From Dreamtime to Machine Time

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

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

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

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

From Dreamtime to Machine Time [1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A continuing tradition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Urban Koories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Political posters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] Discussions with Theo Tremblay, 1986.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOP TIPS: ZINE MAKING

Today we are privileged to hear from Jeremy Staples, bedroom publisher extraordinaire and curator of Copier Jam!, with his top tips on zine making.

Copier Jam! installation shots.

In one way or another zines have slowly taken over my life since the early two thousands. From creating zines to running workshops, co-funding the Zine and Indie Comic Symposium and most recently curating a zine and indie comic exhibition titled Copier Jam!, which is part of the Print Council of Australia’s 2016 Year of Print celebrations.

I stumbled upon zines – these raw, crudely produced publications – via my love of punk! That said, I had no access to them before I started creating them. I didn’t know what I was actually doing was a zine, to be honest. I was just doing my own thing, with a group of friends who wanted to support the local music and art community. None of us had skills in design, layout or journalism. We did it together and it was completely DIY. The DIY process, complete freedom and lack of rules is what got me into them and why I keep coming back. The accessibility for the creator and consumer is something that continues to draw me to the world of bedroom publishing.

I love that zines are a platform for anyone to document, share a viewpoint or simply share their creativity. These little bits of paper can be on any topic imaginable!

This was one of my main motivations to produce Copier Jam!, an exhibition which highlights current zine and independent comic creators, collectives and distributors from across Australia. The exhibition includes publications alongside original art, layout, workings and even a zine vending machine from the Canberra Zine Emporium collective. On display are zines published from 1992 to the current day from seventeen creators.

Zine tips from Staples!

Have fun, think outside the square, don’t create invisible barriers and work with materials that you have on hand! Use the zine as a tool to showcase your work, document or even share personal tales from your life, travels or your mental health. Copier Jam! features work from outsider artist Philip Dearest. An artist who knows how to shock even the most seasoned fan of underground art. One of Dearest’s most renowned releases to date is the aptly titled Off My Meds, in which he undertakes a study of creativity during a month off his regular medication.

Share what your good at! Ashley Ronning is an illustrator, risograph printer and zine creator based in Melbourne. Ronning’s work was recently plastered throughout Melbourne as part of the promotion for annual Festival of the Photocopier hosted by Australia’s largest dedicated zine shop, Sticky Institute.

Read up! The Copier Jam! exhibition catalogue zine showcases interviews with all the creators in the exhibition and features a cover printed via Japanese toy Gocco printer, which is actually the little sister of the Risograph.

Still stuck for ideas? Vanessa Berry is one of Australia’s most respected zine creators and has been publishing since the mid-nineties. Berry created her Shopping List Stories zine that showcases found shopping lists and fictional tales about the people who wrote them.

Get amongst it! If you’re not comfortable or up to the stage of creating your own zine, why not submit to a collaborative zine. Callouts are made and generally based around a theme or topic. We make Zines is a good start along with following Australia’s renowned Sticky Institute – the Flinders Street zine subway shop and hangout.

The last thing I love about zines is the lack of rules! There are no limitations, no rights or wrongs other than making one solely for creating profit. The world is your photocopier! Dream with your eyes open, step away from the TV, put your dreams down on paper and start writing and scribbling your own revolution!

Copier Jam! poster – art by Philip Dearest; gocco print by Staples.

Copier Jam! will be on display at the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery until 7 August. www.thestaples.com.au

We hope you find these gems useful and invite you to send in your top printmaking tips to share to imprinteditor@printcouncil.org.au.

Photopolymer/Solar Plate Printmaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SW: Why is this way of working less toxic?

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

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

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

SW: Can the plate be altered after being exposed?

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

SW: What effects can be achieved with photopolymer printmaking?

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

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

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

SW: How are the exposure times determined?

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

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

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

 

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

Multiple deletions and additions on stone

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

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

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

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

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

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

Procedure

1.

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

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

2.

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

3.

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

4.

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

5.

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

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

6.

