Review: Frank Stella

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Frank Stella, Star of Persia II 1967, from the ‘Star of Persia’ series 1967
lithograph, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Purchased 1973

Frank Stella: The Kenneth Tyler Print Collection,

National Galley of Australia, Canberra (until July)

Reviewer: Peter Haynes

This exhibition highlights a selection of works from 1967 to 2000 created by artist Frank Stella and master printmaker Kenneth Tyler and drawn from the NGA’s incredibly rich collection of international prints.

While the overall hang is essentially chronological there has been some play with this in the initial section of the exhibition. Works from a number of series from the 1960s and early 1970s are placed variously but relationally around the walls as one enters the exhibition. The works from the 1960s (the Black series (1967); the Star of Persia series (1967); the V series (1968); and the Copper series (1970) are each characterised by a particularly singular elegant minimalism. The simple geometries (reinforced by the deliberately limited palettes) of the forms belie the expressive depth held in each graphic iteration. Stella’s highly effective use of the positive and negative spatial configurations on the paper prefigures the exuberant yet simultaneously controlled dynamism of the later works. The artist’s use of serial imagery, his signature repetition, does not signify “sameness”. Rather it announces the individuality of each print while concurrently asserting and celebrating familial similarity throughout each series.

As we progress into the 1970s colour begins to become more dominant and varied, yet it still remains constrained by the geometric forms in which it sits. Here this is beautifully exemplified in the Newfoundland series of 1971. Arcs, squares, rectangles and elliptical forms populate overall square matrices. The layered combination of forms invested with an equally varied colour palette imbues each work with a wonderful sense of immanence, a feeling that the forms and colours will explode from the paper as indeed they will as one moves through the exhibition. The flat (though bright) colours of the above are exchanged for a more explicitly graphic delineation in the works from the Eccentric series (1974).  The forms are almost “coloured in” with networks of singly coloured lines contained within each. Forms overlay and abut in combinations that speak of the eccentricities of the series’ title. Stella’s extraordinary aesthetic inventiveness is clearly evinced in the curator’s selection of early work and is for me a highlight of the exhibition.

The implied spatial dynamism of the above is liberated into exuberant expression in the early 1980s. A particularly seductive piece is Pergusa three double from the Circuits series (1982-84). This is a visual tour de force full of surface vitality and rhythmical spatial patternings. Its myriad colours aligned with graphic marks and sinuous arabesque forms presents a celebratory sensuousness that is visually enveloping and intellectually engaging. The selection from the Swan Engravings (1982-85) exquisitely highlights Stella’s and his printer’s consummate understanding of the medium (viz. etching) and the strength of aesthetic limitation. The use of black (in varying shades) is beautifully appropriate and creates a dense and rich confection. The artist’s versatility is further underscored by the inclusion of Had Gadya (1984). There is an almost explosive collision of forms that allied with a considered use of blue tones imbues that marvellous sense of immanence that becomes a given in Stella’s aesthetic treasury.

Moving into the 1990s the artist wholeheartedly embraces a Baroque lyricism and energy where harmonious combinations of colour, line and swirling (almost centrifugal) forms speak of the painterly possibilities of the graphic media. Stella does not ever feel limited by his technical choices. He is able to draw from whatever medium he chooses the most expressive content to suit his aesthetic and thematic ends. Works from the Moby Dick series (1991 and 1992) clearly illustrate this. The Moby Dick domes series (1992) remain however for me an aberrant inclusion – just too tricky. You don’t need to be too literal in signifying (unstated) possibilities! Understatement is so much more persuasive.

This is a really good exhibition exemplifying within a limited selection the great versatility, brilliance and talent of Frank Stella. It also celebrates the unlimited possibilities innate in print media and how the coming together of one individual’s aesthetic genius with another’s astute understanding of his various media moves art beyond its materials and techniques into great expressive moments.

The book accompanying the exhibition is highly recommended.

Peter Haynes is a curator, art historian and art writer. He is currently a critic for The Canberra Times. In September 2016 his monographic study on printmaker and painter Helen Geier was published by 2B in Canberra.

Postcard: Katy Mutton at ArtSpace, Sydney

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Clockwise from top: Exploring stitching; visiting Cicada Press;
                                                                                                            investigating laser press effects; and, below, some new ideas.

In June 2016 I received an email from the Print Council of Australia to advise that I had been awarded an ArtSpace residency for my commission screen print The Stack. Coincidently it was my birthday and I would have been hard pressed to think of a nicer present. I haven’t spent much time in Sydney so it was very exciting when in October, I found myself in the heart of the city, occupying a spacious self-contained studio at ArtSpace. I remember, having moved all my materials into the studio, I sat down on the sofa, taking in the silence and pondering the remarkable opportunity I had been presented with.

The spaces are fantastic, with high ceilings and large floor areas, exposed brickwork and big timber beams. The building, known as The Gunnery was built about 1900 and was used at one time by the Australian Navy as a gunnery and training facility. The Australian Navy is still present with their fleet base just nearby. In fact the view from my studio window looked directly out to some of these huge naval ships.  Given my practice has focused so much on the machines of war and our relationship with them, it seemed so fitting that I should be occupying such a space.

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ArtSpace is in Woolloomooloo; the suburb is a surreal mix of creeping gentrification and remaining public-housing stock.  The wealth that exists in the area emanates from Finger Wharf where multi-million dollar apartments sit above fine-dining restaurants. Just a few blocks back is a very different world where the homeless gather their day’s pickings behind boarded-up terrace houses. Just a five-minute walk in the opposite direction is the Royal Botanic Garden where groups of children gather on the lawns, eating sandwiches on their school excursions. Turn back nearer the city and you can retreat into the Art Gallery of New South Wales or walk further on to the State Library of NSW. It’s an exceptional environment to take time to wander and think.

An artist residency is as much about thinking as making and having the space to experiment. In residence my days lose their structure as I am consumed by practice. I work till 3am, sleep till 9am, work till 4pm, gather food and return to work through the night.  I used my time while undertaking this residency mainly to draw and plan for future works. I also spent a lot of time stitching on paper and mark-making. These are elements of my practice, which help me to work through ideas and allow me to absorb myself completely in process.

In addition to being in residence at ArtSpace I was also given access to the UNSW Art and Design department workshops where I was given a generous tour of their facilities. They showed me through several studios, Cicada Press and their ‘Maker Space’.  I was particularly keen to learn more about their collaborative making area where they foster an interdisciplinary environment for learning and sharing through technology. I was able to develop samples using their laser-engraving machine, which I hope will be the foundation for further experimentation with different substrate materials for printmaking. The ArtSpace staff were very welcoming, especially Lola Pinder who took time to take me over to UNSW and gave me lots of useful information about the area.

Late in the residency I held an open studio, prior to the Hungry Eyes Symposium at the Art Gallery of NSW. I enjoyed being able to discuss my practice with the group, which included members of the Print Council, ArtSpace staff and some of the other ArtSpace residents. I’m very grateful to the Print Council of Australia for providing me with this opportunity and to ArtSpace for being so supportive and accommodating. The experience has left me with plenty of new ideas and direction and I’m looking forward to spending more time in Sydney in the future. – KATY MUTTON

Katy Mutton is an interdisciplinary visual artist based in Canberra, Australia, working across drawing, painting, print and installation.

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2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: Rujunko Pugh

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Rujunko Pugh

Why do you make art?

The art world is the best-suited field for how my brain is wired. I first tried to make a career out of science, but with that choice I found that I was continuously unfulfilled and unhappy. Initially, I went in the more analytical direction, because I thought it was the best way for me to give back to society. After being fully involved and invested in the arts now for many years, I have discovered that it could also be used as a tool to evoke questions about important issues.

Within the art world environment is where I feel the most comfortable. I remember when I took my first art-history, survey class after switching from science to art. When we covered biographies of some of the artists, it was the first time I could truly identify with others in a specific occupation. I knew then and there that art was for me.

