Limited edition: intimate views

Review

Limited Edition: : A selection of PCA commissioned prints from the Burnie Regional Art Gallery Collection

146 ArtSpace, Hobart

Reviewer: Jan Hogan

Arts Tasmania signed off the Print Council of Australia’s 2016 Year of Print celebrations at 146 Artspace, Hobart, with a delightful selection of prints from the Burnie Regional Art Gallery. The curator Melissa Smith had the unenviable task of selecting from an already pared back exhibition of 50 prints, which had aimed to mirror the 50th anniversary of the Print Council. While many favourites were left behind I enjoyed the smaller hang, which invited an intimate view of the works.

The curator’s decision to show a selection of prints covering a broad time period and range of styles and processes gave us a mini-review of the history of print in Australia. There were examples from each decade and included a broad range of printmaking processes, reflecting a democratic approach appropriate for the occasion. A crucial aspect of the exhibition was the sensitive marriage of form with content including an intelligent use of paper ensuring that the substrate became an integral part of the image. One of the finest examples of this was Rona Green’s linocut of Slim, 2005, a cocky, tattooed rabbit, arms folded, staring back at the viewer like a portrait of the black sheep of the family. The matt black ink seeps into the paper mirroring its tattooed character. The white paper pushes the figure forward, with the exquisite hand-colouring accentuating the fluffy texture of the paper. If Slim weren’t so cocky you would want to touch that tattooed flesh to feel the minute shift from flesh to ink. Whilst Green’s strong graphic work is so reproducible this work is a fine example of why prints need to be viewed in the flesh.

In comparison to the bold graphics of Green’s linocut, a lithograph by Peter Lysiottis shimmers with the diffused view of a cityscape. The City; a memory of, 2012, combines digital imagery scraped and reworked on the lithographic plate with muted, subtle tones and small flickers of red that race the eye around the image like flashes of car lights careening around a city. The surface of the print reminds us of the layered, worn and demolished buildings making way for new developments accentuating a city that will always be a memory as it shifts and changes over time.

There were some lovely examples of artist’s earlier works such as Michael Schlitz’s drypoint etching of The Astronomer, 2004, which acts as a precursor to his woodcut figures caught in the stump of trees.michael-schlitz-astronomer-760x560 The Astronomer is a figure pared back to the essentials of a star gazing head attached to a wandering body. The yellow tonal background accentuates the chaotic plate tone imaging the chaos of the universe the figure is attempting to order. G.W. Bot’s Glyphs, 2007 also reveal an artist whose imagery has emerged from the linocut medium she first developed her forms in. The glyphs dance across the page in a preverbal language that sits on the edge of consciousness. I would highly an annual outing of works from the print collection, as it is so important to be able to engage with their physical presence.

Jan Hogan is the coordinator of printmaking at the Tasmanian College of the Arts.

 

 

 

Above: Michael Schlitz’s The Astronomer (2004)

Navigating peripheral spaces: The intangible printed mark

Review

Common Ground

Curve Gallery, Newcastle, NSW, 10 December-29 January

Reviewer: Sarah Robinson

 

Greg Fuller, Jason Hicklin and Tracy Hill, explore a unique collaborative practice that transcends both digital and traditional printmaking. In Fuller, Hicklin and Hill’s Common Ground, intangible encounters within the landscape occur for all three UK artists while navigating a landscape on foot. Through their conceptual excavation of the landscape this mapping process follows public rights of way and footpaths, along the Mersey Estuary in Liverpool, UK, and the Hunter Estuary in NSW, Australia. The artists’ intention through the act of walking in parallel estuarine locations asks how the full range of sensory experience might influence place-making.

Fuller, Hicklin and Hill each bring elements of their individual printmaking practice to this collaborative process. The three artists converse with each other during specific walks searching for purposeful intersections, where intangible marks (drawn, dotted and pixel) are collected as ‘data’[i].

Navigating the contemporary prints in the gallery context reveals the common ground to be at the point where land, sky and earth meet; it is more than an ethereal space. Common Ground embraces a diversity of printmaking that challenges how this might be perceived. A dialogue exists between the prints revealed by a visible dynamic that can be followed throughout the exhibited works. Each artist determines individual points of navigating the peripheral space in the prints that encourages a physical movement – as the negating of landscape or viewing a conceptual line of perception is clearly transferred to the experience of the gallery visitor.

Hicklin’s work is subtle, conceptually underpinned by the process of walking repeatedly in, on and through a landscape, often crossing the same path many times. Hicklin describes himself as being ‘blind’ without drawing while walking in remote locations as time and space construct a peripheral re-coding and cognitive etching of place. Hicklin’s Headland (2016) is atmospheric space alive with the traditional aesthetic and materiality of etching, employing open bite and aquatint. Visual technologies scholar Sean Cubitt (2014), whose extensive research into the historical origins of the central features of digital imaging, offers intriguing evidence for the origin of pixels in nineteenth-century prints. It appears that the pixel might tentatively lie in at the point of Hicklin’s open bite etching residing in the materiality of the image.

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Jason Hicklin, (2016), Headland (Diptych), Etching and Aquatint, Editioned to 30, size 98 x 47cm. Courtesy of the artist.