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

7.

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

Comment

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

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

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

References

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

Flashback Friday: An interview with Sharmini Pereira of Raking Leaves

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

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

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

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

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

What was the impetus to start Raking Leaves?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rakingleaves.org

A Postcard from Printing the Page, State Library of Victoria

On Tuesday 31 May, a rhyme of poets and an impression of printers/artists descended on the Keith Murdoch Gallery at the State Library of Victoria (SLV) for ‘Printing the Page’, a special workshop conceived and coordinated by Marian Crawford (artist, lecturer and PCA committee member) on behalf of the Print Council of Australia and in partnership with SLV (with special thanks to Suzie Gasper) in celebration of poetry and letterpress printing.

Marian Crawford typesetting with participating poets; type tray; Greg Harrison typesetting with participating poets.

As well as forming part of the PCA’s fiftieth anniversary program, and acknowledging the important relationship between the PCA and SLV, which houses a complete set of the PCA’s Print Commission archive, there was a particular emphasis on the social dimension of print culture.

In setting the tone of the day, Crawford observed that ‘printmaking as a fine art practice is often extremely sociable, and this is observable both in the way a printmaking studio runs, in the sharing of equipment and of practical tips in process, and in the social nature of the printed image itself.’ She also cited this line from Alberto Manguel’s from The Library at Night: ‘Knowledge lies not in the accumulation of texts or information, nor in the object of the book itself, but in the experience rescued from the page and transformed again into experience, … In the reader’s own being.’

Carolyn Fraser, Andrew Gunnell, Marian Crawford, Greg Harrison and Rosalind Atkins preparing for the poets; Francesca Sasnaitis casting her editorial eye over Andrew Linden’s poem prior to typesetting.

Indeed, this spirit of creating new experiences and discovering a greater range of creative possibilities infused the atmosphere of the day. Workshop participants were invited to bring along a three-line observational poem to set and print. To help out throughout the day with inspiration, typesetting and printing, Marian invited Carolyn Fraser (printer, writer and founder of idlewild press), Richard Harding, Rosalind Atkins, Andrew Gunnell and Greg Harrison (all artists, lecturers and printers); Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison (artists with a special interest in artist books); and Francesca Sasnaitis (poet and founder of Ratas Editions).

Carolyn Fraser sharing her typesetting skills with attending poets.

Following the setting and printing of poems, the space was opened for public letterpress demonstrations, where many curious punters circulated and experienced the setting and printing of their names, or observed Francesca and Louise compiling and hand-binding the results of the earlier poetry workshop in a single edition of ‘Printing the Page’.

Rosalind Atkins displaying type locked up in a chase with one of the participating poets and her freshly printed poem.

Rounding out the day, Marian Crawford spoke about her relationship to the printed page, explaining that her ‘most insistent and persistent fascination within fine art is centred around the printed image, and includes the fine art print, the printed page, and the relationship between text and image on the printed page which then extends to the book and literary studies, poetry and writing’. She then invited Carolyn Fraser and Francesca Sasnaitis to the stage. Francesca explained the collaborative process that lead to her and Crawford’s beautiful publication The Unstable Edge, and performed a reading from its pages. Later, Marian and Francesca also performed readings of the poems produced in the Printing the Page workshop.

Richard Harding printing event participants’ poems on one of the three Adana Presses; Greg Harrison and Marian Crawford sharing their typesetting skills.

Carolyn Fraser gave a short, but tingle-inducing, presentation on the history of letterpress and amateur journalism finishing with a point that cannot be emphasised enough in this time of constant commercial pressure:

‘Rare today is the use of the word “hobby” (other than pejoratively). People have “projects” these days; the pursuit of pleasure has been supplanted in almost every area of life by economic imperatives. We may be witnessing the very last generation of amateur printer/journalists, but the influence of their activity has been vast. Gutenberg‘s press augured the beginnings of the Enlightenment. The toy press gave voice to America’s youth. Experimentation breeds expertise, amateurism breeds passion. America would be as equally impoverished had Thomas Edison not published the Grand Trunk Herald as had he not invented the phonograph, the telegraph or the electric light bulb. The word amateur comes from the Latin – amator – lover. This is what lasts – that which we love. Our culture depends on it.’

