Q&A with Marguerite Brown, the PCA’s new General Manager

‘For me, handling prints directly and liaising with the people that created them allowed me to engage with art in a real world, professional context as opposed to the purely academic environment that my university offered. From that point I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the field.’ 

How did you get interested in working with prints?

I was first introduced to the history and evolution of printmaking through my studies in art history at the University of Melbourne. However, I became totally fascinated by prints when I took up a position at Port Jackson Press Australia over twelve years ago. Here I had the pleasure of regularly working with a number of artists, who were always so generous in explaining both their technical approaches and the ideas that fuelled their printmaking practice. It was an excellent practical introduction to working with prints as physical objects from both a curatorial and administrative perspective, and I was struck by the seemingly endless ways artists would innovate within the constraints of their chosen medium to create original images. For me, handling prints directly and liaising with the people that created them allowed me to engage with art in a real world, professional context as opposed to the purely academic environment that my university offered. From that point I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the field.

Can you tell us about some of your professional highlights?

One of the most rewarding projects I have been involved with was an exhibition of prints by a group of Indigenous artists from the Injalak Arts and Crafts Association in Gunbalanya, Arnhem Land, in 2006. Artists such as Graham Badari, Wilfred Nawirridj and Bardayal ‘Lofty’ Nadjamerrek AO collaborated with Melbourne based printmaker Andrew Sinclair to realise a series of large format etchings, each bled to the edge of the sheet. These prints directly responded to the densely layered rock art found within sandstone escarpments of Injalak Hill, as artists painted with sugar-lift upon steel plates in situ at this ancient site of immense cultural importance. This exhibition was my first real curatorial project and the power and spirit bound up in those prints make it one of my most memorable.

More recently I was awarded the Harold Wright Scholarship to undertake a seven-month scholarship in the Prints and Drawings Department of the British Museum in 2014. This fantastic opportunity enabled me to carry out wide ranging research within the BM’s vast collection of historical and contemporary graphic art. Handling some of the many treasures within the collection, precious works by old masters and beyond, is one of the most professionally enriching experiences I have had to date, and will undoubtedly inform my future work in the field.

How would you describe printmaking in Australia and how do you think it compares with what is happening internationally?

During my time in London I found myself thinking a lot about contemporary printmaking in Australia and the depth, richness and diversity that characterise it. As a field there seems to me such a high calibre of artists, particularly in the middle of their careers, who are regularly producing and exhibiting work of an excellent standard, supported by a reasonably healthy market for such works. In London I assumed I would find a similar situation and was surprised when this was not so readily apparent. While there is a thriving print scene in Britain with a number of fantastic print studios and access facilities in London alone (and clearly many makers using them) I found as a whole, with a couple of notable exceptions such as Alan Cristea Gallery and Paragon Press, contemporary prints that weren’t made by internationally renowned artists did not receive much wall space in the commercial galleries of the capital. Having experienced first hand how important a healthy market for prints made by mid and early career artists is to supporting the ongoing production of their work, it made me consider how lucky we are in Australia to have the vibrant network of studios, galleries, collectors and, of course, practitioners that we do.

What are some of your favourite artworks?

A difficult one to answer but I think near the top of my list are prints by Hercules Segers  (c. 1589–c. 1638), a Dutch master whose innovative experimentations with sugar-lift etching processes and printing with colour were completely novel for the first half of the seventeenth century, and resulted in some truly remarkable images. I believe Rembrandt collected his works. I came across his prints during my scholarship at the British Museum, where I also became intrigued by an irrational and unsettling series known as the Scherzi di Fantasia by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696 – 1770). These strange etchings are filled with ritualistic and occult overtones and defy interpretation even after centuries of print scholarship since their creation. In the contemporary spectrum there are so many talented Australian and international artists making excellent work that my list of favourites is very long – but given my personal penchant toward romantic imagery, the brooding sensibilities expressed by Rick Amor and Sophia Szilagyi are hard to go past.

What is your vision for the PCA?

I am very excited to be joining the PCA in this its fiftieth Anniversary year – a pivotal time in the organisation’s history as we look to the next fifty years. From the Print Council’s formation at the NGV by iconic figures in Australian art history including Ursula Hoff, Grahame King and Udo Sellbach, to our present moment as an organisation whose strengths include a passionate and loyal membership base, the PCA Print Archive, and Imprint magazine – there is much to celebrate. Future directions will include increasing opportunities for diverse audiences to engage with the significant cultural resources the PCA Print and Imprint Archives offer. Another priority is continuing to develop the PCA as a dynamic hub that our members can go to for intelligent analysis and discussion surrounding contemporary printmaking in the fine art context; news on exhibitions, events and opportunities published via multiple platforms; and opportunities to engage with other members and institutions through specially planned projects to be delivered over the next fifty years. Watch this space!

Q&A with Debra Luccio

Debra LuccioCarabosse and her Rats, 2016, monotype on Velin Arches paper 44 x 58.5 cm (François-Eloi Lavignac and Shaun Andrews,
The Australian Ballet, and Guest Artist Lynette Wills rehearsing David McAllister’s The Sleeping Beauty).
Debra Luccio, Carabosse, 2015, monotype on Velin Arches paper 58.5 x 44 cm, (Amy Harris, The Australian Ballet, and Guest Artist Lynette Wills, rehearsing David McAllister’s The Sleeping Beauty).

‘When friends knew what they wanted to do with their careers, I only knew that when I retired from whatever I did (I didn’t think a career as an artist was possible) I would own a paper shop and draw all day. ‘ 

Debra Luccio lives and works in Melbourne.

Why do you make art?

It’s a question I ask myself, and I usually answer: because I need to, or because it makes me happy, which is very true. I’ve realised that when I see something inspiring, I’m compelled to capture it, to remember it, to experience it again. I feel a great need to make artwork.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

I have always loved paper. When friends knew what they wanted to do with their careers, I only knew that when I retired from whatever I did (I didn’t think a career as an artist was possible) I would own a paper shop and draw all day. Working on paper, creating fresh, rich marks with beautiful etching inks, physically pushing both the medium and myself, is all very rewarding for me.

I find creating monotypes is the most ideal form of artwork for expressing the movement, power and sensitivity of dancers.

Even though I come from a painting and photographic background, printmaking, and especially monotypes, gives me the element of chance and surprise that isn’t possible with other techniques.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

Printmaking was part of both my Illustration Diploma and Fine Art Photography Diploma, and I thoroughly enjoyed studying it. For a while, too, I helped my husband, Marco (Luccio), in the studio. It’s very hard not to be inspired while watching Marco work!

Who is your favourite artist?

This is a very difficult question. I am inspired by many artists, and have been inspired by many over the years, from MichelangeloCaravaggioRubensDegasRodinPicasso , Käthe KollwitzEgon Schiele, to Lucien Freud and Bill Henson. There is so much to learn from, be inspired by, and enjoy, from many amazing artists.

What is your favourite artwork?

There are far too many great artworks in this world to choose from. I couldn’t even begin.

Where do you go for inspiration?

My greatest place of inspiration is The Australian Ballet studios. I am incredibly privileged to have the opportunity of attending rehearsals and sitting and drawing such talented, professional, generous dancers.

When we travel we draw from artworks and statues in museums and galleries. Spending time with great artworks is very inspiring.

What are you working on now?

Currently I have an exhibition on at Steps Gallery, The Sleeping Beauty: Images of The Australian Ballet. These are monotypes inspired by the first dress rehearsal of David McAllister’s The Sleeping Beauty. With this body of work I was interested in capturing the colour and vibrancy of the performance itself.