 

Hill digitally scans wetland landscapes (employing a FARO Focus 3D laser scanner) which physically puts her in a unique position, the scanner cannot scan itself; there is a digital blind spot at the centre of the ten-metre scanning radius.

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Tracy Hill, (2016), Scanning On Gowy Meadows, Ellesmere Port Cheshire, UK. Courtesy of the artist.

A blind spot is the place where Hill stands and surveys Wetlands; a similar position to standing in front of her work Harmonious Constituents (2016), where the immersion into a new space asks what it is you are actually seeing? Hill removes specific data from digitally scanning the real wetland landscape to leave a liminal boundary held in intaglio type, ingeniously fitted into a new cognitive space, one that Hill calls a ‘re-imaging of place’.

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Tracy Hill, (2016), Harmonious Constituents, intaglio type, Editioned to 4, size 96 x 59 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Hicklin and Hill are explorers bringing back ‘data’ by provoking innate human senses in the Curve Gallery. Seeking the intangible mark in Mud Printing on the River Mersey, (2016) Fuller walks, draws and responds to the moment, like the tidal ranges Fuller observes in the field, tides of beauty develop in his work informed by searching under the surface of the familiar. For Fuller, the collaborative methodology creates moments to observe The Mersey River in a different way, informed through the narratives of people he encounters along the riverbank.

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Above: Greg Fuller, (2016), Mud Printing on the River Mersey. Below: Mersey Studies, Mixed Media on paper (2016), installation view, Curve Gallery, Newcastle, NSW. Courtesy of the artist.

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All three international artists are passionate in disseminating their printmaking skills to others. Fuller, Hicklin and Hill consider the educational process through lecturing and maintaining contemporary printmaking workshops crucial to the development of a different kind of ‘Common Ground’; one that is key in the guardianship of traditional printmaking processes. Hicklin talks of the democracy of print as common ground, stretching over continents, a universal language that survives material and technological advances.

Common Ground: Curve Gallery, Newcastle, NSW, 10 December-29 January

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Eames Fine Art Gallery, London, represents Jason Hicklin.

Sarah Robinson is a creative practice-led researcher and contemporary artist based in Perth, WA.

[i] Data here is interpreted as digital, drawn or cognitive.

 

The complex bargain: animals and humans

Review

A Covenant with the Animals

Murray Bridge Regional Gallery, 2 December-29 January

Reviewer: Christobel Kelly

By way of the title A Covenant with the Animals, curators Stephanie Radok and Sandra Starkey Simon convey a certain sense of gravitas in the relational bargain that humans and animals enact in the world. The binding nature of this agreement also exists as a penumbra and many of the artists engage with the indeterminate area where wilderness intersects with human convocation.

As the contemporary writer Robert Macfarlane reminds us, wild signs attached to natural life may be vigorously experienced close by, and not necessarily in some distant mountain range.  In Fanny Retsek’s concertina artists’ book, The Lost Fables of el Palo Alto, we see her observation of animals whose infiltration into suburbia parallels our own for a brief moment. This fleeting contact reminded the artist of Aesop’s fables, and the elusive moral instruction attached to the presence of animals. Her work Flee, on the other hand, alludes to the limiting beliefs that compel humans to tamper with apex predators in the wilderness areas of North America. Here, in this large-scale work, we see a delightful rush of animals all skittering in one direction. The endearing aesthetic of the work is almost jarring when one understands that their stampede is away from the unforeseen collapse of ecosystems brought on by myopic environmental policies.

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Lloma Mackenzie, Seeking Cover 11 (detail) 2016, relief printed French oak planks, linocuts on Wenzhou paper, linocut oak leaves on French dictionary pages, 2400 x 46 cm

The clattering restlessness between nature and culture is also present in the work Seeking Cover I, II and III, by Lloma Mackenzie.

A tension in this three-panelled work arises from the compassionate depiction of the animals that live in the oak forests of southern France, the innate beauty of the foliage that provides them with shelter and the subtle inference that come autumn, the animals formerly nurtured by the forest become threatened by it as the woods become the site of the hunt. For Mackenzie, the twist in the human activity of hunting is the use of dogs bred for that purpose.

The human activity of weaving in Beth Hatton’s piece Selection, 2nd Series is used to create a contemporary tapestry that references early settler floor coverings. Hatton, who originally coined the phrase, ‘a covenant with the animals’, poses nuanced and complex questions about our need for textiles. Through the use of kangaroo fur and sheep’s wool, as well as embedded text naming a variety of Australian marsupials, she draws attention to the pivoting equilibrium between the wild and the domestic; questions which go to the heart of the conundrum of how we maintain the benefits of biodiversity while at the same time fulfilling our material need for animal- and plant-based fibres.