Lastly, from a more romantic point of view, when I make art from start to finish, the process is effortless. When I am in the zone, space and time cease to exist. Ideas occur and materialize before my eyes. I love everything about it, like creating a composition, piecing together the signifiers, constructing a visual language, selecting the materials, prepping a screen, printing on paper, etc. It is so satisfying that I almost feel guilty and indulgent when I make art.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

I practiced photography for several years and printmaking seemed to be the natural progression. My main medium is screenprinting, and a lot of what I do is digital. I love the technical aspect on the computer, but the real pleasure is applying the ink onto paper. My obsessive-compulsive side comes in handy when it comes to registration. I have to say that I have only been screenprinting for about 5 years now, so I still have a lot to learn. I am slowly getting to know the printmaking community in Sydney and how incredibly generous they are with their time and knowledge. Recently, I learned a lot about etching from a talented printmaker, Janet Parker-Smith, who works at Sydney College of the Arts, and hope to utilize this new skill in some future work.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

Before I moved to Sydney, I lived in Washington, D.C., where I met Kristina Bilonick, the founder of Pleasant Plains Workshop, an art incubator and gallery. Pleasant Plains hosts a residency for artists, who all happen to be screenprinters. I was fortunate to become one of them after taking a screenprinting lesson taught by Kristina. Being part of the artists in residence group was a great experience. My colleagues all had good creative energy and strong printmaking skills. It was fun and motivating, and I learned a lot.

How did you approach making your submission for the PCA Print Commission?

I had already developed the graphic style of the kimono figures with the gas masks while enrolled at SCA in the Masters of Contemporary Art coursework program and chose the PCA Print Commission as an outlet to take it further. With the piece for the print commission, I experimented with the appropriation of decorative Japanese textile patterns from the 19th century and the use multiple layers of colours.

Whose work have you been enjoying lately?

I am loving are so many artists right now, but I’ll only mention a couple: Lorna Simpson’s new work in a solo show at Salon 94 Bowery in New York and Tony Albert’s Ashtray series. Both artists make smart use of imagery in their work to convey themes of identity and social politics that are so important and relevant today. For Simpson’s show, she uses multimedia including screenprinting to showcase her signature serial style to create works that poetically illustrate the tumultuousness of the black, human condition in America. Albert’s etchings for his Ashtray series are a disrupting commentary on the troubling portrayal of Aboriginal people in Australian history and society.

Where do you go for inspiration?

My Japanese and African-American heritage is a huge source of inspiration. It wasn’t a big topic in our household growing up, so I have had to do some self-investigation, which started at the beginning of my MFA research. There is so much new information out there about identity, which is currently being re-examined in terms of the art historical context from a global perspective. For example, Kobena Mercer just published Travel & See through Duke University Press about “black diaspora art practices since the 1980s”. His reinterpretations and analyses of black artists’ work from the past to present feeds into my own work and research.

I also find inspiration on social media and am a big Instagram fan. I follow museums, galleries, and art magazines and journals from around the world. Online museum databases are also great to peruse. It is incredible how much is publicly available and accessible. Additionally, going museums and gallery shows is extremely useful. To see the artwork in person and its materiality in context to my own work helps me with initiating ideas.

What are you working on now?

My next major effort will be toward finishing my MFA degree at Sydney College of the Arts at the end of February 2017. I am writing a research paper and developing work for my graduation exhibition. This is pretty much consuming my life at the moment.

To view the 2016 commission prints visit the PCA website

E-Flyer 2016 PCA Print Commission

2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: Senye Shen

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‘My work is my experience of “being-in-the-world” and my inspiration comes from the observation of the everyday environment.’

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Why do you make art?

My ongoing interest is to unveil the essence of things – what sustains the visible world that becomes the core of my practice. My work is anchored in nature; and it is through visual sensation of movement to invite viewers into communion with infinite things, and to raise consciousness of ever-changing flows all around us.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

Installation, drawing and printmaking are part of my practice. Mostly, my drawings and prints are generated form my installations. It is about transferring an experience of installation from 3D into 2D, which often offers a different outlook that is quiet fascinating to me. And my work is realised in the space between representation and abstraction.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

Compare to drawing, printmaking has a great advantage on the notion of repetition and reproduce. Particularly, my print involves multiple plates; while variation can be achieved once few plates are completed. And my prints are very much emphasising this repetition of differences, it is a perfect medium for it.

How did you approach making your submission for the PCA Print Commission?

Trace IV is part of series that explore interference between lines and movements through different medium, instead of using copper plate or lino block, I chose woodcut this time, for the block already comes with embedded marks by the nature.

Whose work have you been enjoying lately?

Japanese visual artist Ryoji Ikeda’s work intersects science and nature by using data as material and theme, and to investigate the potential to perceive the invisible multi-data flow that is endlessly circulating in our mediated world. New York artist Julie Mehretu’s large-scale drawing-paintings reveal an ever-changing battlefield that signal a kinetic metaphor for a political world.

Where do you go for inspiration?

My work is my experience of “being-in-the-world” and my inspiration comes from the observation of the everyday environment, such as the circulation of air, the shifting of lights, and the whisper of the wind.

What are you working on now?

I have just posted two print installations (Drift 1 & Shifting Field) to London, as I am a finalist in the 2016 International Print Biennale in UK, which will be launched at Great North Museum at Newcastle University on 15th September. And as mentioned above, inspired by Julie Mehretu’s drawing-paintings, I consider returning to painting and making painting-installation one day, instead of making installation or print installation.

To view last year’s commission prints visit the PCA website

E-Flyer 2016 PCA Print Commission

Q&A with Rilka Oakley, Curator at the Blue Mountains City Art Gallery

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‘It is easy to put a bunch of art in a gallery but to tell a good story with artworks is the challenge. The marker of exceptional art is the impact on the viewer – when I am physically affected or emotionally moved by a piece of art I feel compelled to include it in an exhibition.’ 

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Rilka Oakley has been working in curatorial positions and arts administration since finishing her arts degree in Printmaking in the mid-1990s. She completed a Master of Art Administration from UNSW COFA in 1997 with an internship on the Australian exhibition fluent at the Venice Biennale. She worked at the Biennale of Sydney on the 1998 and 2000 editions in curatorial, venue management and catalogue management roles; she worked at Ivan Dougherty Gallery as Curator from 2000 until early 2009; and most recently at Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, Katoomba as Curator since October 2012.

How did you become interested in art and prints in particular?

I have always loved art – colour, texture, form, line, image – I like the way things fit together, or not. I am really drawn to contemporary art and this includes printmaking.

With regard to prints in particular I majored in printmaking at uni – I had done some in high school but it wasn’t until uni that I really got to understand the beauty of printmaking. I love the depths of black you can achieve with etching. The layering. The repetition. The textures. The image reversal. I particularly liked monotypes.

By the time I finished my undergrad I really wanted to work with other people’s art as much as make my own so I studied art administration and began working first at the Biennale of Sydney and then as Curator at Ivan Dougherty Gallery in Paddington. I continued to do my own art making and completed a Masters in Printmaking in 2004.

How do you view the role of curator?

For me a curator’s role is to bring out the best of an artwork, and in some cases an artist. Often as a curator I am solving problems – finding solutions to making an exhibition look the best it can. This isn’t so obvious with many exhibitions but with installations or other unique approaches to art there isn’t always an easy way to display the work.

I enjoy curating group shows and creating a conversation between works. I find it is the same creative energy that goes into curating as goes into art production. There is an urge to bring things together to illustrate a theme. It is also an intuitive process – it needs time and contemplation to get it right. It is easy to put a bunch of art in a gallery but to tell a good story with artworks is the challenge. The marker of exceptional art is the impact on the viewer – when I am physically affected or emotionally moved by a piece of art I feel compelled to include it in an exhibition.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while working as a curator?

The most challenging thing for me is working between the requirements of an institution and the vision of an individual artist. It’s like being an interpreter at times – making an artist’s vision possible within the constraints of budget, safety and time.

Can you tell us a bit about what a working day looks like for you?

My days can vary greatly depending on the stage of exhibition development. At the moment I curate three to four exhibitions per year and assist on installs for the other exhibitions in the gallery, so at any given time I will be dealing with all stages of development at once.