I will next be creating work for Port Jackson Press’s Little Window of Opportunity 9-25 September, which will coincide with the NGV’s Degas exhibition.

 

Debra Luccio‘s exhibition The Sleeping Beauty: Images of The Australian Ballet is open today and tomorrow 12–4 pm at Steps Gallery, Carlton.

A Postcard from Trent Walter, Art Basel Hong Kong

Clockwise from top: installing Brook Andrew‘s Building (Eating) Empire 2016; Leiko Ikemura at PolígrafaAnish Kapoor at Paragon Press.
Below: STPI at Art Basel Hong Kong.

I am in Hong Kong to install a large installation Building (Eating) Empire 2016 by Australian artist Brook Andrew at this year’s edition of Art Basel Hong Kong. The work was curated into the Encounters section of the event by Alexie Glass, director of Artspace, Sydney.

Walking around the fair during the VIP preview was my first chance to engage with many galleries I know only through reputation. And to see many artists works that I have only gazed at through reproduction. For example, works by James Lee Byars (Michael Werner Gallery) and Kishio Suga (Blum & Poe).

Works on paper were well represented with excellent stands by Polígrafa Obra Gràfica, Paragon Press, Pace Prints and STPI. Alongside an extensive collection of Joan Miro prints at Polígrafa were the monotypes of Leiko Ikemura that used relief elements arranged and printed in various compositions to make unique state works. In look and feel, these relief monotypes share much with Edvard Munch’s relief prints, though with a distinctly Japanese sensibility.

Other highlights included Matt Saunders‘s large photo-paintings at Blum & Poe including Night #2 (version 2) 2015 and James Turrell’s ukiyo-e style prints at Pace. Exhibited recently as part of his National Gallery of Australia survey exhibition, these works lose nothing over repeated viewings and serve as an incredible benchmark for printmaking today.

Trent Walter is an artist and publisher.
His studio is Negative Press.

The Ken Tyler Phenomenon

A spread from the original article published in Imprint Autumn 2006 Volume 41 Number 1 featuring David Hockney’s A Diver, Paper Pool 17 (1978) and Robert Rauschenberg’s Booster (1967).

‘… one can argue for a Tyler philosophy of printmaking. This philosophy in part is predicated on breaking down the divide between the artist and the printer: the abolition of the notion of the master printer and its substitution with the idea of artist collaborator.’

Imprint Autumn 2006 Volume 41 Number 1. Cover image: Rock art site in Arnhem Land overlaid with etchings from the Injalak Hill Suite, made by 10 artists from Oenpelli at this site. Courtesy of Injalak Arts and Basil Hall Editions.

In celebration of the free exhibition Behind the Scenes: Tyler Graphics at Work currently on show at the National Gallery of Australia until 8 May, we revisit Professor Sasha Grishin‘s article on the legendary Ken Tyler published in Imprint Autumn 2006, Volume 41 Number 1

Ken Tyler (born 1931) is one of a small number of artist printers who emerged in the 1960s and who revolutionised the American printmaking scene.[1]

Possibly the most successful printer of his generation, he worked with some of the most famous artists of his day. They included Josef Albers, Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler, David Hockney, Ellsworth Kelly, Bruce Nauman, Kenneth Noland, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Richard Serra, Frank Stella, Donald Sultan, RB Kitaj, Willem de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell and Andy Warhol. Although with some, like Warhol, the collaboration lasted for only a single print, with others, like Stella, it continued over a thirty-three year period.

There is no such thing as a Tyler style, in terms of specific stylistic morphology, and over a thirty-five year period[2] he and his workshops collaborated with the Abstract Expressionists, figurative Pop artists and cool Colour Field geometric abstractionists. However, one can argue for a Tyler philosophy of printmaking. This philosophy in part is predicated on breaking down the divide between the artist and the printer: the abolition of the notion of the master printer and its substitution with the idea of artist collaborator. As Tyler recently noted ‘I get rid of the term Master Printer, I hate that word, I hate the idea of a master. I use the word collaborator, where, like in the theatre, everybody makes a contribution, everybody is an important cog in the wheel. There isn’t one important element or event which is going to change this.’[3]

He continued, ‘I felt that you needed to be on the same level as the artist you were working with and that if you were, communication would open to the point that you could suggest to the artist a better alternative and be confident that you could do this. Help the artist, don’t make them go through this ritual that they have to understand every technical detail before they could do anything. Give them the prerogative of working in a situation with an equal. By putting myself into that mindset where I felt that I was an equal, I became an artist. Just because I decided to become printer and publisher didn’t mean that I ceased being an artist. I would give everything I had to accomplish what the artists were trying to do. It was their responsibility to draw it, and it was my responsibility to print it, clearly and precisely … I listened to the artist, if they wanted a bigger press, I’d build it. If they wanted a bigger piece of paper, I’d make it.’[4]

Inherent in Tyler’s notion of collaboration was the idea that the printer was a chameleon-like character who could meet the artist’s every wish, whether it be Frankenthaler’s impossibly adventurous woodcut, Madame Butterfly (2000), which required forty-six woodblocks specifically carved by a Japapnese master carver and printed in a hundred and two colours on specially hand made paper, or the technical exactitude of an Albers’ lithograph or screenprint. In each instance Tyler would oblige. Simultaneously he would challenge the artist with previously un-envisioned technical and conceptual possibilities or seduce artists to experiment with new techniques. On one occasion he introduced Hockney to the new colour cast paper pulp works by Ellsworth Kelly, which he had just printed. This challenged Hockney, who went on to produce with Tyler his brilliant series of swimming pool cast paper pieces.

As a result of Tyler’s technical and conceptual strategies the prints produced were no longer the democratic and popularly accessible art form, but rare and expensive masterpieces intended for institutions or for wealthy collectors. For example, Stella’s Fountain sold at over $214,000 in May 2000. As a consequence, or perhaps as an integral part of this philosophy of printmaking, Tyler generally collaborated only with the ‘Blue Chip’ artists of the American and international art scene, artists who frequently achieved their initial reputations not as printmakers. Tyler frequently cites William Lieberman from MoMA in New York, who later befriended him, as arguing in a lecture that great artists make great art and from this Tyler drew the lesson that he needed to work with great artists if he intended to produce great prints. Perhaps what is fairly obvious, but not clearly stated, is that greatness is something which is bestowed by the art market and as the art market does not generally privilege printmaking as an art form through which greatness is expressed, these great artists were almost inevitably painters, with perhaps a few of them sculptors, and it was the role tat Tyler set himself to introduce them to printmaking or at least make printmaking a more significant part of their practice. The downside to this was that great printmaking became associated with the names of the major ‘Blue Chip’ artists, while professional printmakers, those who were primarily printmakers, remained somewhere working in the back blocks.

Josef Albers was the artist who first took Tyler under his wing and became ‘Tyler’s mentor of mentors’.[5] Tyler, who had trained in the Bauhaus tradition at the Art Institute of Chicago, warmed to Albers and his exacting standards and accepted the dictum that Albers was the architect and Tyler was the builder: ‘Albers was the first artist who thought that we were a team’.[6] Albers’ White Line Squares lithographs, which Tyler printed in the mid sixties, remain as some of the great gems in Tyler lithography. It is with these Albers lithographs in his portfolio that Tyler managed to entice Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns away from Tatyana Grosman’s Long Island ULAE studio to come to work with him at Gemini in Los Angeles.

