Tall Tales and Antipodean Adventures: Narratives in Contemporary Australian Printmaking

Imprint Volume 41 Number 2, 2006

‘In a country for which history (at least the ‘white’ version) is in relatively short supply, and in which cultural cringe has only recently undergone withdrawal, storytelling plays an integral part in determining the evolution of a national identity.’

This article was written by Jazmina Cininas and published in the winter issue of Imprint Volume 41 No. 2, 2006.

A picture speaks a thousand words. Long before the invention of writing or alphabets, stories and histories were recorded in pictures, from Paleolithic cave paintings in Lascaux to early Egyptian hieroglyphs. Church authorities understood the power of the image, employing stained glass windows and didactic paintings to illustrate their teachings and as learning aids for their predominantly illiterate parishioners. Rulers and military leaders had their conquests and exploits immortalised in grand history paintings while explorers recorded their discoveries as much with pictures as with words. When Pfister devised a system for printing illustrations alongside typographic texts in 1461,1 an inextricable link was forged between printmakers and storytellers. Illustrations, as well as revolutionising the dissemination of knowledge for the life sciences,2 brought words to life, luring the mediaeval peasant into literacy, and continuing to do the same for novice readers today. Artists such as Dürer and Goya understood the power of the visual narrative, creating images that transcended their source texts and which, centuries later, continue to unfold new chapters and offer new scenarios.

It is perhaps understandable that narrative image making enjoys such a high profile in contemporary Australian printmaking. In a country for which history (at least the ‘white’ version) is in relatively short supply, and in which cultural cringe has only recently undergone withdrawal, storytelling plays an integral part in determining the evolution of a national identity. The adventures of Waltzing Matilda, The Man from Snowy River and Ned Kelly are embraced as quintessentially Australian (indeed more so than the national anthem). Australians pride their ability to spin a yarn, to tell a joke, to create a legend: the taller the tale the better. There are many superb Australian printmakers currently working in the narrative tradition who deserve considerably more attention than this article is able to give them. Dean Bowen’s suburban vignettes, Euan Heng’s iconic friezes, Danny Moynihan’s tortured thylacine men. Geoffrey Ricardo’s dark visions and Hertha Kluge-Pott’s intricately populated towers of land have woven a foundation of interconnecting storylines that have become local legends. Articulate new chapters are being added by Sophia Szilagyi’s gothic intrigues, Kati Thamo’s anthropomorphic fables and the masculine eco-sagas of Michael Schlitz and Damon Kowarsky. But other adventures beckon. The following artists share a whimsical approach to their storytelling, blending historical and contemporary narratives to produce ironic commentaries and fantastical journeys that offer insights into Australian culture.

Heather Shimmen’s Waltzing Matildas ‘expand the sanctioned histories of our colonial past and question the meaning of our national identity.’3 The jolly swagman is reinvented as a Victorian heroine, a Matilda more at home in the drawing room than in the outback. Composed of historically overlooked domestic dramas and feminine fancies, Shimmen’s montages fabricate new narratives that expose the distortions inherent in ‘privileging’ information. Sailing boats, botanical studies and crocodile skin travelling bags speak of long journeys through dangerous waters to distant lands. Unfamiliar flora and fauna are recorded with the decorum (and perhaps even naivety) of the Old World wood engraver, and exquisitely reinterpreted in linoleum by Shimmen. Corseted and petticoated, with a penchant for colleting stars and skipping ropes, Shimmen’s Matilda is clearly ill equipped for her new life, her romantic melancholy and social preoccupations at odds with the physical realities of a land in which one is more likely to die of snake bite than consumption. Where small pox is the likely culprit for facial blemishes on her English counterpart, gun shot wounds take the credit in Suicide Sister.

The kangaroo is the latest hero of the artist’s colonial ruminations. First recorded by George Parkinson, the image of the kangaroo was to gain iconic status after George Stubbs made a painting of the stuffed marsupial, presented to the English scientific community courtesy of Joseph Banks. Shimmen’s Kanguru is likewise pieced together from various observations and gathered scraps of information.4 Shimmen, who has many opportunities to see the animal in the wild, invests her first-hand observations and fondness for the animal into Kanguru, capturing its elegant poise and the flickers of movement that interrupt its contemplative gaze.

The same colonial icon is reincarnated in Julia Silvester’s panoramas of pre-settlement Melbourne, where it teams up with the emu to form the Australian coat of arms.5 Silvester’s Antipodean View, which measures over three metres in length, is a veritable epic recording the history of Melbourne’s exploration, documentation and ultimate conquest. Despite ‘immigrating’ from Perth in 1996, Silvester still feels the newcomer’s lack of familiarity with Melbourne geography. She presented mock-ups of her constructed panorama to ‘locals’ for advice on the positioning of natural landmarks, adjusting them accordingly. As such, Silvester operates as the direct descendant of early mapmakers and illustrators, who relied upon second-hand reports from witnesses, falling easy prey to exaggerations and inaccuracies. Parallels can be found in the (mis)translations imposed on the Australian landscape by colonial illustrators who took liberties with the unruly bushland, tidying it up with oak leaves for a European sensibility.

Silvester employs digital technology to impart a uniform surface to her collaged scans of historical illustrations, fascinated with the vagaries that occur in successive generations of reproduction. Her Gardens of Desire (both an artist’s book and exhibition title) stems from a similar principle, harking back to early herbals and scientific texts whose images were so corrupted by generations of sloppy copyists as to be ultimately unrecognisable.6

Silvester is equally intrigued by the imperatives for politeness in early writings on sexuality, which often resulted in the use of plant metaphors, euphemisms and remedies for ‘inappropriate’ longings and sexual urges, and extolled and emasculating virtues of dill and warm lettuce. Silvester distils the saucier passages of Hildegard of Bingen’s twelfth-century treatise, On Natural Philosophy and Medicine, using scandalous illustrations of flower parts and dissected plants to lead the viewer towards climactic conclusions holding very different resonances for the Viagra generation. The artist’s shenanigans with science and history share Simon Schama’s conviction that the boundary between fact and fiction is always in flux, and that history’s ‘best prospects lie in the forthright admission of … imagination’.7

Milan Milojevic is equally open with his fakeries, creating imaginary worlds and impossible creatures from a repertoire of collected marks and woodcut illustrations. Milojevic’s landscapes and bestiaries return the viewer to a time when much of the earth’s terrain was still unknown, when imagined possibilities had not yet been refuted by ‘facts’ and every voyage was one of discovery – the great irony, of course, being that he does so with the aid of the latest digital technologies. The repeated and mirrored motifs within his friezes exploit the inherent properties of traditional print mediums, while the wood engravings that serve as source material also remind one of the integral role of printmakers once played in recording and disseminating knowledge through compendiums and visual encyclopaedias.

