Portland Bay Press: A Postcard by Kate Gorringe-Smith

Images clockwise from top: installation of Kate Gorringe-Smith’s work in the Portland Bay Press gallery window; Hertha Kluge-Pott, PBP Patron, printing on the new press 2003, photo by James Wallace; Carmel Wallace, Untitled, 1993, relief print, 120 x 80 cm (see exhibition details below).

Portland, Victoria’s oldest European settlement, lies four hour’s drive west of Melbourne and six hour’s drive east of Adelaide. Despite its geographical isolation, Portland has a thriving and outward-looking artistic community that in 2002 ambitiously decided to set up a public-access etching workshop and gallery.

The idea for Portland Bay Press (PBP) was born when a couple of presses became available from a local university print facility that was being closed down. In the end those presses did not find a home at PBP, but by then the idea had taken root, resulting in Carmel Wallace and Karl Hatton jointly submitting a successful grant application to Arts Victoria to establish an etching studio. At that time Carmel was the administrator of the Portland Emerging Artists Residency program and Karl was the Glenelg Shire Council Cultural Services Officer.

The energy that surrounded PBP’s beginnings was as volcanic as that which formed the local landscape. As a creative force it came into being fully-formed, boldly claiming its place on Australia’s printmaking map: it was opened on 19 July 2003 by Australian Print Workshop Director Anne Virgo and its champion and patron is renowned printmaker Hertha Kluge-Pott. Even before its official opening, PBP had already hosted six workshops with local and international artists: New York-based printmaker Denise Kasof; master printer Bill Young; Byron Bay artist Jay Pearse; retired head of printmaking at Deakin University Ron Quick; founding artist Carmel Wallace* and PBP patron Hertha Kluge-Pott. In its first months it also held three major exhibitions!

PBP is a facility that would be enviable in any city, let alone in a remote town with a population of under 10,000. The studio houses four presses: two Enjays (with beds 82 x 160 cm and 45 x 92 cm), a third smaller press, and a Wilson hand press. Based in the building of an old Hotel (the Union Inn, opened in 1849), the studio has beautiful natural light and the walls have been restored to create a professional gallery space.

To make PBP an even more enticing destination, artists can apply to use the two-bedroom apartment above the studio through the Portland Artist Residency Program. The program creates a mutually enriching opportunity for visiting artists and the local community. An original internal staircase gives artists immediate access from the apartment to the studio, providing the perfect opportunity for printers to stay in Portland and make use of the print facilities.**

A shopfront and an additional gallery space next door provide a hub for other branches of Portland’s creative community, and together with PBP and the apartment, these facilities form the Julia Street Creative Space arts complex. Portland is also home to Portland Arts Centre that has a gallery, a theatre and a studio space.

Since its ambitious beginnings thirteen years ago, PBP has confidently maintained its identity as a significant Australian art hub. Blessed by the proximity of the upstairs apartments and the strong artist-in-residence program, PBP continues to benefit from an ongoing flow of top-quality printmakers and other artists who are drawn to this inspiring part of the world.

*The founding members of PBP were: Carmel Wallace (Convenor), Therese Dolman (Secretary), Catherine Francis (Treasurer), Pat Jarrett, Deborah Bunce, Andy Govanstone,  Rebecca Marriott, Debby Punton, Jan Frost, Mel Halz, Annette Taylor, Pam Beinssen, Bronwyn Mibus, Mimi Murrell, David Burgoyne and Gordon Stokes.

**See the Portland Artist Residency website for further information.

Carmel Wallace: Printed in Portland – a survey of prints including early screenprints developed at portland community access print studio, and etchings, relief, and monoprints made at Portland Bay Press and in the artist’s studio – will be on display at Portland Bay Press from 2 September to 2 October. Opening: Saturday 3 September, 4 pm.

Kate Gorringe-Smith is an artist and the Vice President of the Print Council of Australia.