in The Australian Ex Libris Society, formed in 1923.[1] His first wood-engravings were made in the late 1920s while studying design with Thea Proctor, with whom, along with Margaret Preston, he worked closely through The Home magazine and interior design projects.[2] Grosvenor Galleries, which Feint co-founded with book-binder Walter Taylor in 1924, operated below Proctor’s studio on George Street, Sydney. The relationship between Feint and these artists is represented in the exhibition not only in the bookplates he made for them, but also in portraits with him as the subject, both Thea Proctor and Margaret Preston respectively having made sketches of him. There is also an oil painting by Nora Heysen made in 1940, where Feint’s dapper demeanor and introspective countenance is successfully captured, and his occupation as an artist-craftsman reflected in the etching and engraving instruments that he holds in his hands.

Besides artists, bookplates were commissioned from a great range of musicians, businessmen, politicians, writers (including Patrick White and Frank Clune), and even members of the British Royal family, including the Duke and Duchess of York and the Prince of Wales. This illustrious patronage indicates how highly esteemed Feint’s work as a bookplate artist was, and that his acclaim was internationally renowned. Even in America he won recognition when he was awarded first prize in a competition held by the Bookplate International Association in 1930, and later that year held a solo exhibition at the Library of Congress, Washington D.C., organised by the American Society of Bookplate Collectors and Designers.[3]

Feint’s talent in this field is evinced by his ability to produce so many unique miniature works for such a great variety of patrons, reflecting their own sense of character or position within the framework of his own artistic sensibility. There are some common themes that feature in numerous bookplates, namely maritime scenes and floral arrangements. His Elizabeth Bay apartment had an enviable view of Sydney Harbour which explains ships and boats as a favoured subject, yet it is remarkable how he was able to render the reoccurring element of water in a different style for every print – he was rarely formulaic. Flowers were always a specialty for Feint and he largely resigned from commercial and graphic work altogether in 1938 so that he could concentrate on oil painting and develop the floral still-lifes with which he is now closely associated. Adrian Feint was a man of many talents but his contribution to the art of the bookplate in Australia and abroad is especially worthy of mention, which this exhibition commendably brought to attention.

[1] Richard King, ‘Adrian Feint’s Bookplates’, Adrian Feint: Cornucopia. Ed. Richard Heathcote, Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2009, p. 32.

[2] Roger Butler, ‘Biography’, Adrian Feint: Cornucopia. Ed. Richard Heathcote, Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2009, p. 12.

[3] Richard King, ‘Adrian Feint’s Bookplates’, Adrian Feint: Cornucopia. Ed. Richard Heathcote, Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2009, p. 33.

Bridget Hillebrand: Rockfall

Above: Bridget Hillebrand, Eclipse 19, 2018, linocut frottage and solvent transfer, 33 x 21 cm. Right: Bridget Hillebrand, Revisited I, 2018, linocut on silk and canvas, 24 x 21.5 cm. Below: Bridget Hillebrand, Revisited IV, 2018, linocut and stitching, 24 x 21.5 cm.

Bridget Hillebrand discusses her new exhibition Rockfall, at the Art Vault in Mildura.

What were some of the foundation ideas for Rockfall and how did you work with them?

BH: Through an investigation of site and social histories my art practice explores the relationship we have with specific cultural landscapes. As a rock climber I am particularly interested in how the action of climbers are incorporated into written representations of place. The maps and language climbers use to describe climbs presents us with a glimpse of the landscape through their eyes and a different mode of perception. It is this intimate language and mapping of place that my works draw on.

What are some of the works in the exhibition and how did they evolve?