Such nostalgic musings are born of his Yugoslav/German parents’ experience as misinformed ‘innocents’, lured halfway around the world by sunny promises and idealised panoramas that were strikingly at odds with the harsh, xenophobic landscape that greeted migrants in 1940s Australia. The hybridity that pervades Milojevic’s work – in grafted European and Australian foliage, in patchwork chimeras and in the merging of traditional and contemporary print mediums – is bred of a desire to come to terms with the multiple cultures and ethnicities that make up his own identity.

Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986) is Milojevic’s primary muse, and it is perhaps significant that the poet’s birthplace, Argentina, also has a history of old and new worlds colliding. His Book of Imaginary Beings, an alphabetical index of the bizarre, directly informs the ‘zoological displacements and dislocations’8 that make up Milojevic’s catalogue of fantastic beasts. Sometimes magical, sometimes grotesque, sometimes pitifully dysfunctional, these creatures nevertheless invoke a wistful suspension of disbelief, a longing for an age when these might have been truths, a desire to return to earlier possibilities.

A similar nostalgia operates in the work of Rew Hanks, for whom the Tasmanian Tiger embodies that which has been lost, that which can never again be known first-hand. Like Shimmen and Silvester, Hanks offers an alternative vision for this antipodean colony, conjuring up parallel histories that cast the thylacine in the leading role. He ponders the ethical implications of attempting to clone the extinct species by relocating Dürer’s Eden considerably further south. Queen Victoria, in the guise of Eve, tempts Michael Archer (Director of the Australian Museum) with a thylacine pup preserved in a Pandora’s jar of moral conundrums. The title We Don’t Have To9 sums up the delicacy of the dilemma. The other native animals that populate the garden hint at broader environmental ramifications, and also question the wisdom of investing enormous sums into resurrecting the dead when current endangered species could do with protective funding.

Hanks returns to earlier artistic styles and past narratives, such as The Fall of Man, Noah’s Ark and The Iliad, to suggest potential futures that might once again become possible if the promises (or threats) of genetic engineering and cloning are fulfilled. Hanks also draws attention to the connection that existed between the indigenous Palawa people and the thylacine prior to colonisation, and the parallel fates that befell them both as a consequence of white settlement. The royal corgi, sporting a woolly jacket that alludes to the sheep industry, functions as a symbol for imperial power and privilege, and guards a thylacine skin handbag – the final slap in the face for the annihilated carnivore. Inspired by the $1.25 million reward offered by the Bulletin magazine for conclusive evidence that the Tasmanian Tigre has escaped extinction, Hanks’ most recent magnum opus portrays a polo-playing Kerry Packer masquerading as an Indian Raja, leading the hunt for the elusive marsupial.10

The collaborative team of Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison,11 who have made the artist’s book their signature medium, also reserve their leading roles for extinct species. Their heroes’ adventures have a decidedly Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn flavour, even if the rumours of their deaths have not been exaggerated. Pink-headed ducks, giant rice rats and Bavarian pine voles sport prison stripes and plan jail breaks in order to go fishing amongst desert cacti, while robust white-eyes play cards and passenger pigeons, drunk on alcohol soaked grain,12 attempt to hatch European sea urchins.

The Agatha Christie inspired titles – The Case of the Lost Aviary, Trouble at Sea, The Dubious Clue, By the Pricking of My Claws – acknowledge Haby and Jennison’s penchant for amateur detective work. Unearthing incriminating evidence against commercial hunters, volcanoes and ship-jumping black rats,13 the artists conjure new, pseudo-scientific scenarios, their slippery approach to facts unfolding in whimsical narratives that operate according to their own logic. The artists take liberties with the argument that ‘narrative metaphors are an indispensible part of all ‘factual’ discourse, whether in history or in science’,14 and wink at the commonly acknowledged notion that the historian’s work is partly scientific, partly artistic.15

Haby and Jennison’s truth is, by necessity, a fabrication, the species themselves being lost for all time, at best leaving only fragmentary data from which to glean information. Their pig-footed bandicoots, deer mice and bulldog rats are as fanciful as their names suggest, precariously balancing sailing boats for headgear or fossils as body parts. As barely intact as the last remaining specimen of the St Lucy giant rice rat, they threaten to fall apart at the merest touch.16 Extinct cloud runners and white-footed rabbit rats croon their woes along with Memphis Slim, drawing on another vehicle rich in narrative history, the blues lyric.

David Frazer also sings his share of blues. A frustrated songwriter, he tells his stories instead through wood engravings, choosing a medium soaked in narrative tradition.17 His unrequited rock star ambitions are most evident in his series of dancing men, whose titles are directly derived from song lyrics. Well you can tell by the way I use my walk I’m a woman’s man no time for talk might hint at disco fantasies, but the flannelette shirt of and wheelbarrow reveal that Frazer’s leanings are closer to Jonathan Richman18 than the Brothers Gibb. One suspects the Richman inspired They’re all in my trance when I dance, in which a dead cool rocker commands the dance floor, is truer to Frazer’s secret yearnings, even in Blundstone boots and a weatherboard house in rural Victoria are the reality. His other unfulfilled dreams of sporting stardom are confessed in such titles as: Self portrait with home-made golf trophy; Despite blowing any chance of winning, The King, with his usual good grace acknowledges his imaginary fans; and Placing all hope in my son to fulfil my failed sporting ambition. Frazer shares Richman’s capacity to make the ordinary strangely endearing, while simultaneously longing for something more, something else.

Wanderlust is both a recurring theme and the title of his artists’ book collaboration with Martin Flanagan and George Matoulas, but unlike Shimmen’s and Milojevic’s epic voyages of discovery, Frazer’s journeys take place much closer to home, more concerned with ‘the common experience of humanity through the bittersweet journey of life’19 than uncharted continents. Travel occurs mostly in the daydreams of the solitary figure sitting atop his rooftop who gazes wistfully over endless expanses of wheat fields. But even modest ambitions end up thwarted by the responsibilities of life on the land. Frazer’s downwardly mobile caravans camp in paddocks and woodlands suspiciously like those visible from the front porch while rowboats suffer the absurd fate of running ‘aground’ in treetops. Mr Vertigo drifts over paddocks, suspended in the thick, buoyant air of dreams through which one must continually swim in order to stay aloft, but which never offers sufficient velocity for escape.