Hear, hear!

Printing the Page participants holding their letterpress printed poems (clockwise): Rachel, Fiona and Monique, and Sandra.
Clockwise: Julie De Silva reading ‘Violin’ the poem she brought to set and print; Lou Baxter quoting a popular maxim that she chose to set and print; Andrew Linden reading ‘Dreaming’, his paraphrased version of a verse from the poem ‘Last Night as I was Sleeping’ by twentieth century Spanish poet Antonio Machado.

Workshop: The Painterly Print

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REFERENCES

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

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

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

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

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

NOTE

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

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

A Postcard from Sonya Hender: Print Week at Quick Whippet Studio

All images were taken during Print Week at Quick Whippet Studio and are courtesy of Sonya Hender.

The Quick Whippet printmaking studio at Port Elliot is located at the creative hub of Factory Nine, conveniently next to a coffee roaster. Port Elliot is small seaside town in the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia, with a population of about 2000 people during winter. It possibly has some similarities to the fictional Portwenn in Cornwall!

One of the aims of the studio is to provide a printmaking experience through
community events and open access studios. The doors to our large shed were open for five days and we had a number of visitors who came to learn screenprinting, non-toxic etching, lino and wood carving. Many young participants are employed in the town in a combination of part time work and study. The person who works at the bakery in the morning may serve you coffee at a café in the afternoon or dinner at the local restaurant. The ‘word of mouth’ about Print Week through these informal networks worked very well and the numbers of novice printmakers increased throughout the week.

We were also fortunate to have the participation of two very talented art teachers from local schools who have attended a series of workshops at the Quick Whippet Studio and know how to quickly locate specific materials. Workshops by Kathy Boyle, Geoff Gibbon, David Frazer, Christobel Kelly and Simone Tippett have been a great base for our open studios. Continuing interest in these artists and their various techniques contributed to our Print Week accompanied by much laughter and very inky hands.

Emma Sirona-MacDonald and I facilitated the various sessions and we enjoyed the fresh approach and problem solving of our participants. We learned that it was important to be flexible, supportive and to match different processes to individuals through a brief consultation on arrival. Some have done specific techniques at school and wanted to try something different, though specific iconography and screenprinting were very popular with our younger group. Some just wanted to work in companionable silence to music and the cosy wood fire. We enjoyed participants developing non-traditional techniques or creating new ways to print. The studio now has an interesting collection of objects, which were used as a starting point for a print.

We had to learn not to worry about ‘inky’ equipment and benches, while substitute and less expensive felts were useful. At the end of the day, we didn’t always have time to restore the studio, but in the mornings we were met with the welcoming sight of drying prints waiting to be collected, the beginning of new work and the rearrangement of work spaces, which made it all very rewarding. The Quick Whippet Studio will be relocating to a heritage building (formerly the Post Office), at 41 ‘The Strand’, Port Elliot, which is in the main street leading to the beach. We will be able to offer some evening sessions in our next Print Week to be held in October 2016. From 1 August, there will be a permanent exhibition of works from South Australian printmakers in the adjoining ‘Strand Gallery’. Given local enthusiasm and support of wonderful artists and teachers, the interest in printmaking in our town may rival other activities, although perhaps not surfing!

A Postcard from Simone Tippett: 50 Prints in 50 Hours

During the first weekend of March 2016, over sixty printmakers and five studios in Auckland and South Australia printed simultaneously and collaboratively for nearly 100 hours. Participating studios:

Adelaide, AUS
Union St Printmakers (Simone Tippett)
Tooth & Nail (Jake Holmes & Joshua Searson)
Quick Whippet Studio (Sonya Hender, in Pt Elliot SA)
Studio Nick (Nick Falkner, in a Singapore Hotel)

Auckland, NZ
Blue Bathtub Press
(Toni Mosley)
Nathan Homestead

Clockwise from top: prints produced during the print marathon by the Union St Printmakers; participating printmakers at Blue Bathtub Press; participating printmakers at Union St Printmakers.