BH: The series of unique state prints consist of linocuts on transparent and opaque sheets which are machine sewn and hand stitched to form layers of images and text. The texts were sourced from my conversations with climbers, their journals and climbing guides. I am interested in these texts as they reflect a language and terminology unique to climbing. They also reveal climbing events recalled by climbers who have inscribed the landscape with their own personal stories. Descriptions of climbing routes (also known as climbing lines) provide a mapping process through which climbers navigate their path on the rock. It is through establishing climbing routes on the rock and repeatedly using them, that climbers establish proprietary right over territory and place. Each time a new climbing guide is published, selected climbs are removed from view, become unseen and mask events of previous human engagement. The layered printed silk and transparent papers act as a veil, hiding and revealing descriptions of climbs and hand written notes, mirroring how descriptions of climbs are altered and rewritten over time.

What is your attraction to printmaking and how did it initially manifest?

BH: I am inspired by the endless capacity of the printed image to be changed and reworked. The tactile nature of carving a block and its ability to be printed, reprinted and overprinted in a variety of ways stimulates my imagination and encourages me to experiment with new ideas. Within the framework of a certain consistency each print has a subtle life, an individuality of its own.  It is also the interaction of ink and its support and how different supports react, behave and translate to other formats such as art objects and installations that inspire diversity of scale. My intimate prints on a sheet of paper now often gives way to large scale sculptural works and installations.

What are some of the possible ways viewers might experience this exhibition as a whole?

BH: Rockfall explores how climbers continue to share a common understanding of a particular reading of the landscape. The series of small unique state prints encourage the viewer to be drawn in and look closely at the subtle nuances of printed and stitched line.  There are slight transitions of muted tones printed on cut and torn silk, canvas, cloth and paper. The clarity and legibility of the text is sometimes undermined by the use of printed overlays. As the viewer moves, the transparent layers cause the text to shift in and out of focus. Reminding the viewer that just as a particular reading of the landscape is in a constant state of flux, our perceptions and memories will also fade over time.

What: Rockfall, new prints and works on paper by Bridget Hillebrand. Bridget will also be conducting a Chiaroscuro Linocut Print Workshop at the Art Vault on Saturday 7 July 10am – 5pm

Where: The Art Vault, 43 Deakin Avenue, Mildura

When: 4-23 July. Opens Wednesday 4 July 6pm

 

Libris Awards: Australian Artists’ Book Prize, 2018 – Artspace Mackay

Above: Clyde McGill, Witness, 2016, etching, letterpress, gold leaf, ink and graphite on BFK 270gsm, edition 3/6, 39 x 46 x 3 cm. Right: Michelle Vine, Contested Biography I (quadrat), 2017, cyanotype on altered book, stitched, 138 x 216 cm. Below: Judges Helen Cole and Roger Butler. Bottom: Jamian Stayt, Tagged, 2018, photography, vintage library card, cardboard and cloth on paper, 111 x 68 cm. Far bottom: Jenna Lee,  A plant in the wrong place, 2016, copper plate etching, image transfer, 16.5 x 13 cm. Photography: Jim Cullen.

Doug Spowart reports on the 2018 Libris Awards: Australian Artists’ Book Prize, held at Artspace Mackay.

In the judge’s opening remarks of the 2018 Libris Awards, judge Roger Butler[i] described the judging process that he and fellow judge Helen Cole[ii] encountered as ‘demanding and challenging’. The preceding month the two judges individually reviewed the 143 entrant’s statements and the accompanying images of the books. After consultation this yielded the selection of 74 finalists that were then judged in the physical exhibition space of Artspace Mackay.

Now in its sixth iteration, the Libris Awards: Australian Artists’ Book Prize gathers biennially the largest selection of contemporary artist books in Australia. The judges concurred that they found their encounter with the physical books at Artspace as: ‘Immensely enjoyable for both of us … it’s just wonderful to come here and see so many wonderful things that we did not know about, and artists we didn’t know about as well…’

Clyde McGill won the $7000 Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal National Artists’ Book Award. ‘Winning this award is an extraordinary thing,’ he said on winning. ‘Working as an artist is extraordinary fun, how lucky am I?’ McGill was the winner of the first Libris Award in 2006. McGill’s work, which includes a performance video, documented his response to the destruction of ancient Aboriginal petroglyphs at Murujuga on the Burrup Peninsula in Western Australia.

The Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal National Altered Book Award of $3000 went to Michelle Vine’s Contested biography 1 (quadrat).

The work consists of a contested German biography that had been disbound and re-assembled as a flat patchwork of sewn pages over-printed in cyanotype with images of birds and flora.

The $2500 Mackay Regional Council Regional Artists’ Book Award went to Jamian Stayt for his book Tagged. Jamian’s book deals with the question of how today with digital technology, everything, including people, is classified and invites the reader to redefine themselves.

The Artspace Mackay Foundation Tertiary Artists’ Book Award of $2000 was won by Jenna Lee for her work A plant in the wrong place, a boxed set of etchings that comment on and compare the way both botanists and typographers rely on the concepts of ‘type’ specimens.

The Libris Awards will be on show until August 19 and will inspire and inform local artists of the diversity of the artist book discipline. And there can be no doubt that this award will attract visitors to Mackay to see the assembled books. A comprehensive illustrated catalogue and other Libris Awards information can be accessed here:

http://www.artspacemackay.com.au/whats_on/libris_awards

 

[i] Roger Butler AM is Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Australia. An expert in his field, Butler has written widely, curated and lectured on Australian prints and their place in the Asia/ Pacific region. In 2011 Butler was appointed a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia for services to the visual arts.

[ii] Helen Cole, former Coordinator of the Australian Library of Art, was the second guest judge for the 2018 Libris Awards. With a career spanning over 30 years, Cole is an expert in the field of rare and artists’ books. 

Rachael Lee: The Biophilia Connection

Above: Rachael Lee, Beyond the Elements Series, 2016-2018, Multi-plate collagraphs, stencils, linocut, pencil, wax pastel, varnish on Somerset mounted on aluminium composite panels, 11.85m x 2.1m. Photography Carl Warner 
Right: Rachael Lee, Lost, 2017, Charcoal, pigmented ink and pencil on Tiepolo watercolour paper, 105 x 78cm paper size. Photography Carl Warner. 
Below left: Rachael Lee, Chrysalis no.6, 2017, Collagraph, stencils and linocut on Somerset, piercings, LED, fixings, varnish, 30 x 22 x 87cm. Photography Louis Lim. 
Below right: Rachael Lee, Deep, 2018, Collagraph embossing, stencils, collage, mylar, metallic thread, piercings, varnish on Somerset mounted on 19mm deep cradle board, 30.5 x 22.9cm. Photography Rachael Lee 
Bottom: Rachael Lee stencilling at Impress Printmakers Studio and Gallery, Brisbane. Photography Kay Watanabe

The Biophilia Connection

By Jay Dee Dearness

Biophilia, the hypothesis that proposes that humans possess inherent tendencies to seek out connections with nature and other forms of life was first popularised by Edward O. Wilson (an entomologist) in his 1984 book of the same name1.  It is this kind of nature based connection which can be seen so strongly running as an evolutionary process through Rachael Lee’s work.  An embedded and enduring connection to nature and her place within it – her local environs of Logan, Queensland.

Rachael is a self-confessed collector of the debris from nature’s floor.  Her early artistic memories include affixing these found objects to walls in her home – a soothing act of re-connecting the artist to nature and a literal attempt to pour nature back into her built environment.  These biophilic connections have coursed through her work since 1993 and run in tandem with clear growing evidence supporting the restorative qualities of biophilic attributes for the purposes of promoting recovery of stress and mental fatigue2.  It is little wonder then that her work has been collected by both the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast University Hospitals.  Rachael now limits her own collecting to two glass terrariums full to the brim with these found objects in the leafy surrounds of her studio nestled amongst the trees.  These pieces of soft bark, seed pods and leaves act as triggers for moments of transportation back to nature.  The artist takes any opportunity she can to continually immerse herself in green spaces such as Springwood Conservation Park and Underwood Park; these forming the visual inspiration behind this latest series of work.

