Q&A with Peter Lancaster of Lancaster Press

Top: installation view of Between a Rock and a Hard Place at Queenscliff Gallery and Workshop (29 June – 1 August); Wayne Viney, Winter Light.

‘Any time I open the drawers to look at past prints memories surface from fruition of a friendship or overcoming various technical problems. Making choices for this exhibition wasn’t easy. It’s not about big names, it’s about any artist having the courage to take up the challenge to translate their work into print – it’s rewarding to assist in orchestrating that.’

In May this year, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, an exhibition celebrating the work of Lancaster Press, was displayed at Megalo Print Studio and Gallery in Canberra.

In the lead up to Between a Rock and a Hard Place opening at Queenscliff Gallery and Workshop (29 June – 1 August), Lancaster answered some of our questions about his attraction to lithography, running a workshop and putting together the exhibition.

How do you explain what you do to strangers who may not be familiar with lithography and fine art printmaking traditions?

People often look a perplexed when I describe what I do! It doesn’t fit into any obvious category, drawing on Bavarian limestone. I do love introducing a stranger to the process of drawing on a test stone and then saying: Voila! You made a mark – we could print this!

What attracted you to printmaking as a profession, specifically lithography, and how did you start out?

I’ve always loved drawing. I tried to get into to drawing at the Prahran Technical School under Pam Hallandal and missed out. Printmaking was suggested – I then discovered lithography and the directness of drawing on stone. I was completely seduced by the process.

Tell us about the experience of selecting work for Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

Any time I open the drawers to look at past prints memories surface from fruition of a friendship or overcoming various technical problems. Making choices for this exhibition wasn’t easy. It’s not about big names, it’s about any artist having the courage to take up the challenge to translate their work into print – it’s rewarding to assist in orchestrating that.

What have been some of your favourite collaborations and why?

I have a core group of artists who keep coming back. It’s rewarding to see them taking control of the medium and pushing the boundaries.

Given your many years of experience as a master printer, are there still challenges for you in terms of printing projects and collaborations?

My attraction to lithography is its  directness to the mark. I still don’t feel like a master, things still go wrong, you can have a love–hate relationship with the process. It’s like being an artist, there’s always room for improvement, always challenges, but you can’t give it up!

What is next for you and Lancaster Press?

Where I go next is tricky, it’s always been a struggle financially and I’ve never had grants – it’s not in my make up. I’ve since had another printer Adrian Kellett working with me in the studio, we have a similar work ethic. It’s great having someone to discuss technical challenges that would bore most people to tears! We do talk of having a larger studio and combining our expertise so we could take on more ambitious projects together – this excites me! I’ve also set up a small litho access in my front studio for ex-students or established printmakers allowing after hours access, relaxed environment, a space to call your own!

Lou Tomlinson, The Arrival

Further notes:

Phil Day, founder of Mountains Brown Press and co-founder of the former Finlay Press, is currently putting together a book called Bedrock: 25 years with Lancaster Press. The following observations are from some notes about Lancaster Press that Day shared from his essay in Bedrock:

Recognition of the artist’s autonomy.

While looking through Peter’s seemingly endless pile of lithographs, it became clear clear to me that Peter drew to him people who had within them that strange silent communication that has held the attention of children and adults the world over as far back as our prehistoric ancestors – the desire to draw. Which is not to be confused with the desire to make art. Art, as it is popularly understood today, is measured by arts institutions. They decide which artworks they deem important, and worthy of study and protection for posterity. Which is different to the history of Peter’s lithographs. It is true that many of Peter’s lithographs carry the marks of artists that various institutions deem as worthy, however there are other lithographs that carry the marks by artists who remain unknown. Regardless of this, I found in each of Peter’s lithographs an equal level of care and attention to detail each artists received. A mindful attention from Peter’s eyes irrespective of any notion of ‘lasting appeal’.