The biodiversity that sustains us on a physical level also sustains us in some deep emotional sphere, and Stephanie Radok’s ink on paper calligraphic drawings Marsupialiania celebrates the ‘creatureliness’ of the Australian animals whose names and faces may have been forgotten through extinction and endangerment. In her essay to accompany the catalogue Radok reminds us that, like the animals in her garden, these creatures had, and continue to have a living presence.  Another series of woodcuts, printed in warm hues, captures the individuality of each small marsupial. In a similar way, the contemporary Australian philosopher Raimond Gaita, reminds us that the relational juncture we have with animals leads us to ‘embrace the fact that animality is at the heart of our human identity’.[1]

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Above: Stephanie Radok, Woylie – extinct in South East from The Marsupialiania Suite, 2016, drawing, oak gall ink on Zerkall paper, 38.5 x 53 cm
Above, right: Andrea Przygonski and Sandra Starkey Simon, Kuula and her Flora Bones after Georges Cuvier, Koala, 1817, engraving, from the series Viewpoints, 2016, edition of  5 screenprint on digital painting, 76 x 50 cm

 

This sensitive philosophical viewpoint is also shared by Andrea Przygonski and co-curator Sandra Starkey Simon.  Their collaboration has resulted in a series of screenprints on digital paintings. Each of the Australian animals presented in the work hearkens back to the work of colonial artists. The names of the animals, however, are spelled out in various Aboriginal languages alluding to the shape of absence in the Australian landscape.

Interspersed between these screenprints are a number of brightly coloured acrylic shelves that house a series of Australian animal souvenirs. Although these small-scale works have a particularly kitsch aesthetic, perhaps a slow reading of their minuscule presence may also invite the viewer to regard the souvenired animals as icons to be revered and treasured.

In flitting between the time periods of settler incursion and present-day tourism, Przygonski and Starkey Simon call attention to the post-colonial sweep of time, and the effect it has had on the changing regard for the animal population of Australia.

At the core of Laura Wills’ work Animals Indo is a regard for human and animal interconnectedness, which is prompted by ideas of Buddhist philosophy. This universality can be seen in her digital drawings of endangered Indonesian animals that contain worlds within worlds. Each image is an amalgam of other human figures, flowers, swathes of material and so on. In this almost collage-like work, we are invited to view the world as both whole and composite at the same time. Likewise her deeply mysterious work Blackbreech depicts a breeching southern right whale. Whilst airborne, the creature straddles two worlds and, suspended in time, we are able to see that in the place of encrusted barnacles and sea creatures, its entire body is composed of clouds in a strange inversion of the elements.

More tender than didactic, this exhibition avoids overloading the viewer with a sense of ecological diminishment, rather, it calls us to come quietly and observe the animals that share our world. Through the distinctive lens of each of these seven artists we are able to recruit a sense of wonder at their covenant with the animals.

Christobel Kelly is a South Australian printmaker and lecturer in Art History at Adelaide College of the Arts.

[1] Raimond Gaita, The Philosopher’s Dog, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2002, 175.

The journeys of Stephen Spurrier’s curious mind

REVIEW

Journeys of a Curious Mind: The art & lives of Stephen Spurrier 

and Ugg Boot Press: It’s a long story

Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery, 29 October-18 December

Reviewer: Jan Davis

An exhibition which honours a fifty-year career couldn’t be a better way to draw the Print Council of Australia’s fiftieth birthday celebrations to a close. Journeys of a Curious Mind: The art & lives of Stephen Spurrier celebrates an extraordinary Australian printmaker, relentless producer and inspiring teacher, possessed of unmatched curiosity, wit and generosity.

When writing about Spurrier it is impossible to divorce the work from the life. This artist moves through the world in a most imaginative way, awake to all manner of curiosities and contradictions from studying the miniature in the natural world to imagining the broadest cosmos, examining the human condition from the psychological to the physiological.

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Stephen Spurrier’s Cosmos #3  (2014 -16), hand-coloured multi plate etching and screenprint on paper, 40 x 29.5cm

Spurrier’s earliest etchings made during and immediately after his studies at RMIT in Melbourne, such as Man cloud II (1969), reveal his early concerns with psychological space and our interactions with the world. These concerns thread their way continuously through his practice and remain evident in current work such as Cosmos #3, (2014-16). His early screenprints show the influence of Japanese prints with their use of blended colour, and introduce mixed materials and collage, a hallmark of Spurrier’s future practice.

Journeys of a Curious Mind: Spurrier becomes an inveterate traveller, setting up temporary or semi-permanent studios away from his Melbourne base. A trip to Cape Tribulation yields scale and colour to Outside Biloela (1984); later an Ecuadorian trip gives edginess to the colour etching There’s a gunner on my tongue (1991). Paintings and drawings from journeys — to Barcelona, New Delhi and Bundanon — show his trademark use of mixed-media.