Rona Green is another champion for the underdog, employing the narrative devices of comic books and cartoons to showcase her underachievers and misfits. The success of the first Superman story in 1938 ‘heralded the birth of the superhero genre in which costumed people of extraordinary or superhuman powers fought evil and crime on a grand scale’20, but for Green the cape and mask are more likely to herald the inept geek and the clumsy nerd. One suspects that even the spandex proud pro wrestler Spastica Fantastica has to settle for sub-celebrity status; the lady friend alluded to in Spastica Fantastica Gets the Girl looks suspiciously like the blow-up variety.

Green’s outcasts reappear in sequential episodes, reinvented as linocuts, digital prints, lithographs and poppets. Gangs of ghouls, freaks, mad scientists and hooligan animals make up her cast of disreputable characters, teaming up for an ongoing series of misadventures. The pointy-toothed egghead who dreams of alien abduction in The Encounter reappears alongside fellow technophiles (and quite likely Trekkies) in Secret Robot Society, while his fanged and furry companions enjoy multiple roles as tattooed pets and S&M fetishists. In her exhibition at The Doll’s House in Preston ,Victoria, scientific nerds that first appeared in Cake Trail resurfaced alongside the criminally insane in The Bughouse, transforming the miniature gallery into a correctional facility, psychiatric ward and experimental operating theatre.

Green’s storylines are fed by a soft spot for daytime television and conspiracy theories, and a genuine fondness for the flawed and misshapen. Her awkward antiheroes are immaculately drawn and printed, and tenderly stitched into their poppet incarnations. Indeed the only hint of suspicion is reserved for the devastatingly glamorous immortals in Treacherous Boys with Charisma, and one suspects that the vampires’ aristocracy, rather than their bloodsucking ways, is what meets most with Green’s disapproval.

The printing process, as both a technical and artistic activity, has been linked not only to the memory of human thought, but also to the memorial process.21 Prints, in their various guises and mediums, have played a pivotal role in recording the stories of our past, and continue to document possibilities of what might yet become. The best narrative printmakers employ printmaking’s intrinsic properties and illustrative traditions to create new fictions and expose new truths about ourselves, celebrating the invention inherent in all knowledge, in all history.

 

Jazmina Cininas is a Melbourne-based artist, writer and curator who lectures in Printmaking at RMIT.

 

1 See A Hyatt Mayor, ‘Printing breaks away from manuscript’, Prints & People: A Social History of Printed Pictures, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1971.
2 Such as architecture, engineering, and biology. ‘By paying more attention to the duplication of pictorial statements, we might see more clearly why the life science no less the physical ones were placed on a new footing and how the authority of Pliny, no less than Galen and Ptolemy, was undermined.’ Elizabeth I. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Volume II, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1979, p. 686.
3 Heather Shimmen: ‘Figment Fragment’, media release, Gallery 101, October 2005.
4 Heather Shimmen, Kanguru artist statement, Gallery 101, October. 2005.
5 Much of the following discussion of Silvester’s work is essentially a reworking of my earlier catalogue essay for Ex Libris at RMIT Project Space, 2005.
6 ‘… the copyists who redrew manuscripts inevitably degraded drawings of plants into unintelligibility, as lamented by old Pliny in his Natural History… For centuries … copyists copied copies, shirking the hard analysis of drawing from … nature.’ Hyatt Mayor, ‘Herbals and Scientific Illustration’.
7 Simon Schama, cited in G. Thomas Tanselle, ‘Printing History and Other History’, Studies in Bibliography, Volume 48, 1995, pp. 287–286.
8 Milan Milojevic, artist’s statement supplied to the author, April 2006.
9 See Carol Freeman, Rew Hanks: Tiger Tales, exhibition catalogue, Legge Gallery, Bette Gallery, 2003.
10 Rew Hanks, artist’s statement supplied to the author, April 2006.
11 Much of the following discussion of Silvester’s work is essentially a reworking of my earlier catalogue essay for Ex Libris at RMIT Project Space, 2005.
12 This was used by trappers to make the birds easier to catch. See below.
13 Information on the passenger pigeon and the rats was supplied to the author by the artists, October 2005, citing Clive Ponting, A Green History of the World, Penguin Books, 1992; www.ulala.org/P_Pigeon; and Tim Flannery and Peter Schouten, A Gap in Nature – Discovering the World’s Extinct Animals, Text Publishing Australia, 2001.
14 Donald N. McCloskey, cited in G. Thomas Tanselle, ‘Printing History and Other History’, Studies in Bibliography, Volume 48, 1995.
15 See G. M. Trevelyan, cited in ibid.
16 The specimen is housed under glass in the Natural History Museum, London, with a strict injunction not to touch. Information supplied by Haby and Jennison, citing Flannery and Schouten.
17 See Megan Backhouse, ‘The Traveller Tamed, The Wanderer Returns’, The Saturday Age, 24 July 2004.
18 Former lead singer for the Modern Lovers. He penned such classic lyrics as ‘Pablo Picasso was never called an arsehole’ and ‘I’m a little aeroplane’, before going on to write the soundtrack to There’s Something about Mary.
19 Jeff Faulkner, ‘Over the Hill’, catalogue essay, Pastoral Melancholia, Gippsland Art Gallery, 2004.
20 James Bettley, ed. ‘Comics’, The Art of the Book: From Medieval Manuscript to Graphic Novel, V&A Publications, London, 2001, p. 122.
21 ‘Printing as Memory’, two lectures delivered by Alvin Eisenman at Dartmouth in 1992 imply in their title ‘not only the idea of printed texts as the memory of human thought but also the role of printing, as a technical and artistic activity, in the memorial process.’ Tanselle, p.289.

Post Post

Ron McBurnie revisits a unique philatelic exhibition curated by Donna Foley and exhibited at Umbrella Gallery, Townsville, earlier this year.

Leena Nammari, Falastine-Palestine, two-colour screenprint on Fabriano Artistico, 38 x 56 cm, edition of 10, each comprised of 100 stamps.

As a child I was intrigued by the post and, in particular, by stamps on parcels from faraway places. My grandmother always saved stamps for me from letters and parcels she received from her Dutch and Philippine friends. Stamps spoke to me of exotic places that I hoped to one day visit.

Eventually, when I was older and an amateur philatelist, I purchased first day covers, ancient and contemporary stamps, and whole pages of the same stamp for my collection. I have always been fascinated by the repetition of a single stamp in the beautiful gridded pattern of a complete page.

It was with equal enthusiasm that I entered the Post Post exhibition where each artist’s work contained multiple images on a gridded perforated page. The units within each work could be looked at individually but worked well when viewed as part of a whole. Just like stamps, small worlds formed parts of bigger worlds.

The artists examined the subject in an impressive variety of ways. Townsville artist and educator Donna Foley invited ten other artists from Australia and abroad to tackle the stamp in their own unique ways.