If I am curating a show then I work from a theme, I chose the artists and the works and then take the whole exhibition through to completion. In the early stages of exhibition development I might be out visiting artist studios and looking at lots of work. At other stages I will be doing a lot of administration: preparing loan agreements, sending emails, organising freight, discussing logistics. If it is an install week then I am in the gallery: painting walls, unpacking crates, condition reporting and physically hanging artworks. So you can see there is a lot of variety.

Who are your role models?

Victoria Lynn was an early role model in the 1990s. I interned with her at the Art Gallery of NSW where she was the Curator of Contemporary Art and I then travelled to Venice with her, Brenda Croft and Hetti Perkins to help with the installation of the exhibition fluent in the 1997 Venice Biennale. All three are amazing women and exceptional curators. I find I refer back to their exhibitions/styles/insights/sensibilities a lot when I am making curatorial decisions.

The other person who significantly influenced my career is Nick Waterlow. I first felt moved and excited by contemporary art when I saw his 1986 Biennale. I never thought I would end up working with him, but as it turned out I spent a significant amount of my career with him both at the Biennale of Sydney in 1999-2000 and then at Ivan Dougherty Gallery in 2000-2009 where he was Director. One thing in particular I learnt from him was how to see the good in an artwork that you might not personally like. He could see the point of what an artists was trying to say even if he didn’t care for the style. He could get to the essence of an artwork – see the artist’s thought process. He had a brilliant way with artists.

Often with a group show (not curated but a prize for example) the curator has no control over the content, and yet we have to install the exhibition and make it look wonderful. Nick was able to do this effortlessly by engaging with the intent of the artist and not being shy about placing bold works together. He taught me to tackle an exhibition head on, to deal with and appreciate the many different styles of art, not just my personal preferences.

Can you tell us a bit about the process of putting together Tracing the Line?

Curating Tracing the Line was lots of fun. It has been a journey through fifty years of Australian printmaking history. I discovered that the Print Council of Australia’s commissioned prints reflect and document the changing trends within print processes from the mid-1960s to date. The inclusion of photo etching and screenprints in the 1970s, heat transfer and colour copies in the 1980s through to the use of laser and inkjet printing in the 1990s and digital prints in the 2000s, finishing with a print on steel in 2015. The collection traces the development and progress of printmaking techniques across the five decades since its inception.

It also struck me that there was always a continued presence of the more traditional print processes. The skill and commitment printmakers have for techniques such as lithography, etching, aquatint, mezzotint, linocut – the appropriation of new technologies and processes has not replaced the traditional print process – it has simply given printmakers more tools to choose from.

Tracing the Line, curated by Rilka Oakley, is an exhibition of fifty works selected from the Print Council of Australia’s collection of over 500 Australian prints. As part of the PCA’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations, it opens following the Hungry Eyes symposium (Art Gallery NSW) at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre on 22 October and will be on display until 4 December.

2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: Katy Mutton

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‘I am a terrible fiddler – I often end up with smaller editions than I intended because I feel compelled to play with the prints – draw and paint on them, cut them up and create collages.’

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Why do you make art?

I’ve always made art, it’s a compulsion. Art is everywhere and the process of making is integral to my understanding of the world. It’s literally kept me alive and enables endless new experiences.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

I love printmaking – the process and the reveal are magical to me but I enjoy working in many different ways. I am a terrible fiddler – I often end up with smaller editions than I intended because I feel compelled to play with the prints – draw and paint on them, cut them up and create collages.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

I have always loved to draw and printmaking always felt like a natural extension of that practice. I made my first prints in high school, they were linocuts. I still remember how much I enjoyed making each mark and cutting back the surface. I loved them so much and still have those original linocut plates.

How did you approach making your submission for the PCA Print Commission?

In 2015 I was working on a series of acrylic paintings exploring tessellation techniques and pattern. I was really pleased with the final works, they were a true labour of love, I spent so much time working and reworking the layers. When the commission call-out came up I was talking with a friend and we both thought one in particular would work well as a screen-print. It was important to me that all eight colours were retained for the print edition as the transitioning colours, across geometric forms, add an illusory quality to the piece. The final version was eight layers but it was definitely worth the additional effort to keep those colour shifts.

Whose work have you been enjoying lately?

I admire many different artists for many different reasons.

I saw some fantastic linocuts by Ryan Presley on a recent trip to Darwin at MAGNT. I admire the work of Alison Alder who first taught me to screenprint at the ANU, Sally Smart, Michael Schlitz and Tony Albert. I probably relate to multi-disciplinary artists most particularly, as my work frequently transverses mediums.

Where do you go for inspiration?

My practice is heavily research based and I love to read. Living in Canberra I am fortunate to have access to many National Cultural Institutions who hold incredible collections. In the last year I’ve spent a lot of time researching at the National Library of Australia and had collection access at the Australian War Memorial – fantastically inspiring places to explore.

What are you working on now?

I have been working on a series of large screen-printed posters works, which portray contemporary military aviation in different contexts as a means to explore the politics behind Australia’s defence investments. I am also beginning to work on concepts for a series of lithographs and installation works, which I hope to develop over 2017.

Katy Mutton was the recipient of the Artspace Residency as part of the 2016 PCA Print Commission. Join us at Artspace before the Hungry Eyes symposium for drinks and a private viewing of the exhibition and studios on Thursday 20 October, 5.30–7 pm.

To view this year’s commission prints visit the PCA website, pick up a copy of the spring 2016 issue of Imprint (Vol. 51 No. 3), or visit one of the participating venue galleries listed below:

E-Flyer 2016 PCA Print Commission

Imagining Printmaking’s Future: Projecting from a Glass Half-Full Perspective

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Clockwise from top: Michael Kempson proofing Panda and Bamboo, 2016, a laser cut woodblock made in collaboration with Joseph Scheer from Alfred University, USA; One of four exhibition temples for the thirty-country exhibition International Academic Printmaking Alliance, 2016, Taimiao Art Gallery – Imperial Ancestral Temple, Working People’s Culture Palace, Tiananmen, Beijing, China; part of the Australian contribution to International Academic Printmaking Alliance, 2016, Taimiao Art Gallery – Imperial Ancestral Temple, Working People’s Culture Palace, Tiananmen, Beijing, China.

The following inspired address was delivered by master printer, artist and lecturer Michael Kempson at Australian Printmaking: Past and Present, a forum held at the National Gallery of Victoria on 8 October in celebration of the Print Council of Australia‘s fiftieth anniversary.

When I mentioned to a colleague, the Sydney-based etcher Bruce Latimer, that I was to offer some observations about printmaking’s future at this forum, his response was, ‘well it’s going to be a short talk then’. This droll glass half-empty reaction has developed in part from the irony inherent in the ongoing fascination for printmaking, which continues regardless of how depressing the outlook for it is in the world.

Some of the attitudes espoused by leading figures in the curatorial realm haven’t helped. Riva Castleman, a former Chief Curator of Prints at New York’s Museum of Modern Art wrote, ‘I don’t see printmaking – and never have – as a way of working out the basic problems of art. It’s too fraught with other technical problems.’[1] While her remarks reference the challenges that painters encounter in the interaction between print and painting modes of working, it did result in a horde of printmakers feeling considerably miffed.

Over its long history, printmaking has enjoyed periods of public and institutional acclaim, that compensate for the times when it falls out of favour. So, when printmakers gather rigorous debate will ensue: are we actually enjoying one of those phases of enthusiastic support, or suffering a period of neglect?

Trying to foresee printmaking’s positive cycles is as impossible as the folly of seeking to predict the future. I’m reminded of Fritz Lang’s classic 1927 dystopian fantasy Metropolis. As a vision of life in times to come it was bleakly entertaining, but in the course of even a few decades it proved to be fairly wide of the mark.

This is true of most futuristic depictions in literature and film. While it shouldn’t stop people trying, the limitation implicit is that every attempt to imagine the future is at heart an examination of the present. It’s as true for artists, in their conceptual prognostications, as it is for actuaries or technocrats who trade in forecasts and projections. Furthermore one just can’t foresee the subsequent ramifications of the unexpected shocks that change the world, a conceit embodied in the somewhat convoluted wisdom of Donald Rumsfeld, and his now infamous reference to ‘unknown unknowns’.[2]

The perennial promise of a Federal budget surplus means economists aren’t the great predictors they profess to be either, but they do understand statistics with great clarity. I approached one, Mark Cully, the Chief Economist in the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science in Canberra, to get some authoritative information. Coincidentally, he and I shared a common experience spending our developing years in Elizabeth during the 1960s and early 1970s. Elizabeth, situated in the industrial north of Adelaide, was a purpose built housing commission city for the future, and the first experiment in urban decentralisation in Australia. During this time, it was so mired with planning shortcomings that, with the subsequent social problems, it actually was a dystopian reality.