Robert Rauschenberg’s lithograph Booster (1967) was in some ways a watershed print in the history of Tyler’s printmaking. This six-foot (182.8 cm) lithograph was printed from two stones on a specially made sheet of paper. Not only was it the largest hand pulled lithograph to be made up to that date in America, but it also demonstrated the Tyler philosophy of going outside to bring new technology into the studio, which challenged the traditional limitations on printmaking. Booster introduced a full-length x-ray image of the naked Rauschenberg wearing his hobnailed boots. ‘When we got the x-rays the serendipity of that was that not only did Rauschenberg’s hobnailed shoes come through, but so did his penis, which delighted Bob to no end.’[7] The print became an icon in the print world and promptly attracted Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg and Frank Stella to come to work with Tyler.

What was characteristic of Tyler’s print workshops was not that they specialised in ‘Blue Chip’ artists – that was the aspiration of many of the print workshops acrss America which strove for economic viability – but the hallmark of the Tyler prints was that they extended the boundaries of printmaking. The Pop artists brought with them their entourage of friends, critics and curators and as Tyler’s reputation as a printer who would say yes to everything grew, so did the scale and the ambitious nature of the projects. One of the most significant innovations was his work with paper pulp, where artists did not print onto the paper, but actually printed with paper, initially in the form of cookie-cutter templates employed to form the paper pulp, eventually growing into David Hockney’s paper pools.

Ronald Davis, Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly and Kenneth Noland all made prints from coloured paper pulp, but perhaps the most spectacular of all were those by Hockney.[8] As Tyler recalls ‘David came to have dinner with me in August of 1978 and see the country workshop and the new Kelly paper works Ellsworth and I had made. While viewing this work, which he was very impressed by, he asked if he could stay over for the weekend and try his hand at making a little test or two in paper pulp. These tests quickly developed into studies of my swimming pool and single and multiple panel works depicting the pool at various times of the day. David stayed for forty-nine days and created ninety-five paper works. The best dinner guest I ever had!’[9] The hedonistic pools with their sonorous colours promptly became the subject of a book and quickly became iconic on both sides of the Atlantic, and were some of the most distinguished prints to be associated with Tyler.[10] The brilliantly coloured paper pulps, available in a huge range of dyes, were introduced into the printmaker’s repertoire and with Hockney they were given almost a painterly dimension.

If with Hockney Tyler introduced a new medium into mainstream printmaking, in his collaboration with Helen Frankenthaler he revisited the most ancient medium in printmaking, that of the woodcut, and gave it a radical reinterpretation. When assembling a recent survey of her woodcuts it was noted that ‘no contemporary artist has used this medium to achieve such painterly results.’[11] Frankenthaler, who has been known as a demanding and temperamental artist, worked with Tyler on several occasions, possibly most memorably on the Madame Butterfly woodcut of 2000. Tyler considered many of his collaborations with artists as marriages and in this instance ‘Helen and I had a very rocky marriage, but it was a good one and we had great respect for each other. Without that respect we could not have done what we did … Helen and I have a wonderful relationship. Through the years we made thirteen woodcuts and I don’t know how many other prints, but we could not have done this without the sparring and we could not have done this sparring without a great respect for one another.’[12]

Madame Butterfly woodcut is one of the great prints that sits appropriately on the boundary of two centuries, looking back to the ancient craft of the woodcut, back to the Japanese ukiyo-e tradition and the great Edo-period screens, as well as possibly the Munch jig-saw woodcuts, as well as towards the new technology that permitted the print to be realised on a huge scale, measuring about a metre by two metres. It was printed on three pieces of paper made by Tom Strianese from Tyler’s workshop, the two outer sheets slightly darker than the central one and matching the tone and texture of the wood grain. There were forty-six woodblocks carved from different types of wood by Yasuyuki Shibata and the artist, and they were printed in one hundred and two colours. Technically this is one of the most challenging and adventurous projects ever attempted in a woodcut, yet the final print has a palpable breathing freshness and a surface that conveys an absolute lightness of touch and sense of spontaneity.

Tyler’s chronicler fairly comments: ‘Many proofs were destroyed. Nerves were frayed. Tempers short. At various points, both artist and publisher were ready to abandon the project. Although the triptych took two years to complete, Madame Butterfly’s final dazzling serenity belies the difficulty of its making.’[13] In retrospect Tyler reminisced ‘Madame Butterfly is a one in a billion print. It was the right confluence with the right kind of people working on it, the right atmosphere and the right moment in their life.’[14]

On Australia Day, 1974, six hundred prints, rare proofs and drawings from Tyler’s West Coast workshops arrived at the Australian National Gallery. The previous year James Mollison, as the Director, had acquired for the Gallery the Felix Man Archive and the Gallery gained an international reputation as a serious collecting institution for modern printmaking. When Tyler needed to raise capital to shift his operations to the East Coast, Canberra was approached and the acquisition made. With the appointment of Pat Gilmour as the Coordinating Curator of International Prints and Illustrated Books, the relationship with Tyler strengthened and further prints were acquired. In 2002, her successor, Jane Kinsman, secured a further 2000 prints, proofs and drawings through gift and donation and the National Gallery of Australia, as it was subsequently known, became the major Ken Tyler archive in the world with its own dedicated website.

The Ken Tyler phenomenon represents a unique and unrepeatable moment in printmaking, which, at least on one level, changed the appearance of prints and projected them into a much more exalted position in the hierarchy of the visual arts.

Sasha Grishin AM, FAHA, Australian National University

 

[1] There is a considerable amount of literature devoted to Ken Tyler with Pat Gilmour’s Ken Tyler: Master Printer and the American Print Renaissance, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1986; and Martin Friedman et al., Tyler Graphics: The Extended Image, Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis & Abberville Publishers, New York, 1987, amongst the most useful. Also see www.nga.gov.au/InternationalPrints/Tyler

[2] Ken Tyler established five workshops: Gemini Ltd and Gemini GEL in Los Angeles, Tyler Workshop and Tyler Graphics Ltd at Beford and Mount Kisco in New York State, and the Singapore Tyler Print Institute.

[3] Ken Tyler, taped interview with the author, Canberra, 24 November 2005.

[4] Ken Tyler, taped interview with the author, Canberra, 24 November 2005.

[5] Judith Goldman, ‘Kenneth Tyler: The Artisan as Artist’ in Martin Friedman et al. Tyler Graphics: The Extended Image, Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis & Abberville Publishers, New York, 1987, p. 28.

[6] Ken Tyler, taped interview with the author, Canberra, 24 November 2005.

[7] Ken Tyler, taped interview with the author, Canberra, 24 November 2005.

[8] See Ruth E. Fine, ‘Paperworks at Tyler Graphics’ in Martin Friedman et al., Tyler Graphics: The Extended Image, Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis & Abberville Publishers, New York, 1987, pp. 203–239.

[9] Ken Tyler, Lecture ‘Hand and Hand’, 5 October 2002, Canberra.

[10] Nikos Strangos (ed.), David Hockney: Paper Pools, Thames and Hudson, London 1980.

[11] Judith Goldman, Frankenthaler: The Woodcuts, Naples Museum of Art, Florida, and George Braziller Inc., New York, 2002, p. vii.

[12] Ken Tyler, taped interview with the author, Canberra, 24 November 2005.

[13] Judith Goldman, Frankenthaler: The Woodcuts, Naples Museum of Art, Florida, and George Braziller Inc., New York, 2002, p. 99.

[14] Ken Tyler, taped interview with the author, Canberra, 24 November 2005.

Teelah George Poster!

Teelah George, Lessons from Craigslist Mirrors #2, 2016, offset lithograph, 42 x 29.7 cm. Image commissioned for the cover of Imprint Autumn Vol. 51 No. 1 and produced as an unsigned and unnumbered edition of 100 posters, $15 each. Photograph: Tony Nathan. To purchase visit the PCA website or contact the PCA office on 03 9416 0150.