Art is therefore a meditative therapy for Rachael.  The act of viewing and interpreting nature provides her with calm and focus in other areas of her life.  This was of vital importance over the last two years as this exhibition evolved.  January 2016 marked the start of this project and saw Rachael undergo a Regional Arts Development Fund supported two week residency at Megalo Print Studio and Gallery in Canberra and a mentorship by esteemed artist and printmaker G.W.Bot.  Bot is a fellow collector and the time spent with her reminded Rachael of the need to be mindful and focus, that slow absorption was required for a successful outcome.  Printmaking is ideal for this; it is the art of the obscure (much like those found objects) – rewarding those who take the time for closer inspection.

The residency also allowed the artist to formalise a layering process which was revisited from work begun in 2009 linking reuse and recycling in a move towards abstraction.  Rachael was not yet a printmaker but was already attempting to develop a layering technique that reflected this biophilic state of being and an expedient alternative to hand drawing.  As a result, all except five of the works shown in this exhibition are Collagraphs.  A fine art print made from collaged materials glued down to printing plates which have then been inked and run through a printing press in various ways, overlapped with stencils and linocuts.  Collagraphs are therefore built up in layers, much like the leafy floor of a bushwalk – a soft layering up of organic matter.  Like this organic matter, many of the pieces (Collagraphs being experimental in nature), have been repositioned and repurposed into the ecosystem of Rachael’s work to fit the shape of her latest solo exhibition which marks her most unified work to date in terms of technique, output and connotations.

An Arts Queensland grant permitted the artist additional time to devote to her practice and access to facilities at Impress Printmakers Studio and Gallery, Brisbane from 2016 through 2017.  This provided her with the resources necessary to produce the leading images of this exhibition, the Beyond the Elements Series.  This series responds to Springwood Conservation Park in a way that breaks free of the traditional presentation and representation of nature.  Every level of nature itself is explored in progression like a walk on a stone path from the earth to the trees, then on to water, the air, and back to aether.  Much of the work that underpins biophilia comes from environmental psychology and the Attention Restoration Theory which is based on two main areas of study.  The first area of study is Structural Developmental Theory of which Peter Kahn is the main scholar3. He closely observes cultural and biophilic relationships for health and well-being.  The artist experienced this effect first hand from 2016 at the start of the project when a series of medical issues affected her physical well-being.  The time spent in this serene natural environment, for the artist, was like stepping back in time to a peaceful existence.  The act of making based from this contact with nature provided her with a much needed calming and restorative effect.

Happy accidents were also an outcome of making whilst recovering from the various procedures and therapies.  An evolutionary process; the artist had to adapt her artistic output to what her body could handle, moving from strict collagraphs to stencils and blind embossing – uncovering within that new and exciting textures.  Elements of this metamorphosis can be seen on close inspection of Beyond the Elements Series and the Chrysalis Series along with the individual prints, reflecting back glimpses or snippets of this process – steps along the evolutionary curve.

The second main causative theory for the biophilia hypothesis is Stress Recovery Theory of which Roger Ulrich and Yannick Joye have been the main contributors4.  This theory outlines the direct benefits of nature in stress reduction which the artist found in Underwood Park.  The ducks and accompanying pond were the perfect restorative environment and provided Rachael with great joy whilst recovering from another two surgeries in 2017 and the following radiation treatments.  Lost (which was made during her radiation treatment) highlights what the artist herself describes as a rambling, chaotic, unsettling state she experienced during this time – a reflection on the state of her mind after a period of not being able to make art.  A Pond Reflection was made after Rachael was able to get back into the studio on a regular basis.  The calming effect of the ducks, dappled light of the trees and movement of the water integrating into this second artwork and reflecting a more peaceful inner state.

To understand Rachael’s work is to understand the nature of biophilia itself.  Neuroscience and social psychology are only just starting to explore the depths of our connection to nature but Rachael has already been exploring this concept for over 20 years in her work.  Envisage – unseen rhythms was a direct response to this feeling of a connection to, and absorption with the positive experience of nature based environments and the unseen forces that create this attraction.  Only roughly five per cent of the universe is visible to the human eye.  Dark Energy is an unknown form of energy that repels gravity and accounts for approximately 70 per cent of space, occupying the entire universe and causing its expansion to accelerate5.  The ‘negative space’ in Rachael’s work acts as a visual metaphor for what dark energy might be?  And what it might look like?  This is depicted most clearly by the representation of the ‘critters’, the physical output of forces exerted by the artist on her medium of creation.  Unseen and unknown forces like the first single celled amoeba that activated nature as we know it.  Forces that still physically and subconsciously affect us through seen and unseen rhythms, bringing dark energy and matter to light through biophilic engagement.

For Rachael Lee, this solo show marks her most ambitious project yet.  It has truly connected her to her local natural environment within Logan and acted as a tool for regeneration at a time of great physical stress.  Rachael acknowledges the importance of nature and how central this, in conjunction to her arts practice, is for her wellbeing.  She has stated herself that she cannot produce anything that doesn’t stem from beauty because for her art is about erring on the side of hope and acknowledging our very physical nature – both known and unknown, seen and unseen.

Notes:

  1. Edward O. Wilson, The Biophilia Hypothesis, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1984.
  2. Kaitlyn Gills and Birgitta Gatersleben, A Review of Psychological Literature on the Health and Wellbeing Benefits of Biophilic Design, Buildings 5, 2015, p. 959.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Yannick Joye, Biophilic Design Aesthetics in Art and Design Education, University of Illinois Press, Chicago, 45 (2), p. 17-35.
  5. Interview with Rachael Lee, 5 March 2018.

 

Envisage – unseen rhythms is at Logan Art Gallery in Queensland 15 June-21 July.

This project is supported by the Regional Arts Development Fund, a partnership between the Queensland Government and Logan City Council to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland.

 Rachael Lee is supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland.

Jay Dee Dearness is a Brisbane-based printmaker, curator and designer.  She is a past vice-president of Impress Printmaker’s Group Brisbane, operated Myrtle Street Studio (a print and paper ARI) and is commencing her postgraduate research this year on the impact of art, culture and biophilia for wellbeing in the workplace.  Jay Dee has exhibited internationally and is a certified WELL Accredited Professional for health and wellbeing in the built environment through the International WELL Building Institute.

 

Jenny Kitchener: Pollinate

Above: Jenny Kitchener, Parrott and Honeyeater. Right: Sighted Beetle III. Below: The Family Portraits folder.

 

 

 

Jenny Kitchener discusses her latest exhibition, Pollinate.

What were some of the foundation ideas for Pollinate and how did you work with them?

My two previous solo shows, Array, (2014) and Folly, (2015) attempted to highlight the decline of the pollinating insects, which include bees, wasps, beetles, butterflies and moths. The indiscriminate use of insecticides and habitat loss are important contributing factors in this decline. These insects are essential to many plants reproductive cycles and for the future biodiversity of the planet.

Pollinate continues this concern, shifting the main focus to the pollinating birds. Australia is unusual in that our birds are globally outstanding as pollinators. The two main pollinating families of birds are the parrots and the honeyeaters. Eucalypts and paperbarks, which form vast forests, are just some of the bird pollinated trees favoured by the honeyeater family. If we lose these birds, we lose the forests.

What are some of the works in the exhibition and how did they evolve?

