Q&A: Terry McKenna

Top: Richard Steiner Birds Ears, 2001, Mokuhanga water based pigments on torinoko paper, 46cm x 31cm

Above, clockwise from right:

Terry McKenna Evening Glow on Impossible Building, 2015, Mokuhanga water based pigments on kozo paper, 23cm x 35cm, Ed. 15; Konomi Honda Man’s Shirt, 2015, Mokuhanga water based pigments on washi, 40cm x 51cm, Ed 10; Tuula Moilanen Six Dreams of Ukiyo Beauty: Speed, 2009, Mokuhanga water based pigments on kozo paper, 28cm x 42cm, Ed. 36

 

Below: Richard Steiner Birds Ears, 2001, Mokuhanga water based pigments on torinoko paper, 46cm x 31cm

 

What: Kyoto Hanga – mokuhanga works by Masahiko Honjo, Konomi Honda, Tuula Moilanen, Richard Steiner and Terry McKenna

Where: East and West Gallery, High Street East Kew, Melbourne

When: 9 February-25 March

Q: What is mokuhanga and why is it rarely seen in Australia?

A: Mokuhanga is the traditional water based woodblock printing technique of Japan, most famously seen in Ukiyo-e prints such as Hokusai’s Great Wave. Outside of Japan it has generally been difficult to learn and to access tools and materials, while top practitioners have tended to exhibit mainly within Japan, often due to language barriers. These factors have made it relatively rare to see quality contemporary work here.

Q: There is a wide range of artists being exhibited – please tell us about Richard Steiner and your work with him?
A: Steiner is a senior practitioner, having lived and worked in Japan for more than 50 years. Only a few other Westerners have lived continuously immersed in traditional art forms for such an extended period. Spending an extended period working with him was a great entry into the world of mokuhanga. While training with Steiner I was able to broaden my technical skills, meet a range of other practitioners and craftspeople that would be otherwise impossible to meet as a visitor, hear lots of interesting stories about the mokuhanga world and its characters within Japan, and experience collaborative ways of working. Being immersed in Japanese life and culture was a great experience for me.
Q: How has your own work evolved since you met Steiner?

A: I see a definite development in complexity and skill over the years. This medium in particular requires practice to master and I see a gradual increase in the level of complexity, with colours, carving and print effects particular to the medium. Thematically my work has been wide ranging as Stiener encouraged me to experiment.

steiner-birds-ears-web

Q: What other influences are important to you?

A: A significant influence on my current body of work “Ballarat Hakkei” is the historical use of this theme in Chinese landscape painting and Ukiyo-e. The Eight beautiful views (Hakkei) are a set of eight themes that I have adapted to explore my responses to returning to live in Victoria after many years abroad. Originally stemming from the enforced solitude of exile, the themes have been given an ironic twist in my work.

Q: Do you see strong connections between the artists in this show?

A: Steiner and Moilanen have a long standing collegial relationship, while Honda worked for Steiner as a printer in his workshop. Honjo, for a time ran Marugo Gallery in Kyoto and has relationships with a broad range of printmakers there, so everyone knows each other, although their work remains somewhat separate. I selected them because of this – to showcase a variety of work, origins and approaches. Steiner’s work stems from the Sosaku Hanga (Creative Print) movement, through his teacher, Honjo is the product of a traditional workshop situation of professional carvers and printers producing a leading artist’s works, Moilanen and Honda are both products of Seika University although at different times and origins. In short, the common ground is the medium of mokuhanga. There are many other mokuhanga artists at work in Japan, in the future I hope to stage a more comprehensive exhibition that can showcase the amazing variety that is possible with this medium. – Andrew Stephens

Q&A: Damon Kowarsky

Top: Paul, etching and aquatint from two copper plates, 22 x 25 cm, 2012.

Above: Jeffrey, etching and aquatint from two copper plates, 13 x 19 cm, 2010

Above, right: Michael, etching and aquatint from two copper plates, 13 x 19 cm, 2010

Damon Kowarsky won the Grand Prize for the Midsumma Men on Men art competition (alongside Scott Thomas, who won People’s Choice). Kowarsky’s etchings are showing at the Laird Hotel. Megan Hanrahan finds out about his process.

 

Q: What were some of the foundation ideas for your work in your new exhibition, Exposed?

The exhibition was a result of a competition earlier in the year, the Men on Men art competition, which involved work about masculinity, and the winner got an exhibition at the Laird, a men-only pub. I picked a selection of work from the last five years that were all portraits of men as I felt that was the most appropriate response.  It is the only male-only pub in Australia, and one of a few in the world. Now, it may not seem so important, however if you look back to the early ’80s when there was a huge amount of stigma against gay men, and the rising problem with HIV, it retains its role as a special space where men who are perhaps still uncomfortable with their sexuality can go. The bulk of my work is architectural and landscape, so this was a chance to have 10 or 11 portraits that fitted together in this exhibition but hadn’t [been] seen before.

Q: The prints have a lot of strong texture – can you explain some of the technical processes at work?

I nearly always work with two-colour or two-plate etchings, so a dark black or brown and then a blue or red as a second plate. I was shown a technique where you lay down an aquatint and then draw into it with chinagraphic pencil, or a waxy pencil, and that wax resists the acid. Etching can be an indirect drawing, but in this way you get the soft crayon marks you perhaps might associate more with lithography, but you get them on an etching plate. That, plus the combination of the two plates, is what picks up the textures. I am always pushing the boundaries of what that particular technique will give. Two-plate etching is reasonably difficult enough if you’re interested in coherent registration, but there is still a lot of scope for exploration.

Q: Do you have a conscious preference for waist-up portraits? Can you elaborate on what prompts this or what you like about it?

I am much more interested in portraiture than drawing the full body. A part of that is how it fits onto the page. There is a long tradition of a head-and-shoulders bust portrait going back to the Renaissance and long before that as well. It gives some clues about the body and the person, while still remaining strongly a portrait, which is much more my interest than drawing nudes. I am interested in who the person is and my relationship to them.

Q: Do you work from life with the people in your portraits? What is the process?

Yes, absolutely. I typically will make a pencil drawing of the subject, and then if I am satisfied with that I will transfer that drawing onto the etching plate. To me that’s really the only way it will work. It’s always a challenge to draw a portrait, and that’s a good way to learn and develop skills. We live in an age where photographic portraiture is everywhere… it can be done so easily, so taking the time to do something that requires practice and skill has a value. There is also a political element – I don’t think the world should only be viewed through the lens. Our eyes were the primary way we looked at the world for a long time, and understood the world, and I think there is also value in that.

Q: What are the sorts of feelings or emotions you would hope to prompt with these works?

I want them to enjoy looking at it. It has got to be interesting to them, and visually rich, and then they are free to develop any ideas they want from it afterwards.

Q: What drew you to art and printmaking? Was the process of creating fostered in you as a child, or did you discover it later in life?

 It was certainly always there when I was young, my mum did drawing when I was a child, and we had a close family friend who was a designer back in the day when that meant a room full of pencils and watercolours, cutting knives, ink, paper and all the kind of things that don’t exist in the design world anymore. I loved the sense of craft that he had. And then I started making art when I as a 19-year-old, and fell in love with printmaking. Printmaking felt the most natural. I liked the combination of craft, and the ability to be artistic and experimental. With printmaking, you need to rely on techniques, but you can push them as far as you want. – Megan Hanrahan

Exposed: Damond Kowarsky and Scott Thomas

The Laird Hotel, 149 Gipps St Abbotsford

Until February 3