The Print Council of Australia is pleased to announce that posters of Teelah George‘s beautiful artwork Lessons from Craigslist Mirrors #2 are now available to purchase on the PCA website.

The work was specially commissioned for the cover of Imprint Autumn 2016 Vol. 51 No.1 and produced as an  unsigned and unnumbered edition of 100 A3 posters. Check out Imprint‘s interview with the artist here.

Artist’s Statement

Lessons from Craigslist Mirrors #2 employs an object made from the peripheral residue of other processes as a way to suggest the many layers and unseen narratives of image making. The intimacy suggested by the stitched object is expanded through the printing process of magazine production in a way that enables it to be at once big and small. Original agency of the textile is retained yet morphed, as it picks up other connotations from its new manifestation.

Q&A with Teelah George

Teelah GeorgeLessons from Craigslist Mirrors #2, 2016, offset lithograph, 42 x 29.7 cm. Image commissioned for the cover of Imprint Autumn Vol. 51 No. 1 and produced as an unsigned and unnumbered edition of 100 posters. Photograph: Tony Nathan. Posters available for purchase for $15 each through the PCA website.

‘I still don’t really know what being an artist actually is, except that it involves doing many different things. It kind of breaks down all these categories that we use to make the world seem less strange and I like that.’ 

Visual artist Teelah George lives and works in Cottesloe, WA. Photograph: Thomas Rowe

What (or who) informed your decision to become an artist?

I’m not really sure. I was always into making things as a child, but never had enough confidence to proclaim any desire to be an artist when I was at university (perhaps not a good disposition for an art student). I went overseas immediately after finishing my studies, where I spent time working and travelling – not making anything.

After a couple of years I realised something was not right and that I wanted to make things, that making things was part of my thinking, so I got back into it. I came back to Perth mid 2012 and became obsessed with the studio. I started having shows.

I still don’t really know what being an artist actually is, except that it involves doing many different things. It kind of breaks down all these categories that we use to make the world seem less strange and I like that.

Can you tell me a little more about your work Effect of Dose on Taste (New Phase), which was awarded the non-acquisitive prize in the 2015 Fremantle Arts Centre Print Award?

It developed from an obsession with an old banner I would pass on my way to the studio. I would get off the bus to look at it as it clung to a wall in North Fremantle and it just resonated with me in terms of the ideas I have about life and what I think about through my work. Here was this object that had been manipulated by the weather and by time: its original meaning and physical form was transforming – I wanted to continue the shifting of materiality and context.

After procuring the banner I tentatively sewed a boarder around the sparse threads and documented it in collaboration with Bo Wong. I knew as soon as I started thinking about it that it had to be in the print award.

I am really interested in collections, archives and the materiality of such places. To me collections are imbued with the loveliest contradiction – they attempt to keep objects fixed in perpetuity, knowing full well that everything changes.

The object itself is ephemeral and the work now exists as a print of the object’s documentation. The University of Western Australia Art Collection has since acquired it, which is conceptually relevant to the work.

What does a day in the studio look like for you?

It varies. At the moment I am going between painting, ceramics and textile-based making. It is always pretty messy. Other studio days involve more research based activities or office duties. Walking, cleaning, looking – everything informs the studio.

How did you approach the March 2016 cover commission for Imprint?

I was working on the project while undertaking a residency at Artspace last year. At the time I was doing a lot of painting and the residual scraps of linen from this process became the initiator. I am very interested in peripheral processes, objects and observations and wanted to create a situation where I could bring this into a new material and context.

The object that is represented is intimate, tactile and unfinished, but it changes context and materiality within the printed medium of the magazine. From each process something is transferred but it also changes. I am interested in the malleability of materials and stories, so conceptually printmaking has a strong bearing on my practice.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I am working towards a couple of solo shows in Melbourne.

After coming back from my Sydney residency at the end of last year, I became focused on Cottesloe, where I live. It is a wonderful place, I love it, but I am always thinking about what it was like before white settlement and what it meant to the first Australians and how much we don’t know about this.

I have been doing a lot of historical research and the shows are very much influenced by this. The first show, Sleazy Vignette, in April at Rubicon ARI, will be a series of small but heavily worked paintings that laminate my present day experience with imaginings of history and myth.

My second show, in May at Schoolhouse studios, is directly influenced by a specific crow man myth of the Cottesloe region. It revolves around a changing of forms, again this idea of transformation. The show will include ceramics, textiles, prints and paintings – that’s what I have planned for now anyway.

www.teelahgeorge.com.au

Workshop: Making Washi

A page from the original article in Imprint (Summer 1996 Volume 31 Number 4).

‘Mitsumata is harvested every three years and, as with kozo, stalks are steamed to facilitate stripping the bark prior to processing. This fibre is included in the Japanese paper currency. The fine glossy surface, if pure mitsumata paper, is excellent for precise, detailed printing.’

Imprint Summer 1996 Volume 31 Number 4. Cover image: Patsy Payne, BRACCIO RELIQUARIO DI SAN ROSSORE, 1996, woodcut and linocut, 56 x 76 cm, edition of 10.

This article was written by Gladys Dove and published in the Summer 1996 issue of Imprint Volume 31 Number 4.

Today the term ‘washi’ implies, and is often used to refer to specifically handmade Japanese paper. However, washi is manufactured both by hand, in the traditional manner, and mechanically. The traditional washi method uses fibres processed from the internal bark of the kozo, gampi and mitsumata plants. Of these three, perhaps the most familiar is the more readily available (in Japan) fibre of the kozo plant, more commonly referred to as paper mulberry (from the Moaceae or Mulberry family). Kozo produces an extremely strong paper; it has been used in Japan since ancient times for the many different purposes we have come to acknowledge as traditionally Japanese – shoji screens and kites as well as spun fibre (tafu) and spun paper (shifu) used for mats, baskets and fabric respectively.

Gampi and mitsumata fibres are obtained from plants related to the Thymelaeceae or Daphne family. Gampi is not cultivated, the bark is gathered every three to five years. These fibres produce a lustrous and translucent paper. Mitsumata is harvested every three years and, as with kozo, stalks are steamed to facilitate stripping the bark prior to processing. This fibre is included in the Japanese paper currency. The fine glossy surface, if pure mitsumata paper, is excellent for precise, detailed printing.

From the historical perspective, pure fibre washi has proven archival qualities. When washi is produced in the traditional manner the fibre goes through the following process after harvest:

  1. Dried bark strips soaked overnight in mountain streams.
  2. Soaked bark rubbed between feet to remove dark outer scale and debris.
  3. Green layer carefully scraped away with a knife. This process determined the natural colour of the paper. Dark imperfections cut away and scrapings separately processed (chiri paper).
  4. Bark cooked in alkaline solution (wood ash, soda ash, caustic soda, sodium carbonate, etc.).
  5. Simmering – test selected thick piece of bark by gently pulling apart to show fine tracery of fibres.
  6. Cooled overnight, then rinsed thoroughly. For white paper, fibres can be bleached and rinsed again.
  7. Picking – blemishes in fibre removed.
  8. Beating – this process separates but still maintains the long bast fibres which produce fine strong sheets.
  9. The sheet-former then charges the vat with water, pulp and neri. Neri is a clear, thick, viscous formation-aid obtained from the tototo aoi and other plants like okra, or it can be synthetically derived. It is added to the vat to provide flexibility for sheet formers to manipulate the horizontal and vertical alignment of the fibres.
  10. A sheet is formed by multiple dipping of the suketa into the vat. This process allows individual variations in the sheet strength, thickness and texture.
  11. The su (flexible screen) is removed and a fibre layer (sheet) is couched directly onto the previous sheet on a post. NB using neri eliminates the necessity of using couching cloths for sheet separation.
  12. The post is lightly weighted overnight, then pressure gradually increased during the next day. This slower method of pressing gives stronger fibre bonding. Sheets are then separated from the post and brushed onto boards. When this method of restrained drying is used there is less shrinkage.