Susan Baran, (Sydney, New South Wales) and Glenda Orr (Brisbane, Queensland) both focused on the rich tapestry of native flora from two fragile and endangered ecosystems of the Murray River and the Bimblebox areas. Baran’s colourful native flowers compliment the ornate dead branches of Orr’s yellow box trees.

Laura Castell’s (Townsville, Queensland) and Kerrie Cleverdon’s (New Zealand) prints feature native fauna of Australia and New Zealand respectively. While Castell’s linocuts focus on local characters, the ibis and the magpie, Cleverdon’s delicate mezzotints reveal the disappearance of larger species in New Zealand.

Kir Larwill, Diana Orinda-Burns (Castlemaine, Victoria) and Megan Lewis, (Newcastle, New South Wales), examine the letter itself from different points of view. Larwill’s subtly coloured screenprint presents us with enjoyable references to the aesthetic of packaging, parcels, airmail and commemoration. Megan Lewis’s etchings emphasise the letter as a physical object, evoking the physical journey it makes to the receiver, often from a foreign place. Diana Orinda Burns’s prints, Post Poste Postes, talk to us of the physical writing and posting of letters as well as to the changes brought by new and different forms of communication.

Leena Nammari (Palestine) and Nan Mulder (the Netherlands) present works which speak of special places. In Nammari’s stamps the places are endangered ancient Palestinian castles or watchtowers of special significance, while Mulder’s digital prints of eyes, noses and mouths collected from postcards resemble an imaginary mythical arcadia.

Jill O’Sullivan’s Welsh postings are stamps the artist made from wood engravings made while away from home on a residency in Aberystwyth, Wales. For Jill, each stamp has a special memory of time spent in a place so different from her home in Townsville.

Lastly, Donna Foley’s screenprinted series takes a tongue-in-cheek look at what makes us all unequally Australian. It was Donna’s idea to allow each artist’s gridded units of stamps to be pinned to the gallery wall and sold as whole pages or as individual stamps. This gave visitors to the exhibition the chance to view the transformation of the gridded pages as stamps were torn off during the period of the exhibition.

Ron McBurnie is an artist and lecturer at James Cook University, Townsville. He founded Monsoon Publishing in 2004.
Post Post was exhibited at Umbrella Gallery, Townsville, from 10 April to 17 May 2015.

Flashback Friday: René Block – The European Approach

Imprint Volume 25 Number 2, 1990
cover image: Mike Parr, Optic Iland, printed by John Loane, 1990, drypoint, 108 x 78 cm

‘In previous visits to Australia I had rediscovered a very strong participation in an international dialogue by a number of Australian artists. These artists have developed their own language.’

This article was published anonymously in the autumn issue of Imprint, Vol 25 No. 2, 1990 (eds. Ashley Crawford, Ray Edgar and Charles Green)

René Block, artistic director of the recent Sydney Biennale, The Readymade Boomerang, is a significant figure in contemporary art. Both Galerie René Block and then DAADgalerie in Berlin have been closely associated with the key figures of the European avant-garde of the sixties and seventies. His experience and contacts resulted in one of the most stimulating Biennales seen in Australia and a major print portfolio of historical significance.

Block’s involvement with prints grew out of his experience with the Fluxus group and their concerns with the production of artwork in unlimited editions at very low prices. Both Fluxus and the creation of multiples have in common the intention of denying a work of art’s status as a unique and precious item. ‘I was not especially involved as a classic editor of prints in the Parisian way,’ says Block. ‘When I established my Edition the artists and I were more interested in the industrial production possibilities of producing multiples. I was interested in the industrial production of artwork in larger editions for low prices. Unfortunately the realities were different. It was almost impossible to use the facilities of industrial production. And in terms of distribution there was no need, no interest for large editions. The market was not ready.’

Block’s Edition Block has overseen the conceptualisation and production of multiples by numerous major international artists. Works by Richard Hamilton, based on consumer products such as electric toothbrushes (The Critic Laughs), and Joseph Beuys’ Felt Suit and sledges, and the first video multiple, Nam June Paik’s The Thinker, are a few examples of the fifty or so editions he has so far completed.

Artists like Brehmer, Vostell, Polke and Richter who have shown with Galerie René Block in Berlin were influenced by American pop art in its early stages; however, their concerns were more directed towards illustrating the confrontations between the experiences of East and West Berlin. Their vision of consumer culture, which they referred to as Capitalistic Realism, resulted in Block’s Graphic Capitalism portfolio in 1967 and his book about the complete prints of these artists in which images of a similar nature from East and West were juxtaposed.

In another portfolio, Weekend from 1972, artists were encouraged to decide between one and five prints, allowing development of new ideas rather than one typical image, an approach which remains one of the earmarks of Edition Block. ‘Generally artists are obliged to choose one image to represent their work, but as some of them were not printmakers, I thought it would be helpful to them to develop a new idea in a new medium which is easier with a suite of some prints. Beuys at that time was not interested in prints at all so his contribution to Weekend is an object. All prints and the object were published in a suitcase.’

Like all Block’s projects since 1964, when he opened his first gallery at the age of 22, the shows and the portfolios are marked by a distinctly blockbuster status. The Sydney Biennale portfolio is similar to Block’s Hamburg folio of 1985, but on a larger scale. Titled Art of Peace, the Hamburg portfolio was published during the Biennale des Frenders and helped provide Block with both the finance for that show in Hamburg and the experience to plan the Sydney exhibition on a larger scale.

‘I proposed to the City of Hamburg that we do a print portfolio and they gave us a loan. The portfolio acted as security. The edition of forty with a price of 5000 marks gave us a loan of 200,000 marks.’ Whilst this didn’t sell immediately, the Hamburg government has been suitably impressed with its consistent sales and inflation value making it a worthwhile exercise.

Over the next year he planned a selection of prints by Australian artists coinciding with Australia’s bicentennial. The ‘Aus Australian’ project, as it came to be known, was printed largely by John Loane.

‘In previous visits to Australia I had rediscovered a very strong participation in an international dialogue by a number of Australian artists. These artists have developed their own language. It was not necessarily planned as a bicentennial portfolio. That status occurred by chance closer to the 1988 celebrations but the portfolio was planned in 1986 following the very impressive and successful exhibition Five from the Fifth in Berlin’s DAADgalerie.’

Aside from work by one of pop art’s originators, Richard Hamilton, the recent biennale portfolio of twenty-one artists includes many Fluxus names such as Nam June Paik, Emmett Williams, John Cage and Ben Vautier along with many first time printmakers. The long list of big name artists contains regular collaborators with Block and demonstrates his professional ongoing working relationship with a number of artists.

