Q&A with Jo Lankester and Hannah Murray
Above images clockwise from top: Jo Lankester and Hannah Murray, Forrest Green, 2016, collagraph and etching, 50 x 37.5 cm; Wallflower #1, 2016, collagraph and etching, 1/5, 101 x 60 cm; Field of Dreams #2, 2016, collagraph and etching, 1/1, 101 x 60 cm.
‘Every time I work with another artist I walk away with a deeper understanding of art as a whole. Together we realise work that couldn’t be created individually and inspire each other to think differently.’
Jo Lankester is a printmaker, collaborator and exhibition organiser based in Townsville, Queensland. She is a founding member of PressNorth Printmakers, and often collaborates with and editions the work of other artists. In her own practice, she creates large scale works inspired by the natural environment. Her works are represented in the National Gallery of Australia Print Collection, Artbank, as well as numerous public and private collections throughout Australia and overseas.
Hannah Murray is a Magnetic Island based artist who was born in Ayr, North Queensland. She has completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts (2002) from James Cook University, and a Graduate Diploma in Education (2003), The University of Melbourne. A part-time artist, arts worker and art teacher Hannah works across a variety of different mediums including printmaking, painting and illustration.
How did your collaboration begin?
Jo Lankester: I first collaborated with Hannah in 2011 for our exhibition Paper Bird, which was held at the Umbrella Studio of Contemporary Arts. Hints of both of our artistic styles showed through in all of the pieces that we worked on together; however, they were ultimately unique to anything we were able to make individually. The process of working with another artist, a first for both of us, had been an unexpectedly positive and inspiring experience. In 2014 we furthered this relationship by creating a suite of collaborative prints for the PressNorth Printmakers exhibition Wanderlust. This new work saw a shift in our imagery from birds to orchids, combining our distinctive styles to create unique state prints and variable editions with a unique aesthetic approach.
Can you tell me a bit more about the works you will be showing as part of Wallflower and how they developed?
Hannah Murray: Wallflower, as mentioned, is an extension of an ongoing print collaboration that explores the symbolic and aesthetic qualities of Jo’s abstracted patterns found on tree trunks and rock formations with my floral, orchid imagery. Conceptually it is both a play on words and also almost literal in meaning. As with any collaboration an unlikely relationship exists between two seemingly opposing forces. Trees and rocks, like a wall, share ideas of antiquity, enduring strength and protection. In contrast a flower is fragile and fleeting. The exhibition aims to bring these two elements together to present a resolved body of work.
My current body of work explores the aesthetic and symbolic qualities of flora, particularly orchids, as found in history, mythology and literature. My primary practice involves working directly onto reclaimed, vintage wallpaper in mixed media with the deliberate intention to exploit the tactile and distinctly ornate qualities of the wallpapers surface, pattern and colour. Naturally I find Jo’s beautifully rich, textural abstract work a nice extension of this, which I thought would complement my more illustrative imagery well.
Jo Lankester and Hannah Murray, Delicate #1, 2016, collagraph and etching, 50 x 37.5 cm, 1/1.
What do you view as the benefits of working with another artist (or other artists)?
JL: Every time I work with another artist I walk away with a deeper understanding of art as a whole. Together we realise work that couldn’t be created individually and inspire each other to think differently. I found that there was a large amount of experimentation in our collaboration and that both of our artistic styles worked together to create something entirely unique
HM: An artist by inclination spends a considerable amount of time working alone so any chance to make art in collaboration is a welcome and thoroughly enjoyable venture. I love the challenge of exploring and discovering visual solutions that respect and best complement each other’s respective imagery and mark making. It’s an exciting experience where the outcome is strangely familiar yet refreshingly original. I am not primarily a printmaker so I also greatly appreciate the opportunity to learn from more experienced and knowledgeable artists such as Jo. Akin to a master and apprentice, this hands-on sharing of skills and technique is incredibly valuable.
And the dangers?
HM: There are so many variables in printmaking and the pressure of not pulling a perfect print when someone else’s work is at stake can be unduly stressful.
JL: Every time you decide to collaborate with another artist professionally you are taking a risk, even if you have worked with that artist before. Any number of things could go wrong throughout the process due to miscommunication, difference in opinion, scheduling errors, and many other factors. However, this should not deter you from experimenting with collaboration.
How would you describe the mechanics of this collaboration?
JL: Hannah and I worked rather naturally together; we began by brainstorming a concept, number of works, scale, medium and subject matter for the exhibition. We decided to work primarily in intaglio to produce a suite of limited edition prints. However, towards the end of the project we shifted back to working with printmaking mediums that were in each other’s comfort zones using collagraph and relief printing to create the installation. We like to work together in the studio and being available to assist each other technically where required, although we also need a reasonable amount of time to work individually on separate aspects of the exhibition.
HM: The collaboration process seems to occur rather organically and with shared artistic trust and freedom. Depending on who is leading a print or image I think we both work rather instinctively and in a way that respectfully considers and complements each other’s imagery, aesthetic and mark making. Having said that I greatly appreciate and rely heavily on Jo’s technical advice and printmaking experience.
Jo Lankester and Hannah Murray, Wallpaper in studio, collagraph and relief, 100 x 1800 cm (installation).
You mention that either one of you might ‘lead’ depending on the piece – can you talk about these dynamics a bit more?
JL: I feel that Hannah and I were able to work both alongside and in tandem with each other easily due to our professional history. It was Hannah’s idea to work together on Wallflower – she realised that my abstract prints would go perfectly with her orchid illustrations and suggested that we collaborate. Throughout the process Hannah would often be scratching her etching plates while I was printing the backgrounds.
HM: I think we equally contribute to the development of an artwork once we have gained a shared understanding of each other’s imagery, ideas, colour palette and overall aesthetic. For the most part and with my key plate images in mind Jo would set about creating work that carefully considered the scale, composition, shape and line direction of the orchids. In support of this I would then respond in choice of colour for the final key plate. Alternatively some of the smaller prints were developed in reverse whereby I selected a key plate or image specifically with one of Jo’s prints in mind.
If you had to pass on one lesson from the experience, what would it be?
JL: Produce an exhibition that celebrates the strengths of both artists’ individual styles.
HM: Allow the collaboration process to develop slowly and naturally with lots of time to effectively experiment and explore ideas thoroughly. Coordinating collaborations and working to a deadline on individually busy schedules can create undue pressure – the more time the better.
What is next for each of you?
JL: I will be working to regain focus on my artistic practices for the foreseeable future. My mind is bursting with ideas that have been waiting patiently throughout the printing for Wallflower that I am excited to get down on paper.
HM: In between part-time teaching commitments I look forward to returning to my mixed media practice developing new work for a number of upcoming exhibition opportunities.