Although some Japanese papers remain unsized, dried sheets can be treated with size for printing or for Konnyaku – wet strength dyeing. Today, many of the manufactured papers include percentages of unspecified pulp as well as wood pulp, silk, rayon, recycled papers and vegetable materials such as turnip and onion. These commercial papers have been researched and tested for acceptable pH levels for artistic and archival use. By maintaining the strength and quality for which the traditional washi is renowned, and being competitively priced, Japanese papers are growing in popularity. Since the turn of the century, their qualities have been appreciated by western printmakers. Washi is ideal for relief printing and can also be applied to etching and lithography.

There have been several traditional workshops in washi-making held in Australia, the most recent was conducted in 1991* in Perth with Meiko Fujimori together with Toshio Onishi and Ann Nakamira. As a result of participating in this workshop, I was invited to participate in an international exhibition to celebrate the tenth anniversary of international workshops at the Awa Washi Hall – a museum of handmade paper in Japan. The invitation was extended to include masterclass workshops as a guest and visiting artist at the Museum and Fuji Paper Mill in Tokushima. This sojourn provided the opportunity to experiment with pulp and paper and to meet many other artists and paper experts.

The most comprehensive reference books on washi currently* available are:

Japanese Papermaking – Tradition, Tools and Techniques by Timothy Barrett, published by John Weatherhill, N.Y. and Tokyo.

Washi – The World of Japanese Paper by Sukey Hughes, published by Kodansha International, Tokyo.

Papermaking (magazine and newsletter) PO Box 77027, Washington DC 20013-7027, USA

* these references were current in 1996

PCA Member Q&A: Danielle Creenaune

Danielle Creenaune, Pyrophyte III (from the Pyrophyte series), 2015, lithograph and chine collé, 56 x 42 cm, edition of 10. Printed by the artist in her studio. Awarded The René Carcan International Prize for Printmaking First Mention 2016.

‘I tried painting in earnest about sixteen years ago when I had no access to a print studio and the result was very ordinary. I ended up with a series of watercolours in which I used a drypoint needle to incise lines in the paper … then I had to accept the fact that printmaking is my deal.’ 

Australian born artist Danielle Creenaune has lived abroad for the last 15 years. She lived in London for some years before moving to Barcelona in 2006, where she recently set up her own print workshop.

Why do you make art?

I’m not sure if I would ever find a definitive answer to that question. I just know I need to make art or it feels like something’s missing, an uneasiness, as if I’m not doing what I want to be doing. I feel driven to create a response to certain places and explore process mainly via printmaking.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

I see it as a medium with endless possibilities. I always find something stimulating and new to explore. I tried painting in earnest about sixteen years ago when I had no access to a print studio and the result was very ordinary. I ended up with a series of watercolours in which I used a drypoint needle to incise lines in the paper … then I had to accept the fact that printmaking is my deal.

Within printmaking, I wouldn’t say that I specialise in any one particular medium. Although lithography is my passion, I also need to move in and out of other techniques depending on the project or series. I feel each technique gives me different possibilities and allows for different marks and forms of expression. With some techniques it’s the result that feeds me more than the process and vice versa with others. When it comes to lithography, I love every bit of it.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

I had always been fascinated by prints in galleries and wondered how the marks were obtained. I started with lino relief printing in high school when I was thirteen and pretty much idolised the work of Margaret Preston. At COFA in Sydney (now known as UNSW Art & Design), the first technique I learned was lithography and I never looked back. After I finished my studies, I received a grant in 1998 to go for the summer to Tamarind Institute in New Mexico to do lithography and this was a great experience. The Tamarind summer school taught me that I wanted to be an artist more than a master lithographer at that point in time.

Who is your favourite artist?

Difficult to name one. Currently I’m tending towards painters, to name a few: Idris Murphy, Elisabeth Cummings, Helen Frankenthaler, Ivon Hitchens.

What is your favourite artwork?

Also a tough question as it changes over time; however, for many reasons I will say Robert Motherwell’s lithograph The Stoneness of the Stone (1974). Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656) comes in not far behind, just its sheer size, light and presence in the Prado has made a lasting impact.

Where do you go for inspiration?

For visual inspiration, I’d say the bush, either in Australia or up here in the Catalan Pyrenees. If I’m camping and seeing the stars at night and waking up to a bush symphony, even better. My parents’ hometown, Gilgandra, looking out to the Warrumbungle mountains in NSW, always hits the spot too.

Seeing other artists pursue their trajectories also inspires me, even if the work may be very different from my own. Having become a mother two years ago made me more aware of empowered women (with or without children) who have been able to pursue their artistic endeavours despite the demands of family and society. Somewhere last week I read a quote by Margaret Olley which oddly inspired me enough to post it up at home, and she said: ‘I’ve never liked housework. I get by doing little chores when I feel like them, in between paintings. Who wants to chase dust all their life? You can spend your whole lifetime cleaning the house. I like watching the patina grow. If the house looks dirty, buy another bunch of flowers, is my advice.’ So, I’m keeping this in mind while watching the patina grow on copper etching plates.

What are you working on now?  

I just got back from four months in Australia followed by a few days in Belgium where my work was awarded the René Carcan International Printmaking Prize First Mention. So now I’m back in the workshop, trying to improve its functionality while juggling having a two-year-old. There is never a dull moment.

I’m going back to traditional lithography for while with a new order of big plates arriving this week. I’ve spent the last few years exploring Mokulito, which is a form of lithography on wood, and I’m still using this for some larger works. However, after a spell with sugar lift and aquatint etching, I’m feeling the call of traditional lithography again. I need some dense blacks and nice reticulated washes. Although I wouldn’t consider myself a master lithographer, I am a bit of a litho nerd and find the process infinitely fascinating.

There is also a collaborative project with Stephanie Jane Rampton, which I’m currently printing up and will be shown at Port Jackson Press in July–August 2016. We are working on notions of place, home, landscape, longing and belonging. I work in a pretty solitary manner in my own workshop and so I really enjoy the sharing of ideas and dialogue with other artists.

www.daniellecreenaune.com

Original versus reproduction: why definitions matter in printmaking

A page from the original article in Imprint (Autumn 2006 Volume 41 Number 1) featuring John Olsen’s, Monkey as Aswan, 1979, lithograph, edition of 85, 106 x 75 cm (paper size); and GW Bot’s Field (detail), 2004, linocut, edition of 25, 92 x 52.

‘I am not against reproductions as long as they are clearly stated thus. However, through the promotion of some publishers, dealers and auction houses these reproduction prints are being blown out of proportion financially.’

Imprint Autumn 2006 Volume 41 Number 1. Cover image: Rock art site in Arnhem Land overlaid with etchings from the Injalak Hill Suite, made by 10 artists from Oenpelli at this site. Courtesy of Injalak Arts and Basil Hall Editions.

This article was written by Stuart Purves, National Director of Australian Galleries, and published in Imprint Autumn 2006, Volume 41 Number 1.