Having secured the likes of Rosalie Gascoigne, Ilya Kabakov and Rosemary Trockel to produce their first ever prints, Block says, ‘some were hesitant at the beginning because there was no immediate solution for their ideas. But by offering the whole range of printmaking styles, it was a matter of utilising the right technique for each particular artist. I convinced Ken Unsworth to try woodblocks. This was interesting for him too because it was his first woodcut. I tried to influence the use of different styles where I could but of course did not influence the artistic decision. Though I did persuade John Cage it would be wonderful if he could contribute a “Methostic” with the portfolios title The Readymade Boomerang. Hamilton experimented with the paint box of a computer for the first time and for him this print is a very important work. Also we cooperated with some of the best printmakers worldwide, including printshops in Vienna, Paris, Rome, London and Berlin.’

The range of mediums used by the printmakers borders on startling: Janet Burchill silkscreened on sheets of tin, Julian Schnabel used montage of the different print techniques of lithography and etching, Barbara Bloom used photographic offset lithography, Peter Tyndall incorporated silkscreen: the list of variations goes on.

The Readymade Boomerang print portfolio is testimony to two things: the first is René Block’s love for multiple edition prints, the second is the artists’ respect for this maverick European print ‘editor’.

Colour Sensation

Artist Bryan Spier considers Untitled 2015 in Melinda Harper’s current survey exhibition at Heide Museum of Modern Art.

Melinda Harper, Untitled 2015, paper collage on screenprint, 9 parts, overall 240 x 360 cm. Printed by Rebecca Mayo at the Dolls House, Melbourne. Courtesy of NKN Gallery, Melbourne. Photograph: Christian Capurro.

Melinda Harper’s work tends to be characterised by dazzling patterns of unrestrained colour in otherwise self-contained, non-objective compositions. Yet some of the work featured in Colour Sensation – the current survey at Heide Museum of Modern Art – seems to contradict these ideas. Sue Cramer’s curation does a good job of illustrating the breadth of Harper’s investigation in a range of different media, including embroidery, glassware, screenprints, and the paintings for which she is famous. Each medium imposes a different approach, and this affords a new angle to broaden our view of the artist’s subject. This is most evident in a work called Untitled 2015: a multi-part screenprint with collage on paper, made in collaboration with Rebecca Mayo at the Dolls House printing studio. The work stands apart because it is very large with a comparatively restrained palette, and the shapes from which it is composed act differently to those in Harper’s iconic paintings. It is a work suffused with peculiarities that are partly attributable to the screenprinting process. Through its lens a different perspective is afforded on Harper’s oeuvre.

As a painter I have some insight into the decisions and processes that guide Harper’s works on canvas, but this is not so with screenprinting. I was lucky to glimpse the creation of Untitled 2015 one afternoon at the Doll’s House studio. It was most informative to witness Rebecca Mayo’s role in the production of this work. There was no doubt Harper directed the process by a certain preconceived plan, but it was also clear she was prompted by Mayo’s expertise with the medium. Together they made decisions based on the potentials and limits of the screenprinting process, devising ways to translate the subject of the paintings into the language of screenprinting. Earlier prints in Colour Sensation wrestle at transcribing the optical features of Harper’s paintings, whereas Untitled 2015 interprets the content in an entirely new way.

There are only a handful of colours in this print, and they are divided across cells that are not facets of a pattern but individual objects. There is a manageable amount of these upon the picture plane, in contrast to the atomised storm we have come to expect of the paintings. There is less colour than in the paintings but more texture: velvety blacks, pink grids, metallic silver and blue fields of decalcomania. These textures seem to substitute the function of colour by signalling constitutive contrasts. This offers a different view on the role of colour in Harper’s work: that it is not necessarily deployed for its own sensational sake but to identify individual components of the picture. Some of the textures are impressions that index external objects that have been pressed against the paper, signalling the collage technique that informs the organisational logic of this picture. This is emphasised by large portions of blank paper that establish figure and ground relations that are rarely intelligible in Harper’s paintings. Shapes are scattered upon this ground like cards on a table, overlapping rather than butting up to each another. They leap between adjacent sheets of paper without losing their identity, while other shapes traverse the edges of the picture plane into space beyond the visible image.

Untitled 2015 is not contained by its material boundaries, and this is amplified by the massive scale and placement of the work. Seen from a distance it fills the entire entrance to the smaller gallery in which is it displayed. With the edges of the work thus occluded the compositional logic can spread indefinitely outwards. Using this work as a compass I can recognise the same ideas amidst the hail of chromatic excess that characterise the paintings. The distance afforded by the screenprinting process ­– both in the indexicality it asserts and the mediation offered by Rebecca Mayo – situates Harper’s practice as more than just colouring activity on the surface: it is a performance of organisational concepts within the deep structure of the image. Her genius is not in subdividing a field to create a pattern of colours, but in wrangling a multitude of contingent objects to radiate a collective will.

Melinda Harper and fellow artist and printmaker Rebecca Mayo will discuss Untitled 2015, their Colour Sensation collaboration, in the free talk ‘A Printmaker and a Painter’ at Heide Museum of Modern Art on Saturday 24 October, 2pm.

Flashback Friday: Curating Prints – A Field of Expanding Interpretation

Imprint Volume 26 Number 2, 1991 (cover).

‘Now the question of what constitutes an ‘original print’ is rarely ever raised as it is generally accepted that printmaking need not be limited by narrow guild-based premises.’

This essay was written by Anne Kirker and published in the winter issue of Imprint, Volume 26 No 2, 1991.

In recent years, changes in the methodology of art history, the vagaries of the marketplace and advanced technological development have disrupted the often still waters of print scholarship. Exhibitions and collection policies of public institutions have shifted emphasis accordingly. We had in our complacency begun to type-cast print shows, with their attendant publications being monographic in nature, their contents being confined to traditional media, and their focus too narrowly engaging with issues of connoisseurship and technique. Now, there are just as likely to be thematic exhibitions which throw the field wide open or hone in on specific concerns. One such example is the unofficial Bicentenary project Right Here Right Now – Australia 1988. Comprising screenprints developed from within this country’s strong poster tradition, this exhibition raised critical questions regarding national identity. In addition, there are exhibitions which concentrate on particular collection strengths. For example, Looking Eastwards, held at the Queensland Art Gallery in 1989, attempted to make readily accessible, its comparatively large ukiyo-e print holdings, and was not reliant upon extensive loan material. Certainly this was in part a contingency measure. Through necessity the Gallery was obliged to fall back on its own resources. In part, what the exhibition could have been was tempered by the phenomenal insurance valuations currently placed on many international prints, and the costs involved in processing such loans.