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Above: Stephen Spurrier’s Man cloud II  (1969) woodcut with screenprint on paper, 61 x 53cm. Above right: Ugg Boot Press: It’s a long story, installation view Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery

Ugg Boot Press: It’s a long story is dedicated to Spurrier’s artists’ books. This accompanying exhibition in the adjacent gallery space is curated by Mary Collins, Research Commissioner for Ugg Boot Press. ‘Mary Collins’ is another creation of Spurrier’s curious mind. She writes commentary and book introductions on Spurrier’s behalf, her voice bringing a steadiness and a seriousness of intent to counterbalance the artist’s frivolity. In the introduction to POSTCARD PUZZLES she observes ‘…that holiday travel is a luxury is sometimes forgotten by many of us. Other people in the world travel only for survival…’

Ugg Boot Press publications fill this second gallery space: concertina artists’ books tumble down the walls, series after series of books with titles such as Strangers in the Garden – Gymnophobia jostle for space in display cabinets, many produced through Spurrier’s highly original use of the colour photocopier. Here one also finds the collaborative artists’ books Stephen made after he left Melbourne in 1998 for a teaching position at University of Southern Queensland. These are really conversations with his now-distant colleagues: funny or elegant, sexy or dark.

Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery is to be commended for this ambitious exhibition that so sensitively encompasses the complexities of the fifty-year professional career of an enigmatic and curious man. The exhibition is supported by a full catalogue and lively public program.

Jan Davis is a Lismore-based artist and Adjunct Associate Professor at Southern Cross University.

2016 Libris Awards

In his announcement speech for the 2016 Libris Awards at Artspace Mackay judge Sasha Grishin makes the observation that: ‘The contemporary artists’ book is characterised by boundless freedom’, and adds that: ‘… it has absorbed many conceptual frameworks, many art mediums and technologies and goes across the spectrum of the senses.’

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Brooke Ferguson’s The Small Garden

Visitors to Artspace and the Libris Awards encounter an open space with islands of book presentation devices. Plinths of all sizes – some encased, others at floor level, there are shelves on walls, books as mobile installations hung from the ceiling and other books with ‘pages’ covering large expanses of wall. This is not an easy walk-through exhibition as each work beckons, siren-like, calling for the extended gaze of the reader.

On this occasion the winners were:

  • Artspace Mackay Foundation Youth and Student Artists Book Award (under 26 years), went to Brooke Ferguson and her The Small Garden (for M.S.).*
  • Mackay Regional Council Regional Artists Book Award for a local artist went to May‐Britt Mosshamer for Tapping the knowledge.*
  • Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal National Artists Book Award $10,000 Acquisitive Award went to George Matoulas and Angela Cavalieri, with the text by Antoni Jach, for Europa to Oceania.*

 

Some books call for special mention. Caren Florance’s Pleasure demolition is transfixing. The suspended brown paper sheets with a hand printed letterpress phrases from poetry by Angela Gardner are animated by the flow of air and movement in the space. Forever moving, the oscillation of the pages becomes a machine for the generation of concrete poetry… phrases twirl and merge, poetic moments where new meaningful/less messages materialise.

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May-Britt Mosshammer’s Tapping the Knowledge and, right, Caren Florance’s Pleasure Demolition.

The individual pages of Jamian Stayt’s Soulless evolution are pinned to the wall making what may seem like a vast wallpaper pattern.  However, Stayt’s work invites a closer reading of the cipher hidden within the layers of the image. He presents some big questions where contemporary notions of tradition are challenged and rapidly changing technology has intertwined agency in the evolutionary pathway for humanity.

Julie Barratt’s Blair Athol recut refers to Solastalgia: a theory on the contemporary human condition for a deep loss of place. In one part of the installation there is a book of dark photolithographs where maps are encroached upon by black inks. For the reader this growing blackness evokes a gloomy absence. Facing the dark pages in the clamshell container are vials of coloured soils, plant fragments and found objects. Although collected from this disturbed place, these samples are vibrant and alive – perhaps they are the vestiges of childhood memories that recall a different time before the destruction of the physical place by coal mining.

Many books feature photographs as the primary carrier of the narrative. Ana Paula Estrada’s Memorandum employs the medium to document elderly people and their connection with life through personal photographs and how their memories are re-lived through viewing these photos. The book, conceived and made through the Siganto Foundation Creative Fellowship in the Australian Library of Art at the State Library of Queensland, is a complex assemblage of contemporary portraits, photo-glimpses from family albums and a narrative conveyed through the turning of pages.

As usual the artists’ book as exhibition defies direct touch and the turning of pages for narratives to be revealed and for the book to speak of what it has allowed the artist to create. But for the 72 books in the exhibition to be read the visitor would need to stay for the duration of the exhibition, working through the night with white gloves and torchlight. The exhibition reconnects and continues the significant contribution of the Artspace Mackay’s Libris Award to inspire artists and create a space discourse on the book in all its forms. In doing so the assembled exhibition represents cutting edge survey of Australian artists’ book practice.

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George Matoulas and Angela Cavalieri, with the text by Antoni Jach, for Europa to Oceania.

Some works will become part of the Artspace Mackay collection; others will be re-packaged and returned to their makers. While the exhibition is dispersed its spirit will continue in the form of the gallery’s excellent illustrated catalogue, the text of Grishin’s speech, reviews, videos and other commentaries such as this, as well as the memories of the readers who viewed the show.

In two years time – the next iteration of this important event in the Australian artists’ book calendar will take place again. Wouldn’t it be nice if the whole collection could be purchased and held in perpetuity as a record of the discipline? Until then …

Dr Doug Spowart

16 October 2016

Dr Doug Spowart is an artist and independent researcher and was the 2015 Siganto Foundation Research Fellow in artists’ books at the State Library of Queensland.

 

*Commentaries on these works are contained in Grishin’s Award speech and other reviews of the Libris Awards.

 

Ben Rak’s Pictures of Scratches exposes contemporary art hierarchies

 

By Tony Curran

Ben Rak’s exhibition at Manly Art Gallery takes an abstract and conceptual language to question social inequality through the microcosm of contemporary art. Pictures of Scratches is a graceful discussion of social discrimination disguised as cool minimalist formalism.

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Scratches (detail), 2016. Etching installation of 160 panels, 350 x 220 cm. Area shown, 100 x 120 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

The most dominant visual element of Rak’s Pictures of Scratches is the array of sharp, scratched angular polygons that repeat in varied instances throughout the show. The feature works in the show are one large wall installation of 160 small etchings titled Scratches, 2016 and two large paintings, Untitled I and II (Paintings of Scratches), 2016. Scratches is produced from shards of off-cut etcher’s zinc, sliced into irregular shapes and scratched randomly – shaken in a bucket or foul-bitten. The kinds of scratches and foul biting are marks usually treated by the printmaker as accidents but they carry formal similarities to the visual splatters of abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock or Joan Mitchell. The paintings are derived from the forms and textures in Scratches but enlarged to confront the viewer on a near-human scale.

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Untitled (Painting of Scratches), 2016. Acrylic painting and silkscreen on canvas, 130 x 170 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
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Untitled II (Painting of Scratches), 2016. Acrylic painting and silkscreen on canvas, 130 x 170 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

The platonic geometry in this new show is a bold departure from the icons of cultural and subcultural identity that appear in Rak’s previous works. His earlier work has used reproductions of kitsch souvenirs, landscapes surf art as a way to identify contemporary strategies of performing identity. Hula Bobble from 2014 features a Hawaiian dashboard decoration printed in barcode, drawing attention to the mass production and commercialisation of culture in a critique of globalism’s diminution of authentic forms of cultural and subcultural identity.

Rather than appropriating iconography for Pictures of Scratches, Rak has invented a new visual language using the quirks of etching and screenprinting as signifiers of an historically marginalised subculture – print media artists. In an interview with Abdullah M. I. Syed in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, Rak outlines his objective to test the “media hierarchies” that seem to marginalise print media. Compared to art forms such as painting, print media has a strong history as being marginalised due to the mechanical process that mediates between the artist’s hand and the final artwork, in addition to print’s tendency towards multiples rather than unique products of artistic genius.

In Pictures of Scratches these media hierarchies battle it out. Screenprints face paintings as opponents and some works are hybrid print-paintings on canvas. However, the development of the work suggests a gradual immersion into painting as the room moves clockwise from Scratches to the screenprinted Pictures of Scratches, culminating with increasingly sophisticated Paintings of Scratches including an anomaly of the show, a shaped canvas combining screenprinting with acrylic painting, Untitled III (Painting of Scratches) 2016. The exhibition culminates in two major paintings that build on the achievements of the others while incorporating ambiguous narratives, colour and a more complex figure-ground dynamic.

At first, the commanding presence of these larger paintings feels contradictory to the intention of Rak’s exhibition. Untitled I and Untitled II by far steal the show. The artist’s impressive development as a self-taught painter suggests he has converted to painting by a progressive development of masking, glazing and experimental mark-making. The paintings’ large scale makes them viewable from a distance, but an intricate texture of the scratches invites closer inspection from the viewer but beware, this closer inspection might reveal more about you than you are prepared to admit. After some close examination of the paintings I realised that most of these scratches are actually printed onto the canvas. I was immediately disappointed that the painting had been “shortcut” by the silkscreen and that the labour of painting I had admired was not at all made by the artist’s hand.

Rak anticipated this reaction and skilfully made it the point of the exhibition. However, rather than a didactic critique of media hierarchies, camouflaging it within the minimalist form means that when the message is received the work pounces on the viewer not conceptually but affectively.

 The strength of any good art is to show rather than tell. This work does exactly that. It avoids the didacticism prone to a lot of conceptual art. A subtler approach, such as this, is easier to swallow and far more profound.

Pictures of Scratches Manly Art Gallery and Museum 28 October–4 December, 2016

[Dr Tony Curran holds a PhD in Fine Art from Charles Sturt University. He is currently a Vice Chancellor’s Visiting Artist Fellow at the Australian National University School of Art.]

Afterlife at West Gallery, Thebarton

Review by Geoff Gibbons

Afterlife is the inaugural exhibition for a new gallery in the western suburbs of Adelaide that features spacious well lit exhibition spaces occupying the first floor of a modern building. The gallery is the initiative of Margie Sheppard, whose vibrant multi-plate colour etchings can be seen in several interstate galleries.

Margie SheppardCherish, 2016, etching, 62 x 79 cm.

This exhibition of prints brings together a selection of work by many of Adelaide’s leading contemporary printmakers. Curated by Christobel Kelly artists were asked to consider the theme of ‘afterlife’, invoking the analysis of ruins and ruination as described by Walter Benjamin in his Arcades Project.

A number of the fourteen artists represented have explored the potential of working with the randomness of marks left as a trace of earlier projects. Lorelei Medcalf’s exquisite artist’s book comprises collaged segments from etchings that take on hybrid forms constructed from industrial landscapes and plants, all made from a richness of mark making textures. Similarly Simone Tippett has explored the ghost print‘s relationship to its source, in this case a heavily corroded metal plate. She achieves a sense of transience in the subtle traces made on strips of monoprinted paper that seem to hover somewhere between real time and remembered time.

Olga SankeyBloom: Burn, 2016, digital/intaglio, 23 x 40.5 cm.

Olga Sankey references a key concept in Benjamin’s analysis, that of the capacity of ruined objects to divulge insights into their former life. Her paired images can refer to the aftermath of actions, the consequent transformation from abundant life (bloom) to alternate states (burn/blush). Altered states feature in Aleksandra Antic’s long scroll-like silkscreen, giclee and monoprint. Taking as her point of departure an eroded fence that separates a section of the Botanic Gardens from the Royal Adelaide Hospital, the perforations become points of connection providing glimpses into very different social spaces.

Michele Lane’s series of intaglio prints reference the destruction of the Baalshamin temple at Palmyra in Syria. If Benjamin believed that ruination could lay bare the truth of an object one truth is surely that it is impossible to maintain permanence and continuity in a mutable world. Sandra Starkey Simon engages with a related subject in her large screenprint, collagraph and stencil print Firestorm which references the periodic destruction of the city of Magdeburg. Amid the piles of rubble signs of former lives can sometimes be found and even new life in the form of chrysalises.

Sandra Starkey-SimonFirestorm, 2016, screenprint, collagraph and stencil, 76 x 56 cm.

Suzie Lockery’s frieze like print evokes cosmic realms complete with an oval shaped portal that suggests access to other states, even to other parts of the universe. The shimmering points of light on the surface of the portal evoke the myriad of stars in our galaxy. Flanking images recall the background static that is now believed to be the aftermath of the big bang when the universe was a cauldron of intense heat.

Joshua Searson plays with screenprinted images of early film posters. Their fragments recall the layers of torn and over-pasted prints that once adorned the walls and display stands of cities throughout the world. These prints also reference Benjamin’s concept of the Dream World to describe the way that consumer goods and mass culture epitomised by Hollywood films can become the source of an alternative fantasy world that is both seductive and illusory.

This exhibition exemplifies a renewed interest in finding new forms of visual language derived from printmaking that are richly allusive yet capable of engaging the viewer for their graphic qualities.

Afterlife will be on display at West Gallery Thebarton until 10 September.

Geoff Gibbons is a foundation member and chairperson of Bittondi Printmakers Association Inc. that was formed in 2008 to provide an access workshop for artist-printmakers. He has taught printmaking in TAFE and at the Adelaide Central School of Art where he currently lectures in art history and theory.

Scratch & Pierce

Mei Sheong Wong guides us through Scratch & Pierce, an exhibition of prints and plates by contemporary South Australian artists exploring the nexus between printmaking and scratched and pierced surfaces. Curated by PCA Committee Members Simone Tippett, founder of Union Street Printmakers, and Vicki Reynolds, Head of Printmaking at AC Arts.

Top: Sandra Starkey Simon, 28 Korana St (detail), 2015, drypoint with chine colle. L-R: Jane DisherHearts for Catholic Girls III, IV and V, 2016,  scraper board.

Like previous South Australian grassroots shows such as Low-Brow and Inked, this marvellous collection Scratch & Pierce has mushroomed from an underground mycelium of devoted printmakers. The elegant venue forms a warren of discovery, showcasing forty-one items by thirty-one South Australian artists.

Inside, John Blines’ uncompromising oeuvre is deliberately confrontational with its accusatory text and severely obliterating process, while bold design and confident process manifest in Simone Tippett’s intaglio collagraph Heartlands. Religious relics inspire Jane Disher’s concentrated scraper-board images in Hearts for Catholic Girls. Primitivist, mask-like forms inform Olga Sankey‘s Spoils and, alongside this, metal ‘shields’ with anachronistic inscriptions are depicted in her work Trophies.

Olga Sankey, Trophies, 2016, etched, inked and mounted zinc plate.

Gloves literally come off in the next chamber. Lorelei Medcalf’s grisly home-made tools accentuate the scratchy physicality of her gorgeous etching Hand Work. Geoff Counsell employs inescapably sinister material in Barbed Shadows, and with a material casting process Stephanie Radok explores the bookish interface between positive and negative in Social Policies for Old Age.

Stephanie Radok, Social Policies for Old Age, 2016, mixed media.

Petra Dolezalova Troyn fabricates intricate, cast resin prints, exposed for scrutiny with medical precision. In the Brevity triptych, Kate Bohunnis provides a subtle interplay of colours, textures and shapes, screenprinted on plywood; while Sarah Thame’s meticulous engraving Untitled scintillates with swirling patterns.

Sarah Thame, Untitled, 2016, engraving; Untitled, 2016, engraved plate.

The Landscape series of cyanotypes by Lauren Sutter is derived from rearranged, fragmented negatives, while Joshua Searson’s pop-inspired combination print City Breathing merges layers of appropriated, eye-catching graphics. Extending the vein of Surrealist montage, Andrew Dearman’s absurdist self-portrait dioramas evince quirky materiality via the notoriously fraught process of ambrotype (wet plate photography on glass).

The pace slows with Margaret Sanders’ Landscape, stylised, perforated linocuts; and Michael James Rowland’s sublime Ghost Tree woodblock, carved from reclaimed timber, is imbued with wabi-sabi aesthetic.

Michael James Rowland, Ghost Tree, 2016, woodcut print and woodblock.

Reminiscent of Chagall’s iconic floating figures, Sandra Starkey Simon’s 28 Korana Street, a delicate dry-point on chine collé, offers an intimate vignette. Etched metal breastplates underpin Sonya Hender’s expressive shift into moody, emblematic prints. And Janet Neilson embraces the unforeseen in A Silverfish Perhaps?, her combination print on ‘insect-damaged’ paper.

In the multi-media work Resurface, Georgina Willoughby experiments with unconventional composition and earthy colours, while Liz Butler’s Margins of Place reveals an on-going fascination with grungy material landscapes of rusted steel plates. Jake Holmes highlights humble, scuffed streetscapes in his frottage-inspired Urban Relief monoprint.

Unique states of Palenque, Hanah Williams’ striking vertical etchings, convey intense materiality. While Vicki Reynolds series Run Away evokes the poignant vulnerability of endangered fauna. The works embody an Arte Povera aesthetic: precise mark-making with simple materials – in this case, salvaged/repurposed polystyrene plates (souvenired during a recent Vicarious Press residency in Fabriano, Italy).

Larkworthy’s lithograph Imagined Landscape expresses graphic clarity and lilting modulation. While a penchant for the whimsical emerges in Jamie Alexander’s carefully crafted compositions Creature with 3 Stars and Creature Study for Abandoning. Barbara Coddington’s monoprint Monsters and Robots reveals a Surrealist impulse, with disrupted text snippets amidst haptic scissor shapes, interspersed with disconcerting red embroidery.

Chris de Rosa, Beatrice, 2015, digital inkjet print, etching and pigment stain on perforated magnani paper.

Dark, unsettling silhouettes contradict deceptively soothing hues in Christobel Kelly’s diptych monotype Ravensmutter. Aleksandra Antic’s multi-media installation Flatness Endless, reminiscent of Sally Smart’s extensive stencil/print/wall compositions, skilfully integrates material multiplicity with tonal interplay. In Lepidoptera Victoriana and accompanying hand-crafted brooches, Sue Garrard shifts gleefully between imagery, process, dimensions and reclaimed materials.

Suzie Lockery’s subtle variations in pattern and process shape the composition of Trajectories 1 and glorious hues and complex organic forms surge forth in Beatrice, Chris de Rosa’s resplendent combination print.

This multifarious exhibition Scratch & Pierce is a great opportunity to tap into the buzzing network of South Australia’s vibrant print community.

Scratch and Pierce will be on display at Gallery 1855, Tea Tree Gully, until 30 July.

Canzone – Music as Storytelling

Wendy Garden, Curator of Australian Art at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, reviews Angela Cavalieri‘s current exhibition, the result of a five-year exploration of Monteverdi’s madrigals, now on display at the Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, Parap, NT.

In order of appearance: Angela Cavalieri, Canzone – Music as Storytelling (installation view showing left to right: Combattimento, 2013, and Il ritorno, 2015); Canzone – Music as Storytelling (installation view showing left to right: Ragionando, 2015; Gira …, 2014; and Giro, 2015). Below: Ragionando, 2015, hand-printed linocut, acrylic on canvas, 212.5 x 150.5 cm; All images courtesy of the artist and NCCA.

Opera today is loved for its melodrama and the expressive scores that give life to its narratives. It is essentially musical storytelling and this is what interested Angela Cavalieri in her investigations into the music of Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), brought together in the exhibition Canzone – Music as Storytelling currently on display at the Northern Centre for Contemporary Art in Darwin.

Monteverdi is often credited with creating the first opera, L’Orfeo in 1607, but this is incorrect. What he did do, however, was create the first great opera, which gave rise to the modern form as we know it today.[1] Frequently hailed as the father of opera, Monteverdi changed opera by creating musical drama based on real people and historic events. He placed human emotions at the fore seeking a union between words and sound.

Monteverdi was an obvious choice when the Arts Centre in Melbourne commissioned Cavalieri to create a work about opera five years ago. Cavalieri has long been interested in the spoken word: the language of gossip; of love; of the tales we tell; of the things that we say and don’t say; of the things better left unsaid; of the words that can hurt or heal – and the magic of storytelling itself. Her recent foray into musical narrative, inspired by Monteverdi’s operas and madrigals, has enabled her to develop this further and draws upon her own experiences of her father singing stories to her as a child.

The Arts Centre commission was followed by a State Library of Victoria Creative Fellowship from 2012 to 2013. This enabled Cavalieri to research more thoroughly the musical scores and original sixteenth century texts and the Italian poets that inspired Monteverdi.