The idea of a community print marathon was conceived by Toni Mosley and Simone Tippett at the Eighth Australian Print Symposium at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, in May 2015. Toni and Simone swapped notes and got excited about Prue MacDougall’s (NZ) and James Pasakos’s (AUS) travelling print exchange Thinking of Place. They decided to organise a community print marathon, to happen simultaneously in Auckland and Adelaide, aiming for fifty prints in fifty hours, to celebrate the Print Council of Australia’s fiftieth anniversary in 2016. At the same time they hoped to bring people together to hang out over their presses, do something a little crazy and have fun.

Prints produced during the print marathon by Tooth & Nail.

Together, participants created monoprints by playing with each other’s plates and paper, randomly printing over each other’s work. From the results, fifty completed prints will be selected from each city, twenty-five of which will be swapped with the other city. Later this year each city will exhibit their twenty-five prints alongside the twenty-five prints given by the other city. All of the prints will be available for sale at the exhibitions. And all participants will receive a zine commemorating their involvement. (The zine will consist of prints from both regions.)

The theme of the print marathon was Compass, in part because of the different locations of the participating studios, and also because compasses look great on prints.

A print produced during the print marathon by the Union St Printmakers.

The prints are fabulously and unpredictably layered, having evolved in random and unspecified ways. Small groups of artists collectively made intuitive decisions, responding to each other and making their choices aesthetically. A print was declared ‘finished’ when a small number of the group (or an individual) decided the image felt complete. Each studio evolved its own unofficial aesthetic and, as the marathon played out, aesthetics developed and changed within studios over the course of the day as the participants came and went …

Prints produced during the print marathon by Blue Bathtub Press.

In all, it was a seriously fun and rewarding weekend. We plan to do it again, with even more studios next year. We hope it will become SOOOOO popular that we will awake one day to discover we’ve taken over the world with gatherings of folk monoprinting. Let’s face it, what printmaker doesn’t like to hang out and have fun? Yay!

Prints produced during the print marathon by Quick Whippet Studio.

Final Tally

Over sixty printmakers (ranging from kids and beginners, to experienced printmakers).
Five printmaking studios.
Auckland: over sixty finished prints in thirty-eight hours at one location (in two stretches of thirty-three and five hours respectively).
South Australia: over ninety finished prints in fifty-nine hours, in four locations and with fifty-eight people involved.
Most unusual print: carved soap print from coffee grounds by Studio Nick in a Singapore Hotel (see his account of printing recycled coffee grounds from hotel soaps below).
Consumed: hundreds of cups of tea and coffee, many pizzas and a few beers.
Happiness and joy: beyond words!
Likelihood of it happening again: absolutely!

Prints produced during the print marathon by Tooth & Nail.

Tips for Hotel Room Printers

Nick Falkner, a Union St Printmaker, was overseas at the time of the print marathon. Not one to miss out, he participated from his Singapore studio (ahem, hotel room) with found materials and limited art supplies:

Prints produced during the print marathon by Studio Nick (Nick Falkner) and process images from Nick Falkner‘s hotel room printing session.

I had so much fun doing this. The next time you are on a trip, it’s a real blast to run off some quick prints from soap and coffee grounds, on the run. Then, during clean up, you can use what’s left of your printing block in the shower. Total recycling! 

  1. Almost every hotel room has teeny tiny soaps that are almost useless. It turns out that this is because they are designed for printmaking and make excellent blocks.
  2. Tea spoons make quite acceptable carving styluses and barens (if you have a small brush, use the hard end as that’s great).
  3. Hotel windows make great light boxes (during the day).
  4. Soap is absorbent (duh) so watch your liquid levels as you have a limited time to print and, the more you print, the softer the block gets unless you let it dry out. When in doubt, just print.
  5. Coffee grounds make a tolerable sepia, with 3D effect.
  6. Poster colours and coffee don’t mix well but they do mix. Use that opacity in your favour!
  7. Coffee cups and saucers can be used as mixing stations.
  8. Hotel rooms are full of textures for rubbing, to add background.
  9. The space above the bar fridge is toasty and makes a great drying rack.
  10. Work in the bathroom, if you can. Everything in there is designed to be cleaned easily and you won’t make any mess for the cleaning staff.