There is also a tendency among art museums to place works on paper in a larger context as part of permanent collection rotations, allowing prints to have equal visibility to paintings, aspects of sculpture and the so-called decorative arts. This situation has assisted in breaking down traditional hierarchies within the visual arts and has decreased the chance of marginalising prints to a separate, easily overlooked exhibition space. Importantly, the integration of images from different media categories within a general display encourages audiences to make connections with respect to the content of these images, and to realise the interdependency which has occurred for centuries between the multiple and the ‘unique’ art object. In this area of expanding interpretation, the average viewer is more likely to respond to the subject and iconography of prints, to question why they were made in a certain way and for whom, and to feel less obliged to evaluate the intricacies of production through various states and proofs. While not wishing to dismiss this aspect of print appreciation as irrelevant; it is a matter of trying to temper an overt emphasis on the peculiarities of media and technique, and those elements which engender rarity status, that has mesmerised this field for so long. Aspects of connoisseurship obviously remain important for the professional development of a curator; one can make expensive blunders through ignorance by acquiring restrikes instead of impressions from original editions, prints from reworked plates, forgeries, and so forth.

For this reason, a scholarship such as that provided by the late Harold Wright, to spend an extended period in the British Museums’s print room, remains an invaluable opportunity for Australians and New Zealanders, to ‘train the eye’, so to speak. We can, however, no longer afford to linger – pleasurable though this may be – in that rarefied environment. In today’s world other curatorial imperatives loom large: revealing the mysteries of the solander box to broader public scrutiny, encouraging interpretation of an artist’s work with that of others; and being conscious of the ideological issues at play. Imaginative leaps need to be constantly made and re-made­ through exhibitions, publications and associated media – to connect and empower the imagery of successive generations. In hindsight, for instance, Looking Eastwards could well have coupled volume ten of Hokusai’s Manga (a book of random sketches reproduced as woodblock prints from 1819) with one of the comic books currently popular in Japan. The tenor of this post-modern age, with marriages of unlikely partners, the blurring of boundaries and alertness to the content and context of art, was heralded some twenty years ago by Arthur Hyatt Mayor. In his book Prints & People, A Social History of Printed Pictures (N.Y., Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1971), he writes: ‘… familiar facts regroup into unexpected patterns, like the tiles on the bathroom floor, especially when you try to see recent prints as the outcome of old traditions, and old prints as though their ink still smelled’.

Ironically even with this change in curatorial thinking, the old debate polarising prints by non-printmakers and those by artist printmakers is still very much alive. Recall, for instance, the observations of Charles Green under the heading of ‘The State of Things – The Problem with Printmaking’, in the journal Tension (no.17, August 1989), where he states: ‘There’s a truism that the best prints are made by painters’. How can one go along with this simplistic value judgement? We do know that artists who normally specialise in other areas are often perceived as participating in a type of entrepreneurial activity when they produce multiple imagery. In contrast, are those trained printmakers who by and large are less visible in the art world of institutions, high profile dealers and glossy magazines. But with the plurality of endeavour we profess to endorse at the close of the 20th century, with our scepticism of originality, does this dichotomous situation really matter?

The Readymade Boomerang Print Portfolio serves to illustrate one strand of the debate. This collection of prints was in effect a satellite project to the Eighth Biennale of Sydney, and was published by its director, Rene Block. It followed similar initiatives by him which have realised the production of multiples by well-known artists associated with, for want of a better term, ‘vanguard movements’. In collaboration with master printers, most of the twenty-one artists connected with this portfolio extended their creative concerns, and at the same time provided a permanent visual document on the Biennale which could potentially be widely dispersed. For this 1990 event the likes of Richard Hamilton, John Cage, Julian Schnabel and Rosemary Trockel shared the same platform as Australian artists Rosalie Gascoigne and Janet Burchill.

Conceived in the spirit of the readymade, the portfolio illustrated the concept of bricolage, a method based on the deliberate collision of artists, imagery and materials. Exponents of pop art, experimental music, shameless appropriators of styles and images from the past, and collectors of humble detritus, were presented cheek by jowl. Block’s concept for the venture was recognised by Bernice Murphy in her essay published in the Biennale catalogue, where she stated: ‘In recent art the wider implications of the Duchampian discourse of the Readymade (serialisation and reproduction) have authorised a great deal of work revolving around the idea of the copy, duplicate of multiple replica’.

On the other hand, artists such as Graeme Peebles, Barbara Hanrahan and Milan Milojevic have consistently developed their art production through print media alone. They toe an individualistic line rather than tailoring their imagery to an internationalist discourse. None would profess to be at the centre of Australia’s artistic mainstream and yet their printmaking is hardly a backwater activity. Emphasising autobiographical, social and political concerns of relevance to their immediate contexts, these printmakers provide a necessary antidote to the more immediately seductive international viewpoint, drawing attention instead to the value of art from a regional perspective. Their concerns are local and specific, not responsive or answerable to the latest theoretical treatises or perceived art movements. We would do well to point out their idiosyncrasies, rather than attempt to conflate work by such figures into the mainstream.

Nevertheless, the boundaries of one reality as opposed to another are blurring all the time. Take for instance the duality between printmaking and photography. Throughout this century we have seen the gradual admission of photographically mediated images into traditional modes of printmaking. Initially this gave rise to questions regarding originality and the relationship between art and the mechanical reproduction of visual imagery. During the mind 1960s the Print Council of America and, in turn, the Print Council of Australia agonised over the definition of what constitutes an ‘original print’. Now the question is rarely ever raised as it is generally accepted that printmaking need not be limited by narrow guild-based premises. Not only was William Ivin’s expansive definition of original prints as ‘exactly repeatable pictorial statements’, proclaimed in Prints and Visual Communication (1953), an audacious challenge to conservative thinking, but even earlier Walter Benjamin had prophetically described a major shift in perception. With his essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (1936), Benjamin claimed: ‘That which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art’. Artists who employed photography and photomechanical means in their prints acknowledged an all-embracing commitment to, and potent demonstration of, contemporary society.

When Eduardo Paolozzi produced his 1971 screenprint Bash in three thousand identical impressions he attempted to free the print medium from the elitism of the limited edition. Bash is an acronym of Baroque All Style High, a reference to a bygone style of art, validated in the context of 20th century life. Some of the ‘wonderful and extraordinary’ (to use the artist’s own words) references to our immediate past in Paolozzi’s print include Marilyn Monroe featured next to a World War II rocket; a TV with blue fluorescent screen from the 1950s; a John Kennedy poster; an ‘Action Buddy’ toy; a model plastic heart from a ‘Visible Man’ or ‘Visible Woman’ kit; Frank Stella’s Protractor Series (1967–70); and Apollo space photos.