Australia is incredibly rich in high quality print workshops and remarkably good master printmakers. Australia is also incredibly rich in artists who are brilliant printmakers. Strangely though, printmaking as an original form of art is still a largely misunderstood medium. I wish I could take away the word ‘print’ – it is too much associated with calendar top reproductions, it is too generic. Instead I favour substituting the specific term for the artist’s chosen print medium, be it ‘etching’, ‘aquatint’, ‘drypoint’, ‘silkscreen’ or ‘lithography’. Using these terms would serve as the equivalent of ‘oil on canvas’, ‘acrylic on board’ or ‘watercolour on paper’ – terms generally used and very well understood.

When a printmaker works with an artist, images may be produced in a series with an edition of anything from five to fifty. Alternatively, one or two larger and more complicated images may be created. The real issue is that the artist, with the aid of printing devices and sometimes one or two artisans, produces a series of prints which are original works of art. At the end of this period of hard work the result is an original image built up on the plate or screen. This can vary from a one-colour print, to multiple colours requiring the use of numerous plates or screens, as it is usually the case that one plate is required per colour. There is no pre-existing original – the final prints are the originals themselves – the mark making on each plate building up layer by layer to the final image. Each work in the edition is to all intents and purposes the same, although delightfully, through the quirkiness of the press or the artist, each may have fractional differences. Experienced print buyers often view several works in the edition they intend to purchase, scrutinising each carefully looking for the richest in colour and truest in plate registration.

For an illustration of this, one need look no further than the recent and splendid publication Teeming With Life, John Olsen: His Complete Graphics 1957–2005. Here is a remarkable artist who has produced over four hundred etchings and lithographs. He has never waivered from the true methods of building up and making an original work of art through his printmaking. The same can be said of artists such as Rick Amor, Raymond Arnold, George Baldessin, G.W. Bot, John Coburn, Graham Fransella, Euan Heng, Graeme Peebles, Hertha Kluge-Pott, William Robinson, Jeffrey Smart and John Wolseley.

In contrast, when a print is made using photographic techniques to simply copy an existing image with no further involvement by the artist (other than unfortunately signing it), the print is very clearly a reproduction. Very often in such cases artists do not personally inscribe the edition number or title. It matters not what energy an artisan, publisher, or commercial printing house puts into the project, the fact remains that the result is still a reproduction.

Alternatively, when an artist makes reference to his/her own work to create a print (for example using existing imagery from a painting) the print can still be an original work since the artist’s hand is directly involved in the printmaking process, creating the lines and washes on the plates or screens, etc. The result of an artist working this way will always have its own printmaking flavour and thus feel right and look right – it is very different to a photographic transfer.

A reproduction print is a print of an existing popular image that was intended as a one-off. It is not a work of art in its own right and any potential purchaser should be privy to this information as it is simply a copy of an original work. No artist should be seduced into labelling a reproduction as an etching or lithograph in the manner of an original print, and nor should they sign or number the work. It is my view that a reproduction should be labelled with the title of the original work from which it is copied followed by the method with which it was reproduced. In actual fact such reproductions should be credited to the printer and not the artist.

I am not against reproductions as long as they are clearly stated thus. However, through the promotion of some publishers, dealers and auction houses these reproduction prints are being blown out of proportion financially. No pubic collection, such as a state, regional or university gallery, would purchase a reproduction print and it is unlikely that it would accept one under the Tax Incentive Scheme. When a purchaser of a reproduction print starts to do some research and discovers he/she does not own an original work of art, continued interest in the world of printmaking is doubtful. In the long term we are more likely to lose purchasers of reproductions from the art world as well as the ten friends they influence, and we all know the art world needs every art buyer it can get.

Brett Whiteley was an artist extraordinarily dear to me, and, during the twenty-two years he was represented by our gallery, he was an important influence on the way we presented works of art. It is well known that he was an exceptionally fine draughtsman who has left behind (apart from his paintings, sculpture and drawings) a great number of fine prints. If I had my time over again with Brett I would have guided him into signing without numbering the now famous reproduction print The Arrival, as it is after the painting of the same title which was commissioned by Time magazine to commemorate Australia’s Bicentenary. It was a perfect painting of Brett’s for a fine art reproduction, or better still, reproduction as a poster. It is a fantastic image for Australia and as an unnumbered poster at a sensible price I have no doubt that thousands of them could be happily pinned up in bedrooms, without pretending to be anything other than what they are and enjoyed enormously from that point of view.

How disheartening it must be, as it is to me, for the serious and extraordinarily hard working printmakers at Australian Print Workshop, Chrysalis Publishing, Port Jackson Press, Northern Editions, and for individuals such as Diana Davidson at Whaling Road Press, Basil Hall at Basil Hall Editions, Peter Lancaster at Lancaster Press, John Loane at Viridian Press and Bill Young at Bill Young Studios, to see reproductions attracting interest and high prices from the generally uninformed and frequently poorly guided public. Printmaking and painting are as different as land and sea, and it is too easy to take a popular image by an artist, reproduce it and set it up against those artists who are making original images through prints. Very often printmaking is not about spectacular imagery: it is much more subtle and it appeals to different senses than painting. It is in fact one of the reasons that painters make prints: it taxes different sensibilities and disciplines in their creativity. Referring again to John Olsen, an artist capable of the most spectacular and arresting large oil paintings, the imagery in his printmaking becomes quite intimate and detailed in comparison.

The art world is not a business – it is a way of life. It is cultural, it needs nurturing and it needs extreme care in its presentation. It is the role of every publisher and dealer to help and advise their artists and clients. Success should not be measured solely in terms of money. Of course all sections of the art world need money but it is not necessarily the priority that should be chased. Perhaps the next step is to establish a uniform standard or code of labelling for prints defining exactly what medium they are, in much the same way that food products must carry a description of their ingredients. There is huge potential in Australia for a more lively and vibrant artists’ print world. If the education of the general public can be raised to increase awareness of what is a ‘real’ work of art and what is not, then I feel printmaking will eventually become a financially viable and culturally important, ever-expanding sector of our art world.

A conversation with Irena Zdanowicz

A page from the original interview in Imprint (Spring 2002 Volume 37 Number 3) featuring an image of Irena Zdanowicz with Rembrandt’s Woman with the Arrow, etching and drypoint, printed with surface tone, 1661. This impression was purchased by the NGV in 1998 with the assistance of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch. Photography by Predrag Cancar, National Gallery of Victoria.

‘Print connoisseurship has been ridiculed since at least the seventeenth century, and there is no one better than an experienced, cash-strapped, twenty-first century curator to defend it!’

Imprint Spring 2002 Volume 37 Number 3.
Cover image: Milan Milojevic, Two Worlds Collide #1, 2002, digital print and woodcut, 73.5 x 73.5 cm.

This interview was conducted by the art consultant, curator and writer Anne Kirker and published in Imprint Spring 2002, Volume 37 Number 3.

The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) will open its new home for Australian art in Federation Square, Melbourne, in late 2002. The redeveloped St Kilda Road building, which will display the collections of International art, will reopen in late 2003 and it is here that the Department of Prints and Drawings will be located. One staff member who has been linked at the helm of this Department for over twenty years, Irena Zdanowicz, will not be among the four full-time staff members who look after the 22,000 or so works on paper in the new building. Irena left her position in November last year to pursue independent research, consultancy, and freelance curatorial work. It is a turning point for this colleague and for the most well-known Print Room in Australia. I have known Irena as a colleague and as a friend for close on twenty-five (it may be longer!) years and I am keenly aware of the considerable contribution she has made to the area of print specialisation in particular. I am therefore delighted to have this opportunity to ask some questions of her for Imprint:

Anne Kirker: Irena, what attracted you to the field of print curatorship?