It’s awesome fun. I’m going to do this again!

Brent Harris on making The Problem (2015)

In 2015 the Print Council of Australia commissioned Brent Harris to make a special fundraiser print to help raise money to pay Imprint contributor fees. The result was The Problem, an edition of thirty photopolymer gravure and multi-layer screenprints.

The article that follows is based on the short talk Harris gave at the Fitzroy Town Hall on 26 November 2015, along with collaborating printmaker Trent Walter of Negative Press, about the way this print was worked into reality.

Printmaking has been an important part of my working life as an artist, and an integral component in the development of my imagery over the past twenty-seven years. Since 1988, I have generally worked with master printers including John Loane of Viridian Press (intaglio), Larry Rawling (screenprint), Kim Westcott (woodblock), Peter Lancaster (lithography), Martin King (lithography), Adrian Kellett (monotype) and
Trent Walter (photopolymer gravure and screenprint).

I have also participated in two international printmaking residencies: a three-month residency learning the Japanese watercolour woodblock technique at Nagasawa Art Park in 1999; and a five-week residency working on large scale paper pulp works with master papermaker Richard Hungerford, and woodcut prints with the printers at Singapore Tyler Print Institute in 2004.

Brent Harris
The Problem 2015
photopolymer gravure
with multiple screenprint layers
76 x 56 cm
edition of 30.

Getting to The Problem (2015):

In 2012 I worked on a series of one hundred monotypes. These works became a series titled the fall (2012), which was shown at Tolarno Galleries in November–December 2012, and was presented in nine groups of seven, two triptychs and twenty-one single prints.

Brent Harris’s studio, 2012
Below: Tolarno install of the fall, 2012

Even while this body of monotypes was being made, I was thinking: there is so much imagery here. I have to be able to use this across different media in future works.

the fall #83 was my first attempt at this. Obviously the two challenges here are scale and bringing colour to a black and white image. An element from the fall #70 has been flipped and also used down the left hand side of the painting below.

Top left: the fall #83 2012
collection: Art Gallery of Western Australia
Left: the fall #70 2012
Above: The Prophet 2012
oil on linen 240 x 160cm
collection: Shepparton Art Museum

It may seem that I am digressing, but this relates to what I am seeing as my imagery bank, which formed in the monotypes, and to how the imagery was developed for The Problem.

In 2013 I made another smaller series of monotypes titled embark. There are twenty prints in this new group and they were shown, along with nine small board paintings, in an exhibition of the same name at Lister Gallery in Perth (below).

Three of the nine paintings exhibited in Perth contain imagery that first appeared in one of the monotypes: this figure at the lower right of the monotype below.

embark #15, 2013, private collection Perth

This character has been cropped from the monotype, flipped horizontally, and then redrawn into the painting.

embark no.9, 2013, 52 x 38.2cm, private collection Perth

I’m not sure what the figure is about. At times I have thought of him as a stand-in for the artist.

In the monotype he seems to be a witness. He seems to be supported by a hand belonging to some larger being. In the paintings he appears as though he’s being delivered to some kind of portal, as though his past is delivering him into his future.

This character appears in several paintings including the large painting below.

Embark, 2014, 220 x 160cm, private collection Melbourne, shown at Tolarno Galleries in February 2015.

I should explain the monotype technique that I am using.

In December 2011, I went to Boston to see the Edgar Degas exhibition Degas and the Nude. He is an artist I love. I knew there was going to be a good selection of his monotypes and in particular the ones where he uses the ‘dark field technique’.

