ON HIRAETH

Above images l–r: Stephanie Jane Rampton and Danielle Creenaune, Keepsake I, Keepsake II and Keepsake III, 2016, collagraph and etching, 50 x 37.5 cm.
Right: Stephanie Jane Rampton and Danielle Creenaune, Hiraeth, 2016, etching, aquatint and lithography on somerset paper, unique state, 76 x 75 cm framed.

‘We stumbled across ‘hiraeth’ while working on the collaboration and it seemed to define some of the indescribable feelings we each try to capture in our work. The fact that there isn’t a clear-cut definition or translation in English made it even more intriguing and appropriate. ‘ 

An interview with Stephanie Jane Rampton and Danielle Creenaune

by freelance writer Kate Ellis

In Hiraeth, a new collaborative series about to go on display at Port Jackson Press’s Little Window of Opportunity, printmakers Stephanie Jane Rampton and Danielle Creenaune reflect on their shared experience of relocation.

The artists came across each other’s work in 2013. Despite obvious differences – Stephanie’s etchings being heavily detailed compared to the abstracted works that Danielle produces – they immediately recognised parallels between their landscape-influenced works on paper.

They also recognised that their lives mirror a much deeper connection of relocation. Both have lived abroad in various places – Danielle, originally from Australia, is now settled in Barcelona, and Stephanie, originally from England, lives in Melbourne.

Hiraeth (a Welsh word) does not translate easily to English. It describes a deep longing and nostalgia for home, a home that may not even exist; a yearning of spirit and imagination, though not necessarily a desire to return.

Through the prints in this show, each artist has explored their emotional relationship with their two homes.

Kate Ellis: Having both spent many years away from home, relocation has been a significant part of both of your lives – how has living abroad impacted your work?

Stephanie Jane Rampton: As I grow older I think I have become more sentimentally attached to my birthplace. While I don’t wish to return, there is always a sense of nostalgia. Perhaps memories become more important as we age. I believe my work explores, albeit subconsciously, the dichotomy of feeling an emotional connection to two ‘homes’. Often what begins as an Australian landscape takes on English characteristics. Memories of bare trees against a winter sky seem to encroach on everything I draw.

Danielle Creenaune: I also feel that there is a merging of place in my work. Often the works take on a hybrid form merging past memories of place and the present moment, which is what results in the spontaneous expression/representation.

KE: Why do you prefer the discipline of printmaking over other mediums and how has printmaking assisted in communicating your style and theme?

SJR: I had always drawn, particularly pen and ink drawings, so printmaking seemed a natural fit. Preparing plates allows time to consider what the final image is going to portray. Everything is a bit of a surprise; left-hand drawing becomes right-hand composition. You don’t really know what you’ve got until the very final moment and even then no two prints are the same. The result is a collaboration of artist and process – a synthesis of subject matter, emotion, materials, and techniques – that’s exciting.

DC: Printmaking allows me to ebb and flow through different techniques and means of expression. I work across lithography and intaglio, often concurrently, and find it’s the variation in marks, cause and effect, having control but leaving to chance, which enables me to communicate different emotional responses to landscape. I like the thrill of experimentation and feel there’s always something new to learn.

Stephanie Jane Rampton and Danielle Creenaune, Traverse I, 2016, etching, aquatint and lithography on shikishi paper, unique state, 26 x 69 cm framed.

KE: Landscape is a recurring motif within both of your practices – what are the aesthetic qualities of nature and the environment that you find inspiring and what do they symbolise?

SJR: Perhaps it is the sense of solitude, calm, tranquility, and natural balance. Symbolically trees are representative of life. They grow, they reproduce and they die. Images vary depending on the state of mind: open spaces and distant horizons can convey a lightness of spirit; gnarled trunks and twisted roots may indicate the trials and tribulations that the trees have endured, or perhaps express their strength and connection to the earth. The choice is made on the basis of what is emotionally meaningful at that moment.

DC: Landscape represents a multitude of things for me. If I had to pinpoint a key aspect in my current work, it would be the significance of change and the evolving nature of landscape. It’s not static; it’s always in a state of change. I think it’s this state of flux that motivates me to create the type of images I do. The awe of that energy before me is possibly what drives me to try and emulate a similar kind of energy in the work. It also symbolises a connection to family, memory, place, history, present, and the co-existence of perfection and imperfection.