I became fascinated with prints in the mid 1960s when, as a student in the Fine Arts Department at the University of Melbourne, I took Ursula Hoff’s course in prints and drawings in the NGV Print Room in Swanston Street. I’d spent long hours looking at paintings in the public spaces of the NGV, but I’d never before handled works of art. The experience was intriguing and thrilling. It was then that I became interested, and very soon, engrossed in the history of the graphic arts. I also responded to the physical qualities of prints: to the deepness of the blacks in drypoint, for instance, or to the delicacy of grey tones and the raised surface of the etched line. It’s a predilection I suddenly became aware of. I never thought I’d be a Print Curator but I knew then that I wanted to work in an art museum, working closely with works of art. I actually began my curatorial career at the NGV in 1968 in the Department of Decorative Arts in the metalwork area. There I had the opportunity to investigate the source of a design embossed on some seventeenth century silver. I had a hunch that the composition was based on a printed design and eventually after leafing through book after book, I found what I hoped I would in a series of seventeenth century Bible illustrations. The cultural importance of prints, specifically their function as conveyors and transmitters of information – both visual and conceptual – and the relationship of drawings and prints to works done in other media makes their study deeply engrossing.

AK: When did you start work in the Print Room of NGV? Who were your mentors? How did you educate yourself in the highly specialised field?

I was appointed Assistant Curator in the Department of Prints and Drawings in 1972 after Nicholas Draffin left to go to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Sonia Dean was head of the Print Room at the time and I worked closely with her for some ten years. She taught by example, by delegating responsibilities and by virtue of her fine judgement in all matters administrative, artistic and literary. I was also extremely fortunate in being at the Gallery while Ursula Hoff was there. Though many circumstances in art museums have changed, Dr Hoff remains a role model and an exemplar for Australian curators and art historians. In fact, the Print Study Room at the NGV is named in her honour. You’re right in posing the question about self-education because that is exactly what happens throughout a curatorial career. You start off with the basics, and with a focus on a particular area, and you learn about the vast field along the way. Sustained work with a collection is essential and working with a collection like the NGV educates you. The literature on prints is extensive and extremely interesting and one always looks at prints alongside books. For the decade that I was Assistant Curator I prepared and supervised the Print Study Room on two afternoons each week. Doing that continually exposes you to a vast array of material that others want to see, and it keeps you on your toes. In 1978 I was awarded one of the Harold Wright Scholarships to the British Museum Print Room and was able to spend a year there studying, reflecting, reading, observing. It was the most marvellous twelve months not only for the access it gave me to the collections of the British Museum but also for the contacts it enabled me to make in the museum world. It was also important for another reason: during my year in London I was in close touch with Ursula Hoff who was working there at the time as Felton Bequest Adviser. She introduced me to people in the art world, including dealers, and invited me with her when she was selecting acquisitions; she would also occasionally come into the Print Study Room to look at prints with me. It was an invaluable opportunity. Before that, and subsequently, I’ve spent most of my holidays abroad, renewing professional contacts, seeing exhibitions and doing research on the collection and for exhibitions.

AK: Describe the collection you inherited at the NGV.

The range of the collection is vast, spanning the whole history of printmaking from the late fifteenth century to the present day. It includes Australian as well as European and American art and it has its particular strengths in all periods and schools. Care had been taken to acquire the best possible impressions. Apart from some instances of well-meaning but reckless over-exposure of certain major prints in the first half of the twentieth century (before the arrival of Daryl Lindsay and Ursula Hoff), the collection had been very well looked after both in the physical and scholarly sense. A brief survey of the collection would begin with the early Italian engravers and Dürer in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries; Callot, Hollar, Van Dyck and Rembrandt in the seventeenth century; the British watercolourists, Blake, Goya, Piranesi in the eighteenth and into the nineteenth century; French nineteenth century printmakers. In the latter half of the twentieth century we had the beginnings of a representation of the mid-twentieth century printmaking revival in the U.S.A. and this was soon to be vastly enlarged through the acquisition of Fred Genis’s printer’s proof lithographs. The traditional association of the NGV with British art and the English art market meant that the British school was pretty well represented in most periods. Not surprisingly the focus of the Australian collection was art produced in Melbourne, which is not to say that major artists working elsewhere in Australia were ignored. Buying had clearly been extremely selective though larger groups of works had occasionally been acquired.

AK: What brief did you set yourself for the collection? Did it change over time?

In the first instance it was to maintain and to develop the standards set by my predecessors, though I always thought of that as a responsibility and challenge rather than a ‘brief’. I’ve always strongly believed in the custodial role of the curator – a responsibility that depends on a good knowledge of the collection, a knowledge of the history of your subject and an eye to the future. Providing public access to the collection through the Print Study Room was always important to me, even when staff shortages made this difficult to ensure. But we have always had strong support for the Print Study Room from artists, who traditionally have been amongst the most informed and interested users of the collection. I wanted to encourage research into the collection, to disseminate information about it through exhibitions and publications. Since it’s impossible to do this single-handedly, we often worked in collaboration with our international colleagues and with those in universities locally; that too was extremely rewarding. For curators of works of art on paper there is a never-ending demand for exhibitions – it’s one way of making the collection available to the public. I also wanted to make good acquisitions across the board, of historical as well as contemporary art, an increasingly difficult assignment as the local commercial gallery scene reconfigured itself by expanding enormously, and as prices soared and the value of the dollar fell. The availability of first rate works on the international market also dried up. As for change, it’s nothing new; we’ve constantly been in the midst of it and have constantly had to adjust. The course of action recommended by curators is dependent on the policies and decisions of the current Director and Trustees. Throughout this time, however, we were able to continue researching and documenting the important parts of the collection through a series of collection catalogues, many of them sponsored by a great benefactor of the Print Room, Mr Robert Raynor: Dürer, Rembrandt, Master Drawings, Blake, Goya, Picasso, important parts of the collection of Australian watercolours. Several of these catalogues, I’m happy to say, are now out-of-date as a result of a number of major acquisitions that will be revealed when the NGV reopens its doors at Federation Square and St Kilda Road.

AK: What exhibitions did you mount that you are particularly proud of? Why?

Devising exhibitions, as well as installing those assembled by others, always presents a fascinating challenge and I found each exhibition totally engrossing at the time I was engaged with it. Visitors bring with them different levels of knowledge and differing expectations when they come to see a show and one is obliged to select carefully and to present the material clearly. The Dürer exhibition we did in 1994 to accompany the launch of the catalogue of the collection is one that stands out. People flocked to it and they made many repeated visits. Of course the material is first rate; it is a complete collection of Dürer’s prints with impressions of sparkling quality and it was therefore possible to choose exactly what was required. But it is also a very large collection and we had a whole team of people working on it: curators, conservators, mount-cutters, photographers, librarians, art historians and historians and everyone worked tremendously well together. To accompany the exhibition two of our academic colleagues – Dagmar Eichberger and Charles Zika – convened an excellent cross-disciplinary symposium at the University of Melbourne and subsequently edited the symposium papers for publication. The work was so intense at one stage that Cathy Leahy, who now heads the Gallery’s Department of Prints and Drawings, and I both got severe cases of repetitive strain injury in our writing hands during the exhibition and catalogue preparation, and we only just managed to survive! Another exhibition that comes to mind was that of Margaret Stone’s drawings; it stands out not just for the quality of the work but because it introduced me to the field of botanical science, a discipline and a system of knowledge that was entirely new to me. To learn in this way is a great privilege. The Rembrandt exhibitions I’ve worked on in 1988 and again in 1997 were special because of my particular interest in the artist. In the area of Australian art the same might be said of Fred Williams, an exhibition of whose prints I worked in 1981.

AK: And acquisitions? Which works did you chase and secure?