With this technique a substrate is rolled up with printing ink so as to achieve a totally black inky surface (in Degas’s case I think he most often used a copper plate). I use a piece of Perspex cut to the size I can comfortably print on the small press in my studio. Then you start wiping into the ink. The image forms as light, where the ink has been removed.

I think Degas would have known the image he was aiming for, either as an idea or from a drawing. For myself, I start with no preconceived idea. I just start smudging and watch for whatever imagery might surface.

It is possible to push ink back onto the plate into areas you might want to change while trying to retain areas worth holding onto (I use my fingers). If nothing of interest comes to the surface you can just re-roll the whole surface with ink and start afresh. Most often the monotype is printed on the same day it is made. Otherwise the ink will dry on the plate and print poorly. Many times at the end of the day, with no strong image having surfaced, I end up wiping down the plate.

the fall # 7, 2012, private collection Melbourne

the fall # 7 was so nearly not printed. I had worked on it all day and there had been many figurative elements trying to surface on the right hand side of the plate, but I could get nothing to stick. I liked the figure on the left, he reminded me of a figure in the painting The Flagellation of Christ (1455 -1460) by Piero della Francesca.

You have to remember that when making these prints you are working in the reverse, so on the plate this figure was coming in from the right, as is the flagellator in the Francesca painting.

As worked on the plate.
Piero della Francesca, The Flagellation of Christ (detail), 1455–60.

So at the end of the day and with no firm imagery appearing on the left, I was about to wipe the whole thing off when the finger marks where I had been pushing ink back onto the surface reminded me of another work by an artist I admire, Savarin 3 (red) by Jasper Johns. With Johns’s lithograph in the back of my mind I decided to print this plate.

When printed, it reminded me even more of the Johns lithograph. I was pleased I hadn’t wiped off my day’s work.

Jasper Johns, Savarin 3 (red), 1978, lithograph.

For the purposes of extending this monotype and using it for this new print idea, I inverted and coloured it similarly to the Johns.

I printed out a couple of these at A4 size in the studio and started mucking around on them with coloured pencil and gouache.

Quite quickly I saw the three figures/heads up at the right and presented them with eyes, and one with a beard. Also this figure with his hand behind his back arrives from another work of mine. He moves around within the image but doesn’t hold on, and gets dumped – it was starting to look too religious.

Now this other character arrives from the bottom right.

The bearded figure drops out of the group in the upper right. I am starting to feel this could be the print, but try one last stab at the new figure introducing more colour, which doesn’t work. So I have the print.

These two images are gouache on cheap reproductions; the right hand one will become the print. Trent and I now had to talk about how to realise this.

We had originally spoken of a screenprint; Trent did a test screen to see how this could work with the subtle tonal changes in the monotype. We found that the possible screen dot breakdown from a screenprint screen could not be made fine enough (see below). I don’t think it necessarily looked so bad, but it had a different feel, and was not achieving the richness of tone found in the monotype.

We decided to try photopolymer gravure for the ground image and multiple screenprint layers for the eyes and the character coming in from the lower right. Firstly, where the screenprinted image lands on the ground image, we stripped out the underlying surface from the photopolymer plate. This is shown below from a proof of the photopolymer gravure plate.

The proof here showing the stripped out ground plate where the screenprinting will hit.

I made a line drawing for the lower figure. This drawing was used to indicate where to strip out the photopolymer plate and also for the black line screen layer.

An early charcoal drawing above and then another finer black pencil drawing used for the screen.

I made a drawing for the eyes, at a much larger size. These two drawings were used for the one screen carrying the black. There were two other screens: one for the pink and one for the white.

So that was it: the printing from the photopolymer plate, followed by the printings from the three screens. Problem almost solved, apart from registration of all the elements by Trent Walter.

The title for this print refers to the problem of titling the work as much as anything. I am unable to impose a definition or meaning on this image.

To purchase The Problem view the PCA online store here. Brent Harris’s upcoming exhibition A Backroom Project opens at Tolarno Galleries on 5 March 2016.