KE: Where did you first discover the term ‘hiraeth’ and why did its meaning become such a significant aspect of the project?

DC: We stumbled across ‘hiraeth’ while working on the collaboration and it seemed to define some of the indescribable feelings we each try to capture in our work. The fact that there isn’t a clear-cut definition or translation in English made it even more intriguing and appropriate. The more we researched, we realised it had everything to do with how one feels in and about place, home and longing.

Stephanie also came across a poem called ‘Hiraeth‘ by Tim Davis which we felt commented on the focus of our project. We made contact with the author who agreed to allow us to use it in conjunction with the works. The poem reads (in part)…

 

Hiraeth beckons with wordless call,
Hear, my soul, with heart enthrall’d.
Hiraeth whispers while earth I roam;
Here I wait the call “come home.”

Like seagull cry, like sea borne wind,
That speak with words beyond my ken,
A longing deep with words unsaid,
Calls a wanderer home instead.

Tim Davis, 2007

Stephanie Jane Rampton and Danielle Creenaune, Traverse II, 2016, etching, aquatint and lithography on shikishi paper, unique state, 26 x 69 cm framed.

KE: Please explain your process when developing a new body of work. Do you take a sensory approach?

SJR: Sometimes it is a particular image that captures my attention; sometimes it is a process that I want to explore further. I work from sketches with photographs as references. During the process the original image almost always changes. One of the joys (although sometimes also a frustration) of printmaking is the process itself. The effect of materials on the image and the maker, and how accidental effects might change the experience and the outcome.

DC: I take a sensory approach, I guess. For me, it’s one continuous body of work exploring landscape and emotion developing over time. In a technical sense, I experiment, find new tricks that interest me and learn how to achieve different results, along with researching the place or subject. I feel a need to squeeze something new into each body of work both technically and subjectively as it motivates me to keep making.

I usually have a place in my mind at the time of creating the drawing on the matrix. I rarely use photographs as they contain too much detail for me. I prefer to work from quick line sketches. This allows me to recall the place but also to allow for chance, intuition and immediacy in creating the marks. The image comes from memory, drawings made in situ and the how I feel at the moment of laying down marks. I love the undergrowth and to draw I usually position myself right in the middle of the forest or surrounding. Here I witness nature’s energy through unordered forms and it gives me a lot of compositional ideas.

KE: When working on the project, were you aware of the distance between you and did you feel that you were mindful of each other’s style and technique?

DC: Through various visits and a lot of emails, a lot of mobile phone shots, and really interesting discussion about ideas and the significance of landscape, we have come together on this. We met a few times to pen down technical details, but due to smart phones and new technologies we’ve been able to go to-and-fro responding to each other’s work consciously along the way. It would’ve been nice to have a coffee and a meal together while doing it all but, hey, you can’t have everything.

KE: There are very obvious similarities between your work – how was the experience of working collaboratively and sharing these similarities different to working independently?

SJR: The main challenge for me is the sense of responsibility to an artist whose work I admire. I don’t think it’s changed how I work so much as how I see my own work, through trying to visualise from afar how our different styles can sit together in harmony. Although, I’ve recently begun working on some much larger pieces and they are sparser in detail compared to previous prints. Perhaps there has been a subconscious influence. Rather than fill every available part of the plate I have begun to explore negative space – it’s been liberating!

DC: I enjoy working collaboratively. It’s great to click with people creatively and see that things move with ease. I think a mutual admiration between collaborators is important. Stephanie’s work is so awe inspiring and I cannot fathom how she creates such detail. My work is somewhat contrary, but there are key things binding us and it goes further than style or visual similarities. The best thing for me has been the dialogue regarding what landscape symbolises for us, really getting down to the nitty gritty and asking ourselves what our work actually means. As collaborators, we have become friends who share some profound motivations driving our work. These connections add life and meaning to working each day alone in the workshop.

 

Hiraeth will be showing at Port Jackson Press Print Gallery’s Little Window of Opportunity, Collingwood, from 15 July to 5 August 2016.