There are those acquisitions you chase and those that drop like manna from heaven. Of the latter there was Mrs James Evan’s gift of drawings and prints by a group of artists working in mid nineteenth century Melourne, including Edward La Trobe Bateman, Georgiana McCrae and Louisa Anne Meredith. She rang the Department out of the blue, a phone call that eventually resulted in the transformation of our collection of colonial art. Then, too, Lyn Williams and James Mollison have been systematically enabling us to build the country’s main research collection of Fred Williams’s prints, with many rare trial proofs as well as variant states and impressions; it’s now a great collection. We have acquired some very fine nineteenth century French prints, including those by Redon, two major works by William Blake – an early edition of the Songs of Innocence and a coloured version of the Night Thoughts. The Night Thoughts may have belonged to Alfred Felton himself, so it was of particular interest to us and we bought it at auction in London, through the Felton Bequest, having had less than a week’s notice of the sale. That really was a chase. Our first two etchings by Canaletto entered the collection in 1982. More recently we’ve acquired major Picasso prints, not all of which have yet been seen publicly. However, in the Old Master area, one acquisition stands out and that is the purchase of a group of three Rembrandt etchings from the Ritman collection. They will be seen for the first time in the opening displays in the St Kilda Road building. It was a very complex and long drawn out negotiation, but it’s a wonderful group of works and a great addition to the collection overall. Mr James Fairfax has put it on record, in an interview in the Art Newspaper, that he wishes to help the Gallery build its collection of Rembrandt etchings, so that is something to look forward to. While we’re in the seventeenth century I shouldn’t omit mentioning the wonderful old master drawing that was acquired through the Felton Bequest in 1981, the year I became head of the Department: a very beautiful sheet on pink prepared paper by Claude from the Wildenstein Album. These are some of the highlights or hard won chases, but what is equally important is the sustained purchasing of contemporary art. Acquisition funds are, to put it mildly, small, and the Victorian State Government doesn’t contribute to the acquisition budget. This budget also has to cover all costs associated with acquisitions, such as transport, insurance, mount board, solander boxes, framing etc., which, as you know, can be substantial. The purchase of a single work can blow the budget, so the whole area of acquisitions presented the greatest challenge and one that is always taken very seriously.

AK: What changes in approach to the print in particular have occurred in the Print Room from the days of Ursula Hoff to now?

The computer and, through it, the introduction of the dematerialised matrix (where the image or information is stored electronically or digitally, rather than in the physical form of a plate, block or screen) has been the single most radical technical innovation. What artists do with the technology is another matter and its mere use is no guarantee of merit. Nevertheless, there have already been some substantial achievements, for example the works of Patricia Piccinini in Australia or Richard Hamilton in England. It’s still early days, however, and I certainly wouldn’t want to suggest that the existing forms of printmaking are obsolete. As for print scholarship, I think that perhaps greater emphasis is now placed on considering the individual impression, not simply the edition. For example, a closer examination of papers that Rembrandt used for his prints has yielded new information about how and when he published them. We now know that Rembrandt reprinted plates some years after they were first issued, a fact that can be dated fairly securely through an examination of the watermarks. Greater interest has also been taken in the procedures and the economics of print publishing. Alongside this we’ve witnessed a burgeoning interest in the history of collecting, though this is one area in which Ursula Hoff was a pioneer. The printed image is now much more frequently used by historians as cultural evidence, and their methodology has freed up the way art historians approach the subject. But that of course also characterises other late twentieth century approaches to art history, such as that which emerged from feminism.

AK: Is there still a place for a Print Room in our art museums? What function does it serve today, given that some curatorial departments are being restructured to eradicate media boundaries in favour of integration according to a set period of time (such as Contemporary Art)?

So long as substantial collections of prints and drawings exist there remains a place in the contemporary art museum for a Print Room. Only a Print Room can provide optimum conditions for viewing works of art, or, as the NGV’s current statement of purpose goes, of ‘bringing art and people together’ in ideal circumstances. This is not simply a matter of physical proximity but a matter, too, of intellectual proximity and engagement; it requires informed, specialist staff. But print curators cannot be blinkered and I don’t believe they are; everyone is acutely aware of the need to think not only of their part of the collection, but of the museum’s collection overall. Collaboration is absolutely essential and everyone is aware of it. The restructuring that has occurred in some places is one manifestation of economic rationalism in the museum sphere: you gain some things, but you lose an awful lot. Most especially you lose knowledge, and not just specialist knowledge about a particular part of the collection, but knowledge of how to assess the work, how to interpret it and how to present it to the public. A collection dies if research on it stops and it stops when specialists are got rid of.

AK: The word ‘connoisseurship’ is often unpopular in postmodern circles. How do you reconcile the fact that art history has moved on and that the visual arts are often used in highly speculative thematic ways?

Print connoisseurship has been ridiculed since at least the seventeenth century, and there is no one better than an experienced, cash-strapped, twenty-first century curator to defend it! Let me begin answering your question by posing some of my own: in a sale exhibition of many equally fine works how do you decide which one to propose for acquisition? What measures of judgment do you use? Do you buy something that you notice has a printer’s fault, or do you point it out and ask for another impression? Do you select a brilliant impression from a first edition, or go for the slightly cheaper, but dulled one from the second? Then again, do you go for the immaculately printed impression of a Gauguin woodcut printed by Pola, or the rough and unevenly printed one made by the artist? One must know the printing standards that apply in a given area or in the case of a given artist. There’s no question that connoisseurship is important; it’s a matter of knowing the facts and the context of production, rather than having some form of esoteric knowledge. The quality of the impression so often carries the meaning, meaning which may otherwise be diluted or even lost, thereby diminishing the impact of your thematic speculation. On the other hand, if these matters are not important to an artist, then that has to be accepted. For example such issues have no particular relevance to the documentation of performance art in the 1970s, though of course one wants the material record to be in good physical condition. As for thematic exhibitions, there have been good ones and bad ones. The good ones are carefully selected and include art that is inherently interesting, not merely superficially relevant.

AK: How should curators reconcile the fact that the print has a separate history from that of other art disciplines and that this history is often overlooked in integrated collection hangs?

There are many histories of art, and now many ways of approaching the history of art. There are also many different kinds of collections and different cultures in which they exist. Some major European institutions wouldn’t dream of integrated hangs, largely for the reasons you identify – prints indeed have a history of their own, and it shouldn’t be thrown out – but also due to the lighting and conservation requirements of the material, and to the visual disruption that can stem from a disparity of scale. It is also interesting that while the graphic arts have their separate history they are simultaneously most closely related to works in other media. In fact, there is arguably as much overlap as there is divergence to reconcile; it’s one of the very things that makes their study so fascinating. But it depends on how you deal with the issues. In the Australian situation there certainly is a place for integrated hangs, though the difficulties and dangers need to be spelled out, even at the risk of harping: continually recycling the same key works – which is in practice what usually happens in such situations – can threaten their long-term survival. There are probably examples in all Australian collections of prints and drawings that have in the past been damages through over-exposure to light. The staff of art museums must never forget that they are custodians, not owners of the collection they look after. A lively collaboration across departments is essential, and it certainly exists at the NGV. As for the loss of knowledge which occurs when specialist curators disappear, that is always to be regretted, because I believe that specialist knowledge is the most effective springboard to creative, speculative thinking. That having been said, I do recognise that institutions differ, and that what would be inappropriate for one collection may sometimes be reasonable for another. But I don’t think there’s a danger of the Department of Prints and Drawings disappearing in Melbourne. The collection is too substantial and there is a very strong curatorial staff who work extremely well together.

 

At the time this interview took place, Anne Kirker was Head of International Art, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane