An Interview with Pat Brassington
‘Perhaps without my stint in printmaking I would not have found ‘my way’ around photographic processes and without this engagement perhaps I would not have been prepared to embrace and explore digital technologies.’
Cover for Imprint Winter 1998 Volume 33 Number 2.
This interview was conducted by the Tasmanian writer and curator Diana Klaosen and published in the winter 1998 issue of Imprint, Vol. 33 No 2.
With the Fremantle Art Prize for 1998 soon to be decided, it is timely to survey the work of last year’s winner, Tasmania’s Pat Brassington, nationally and internationally known as a photographer, whose work increasingly utilises computer technology and digital printing techniques. Pat combines her visual arts practice with her work as Co-ordinator of the University of Tasmania’s Plimsoll Gallery, arguably Tasmania’s major non-commercial art space, at the Centre for the Arts in Hobart.
The Centre’s Digital Art Research Facility (known as DARF) has, since its inception only a few years ago, won numerous accolades and major awards and grants. It was set up to capitalise on and promote contemporary interest in the new technologies in art-making and to give staff and PhD students a well resourced, supportive environment to explore the possibilities of this significant new medium. The Centre has several students working at PhD level. Amongst School of Art staff who were instrumental in establishing DARF are printmaker Milan Milojevic, painters Geoff Parr and Mary Scott, computer specialist artist Bill Hart and Brassington herself.
As an undergraduate at the Tasmanian School of Art, Pat specialised in photography and printmaking and her subsequent highly acclaimed work has reflected both influences and incorporated aspects of both.
Her work exemplifies art-making in what Walter Benjamin famously called ‘the age of mechanical reproduction’ – it inherently engages with the idea of the multiple, moreover it is resolutely post-modern in its reworking of a multiplicity of images and its willingness to embrace the new techniques and make of them something original and resolved. I spoke to Pat recently about her current work and her influences.
DK: You are working as a printmaker, using digital imagery, at the moment – manipulating photographic images. Do you see yourself as a photographer still … or a printmaker these days? Given that there’s this ‘need’ to categorise artists …
PB: Neither really. I’m an artist who chooses to use certain media and methods that suit my purpose. I should probably stress the point, though, that I did study printmaking and photography simultaneously and at that time (eighteen years ago) tended to use each process with a distinctly different aim in mind. I did enjoy the etching process very much, I recall, but there came a point when I had nothing to ‘say’ to the ‘inert’ plate. I guess clicking a shutter took over.
I remember you saying (to me, some time ago) that whilst studying Photography you came across the work of Julia Margaret Cameron and thinking, This is better …
Yes, there was a hint of something in her work that attracted me. I was intrigued by Bellocq’s and Weegee’s output also. Contemporary photographers whose work I also liked at the time included Peter Peryer, Grant Mudford, Ralph Gibson and some of Lee Friedlander’s ‘interior’ works. Then came Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Laurie Simmons, Barbara Kruger et al. But amongst all of this I was also particularly drawn to aspects of Surrealism and this abides with me still. I did not feel comfortable with the prevailing conventions, or the canons of photography if you like, that tended to dominate the filed at the time – ‘photography for the sake of photography’, the religiosity or the mystique about modelling the light, the laborious editioning of a fine print, the prevailing aesthetic criteria and concerns, and the role models offered to aspire to.
It seemed too prescriptive?
Yes, a rigid way of working. I think I was probably still carrying with me the desire to just get on with it, after the relatively gay abandon with which I had approached an aluminium plate with my burin and the concurrent acid bathings. But by doing all the ‘wrong’ things in photography I eventually landed on procedures and processes that best suited my needs. It was a frustrating time, but fortunately I was not discouraged by my supervisors and I began to see ‘a light at the end of the tunnel’. One thing that sticks in my mind from that time – I was seduced by the monochrome image.
In part, the procedures I felt most comfortable with, for example the manipulation of my negatives while developing and enlarging, making collages from my prints to rephotograph again, and sometimes again, under the copy camera I can now emulate without ‘vagrancy’, digitally.
What drew you to the digital process?
Curiosity. Its initial attractions were the ‘manipulative’ tools available in the Photoshop program. I like to collage images sometimes but collaging photographically is difficult and in my case I was not always convinced by the end result. My small output of digitally produced works thus far have all been ‘single images’ and all have used a collage technique. My photographic work consists mostly of multiple images, in which the interaction between images is a major factor.
Have I found a ‘better’ tool? I can emulate some of the photographic procedures I had adopted in the past using a scanner, a Photoshop program and an ink jet printer and I enjoy the process but I hasten to add that to get to the nitty gritty is no better or worse. Perhaps without my stint in printmaking I would not have found ‘my way’ around photographic processes and without this engagement perhaps I would not have been prepared to embrace and explore digital technologies.
There is one significant departure I should mention in relation to my digitally produced images, versus the preceding chemically based black and white photographic work, and that is the introduction of colour into the former. I would suggest that you do things by degrees. I have mentioned my sensitivity to black and white images – possibly an offshoot of an internalised visualisation technique on my part and I can’t imagine that I would abandon it but at the same time colour has its attractions. Maybe it’s a matter of ‘stepping lightly’ between the options.
How do you feel about the current state of digital art-making?
From where I am coming from, some of the 2-D work is awful. But you have to familiarise yourself with the ‘intent’ before judgement. Look, digital technology and processing is a fact of life. It’s not going to go away. Think about the precursors and how the invention of printing and then how the invention of photography radically altered our perception of the world.
Will you be continuing to work with the extraordinary and unsettling found images you are often noted for?
Why wouldn’t I? The world is paved with images and I’m into the business of visual communication after all.
As for subject matter and themes Pat wryly notes that she explores:
‘The depths of my soul’. It’s not driven by autobiography, it’s a combination of one way of interpretation tempered by a wider context. If I said I’m drawn to the ‘underbelly’ and not the darker side of the human psyche I could be getting closer to the point. But that is too cut-and-dried, too succinct and, if you think about it, doesn’t really get to the point either. So, I hope there’s more to it than that. I’m not as humourless a personality as that might suggest! I enjoy slippery slides.
For want of a better word, I’d say there’s almost black humour in your work – a quirkiness, anyway.
Yes. Black humour is hard to define and to pull off. Peter Greenaway immediately comes to mind here.
As for exhibiting, I’m aware that we don’t get many opportunities to see your work in Tasmania – although, having said that, I realise that you do have work in the current show at the University’s New Fine Arts Gallery.
The New Fine Art Gallery exhibition you refer to comprises recent works from artists involved with DARF. On reflection, I would suggest that somewhere, at some time, some of my favourite works have been displayed in Tasmania. I’ve just completed a large work that is going to Sydney for inclusion in the Telling Tales exhibition at the Ivan Dougherty Gallery. It’s a black and white photographic piece, by the way. I am amongst many Tasmanian artists who seek a national audience. The realities are these – Tasmania is a small place; it has a very lively art community and a lot of work is shown here. At the same time many Tasmanian artists recognise the need to exhibit in the wider arena. I do, and I’m sure others also always keep in mind that showing work in Tasmania and showing elsewhere are compatible aims.
Imprint readers will generally be aware of the Fremantle Art Prize and its importance as one of the main printmaking awards in this country, so we probably don’t need to explain the prize itself … but I’d be interested to know your reaction to winning it last year …
Well, I was very pleased that my entry had been selected for exhibition in the first place and then surprised but really delighted that Akimbo was a winning entry.
It’s a very subtle work – I’ve seen it in exhibition, it would be quite difficult to do justice to in reproduction, I think.
In March 2016, Pat Brassington was awarded the 2016 Redlands Konica Minolta Art Prize alongside Sydney-based artist Jack Lanagan Dunbar. The 2016 Redlands Konica Minolta Art Prize exhibition will be on display from 14 March to 14 May 2016 at the National Art School Gallery (NAS Gallery), Sydney.