2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: Rujunko Pugh

Rujunko Pugh

Why do you make art?

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

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

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

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

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

How did you get interested in printmaking?

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

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

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

Whose work have you been enjoying lately?

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

Where do you go for inspiration?

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

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

What are you working on now?

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

To view the 2016 commission prints visit the PCA website