In 1991, Malcolm Enright continues the process of ‘cultural recycling’ and the ‘aesthetic of simulation’ (to draw on Jean Baudrillard’s terms) with his installation of prints for Queensland Art Gallery’s exhibition Instant Imaging. With Another Inseparable: Person/Characteristics, a four-colour chromlin proof from photocopies, he collages such disparate images as an Indian Mohawk with hand painted on his face; a statue of Kali; the Hungarian filmstar Peter Lorre; the Ayatollah Khomeini; a 19th century pornographic postcard; and a palmist’s chart. Instant Imaging was initiated two years ago by the Print Council of Australia, as part of a series reflecting different State perspectives in current printmaking. The curatorial rationale behind the event was an aim to demonstrate those links which bind electronic media and the printed image. Seven artists residing in Brisbane – Mark Davies, Malcolm Enright, Pat Hoffie, Hiram To, Edite Vidins, John Waller and Adam Wolter – were chosen to participate. They are among those Australians who currently demonstrate a strong commitment to exploring the interface between aspects of the visual arts and advanced technology. Outside Queensland, Diane Mantzaris, with her lithographs based on computer-generated imagery, springs readily to mind, as does Bashir Baraki with his work derived from the Canon colour laser copier (CLC). Collectively, these artists acknowledge that our post-modern environment is subjected to a network of electronic devices, each of which as irreversibly changed the way people think, learn and communicate.

Although copiers appeared some forty years ago, it was not until the mid sixties (coinciding ironically with the heated debates among print associations on ‘originality’) that artists gravitated towards the ‘quick copy’ centre for economical print runs. No special training was required for replicating an image, and instantaneous results allowed for rapid development and realisation of their concepts. Although the practice of copy art has now been accepted in many art schools it is still not generally embraced by departments of printmaking! For the traditionalists, the process probably seems far too easy. When the CLC was introduced in 1987, colour was not only able to be recreated with astonishing verisimilitude, but this electronic system also offered the artist a means by which to dismantle and ‘recreate’ an image, so that it bore little relation to the original. Pat Hoffie has drawn attention to the fact that the more an image (often in the form of collage material) is manipulated in the machine, the more it appears ‘handcrafted’.

Some practitioners prefer to remain with a monochromatic effect and promote elusiveness and the principle of uncertainty. Hiram To developed his Printing Room Series in 1998, blurring the initial image through the photocopying process by sweeping it across the platen and printing it out on ringbinder paper with text. He has recently investigated private and public realms by incarcerating photocopiers in lead frames. Several of these are displayed as a unit in Instant Imaging. It is the precise relationship between interval and object, and the multiple cross references set up, which characterise the artist’s installation work. The print is but one component of his multi-media statements.

With major technological advancements occurring regularly it is now possible, using the Canon bubble jet colour copier, to produce large-scale single images. John Waller now employs it for his ongoing project focussing on the Australian landscape, its histories and its mythologies. His images are first produced on a Commodore Amiga computer, using a variety of software (such as Deluxe Paint III), and are then printed out. Adam Wolter has been involved with computer-generated imagery for close to a decade. His output has kept pace with available hardware for domestic use. From a very elementary computer he acquired an Amiga 1000 in 1986 when it first came on to the market. The ramifications this had for Wolter’s imagery were extraordinary. With public domain software Wolter’s imagery were extraordinary. With public domain software Wolter no longer needed to write his own programs in order to produce an artwork; even Benoît Mandelbrot’s mathematical theories were made user-friendly!

A relative newcomer to computer-generated imager, Edite Vidins alludes to her Latvian roots in the digitised format. Although she produces ‘static’ printouts, the artist prefers to present her work directly on the computer screen. For this reason, Instant Imaging incorporates a number of monitors in the display space. It is in acknowledgement that those involved principally with manipulating computer software on the screen often regard this to be the final product, as the luminosity of the screen tends to be lost in the printed form. In curating this exhibition, the catalogue served an integral role in extending the artists’ concepts through individual statements and allied visual material. At many stages of its production, the seven participants were consulted. We decided to depart from a conventional publication format, adopting a computerised typeface and chose as illustrations, details of works in Instant Imaging which were distorted and re-interpreted especially for the catalogue.

What of the future of this area of art practice within the terrain of printmaking? Only time will tell. Public collections must weigh up the issue of acquiring works with a limited life (through decomposition of the printed image) while demonstrating an undiminished commitment to representing contemporary art practice. Many shy away from collecting, preferring to facilitate exhibitions and installations of electronic media. Personally, I believe our collections should judiciously acquire instances of photocopy work and computer printouts as a reflection of the vital activity in this area. They will broaden our perception of art practice generally and force it into direct relationship with culture at large.

PCA Member Q&A: Jill O’Sullivan

Y camau I, 2015, 74 x 62 cm, etching, spirit aquatint.

‘I pulled my first prints and realised this was to be my primary medium. I think it was printmaking’s relationship to drawing that first excited me.’ 

Jill O’Sullivan lives in
Townsville, Queensland

Why do you make art?

I guess the answer to this is: why not make art? In one way or another have been making art since I was a child so it is just part of my character really.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

My main practice these days is centred on printmaking – relief, intaglio and lithography – so I guess I have a pretty strong relationship with printmaking.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

As part of the Flying Arts (Queensland) regional arts program at the time Judy Watson and Anne Lord came out to Mount Isa in the early 1990s teaching linocuts and wood engraving. I pulled my first prints and realised this was to be my primary medium. I think it was printmaking’s relationship to drawing that first excited me.

Who is your favourite artist?

No one particular artist but I have quite a few printmakers whose work I really enjoy – Martin Lewis, Jessie Traill, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Frank Brangwyn, Samuel Palmer, Paul Landacre to name but a few.

What is your favourite artwork?

Too hard to pick really. Nevertheless, I always go to see Jan Eyck’s Arnolfini double portrait and Holbein’s Ambassadors at the National Gallery when I’m in London.

Where do you go for inspiration?

Inspiration has come from many varied sources over the years. In more recent years my Master’s practical research was based on people from North West Queensland, while my PhD visual practice centred on the chorographic mapping of elements of place, again from locations in North West Queensland. Much of my latest work has been inspired by winter experiences of Wales during my recent residency at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just finished a series of works relating to Aberystwyth in Wales that form part of a group exhibition Godre’r Glais at Umbrella Studio in Townsville (on until 1 November). I have a few deadlines in the pipeline for small group exhibitions with Press North. The next larger project will be a series of prints that focus on aspects of the dry tropics of North West Queensland. I’m also interested in doing a series on domestic artefacts fairly soon.