In 2015 Cavalieri undertook a residency in Venice at La Scuola Internazionale di Grafica and this enabled her to explore the city where Monteverdi was based in the last decades of his life. One of the significant works to come out of this residency is Il Ritorno, 2015, based on Monteverdi’s opera Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria – the story of the return of Ulysses after the Trojan wars. Constructed as a double-arched bridge over the water that swirls beneath, it calls to mind the bridges of Venice and makes reference to the twin movements of departure and return. But it also powerfully underscores the way in which words fundamentally create bridges between people. Without language and the level of deep communication it allows, we would, in many ways, remain somewhat isolated from each other. It is through words that we connect together forming bonds that encompass a broad and nuanced range of emotions.

While some of her images can be seen as a more literal response to the music and the occasion of its performance, for instance Pur ti miro, pur ti godo, 2012, other images are more abstract in their treatment. An example is Ragionando, 2015, from Monteverdi’s Seventh Book of Madrigals. It is a response to the moment in the story when the two lovers kiss. They lament that while declaring their love they cannot kiss and while they kiss they cannot speak of their love – what joy if they could ‘kiss the words and to speak the kisses’. Cavalieri gives visual form to the dilemma entwining text in ribbons that interlace to create forms that have a roundedness vaguely reminiscent of pursed lips. Likewise Giro, 2015, is a play with the visual form of rounded sounds that repeat and pivot creating spirals.

Cavalieri has built an international reputation for her formidable lino-prints that give visual form to sounds, rhythms and tempos. This compelling exhibition allows us to enter into the music of Monteverdi and reflect upon the timeless narratives at the heart of his moving scores.

 

[1] Tom Ford, ‘Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and the invention of opera,’ Limelight, August 2012. Accessed 5 April 2016.

Canzone – Music as Storytelling will be on display at NCCA until 7 May, 2016.

 

The Unstable Image

Christobel Kelly reviews a new printmaking exhibition at SASA Gallery (South Australian School of Art Gallery), Adelaide, in which artists explore and challenge the inherent qualities of the medium.

Above: Aleksandra Antic, Lapse, 2013, screenprint on drafting film, 350 x 240 x 80 cm (approx). Below left: Paul Coldwell, Conversation II, 2014, inkjet and relief, 55 x 70 cm (image) 59 x 84 cm (paper). Below right: Joel Gailer, Hotmetal, 2016, screenprint on reflective mylar, 179 x 124.5 cm.

For printmakers, engagement with transparency functions on many different levels. Maybe the artist is making work that invites the viewer to look through something in order to see something else. Or maybe, as suggested by Professor Paul Coldwell in his catalogue essay for the The Unstable Image, the artist is laying bare the process by which the image is constructed. For each of the participating artists there is a sense that their work is somehow multilayered in terms of the constructed image, as well as multilayered in terms of meaning attached to the sociopolitical origins of printmaking itself.

In Aleksandra Antic’s screenprint Lapse, veils of translucent drafting film hang breezily from the ceiling, a dark silhouette of a person’s head at the base of each strip sweeping the floor. The shifting materiality of this diaphanous work belies the voicelessness of the sweeping silhouettes: a kind of cultural muteness inherent in the experience of geographical and linguistic displacement.

Language and text also sit at the core of Marian Crawford’s bibliophilic work Antiquities. Taking the transparency of archived glass lantern slides, Crawford has captured these images of ruined arches from ancient buildings and augmented them with letterpress text in an artist’s book, which juxtaposes the charm of glass slide images with the searing contemporary vicissitudes of the Middle East.

Joel GailerAlso concerned with the site of conflict, Paul Coldwell’s work plays with our viewpoint. Coldwell’s two-plate etching Plane presents a visual conundrum wherein photographic dots are enlarged to the point where we are not quite sure whether we are looking at them or through them. We are somehow looking down from above, and through the plane to the building. Thus a tiny shudder is enacted where the image slips from large scale to small scale, and then back again.

The exciting physicality of printmaking is revealed in the work of Performprint. This Melbourne based duo, Joel Gailer and Michael Meneghetti, engage in a roistering performance of the act of printmaking using, among other things, a skateboard as matrix. Another work in the exhibition is Gailer’s mirrored screenprint Hotmetal, which casts a pool of warm light down on to the gallery floor. This pellucid puddle of light shining on the harsh concrete elicited one of the audience to comment, ‘It felt wrong to step on it.’ Is this the print? Certainly the text on the floor now reads the right way round.

An engagement with ethereal text can also be seen in Olga Sankey’s work Ghostwriting where the acrylic sheets are transparent to the point where we are able to see through each finely printed layer. In that sense perhaps this palimpsest of transparencies leads us, the viewer, through each delicate layer to the point where the shadow is the print.

And so this disarming exhibition, which engages with unstable images that reveal and obscure at the same time, perhaps fulfils a longer definition of transparency: the ability to transmit light without substantially scattering it, so that things lying beyond are clearly seen.

The Unstable Image will be on display at SASA Gallery until 22 April, 2016.