Imagine Australia when I was a child back in 1971. This was a period in our history when all but one in twenty people described their nationality as British and close to two in three women spent most of their time attending home duties. Among those who were formally employed, there were more priests and ministers of religion than lawyers, more metal trades workers than retail workers, more farmers than teachers. For those not continuing with school, the most common level completed was Year 8. Today, almost all secondary students complete Year 12 and there are around 4 million people with a degree, against 180,000 back in 1971. [3] One pertinent statistic in that year’s census was that 30,600 people identified themselves in the artist/entertainer/writer category; in 2011 the number was 75,800. In a population increase of 70% between 1971 and 2011, the growth in declared artists is 148%.[4]

Could anyone have predicted in the passage of those years such changed circumstances in the labour market or social and educational demographics? What then regarding the core challenges will we face in the future: from the diminishing supply of natural resources, food and water; the decline in the world’s natural habitats; the shifts in the world economy from west to east; an ageing population; and the connectivity immersing individuals, communities, governments and businesses at an ever increasing rate.[5]

The twentieth century ushered in the concept of human capital and the nuanced interplay between demand and supply, characterised in recent economic theory as a race between education and technology.[6] For technology to function a substantial skill-base is required for its development and application, which can only be met through the delivery of appropriate education. While a fiscal race, as an idea garnered in human experience, it can influence other contexts, as is the case in the world of cinema with the all too regular dire imaginings of dystopian scenarios if technology wins. But one can also argue that variants of these ideas have been used in shaping the development of art since the 1960s.

Canadian print artist and academic Walter Jule contributes thoughtfully on art education, particularly on its transformation over the middle and latter stages of the twentieth century. Changes, he says, that came in part as a response to the introduction of photo-mechanical means of reproduction and the subsequent range of influential theories that espouse such esoteric notions as the phenomenological critique and deconstructive post-modernism. He chronicles its effect, a realigning of the focus away from art grounded in a personal or privileged vision and by extension from craft-centred practice and technical virtuosity. Over time art schools began to restructure their programs to serve the paramount notion of the ‘idea’ that drives knowledge-based practice, the core focus of most contemporary visual art institutions in the world today. The resulting effects threatened resource intensive technologies with traditional associations, like printmaking departments, and proved to be detrimental to many of the students who inhabited them, particularly in the early 1980s when I went to art school.

Jule said, ‘The focus on critical theory at the expense of first-hand experience left students with a wealth of received ideas, but often short of the craft, technical skills and visual literacy to express these ideas convincingly in material form.’[7]

Think about the American painter Eric Fischl who peevishly recounts, ‘artists of my generation were not educated, we were not given the equipment for it was generally believed to be irrelevant. Drawing, hand eye co-ordination, art history – really relevant stuff – was considered unnecessary. We were made to feel from day one that we were, fully sprung from the womb, an artist. In fact, it’s incredibly disrespectful of the importance of history that we train people to be amateurs. I deeply resent the kind of flattery that replaced discipline. What experience has shown me is that it takes your life to become an artist.’[8]

Despite this, it is affirming that printmaking over the last fifty years has demonstrated a remarkable resilience. To quote Walter Jule, ‘it has resolutely refused to abandon its traditions and maintained the ability to reflect shifts in critical thought without resorting to extreme or reactionary positions.’[9] This is certainly debatable, for there are printmaking fundamentalists who deny progress by applying strict definitions, initially excluding offset prints and monotypes, and more recently digitally derived work from print exhibitions. While on the other hand there are those in academe and business who are so all encompassing in their definition of a print, or have exploited its nomenclature to such a degree, that it undermines the activity of making them.

While many hope this debate has well and truly moved on, in our changing educational market place – when a student begins to understand their ideas and working method, to explore options in what technology to deploy – their visual vocabulary will be reliant upon the experience and philosophy of their teachers and the resources of their host institution. Rather than just teaching what you know, an educator should be as equally passionate about the printmaking technology of seventh century China, or fifteenth century Europe, to complement the astounding potential to be discovered in the digital realm.

As we observe in the commercial world, Darwinian theory rules. Pressing deadlines mean it’s out with the old and in with the new for those required to maintain a competitive edge. But thankfully a more fluid sense of time reflects the contrary dynamic of the creative impulses found in artistic practice. In preparing students for the best way to communicate visually, individual choice dictates that for many state-of-the-art technology is the perfect vehicle for their ideas. So, with one eye on the future, why then should we bother with the hard physical graft of an arcane technology, when results are achieved with the click of a mouse?

One reason can be in the unique tactility recorded in traditional prints. The haptic manipulation of layering, scraping, cutting and polishing provides an experience of history, offered at an ideal mulling pace, so to best deal with the ‘basic problems of art’. When you work regularly, as I often do, with artists who have never made prints, there are preconceived ideas about what a print should be, but those assumptions change as they focus on the considerable challenge presented in this engagement. During this process, in each and every instance, artists end up inventing the medium anew, relative to their own inner predilections and in response to printmaking’s unique expressive range.[10]

Some however still question the place for traditional disciplines in research based institutions. Academic administrators, often captives to a balance sheet, have asked hard questions following successive cuts in federal funding. Their solutions have trickled down the chain of command, resulting in sporadic pruning of specific print mediums, or the complete removal of printmaking courses altogether from Australian universities. Even more stark is the axing of fine art faculties, as was the case in NSW with Western Sydney University nearly a decade ago, or the BFA program at the University of Newcastle at the beginning of the year, and as recently as a few months ago in the attempt to dismantle Sydney College of the Arts at the University of Sydney.

Despite this, there are structural adjustments slowly taking place in the print world where novel ways are being applied to re-balance the equilibrium and amplify a renewed interest. One benefit of cyberspace is the print networks established for the exchange of ideas and information that often lead to a transition from virtual to actual engagement in forums such as this. Allowing for the sharing of positive stories, such as those I have experienced in Australia and overseas, of people bringing to their teaching optimistic agendas, providing novice printmakers with the enthusiasm to unite material and concept, and sustain a practice into the future – thereby ensuring a future for our practice.

My own story at UNSW Art and Design started grimly in 2004 with a challenging meeting in the Dean’s office giving me a provisional year to prevent the closure of the printmaking department. Cicada Press was born as one way of rethinking the dynamic of personal and creative interaction, within and beyond the classroom. As a custom printing workshop it functions via an elective course, embedding crucial skills-based training in an open interaction with a diverse range of creative approaches offered by our invited artists. The collaborative relationship, inherent between an artist and custom printer, welcomes students into this art making process, who in turn contribute as an integral component in our creative partnership. Cicada Press coalesces dialogue, community, informal interactions and lived experience in learning and hopefully, through personal connection, a foundation for respect and mutual understanding is developed.

From a simple pedagogical experiment that sought to challenge ossified norms found in traditional printmaking instruction, Cicada Press has morphed into a research group at UNSW where the shared desire of its stakeholders is to pursue broader social and ethical goals. These have included: Annual Aboriginal Print Workshops that bring together a diverse range of early- and mid-career Indigenous artists to share and experiment in the dialogue of a new medium; projects aligning printmaking with environmental activism; international engagement that facilitates cross-cultural communication through print practice; and educational opportunities for artists with intellectual and physical disabilities that affirm the value of meaningful educational experiences, often out of reach for many in our society.