Postcards: Greetings from Impact9, China

Greetings from Hangzhou, China! We are astounded by the generosity of the China Academy of Art in their presentation of the Impact9 international printmaking conference. They have curated so many exhibitions, including the inaugural CAA Hangzhou Print Biennale, and have helped everyone with framing and installation of the works in an incredibly kind and professional way. I carried 28 A3 sized works and 20 A5 booklets with me on the plane, and when I arrived at the gallery found beautiful white frames and little wooden shelves waiting for me. I helped get the works into the frames, laid them onto the floor in the configuration that was needed, and my helpers then said ‘you can go now and our framing master will hang for you’. Back the next day, everything was up! The whole exhibition over multiple venues came together with an enormous effort from the staff and students. We are now attending the academic papers and hearing some wonderful ideas from people from China and Hong Kong, the US, Canada, Denmark, Croatia, New Zealand, the UK and of course our Australian contingent. We are overwhelmed by the scale and the friendliness and the food!

Marian Crawford

top
Chen Qi’s amazing woodblock: water-based printing on a massive scale!
bottom left to right
Marian Crawford’s, Ocean/Banaba Picturing the Island, installation view next to Kiki Smith’s work and artist’s book.
Calligraphy classroom.

Welcome to the Imprint Blog!


As a companion platform to our long-running print magazine, it is our hope that this new blog and evolving website will provide a vibrant hub for diverse commentary on the expanded field of the contemporary fine art print.

In the interest of opening up a discussion about the contemporary fine art print and its various definitions, and introducing the regular segment Flashback Friday, in which we will post articles from Imprint’s archive, Udo Sellbach’s article ‘The Aims and Programme of the Print Council of Australia’ published in the first ever issue of Imprint in 1966 seems like a great place to start.

We welcome your responses and submissions.

Our special thanks go to Lucy Russell for her superb design.

Flashback Friday: Imprint Volume 1 Number 1, 1966

The Aims and Programme of the Print Council of Australia

Although still small, the number of Australian artists using graphic media is steadily increasing. A nation-wide exhibition of Australian prints under the name of ‘Print Survey 1963’ was organised by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Lately too, a few art dealers have opened in Sydney and Melbourne specialising in local and imported prints. At least two print prizes are offered annually. Adelaide awards a prize of $50.00 and Geelong one of $100.00. Printmaking an Australian publication (Longmans 1965) marks the first attempt at a survey of printmaking in book form. This year too, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology has established a full time diploma course in printmaking, the first to be seen in Australia.

We would continue this list, but it is already obvious that a revival of printmaking has occurred during the last few years and that the efforts of some artists, teachers and print curators are finding recognition.

Our aims then are, to consolidate these efforts, to stimulate further activities and to encourage understanding and appreciation of the original print.

What is an Original Print?

We know that there exists confusion between the print as a multi-original work of art and a print as reproduction of a work of art with the result that many people are still blind to the particular qualities of the original print. Following the example of the Print Council of America, we speak of an original print if:

  • The artist alone has made the image in or upon the plate, stone, woodblock or other material for the purpose of creating a work of art.
  • The impression is made directly from that original material by the artist or pursuant to his directions.
  • The finished print is approved by the artist.

An original print (woodcut, etching, engraving, lithograph or serigraph) belongs to the category of multi-original works of art, limited in edition to anything from a few to several hundred originals, each as fine as the others. Its aesthetic qualities correspond directly to the image the artist has imparted to the printing block, plate or stencil and its scale follows exactly the dimensions of the drawn image. Unlike the photo-mechanical process for reproduction, the printing process for original prints requires the artist himself to produce the printing surface in a suitable material so that the resulting prints from that surface become the originals. Whether printed by hand, or with the help of printing presses (which are sometimes motorised) the making of the printing surface must be done by hand and not by a mechanical process. The resulting prints are checked by the artist and approved by him. Hand signed, numbered and often printed on specially selected paper, original prints bear all the marks of an artist’s aesthetic intention, unchanged by any mechanical interference.

Thus, original prints can open to the interested person new and rich avenues of artistic experience. Original works at moderate prices can be purchased widely, owing to the printing of editions. Also the artist can reach a wider audience than otherwise possible.

Much still needs to be done to awaken and satisfy interest in the art of printmaking and the following programme, suggested by the Print Council of Australia, is designed to do this.

  • To conduct meetings, lectures, demonstrations, etc.
  • Establishment of a major annual Print Prize to stimulate interest by artists and public.
  • Annual exhibition of Print Prize entries to open simultaneously in all capital cities and main towns.
  • To assist members to participate in international print exhibitions.
  • To publish a broadsheet.
  • To establish print workshops for artists’ use and the production of prints for society members.

– Udo Sellbach

Postcards: Greetings from Police Point Art Camp, Point Nepean

I’ve never been sure what an ‘Artist Residency’ was, but knew vaguely it was a place where an artist is given space, away from their everyday practice/life to hopefully create something new. Not being a ‘landscape’ artist, I wondered if this was for me. What I did know, however, was that being an artist is generally a solitary pursuit, which can make it difficult to find time to connect with other artists, to discuss being an artist.

Remembering the power of ‘Art Camp’ from my time as an art student – creating bonds and immersing in art with fellow artists on the journey – I decided that the Police Point venue could be the perfect place to gather some other women artists and create the space to share and make work without any expectation for a particular outcome, and to talk about our respective practices and what it is to be an artist. Of course this was completely self-serving because this is what I needed to do for myself!

What a gift: stunning surrounds and a beautiful cottage to live in for the week. It was beyond all expectations. We had a revolving door of campers and day-trippers, from the Mornington Peninsula and beyond. All fell quickly under the spell of our glorious Point Nepean, and into an easy rhythm of laughter, sharing good food, and talking about our art and our individual experiences of being an artist. Naturally, there were some cathartic tears, yet all the time we were creating as we sat around tables chatting, picking up whatever materials were at hand. No topic was out of bounds and people felt safe enough to share their thoughts about art, life, love, death, hopes, fears, dreams and everything in between – all the while making and sharing hints, tips and processes. We created some 80 postcards and other works.

Personally I didn’t come up with any new ideas, but I did realise that it was not about having an outcome per se – I resolved a couple of ideas that have been floating around, learned lots of new things and, even better, PLAYED (we artist’s generally don’t allow ourselves play time in our practice).

Most importantly, I felt heard, understood, nourished, connected and humbled by the experience. I think all participants were so pleased to discover that they are not alone in this crazy thing we call being an artist.

Thank you to the Mornington Peninsula Shire for creating this invaluable resource, and for the opportunity to participate in the pilot program.

Sharron Okines is a printmaker and the Memberships and Advertising Manager at the Print Council of Australia. She was Artist in Residence at Police Point, Point Nepean, from 24 to 28 August 2015.