In the service of trees: bird pollinators – (This linocut was selected by the Print Council of Australia as part of their 2017 Print Commission). This print is a pictorial celebration of the two major pollinating bird families in Australia. The two bird images have been appropriated from some of the very first European depictions of these birds (made by First Fleet artists). Each bird is surrounded by a plant species which it often pollinates. The two bell jars are a reminder of how we tend to place ourselves apart from ‘nature’, and so fail to appreciate the holistic workings of our biosphere. (This print was directly influenced by the book ‘Where Song Began’ by Tim Lowe).

Family: Psittacidae (parrots) & Family: Meliphagidae (honey-eaters) I have reused parts of the above print (and added a collaged full colour version of each bird) which I have then framed in elaborate antique portrait-style frames, in much the same way as we lovingly frame photographs of our own family members. In so doing, I hope to elevate the bird families’ status in our own eyes, and highlight the valuable work that these wonderful creatures perform in their role as pollinators.

Here & there, Bird song & Glimpse – these three artworks are all monotypes. They were printed utilising local plant species found in different specific locations. This is a technique which allows you to print directly from the plant itself, thus producing an accurate and detailed reproduction of its features. This manner of printing harks back to a method known as ‘nature printing’ which dates to the fifteenth century and was used to document different plant types. The plants, along with representations of birds, celebrate the close connection between plants and birds and the interconnectedness of nature.

Sighted – in this series of cut-out silhouettes of various insect pollinators I am once again referencing the idea of the portrait. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries black cut-out silhouettes of heads, often in profile, were a popular way of depicting family members. These insects are pinned to a screen printed background of plants – a reference to the insects pinned for display in biological collections.

Family portraits: Psittacidae & Meliphagidae – this folio of four small linocuts, each with a portrait of a bird head, is alluding to the same ideas as found in the bird family prints (the idea of the family portrait) but in this case, bringing an intimacy to the relationship between the viewer and the bird as the viewer has to handle the print, rather than viewing it behind glass. The storing of prints in a folio is one of the earliest ways of presenting prints. The folios were stored in drawers and only brought out occasionally to be viewed.

The Encroachment seriesan occasional series of mixed media prints are at once both whimsical and serious. The imagery includes various parts of birds, insects and plants floating on a screenprinted bush background. Placed in amongst this natural setting are unnatural objects such as light bulbs and USB sticks which represent the on-going and seemingly insatiable human-centred encroachment into even the last wild places.

You work with various materials beyond printmaking itself – why and how?

Some ideas need other materials or techniques to realise the various concepts I am trying to get across. For example, in the Sighted series I have pinned black silhouette paper cut-outs of insects onto screen prints. The pinned cut-out references scientific display methods and is also alluding to the silhouette portrait. Under glass presents a series of different sized paperweights with prints, displayed on an oval mirror.

For me,  the manner of the presentation of the work is also important. For instance, the antique portrait frames used in Family: Psittacidae (parrots) & Family: Meliphagidae (honey-eaters) give the prints another layer of meaning, that of the family portrait. I will also often hark back to traditional methods of presenting prints. The folio is used to present the four prints in Family portraits: Psittacidae & Meliphagidae and boxes are used to house a series of small monotypes in Small Treasures I and II. Both folios and boxes (solander) have been traditionally used to protect and present prints, before framing became more common.

The format of a print or series of prints can also add extra layers of meaning. In many of the works in  ‘Pollinate’ I have used an oval format as an important signifier. The oval shape has often been used to frame or enclose portraits of people and I have appropriated this tradition and extrapolated it to ‘frame’ portraits of bird family members.

What are some of the possible ways viewers might experience this exhibition as a whole?

One of the buildings at the Grafton Regional Gallery is a lovely old nineteenth century two storey house. I selected this particular space in the lovely ‘Prentice House’ as I knew the interior would work well with the manner in which I wanted to present the work: the use of antique frames, and folios and boxed prints presented in an elegant display cabinet. I also have the sound of birds, recorded from my verandah at home, playing very quietly in the exhibition space.

Jenny Kitchener: Pollinate is at Grafton regional Gallery until 27 May