After a somewhat perilous beginning, Cicada Press is now a thriving, altruistic printmaking community, using a set of scenarios through the example of making to establish the foundations of a professional network. Combining diverse personalities and intergenerational experiences that nurture, and ultimately test, leadership potential, our students have a framework for life-long learning, so they ‘can deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world’.[11]

One significant prediction for the future, aligned with the race between technology and education, is manifest in the idea of the looming ‘post-work’ society.[12] An outcome, hinted at by futurists, that will see established industries decimated and hard-working, skilled people made unemployable, with the millions of manufacturing jobs that will be shed by technologies such as 3D printing. An antidote to this world requires a trait that is distinctly human – creativity. With secure jobs no longer assured, as more and more physical and mental tasks are commandeered by machines and software, why not actively encourage our future generations to go to art school, with the promise of a life of self-discovery? To create a world where we foster ideas to keep pace with technological advancements, by exercising the muscles of our imagination, ‘honing the skill that best ensures adaptability and resourcefulness during times of constant change’.[13]

We will always be heading into an unpredictable future so printmakers, like economists, should appreciate that there are valuable lessons to be learnt from history. To understand the phenomenal achievement of engineering found in the transition from traditional then photomechanical and now digital technologies, and in the science of how we combine pigment, oil, and water with paper, under pressure, to package and broadly circulate innovative ideas.

The incessant reminder of progress, apparent in a print studio, prepares us for the inevitability that things will and must change. However, in the same way that photography didn’t kill painting, despite the prediction of prophets as far back as the nineteenth century, many superseded print technologies continue to beguile; because the value isn’t in our ability to efficiently render images, but in the artist’s capacity, using all our six senses, to convey a unique viewpoint.

‘Most of us don’t actually see dead people but we do enjoy long enduring conversations with them through the products of culture. While it is true that artists learn as much from objects and the making of them as we do from people, we still need teachers in the studio because we must experience knowledge embodied in action.’[14] We all benefit from cherished mentors who have offered guidance and example at just the right time in our lives, but we should always remember that we are all both teachers and students depending upon the circumstances.

The best way to prepare the next generation to be informed and articulate contributors in this conversation is to teach them how to: understand history; find a mentor; build supportive networks; question current orthodoxy; be suspicious of prophets; believe in themselves; and be open to all the mediums of printmaking’s lexicon, within an expanded collegial structure for print education.

This includes all organisations dedicated to the exacting demands of nurturing an ongoing culture of connoisseurship for the print: from community studios and editioning workshops; museums and commercial galleries; the forums and symposia that set the agenda; the remaining print programs of our tertiary institutions; and most importantly, in its fiftieth year, our peak body, the Print Council of Australia.

To paraphrase that champion of rear-guard actions, the amateur painter Winston Churchill, ‘we shape our future, thereafter our future shapes us’. So instead of waiting dolefully for the next great print renaissance, let’s set aside fantasy. The time for action is now, and it is up to us to make it happen.

NOTES

[1] Riva Castleman, ‘New Prints of Worth: A Question of Taste’, The Print Collector’s Newsletter, Vol. 10, no. 4, 1979, p. 110.

[2] ‘Defense.gov News Transcript: DoD News Briefing – Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers, United States Department of Defense (defense.gov)‘.

[3] Mark Cully, ‘Industry and Workforce Futures’, CEDA – State of the Nation Conference address, 2015.

[4] 2011 Census Community Profiles, censusdata.abs.gov.au

[5] Stefan A Hajkowicz;Hannah Cook; Anna Littleboy, Our Future World: Global megatrends that will change the way we live, 2012, CSIRO, Australia.

[6] Claudia Goldin and Laurence Katz, The Race Between Education and Technology, 2008, Belknap Press.

[7] Walter Jule, ‘Survival tips for young artists in changing times’, 2015, keynote address for the Southern Graphics Council International, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.

[8] Eric Fischl in ‘Fischl’s Italian Hours’, Frederic Tuten, Art in America, November 1996, p. 79.

[9] Walter Jule, ‘Survival tips for young artists in changing times’, 2015, keynote address for the Southern Graphics Council International, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.

[10] From ideas linked to Walter Jule, ‘Survival tips for young artists in changing times’, 2015, keynote address for the Southern Graphics Council International, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.

[11] Richard Shaull, foreword to Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Thirtieth Anniversary Edition, 2005, Continuum, New York.

[12] Dustin Timbook, ‘If you want your children to survive the future, send them to art school’, Huffington Post, Feb 2, 2016.

[13] Dustin Timbook, ‘If you want your children to survive the future, send them to art school’, Huffington Post, Feb 2, 2016.

[14] Walter Jule, ‘Survival tips for young artists in changing times’, 2015, keynote address for the Southern Graphics Council International, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.

Michael Kempson is an artist and senior lecturer at UNSW Art and Design in Sydney. Since 2003, Kempson has initiated print-based research projects with over 200 artists at Cicada Press and curated over fifty exhibitions in the Asia-Pacific region. His upcoming solo exhibition Play Time will open at Flinders Street Gallery, Surry Hills, on 20 October, 6 pm.

2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: Gwen Scott

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‘I have spent years appreciating prints and printmaking and have collected a lot of Australian printmakers work but now it’s my turn to produce some of my own prints, I’m loving the deep and meaningful relationship I have with mixing up the inks, printing and getting surprised!’

gwenscott

Why do you make art?

Creating and appreciating art has always been part of my life. The process of creating something brings a lot of joy, calm and relaxation. I use colour a lot because that’s what really attracts me. Mixing and splashing paint or ink around is a lot of fun. Losing all sense of time and concentrating on something so intensely (but more often obsessively) is something that I enjoy doing.

Raised by artistic parents I saw my parents spend long periods of time in their studios and so was influenced greatly by their lifestyle, creative processes and joy of art.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

I have spent years appreciating prints and printmaking and have collected a lot of Australian printmakers’ work but now it’s my turn to produce some of my own prints. I’m loving the deep and meaningful relationship I have with mixing up the inks, printing and getting surprised!

How did you get interested in printmaking?

Through books on Rembrandt and William Blake and seeing prints by Lionel Lindsay, Thea Proctor, Eric Thake, Margaret Preston and Barbara Hanrahan at the Art Gallery of NSW when I was a teenager. My appreciation of printmaking has been ongoing for decades but my practice of it is more recent.

My practice didn’t manifest itself until well after art school. I did the compulsory semester of printmaking but it didn’t inspire me, so I majored in painting and drawing and spent numerous years after art school practicing painting, drawing, needlepoint tapestry and mosaics. Over the years I did revisit my rudimentary printmaking skills through workshops and short courses. However, the dedication and time wasn’t there. It wasn’t until 2010 when I had the time to focus on doing more and playing around with colour that I got hooked.

After retiring from working as a librarian for over twenty-five years, the last two and a half years have been spent developing my skill with linocutting and the reduction technique. The problem-solving aspect, the use of colour and the surprise effect you get using the reduction technique fascinates me.

How did you approach making your submission for the PCA Print Commission?

I had been working on a new body of work on the theme of Pomona and just worked further on that for the PCA commission. All the prints in this new series are colour reduction prints, so my intention was to produce a reduction print if selected. Initially, I submitted three prints that I liked the best from my new series for the first round of judging. Then when I had to produce a bon a tirer (B.A.T.) I chose to do a detailed colour gouache on paper in the dimensions of the intended print. Along with the gouache I submitted a Pomona print that I had done previously to show evidence of my work. Finally, I set about completing the artist’s proofs and the edition together as this was the only way I could do my reduction print unless I wanted to do it twice!

Whose work have you been enjoying lately?

A trip to Sydney this year to see the Grayson Perry show was a treat but discovering the work of an African artist El Anatsui at Carriageworks was even more inspirational. His large-scale installations of repurposed materials are sublime and at the same time tragic, a commentary on human waste and resourcefulness.

Where do you go for inspiration?

My immediate environment provides a plethora of motifs to work from so it starts there and the simple act of walking a few kilometres provides a wealth of imaginative ideas. Also, art books, art galleries and museums, the internet, music and film. My favourite interests are: surrealism, english landscape painting, the arts and crafts movement, animal art, early european tapestries and roman and greek mosaics.

What are you working on now?

A small edition for the PCA Inaugural print exchange, an edition for Australian Print Workshop‘s Impressions show as well as a solo show at the Boulevard@ Montsalvat in November.

To view this year’s commission prints visit the PCA website, pick up a copy of the spring 2016 issue of Imprint (Vol. 51 No. 3), or visit one of the participating venue galleries listed below:

E-Flyer 2016 PCA Print Commission

Seven Reflections on Uses for Printmaking

Earlier today Trent Walter, director of Negative Press, and artist John Nixon discussed Nixon’s print works as part of the special forum Australian Printmaking: Past and Present at the National Gallery of Victoria. In celebration of the PCA’s fiftieth anniversary, the forum involved a range of curators, practitioners and printers discussing printmaking both in terms of its history and contemporary practice. The following text is the transcript from Trent Walter‘s recent keynote speech delivered at Orogeny Print Symposium, hosted by the Tasmanian College of the Arts and the Henry Jones Art Hotel, 9–11 September, and expands nicely upon this idea of uses for printmaking in the present. 

I’d like to begin by thanking Jan Hogan for inviting me to talk with you all this morning. I would also like to thank Christine Scott for hosting me at the Henry Jones Art Hotel during my brief stay in Hobart. And finally, a hearty congratulations to all the artists exhibited at the Plimsoll Gallery as part of the symposium.

 

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Sister Corita’s workshop

In searching my hard drive for images in preparation for this address, I came across Sister Corita Kent’s Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules. It was something I reprinted for an exhibition at Monash University Museum of Art in 2014, and Corita’s attitude has remained with me. For those unaware of her work, Sister Corita was a pioneering, politically motivated artist and educator who made over 800 screenprint editions during her working life, after she entered the religious order Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Her ‘rules’, which include an emphasis on the line ‘The Only Rule is Work’ have inspired me to record these seven reflections on uses for printmaking. My reflections are by no means exhaustive, but they mirror my own experiences and preoccupations as an artist, printer and publisher working with printed matter. The theme of this symposium, Orogeny, also suggests a palimpsest: literally a series of stories written on top of each other, or old grounds rising to the surface. The stories I will now relate aim to peel back some of these layers and reveal substance to the traces, in this case artworks, that are what visibly remain.

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Sister Corita Kent’s Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules.

Reflection number 1: Why make a print?

I ask this question to my students at Monash University. Predominantly students of communication design, they are well versed in creating content digitally. In this environment, print is a method of output. Colours are tested on screen and content is added and deleted. Why make a print? I should say from the outset that I love the flexibility that digital technology has given to artists and I use it myself constantly. Though I am skeptical of the often thoughtless output of digital artwork. Actually, if I’m being honest, I have reservations about the thoughtless making of analogue prints too. Does their materiality make them relevant? Occasionally. Though I believe printmaking in general has more feeling when its content relates to its form.

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Trent Walter, Untitled, 2016, installation view.

This work, Untitled, 2016, is currently on display in a lightbox at RMIT University. The lightbox is an excellent technical solution for the artwork as it mirrors the backlight of the computer screen that the image was made on. I’ll admit that this happened fortuitously, though I am pleased by the result.

***

An artist I admire greatly is Christopher Day, whose book New Reading Order was published by Negative Press earlier this year and launched at the National Gallery of Victoria’s Art Book Fair.

Day’s practice is photo-based, though he is weary of pigeonholing himself by the medium he works mostly within. He shoots analogue and digital images. The digital ones are manipulated, making multi-layered, fantastical imagery that he prints digitally. We spent a week in Honk Kong and China, proofing his book in Shenzen and photographing Honk Kong island on night walks. In our various meetings we tend to discuss the nature of photography and a subject that recurs is the anachronism of printing digital images in the darkroom. In this respect, does the same anachronism apply to photo-mechanical printmaking processes? I would argue that it does and that these processes cannot pretend to be photography, but that photographic imagery can be the basis for incredible printmaking.

To my students and at my studio, Negative Press, I would suggest that a good reason for making a print is that there is no other way to execute the work: that it is the most practical and simplest way to achieve the artist’s intention.

I have worked on two projects with the Melbourne based artist Rosie Isaac. Both works are based around the performance of a script. Speaking in the Abstract required Isaac to construct an oversize concertina-type ‘book’ that was large enough for her actors to read while performing its content.

Here are some other views of the performance:

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Rosie Isaac, Speaking in the Abstract, 2014.

For Through flooding: A silent choral reading performed as part of Brainlina at Next Wave, Isaac produced another script that was screenprinted, again in a concertina, on folded sheets of roll paper. Her requirement was for the scripts to be the same length as the audience rows that were approximately 4 metres long.

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Rosie Isaac, Through flooding: A silent choral reading, 2016.

Isaac also needed the scripts to be perforated, as the script directed the audience to follow its silent direction of tearing them down at said perforation. We used printmaking, specifically screenprinting, to make these books because it was the most practical way to print repeated text on light weight paper. Unsurprisingly, it also made them a beautiful object, though they were effectively torn into pieces by their reading and performance.

Reflection number 2: The matrix is all around you.

Simryn Gill is an artist whose work revolves around collection. For decades she has combed the beaches around her family’s home of Port Dickson, Malaysia. Simryn has made relief and screenprint works at different stages of her career, though is most well known for her photographic series, her sculptural assemblages (often involving found objects and printed pages)

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Simryn Gill, Pearls, 1999. courtesy of the artist and Utopia Art, Sydney.

and for representing Australia at the Venice Biennale in 2013. Around 3 years ago, Simryn and I began discussing a woodblock printing project that would use as its matrices a series of found pieces of timber from the beaches of Port Dickson washed up from the Malacca Straight.

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Simryn Gill, Pressing In, 2016, work in progress. Courtesy of the artist and Utopia Art, Sydney.

Often derived from boats, these degraded pieces of wood were water-blasted to rid them of rot and to stabilise their surface for printing. After various conversations about shipping them to Melbourne to put through the press, we decided their surfaces were too gnarly, and the rigmarole around bringing a container of untreated timber from Malaysia to Australia, too onerous. The solution was for me to travel to Port Dickson and work with Simryn at her home/studio and print everything by hand.

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Simryn Gill, Pressing In, 2016, work in progress. Courtesy of the artist and Utopia Art, Sydney.

Early tests proved that the baren was too wide to pick up the traces of grain and sea smoothed and animal interventions in the wood. The solution was found in the humble bone folder, and over the course of two weeks we printed scores of recovered objects of various sizes: some smaller than a smartphone, and others requiring several sheets of printed, A3 notebook paper to contain their form. The results, Simryn feels, are like texts and the process of our rubbings closer to handwriting than printing. The paper holds our touch and it is as though the paper receiving the crisp ink from our rubbing has revived the worn, wooden objects.

Simryn is not an artist who will speak directly about the meaning of her work. Like many artists, she wants the audience to engage with it, its materiality and content, to draw their own conclusions. Though in this series of works it is difficult to avoid the reference to what is cast or discarded into the sea, only to return battered and worn to the mass refugee crisis occurring globally, and its effects and ramifications locally, in Australia.

I had a call from Simryn yesterday saying that we had printed 160 small individual works, among the scores of larger pieces and composite ‘stacks’ we made. Despite the large volume of work produced, Simryn thinks that it is the beginning of a larger project, that will include an artist book and texts interspersed within the printed pages.

The first showing of this project, which is titled Pressing In, opens next Friday [16 September] at Griffith University Gallery.

Reflection number 3: The aim of the workshop is to meet and work together. Any tangible outcome is of secondary importance.

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Workshop: If People Powered Radio, 2016. Photograph by Christian Capurro.

Late last year I was invited by Helen Hughes to work on a remaking project of posters from the archive of 3CR community radio to be presented at Gertrude Contemporary. In 2016, 3CR celebrates forty years of broadcasting. In their own words, ‘The radio station was established in 1976 to provide a voice for those denied access to the mass media, particularly the working class, women, Indigenous people and the many community groups and community issues discriminated against in and by the mass media.’

Despite the incredible depth of the 3CR archive of posters, handbills and ephemera, my conversations with Helen moved away from a strictly remaking project to something involving public space. The work already exists, I thought, why make a print? Over time my thoughts coalesced around the idea of conducting a ‘workshop’ in the exhibition space. This is, by no means, an original idea.

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The Narrows, Printworkshop, 2008, (top) Bianca Hester & Oscar Yanez, (centre) Launch, Marco Fusinato,
(bottom) Parsing by Susuan Jacobs and Scott Miles. Photograph by Warren Taylor.

The Narrows, a well-loved Melbourne gallery that was interested in the overlap of art and design while preferencing neither, held an exhibition/project called Printworkshop in 2008. As part of this project artists were invited to work in the gallery to make a book in a day using a laptop and photocopier, on paper designed by the artist Matt Hinkley.

Ciara Phillips was nominated for the 2014 Turner Prize for her project Workshop at The Showroom in London, in which she exhibited multiple screenprints and a large-scale print on cotton. She also used the gallery as a site for making work, and exploring the idea of ‘making together’.

For the project Cutting Mirrors at c3 Contemporary Art Space, I was invited to relocate part of Negative Press into the gallery and collaborated with Renee Cosgrave and Elizabeth Newman on a series of monotypes and artist books. While the project transferred the workshop into a public space, the content that was created in the space did not reflect its environment in any way.

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Workshop: If People Powered Radio, 2016. Photograph by Christian Capurro.

For Workshop: If People Powered Radio, I wanted to draw attention to the social aspects of the print studio, with particular reference to poster collectives that have a rich history in Australia. It was not about teaching the process of screenprinting (though that may be an unintended consequence of the project) or even finishing with a tangible result. The theme of this reflection ‘The aim of the workshop is to meet and work together. Any tangible outcome is of secondary importance,’ was a line I told the group of assembled participants before we started working. Our meeting together, in and of itself, defined the project’s success.

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Workshop: If People Powered Radio, 2016. Photograph by Christian Capurro.

Large scale screenprinting by hand requires a collective effort, that mirrors the nature of activism and collectivism championed by 3CR and its community. The movement of passing the squeegee from one set of hands to another reinforces this. It is shared making, collective effort and responsibility and while I have convened the workshop, the author of the work is the group.

Workshop: If People Powered Radio was conducted over 2 days in the main gallery of Gertrude Contemporary. Spiros Panigirakis, artist and co-curator of the exhibition, remade the boardroom of 3CR in this room. It included a board table with printed ephemera under sheets of Perspex and posters and photographs from the archive from key moments in the organisation’s history on the wall. In preparation for our collective making, I put together a reader gleaned from research into 3CR’s organisational structure and history as a primer for our group to make poster’s that reflected this history. In many respects it was the ideal space to make this work, surrounded by the archive.

The results were interesting, and ultimately two days was too short for this kind of art making, however as I have said the aim of the workshop is to meet and work together. Any tangible outcome is of secondary importance.

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Workshop: If People Powered Radio, 2016. Photograph by Christian Capurro.

To attract participants/collaborators for Workshop: If People Powered Radio I sent a callout to artists and their networks. I wanted to work with people without a broad knowledge of 3CR and its activities. I ended up with a group of people who I knew–Emily Floyd, Rosie Isaac, Saskia Doherty, Jaime Powell, Natalie Rambaldi and Olivia Koh. All are excellent artists in their own right and I appreciate their dedication and involvement in this project.

I am currently working on plans for an extended series of Workshop projects in regional towns, as a meeting place, a community space, a venue for people to express themselves: all of which align with the aims of 3CR. I believe to be successful in these new environments Workshop needs to be convened outside of the institution, and occupy a shop front or some other neutral, independent space.

As an aside, I think the thread of this reflection echoes my feelings about art school, that it is the interactions and collective experiences that are valuable, more so than what is physically produced. The record of these interactions is only our memory. In the streamlining of fine art courses across the country, disciplines are being neglected for a theoretically centred pedagogy. While I am in favour of theory, I don’t think it should be at the expense of disciple, or of the collective studio experience essential to the growth of early career artists.

Reflection number 4: It’s a thin line between remaking and reproduction.

Debates surrounding notions of the ‘original’ and the ‘copy’ abound in print related practice. It is impossible to avoid these ideas when remaking works. From an art market perspective, there are more and more art businesses coming up that sell so-called ‘contemporary editions’. Some are bone fide original works, output digital. Sadly, most are reproductions sold as limited art editions that command high prices. They ignore printmaking’s key tenets: the democratisation of artwork through low-cost editions; and the unique, craft based attributes of fine art printmaking. It is the cause of much negative press around print related processes. If the general public are confused about what constitutes an original artwork in the print medium, what luck do they have of understanding the true nature of ‘contemporary editions’ as proposed by these businesses?

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Elizabeth Newman, Collateral Damage, 2013.
Courtesy of the artist and Neon Parc, Melbourne.

In 2013, Negative Press published two editions with Elizabeth Newman, Collateral Damage and Untitled. Both are approximately 110 x 80 cm and are a combination of digital printing and five screenprinted colours. The works were made specifically for a collage exhibition titled In the cut at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne, curated by Hannah Mathews. In making these works, Newman and I discussed how we could collage processes rather than physically collage paper, with the artwork’s surface left intentionally flat.

These works derived from dozens of smaller collages Newman made over the course of 2013. In essence, we have remade the collage as a printed edition. There is a thin line between remaking and reproduction. Have I made with Newman the same type of work I have just rebuked?

In making large woodblock prints with Helen Frankenthaler, Ken Tyler made sure that Frankenthaler worked up her image on a woodblock. They kind of look like paintings, the whole image is there, but they are not paintings: they were not valued and were treated like working images. Tyler, in this instance, was aware of the issues surrounding remaking and reproduction and avoided them via this process.

When making these works with Elizabeth Newman, I suggested we destroy the collages the prints were based on. Or that we should somehow reduce them to a mock-up or working image. It was not truthful, and can’t disguise the origin of these works. Newman has said that the prints are better than the collages. I feel like they are some of the best prints I’ve ever made with an artist. They are original works in so much as the colours have shifted, the surface of the elements changed, though I still think about them in the context of the conversations surrounding remaking and reproduction in the field of printmaking.

Reflection number 5: Where is the edition?

There are two works that I made recently that forgo the edition altogether: the matrix becomes the work. The first are a series of copper plates made for Nicholas Mangan based on his investigation of the conflict surrounding the copper mines in Bougainville.

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Nicholas Mangan, Progress in Action, 2016, installation view Sutton Gallery at Spring 1883.
Courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery Melbourne. Photograph by Andrew Curtis.

In the artist’s own words:

Progress in Action reflects upon the 1989 civil war on the Pacific Island of Bougainville; a war that lasted over ten years and was ignited over disputed land use, ownership and compensation claims for land damage. This conflict was catalyzed by the imposing Panguna Copper Mine. As a result, conflict broke out between the indigenous landowners of Bougainville some of who formed the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) and Rio Tinto Copper operating as (Bougainville Copper ltd) in collaboration with the PNG government and Army.

 … Progress in Action pays homage to the BRA’s use of coconuts as an alternative source of fuel through the construction of a provisional coconut oil refinery that is used to produce coconut bio-fuel that powers a modified diesel generator. The electricity produced by the generator supplies power to a projector, which in turn screens a film about the events. This film features imagery of the very material that is at the core of the project: the Bougainville crisis. It is a portrayal of energy in exchange; a series of actions and reactions, flows and interruptions.

 

These copper works continue this creative rationale, imaging the cover of the Bougainville Copper Limited’s prospectus and a topographic map of the disputed mine sites onto the very material at the centre of the conflict.

Tomorrow afternoon [11 September] is the launch of a public art project Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner by Brook Andrew and I. It will be a momentous occasion as it is the first time a government body (in this case City of Melbourne) has recognised the frontier wars and resistance against invasion by Indigenous people via a public monument. Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were part of a group of Tasmanians that travelled to the colonies of Port Phillip (now Victoria) with the so-called ‘protector’ of Aborigines, George Augustus Robinson. Along with Truganini, Planobeena and Pyterruner, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner absconded from Robinson’s watch and travelled to Western Port where they took up arms, raided settler huts, and eventually killed two whalers.

They were hunted, captured and tried for murder and received an unfair trial. And despite lesser sentences being proposed by the jury and prosecution, by order of the trial judge they were the first people to be publicly executed in Victoria close to the location where the monument now exists. They lived in a time when to be black meant you could be shot on site. Tunnerminnerwait’s people were massacred at Cape Grim. Travelling with Robinson in Victoria, the group were aware of the Convincing Ground massacre near Portland. One of the whalers, in his dying words said ‘it serves me right, for I have killed many blacks’. It highlights issues around colonial ‘justice’ and uncovers one of many stories that our nation is founded upon.

The monument we have made has many aspects, including medicinal plantings, a solid bluestone tomb that is attached to a metal swing. Behind the swing structure is a series of newspaper stands that contain lithographic and etched aluminium plates that are filled with texts relating to the story of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner.

Our original idea for the newsstands was to relate a more in-depth overview of this history in the form of a newspaper that could be accessed by the public. As this is a permanent artwork (which I believe means it will be maintained for fifty years), printing so many copies of a newspaper was deemed impractical. The second idea was to make a publication, and then use the litho printing plates to make newspaper-like sculptures. Though again, our timeline and budget meant that this was not possible. Ultimately, we settled on creating a series of signs, that relate the story of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner and the significance of the site, while still referencing the materials of printing and making something that should last fifty years at least. While it appears like it required a series of compromises to finalise this part of the work, formally it is more cohesive in the context of the site. The text panels also remind me of the various signs on properties along the north coast of Tasmania we visited in researching this work: those that directed us to the site, those of the Van Diemen’s Land Company who own the properties at Cape Grim and their signs that threatened us with prosecution for walking on Aborignal land.

Reflection number 6: Technique is not overrated/Agency shouldn’t be ignored.

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Brent Harris‘s studio wall of works in progress.

Last Thursday I delivered a new edition to Brent Harris’ studio. Harris is an artist with a long history of making prints alongside his painting practice. Images are remade, recontextulised and reused between his works. In 2012, Harris made a series of 100 reductive monotypes called The Fall. The figures that populated those intimate works have become the basis of his print and painting practice over the past four years.

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Brent Harris, The Problem, 2015, Print Council of Australia fundraiser edition.

As a fundraiser for the Print Council of Australia last year, Harris and I completed our first collaboration. The Problem uses an inverted image from a monotype that didn’t make it into The Fall series. It is produced with an intaglio photopolymer plate and three screenprinted colours. We attempted the work as four screenprinted layers, but the finished print lacked depth, specifically in the inverted monotype image. We were both thrilled with the final result, despite its technical challenges of shrinking paper and fine registration. Brent has chronicled the process of making the work on his website, and it was also published on the Imprint blog, so I won’t go into further detail here.

The Problem has now led us to embark on a series of five new works, the most recent of which is called The Other Side.

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Brent Harris works in progress 2016.

Again it is made with a photopolymer plate and two screenprinted layers. What I find so alluring about Harris’s print is the image he has conjured from the characters he has wiped out of a rolled up plate. I am also partial to the craft aspects of the finished work; the integration of print processes to affect the viewer’s interpretation of the picture planes; and the dark intensity of the intaglio element versus the light intensity of the screenprinted layers. They are formal concerns that support his conceptual interests.

Perhaps the opposite finish of Harris’s prints is found in the student posters of the Atelier Populaire.

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Atelier Populaire, Capital, 1968.

The Atelier Populaire, or popular workshop, was established when students and faculty staff took over the Ecole des Beaux Arts during the student protests in Paris in May 1968. Of the hundreds of posters created, no artists or designers are credited: all posters were attributed to the Atelier Populaire.

In the workshop’s own words, the posters were to be ‘weapons in the service of the struggle … an inseparable part of it. Their rightful place [was] in the centres of conflict, that is to say, in the streets and on the walls of the factories’. One famous poster translated as: ‘The police post themselves at the School of Fine Arts – the Fine Arts’ students poster the streets.’

These posters function as activism and eschew the aesthetics of fine art printing in the service of political agency, directly communicating their purpose through their formal qualities.

The seventh reflection requires no explanation and draws us back to Sister Corita’s proclamation that ‘The Only Rule is Work’!

John Nixon is a Melbourne based artist who is prolific in his practice as a painter and experimental musician. He fronts a band called ‘The Donkey’s Tail’ and exhibits nationally and internationally several times each year. I can also reveal that he has an extensive collection of Australian pottery bought in opportunity shops and a library of books and records that would be the envy of any bibliophile or vinyl junkie. Nixon is so prolific that he has filled to overflowing a massive studio and storage facility at the back of his house in Briar Hill. It got to the point where he was painting on an outdoor table because he had run out of room.

Along the way, Nixon has also dabbled in printmaking.

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John Nixon print archive documentation.

He refers to it as a side project, though he has been characteristically prolific in this field also. Early this year I helped Nixon catalogue 180 separate images, some existing as editions and others unique, created over the past thirty years. These works comprise of small etchings, screenprints, commercially printed posters, potato prints, relief prints, lithographs and xerox works.

Alongside this cataloguing, we have also embarked on making some new screenprints and small etchings. The majority of Nixon’s etchings were made when he taught at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne in the early nineties, in his lunch break. We now meet each Tuesday in the print studio between 1 pm and 2 pm (also his lunch break between four-hour long morning and afternoon classes), grounding up plates, etching and printing. We’ve made five small plates in our last two short sessions.

Nixon’s prolificacy is a reflection of his enjoyment in making work: it’s the reason why so many of us make prints, though as artists, and particularly as artists who make prints, I believe we need to balance our enjoyment and interest in craft with well considered conceptual responses to the content we are working with.

Thank you.

Trent Walter is an artist, printer and publisher interested in the intersection of contemporary art and printed matter. In his artwork, Walter combines multiple readymade sources (textual, pictorial and/or sculptural) to explore narrative, history and intersecting time.

Through his studio, Negative Press, Walter commissions artists to create projects made through the lens of expanded print practices. 

2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: Rochelle Summerfield

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‘My first love of printmaking was etching and collagraphs printed as intaglio. I loved the rich textures and depth of tone. I discovered collage, and print matter generally, and have developed photography and digital skills. With a love of both classic media and digital technologies, combining these skills seemed quite a natural evolution.’

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Why do you make art?

I feel happy when I draw and make art. It enriches my life and gives it meaning. It helps me work out how to see and be in this world – it is my way of connecting.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

To me, printmaking is a variety of methods, skills and approaches – textures, marks, tonal properties, everyday print matter and mass media – that I can draw upon to make work.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

I began exploring printmaking as part of my degree at Southern Cross University. My first love of printmaking was etching and collagraphs printed as intaglio. I loved the rich textures and depth of tone. I discovered collage, and print matter generally, and have developed photography and digital skills. With a love of both classic media and digital technologies, combining these skills seemed quite a natural evolution.

Who is your favourite artist?

I will have to say three artists in particular – Arcimboldo, Hannah Höch and Max Ernst. Arcimboldo for teaching me how to make pictures as puzzles – through his work I realised that was how I see the world! Hannah Höch for teaching me a way to make pictures about women that are relevant now; and Max Ernst for teaching me how to combine collage within a background, in works such as his famous surrealist novel in collage Une Semaine de Bonté.

Where do you go for inspiration?

Several places generate inspiration for me. When I make work, I find collage stimulates new ways of looking and thinking about things and not just cut-and-paste, collage-type processes. Living in Seelands and looking right onto the mighty Clarence River with its wonderful birdlife has been a source for inspiration and renewal.

In my practice I find artist residencies are really good for inspiration, being in a new place and talking art with other like-minded souls (families can get quite sick of that type of talk!) For new ideas on what is happening in art beyond the regional I look at contemporary artists’ work, installations in metropolitan galleries and online.

What are you working on now?

I am working on drawings for a site specific installation. It’s going to be a billboard, so is extending me and my work in scale. It will be installed in Victoria Park, as part of ‘Future/Public’, Artlands, Dubbo 2016. I am one of ten artists selected for an exhibition of propositional public artworks to be on display in various venues for the Artlands Regional Arts Conference, 27–30 October, 2016.

To view this year’s commission prints visit the PCA website, pick up a copy of the spring 2016 issue of Imprint (Vol. 51 No. 3), or visit one of the participating venue galleries listed below:

E-Flyer 2016 PCA Print Commission