PCA Member Q&A: Chris Ingham

Up Against It All, 2015, etching, 33.5 x 26 cm (image size) 63 x 59 cm (paper size). This print was selected for the 2015 PCA Print Commission. It is available to purchase through the PCA store.

‘I discovered Goya’s Los Caprichos in a bookstore and it astonished me. After that, I began searching for places offering printmaking classes, and I continued on from there.’ 

Chris Ingham lives in Victoria

Why do you make art?

Because I can’t imagine myself doing anything else in my spare time.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

Well, it’s my job four days a week, as I work at the Australian Printmaking Workshop as a technician. The other three days are spent thinking about and making my own prints, with domestic duties in between. I also have a partner who’s a printmaker … So you might say it’s a pretty big part of my life.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

I tried painting initially, but it didn’t really suit my interests. Then I discovered Goya’s Los Caprichos in a bookstore and it astonished me. After that, I began searching for places offering printmaking classes, and I continued on from there.

Who is your favourite artist?

I suppose I go back to Francisco Goya a lot, but that said I have lots of favourite artists, and many types of art interest me, from El Greco to Tàpies and many others in between and beyond.

What is your favourite artwork?

I don’t really have one favourite. Different artists’ artworks have impressed me in different ways over the years. It keeps evolving.

Where do you go for inspiration?

Travelling abroad has been a huge source of inspiration for me. I always bring a sketchbook, to note down impressions, which later often get developed into print ideas.

What are you working on now?  

I’m working on sketches for a lithography project that I will work on in a printmaking residency in Dresden, Germany, over Christmas.

Postcards: Pia Larsen at the Women’s Studio Workshop

I arrived at New York’s Newark Airport on 15 October feeling energised by New York City and relieved that the flight from Australia was over! I caught a bus into ‘the city’ to catch the 8pm Adirondack Trailways coach Up State, to the small town of Rosendale in the Hudson Valley’s foothills of the Shawangunk Mountains. This beautiful part of New York State is where the Women’s Studio Workshop (WSW) was established in 1974. The aim of the founding artists, Ann Kalmbach, Tatana Kellner, Anita Wetzel and Barbara Leoff-Burge, to support women artists by providing studio space, technical support and accommodation. I would work in the Intaglio and Papermaking studios and had accepted an invitation to teach a class in intaglio in their Art In Education Program.

My first impressions were of a picture-perfect autumn environment with leaves, ranging in colour between brown, yellow, green, pink and red, fluttering in the breeze. I settled into my shared attic accommodation and started working on two images in intaglio. Each day a ‘potluck’ lunch brought together the artists, interns and staff providing an opportunity to get to know what people were doing and a sense of the bigger picture that I was part of at the WSW. Early on it was evident that the WSW is structured around trust, respect and independence. I had a generous work area looking out to trees and fields where I spent most days and some evenings. Leslie Nichols, my fellow artist in residence, was exploring Typography for a series of portraits of women and we established a great camaraderie and had many discussions about the art world, the US and Australia.

By the end of the second week I had printed the soft ground images Hindsight and Divide and was ready to turn my mind to papermaking. I learnt how to beat, pull and dry paper in a range of individually mixed ‘autumn’ pigment colours under the expert tuition of Chris Petrone, the Studio Manager. She was a great support for anything I wanted to do or try across printmedia, papermaking and printing digitally onto my handmade, pigmented paper. I became enthralled with the different states of paper pulp and explored this through two bodies of work. For the Welcome series each paper sheet had to be perfectly flat for digital printing before being folded into an American sized milk carton shape. This project would not have been possible without Scott Denman who handled the digital printing in Kingston. The other body of work titled Autumn Cocktails explored paper pulp in its freshly pulled state applied directly to a variety of glass bottles which were then burnished to a smooth finish or left raw.

The residency provided a wonderful environment for focused work and getting to know like-minded people from around the US. The trees were now bare, the leaves covering the ground and the glorious colours of mid-October now faded into shades of brown.

I would spend the next three weeks travelling through NYC, Washington D.C. and San Francisco.

Work from the residency will be part of the exhibition Two Generations: Larsen & Lewers, Pia Larsen and Tor Larsen, Spot 81, April 2016.

 

Pia Larsen works with drawing, text, printmedia, paper and metal to explore human agency within social and political contexts. Over time her work has expanded to incorporate sculptural elements in small-scale pieces and large-scale installation environments. She has exhibited widely over the past twenty years in solo and group shows, commercial galleries and ARI’s and was represented by the Damien Minton Gallery from 2008 to 2012.

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Pia Larsen, Autumn Cocktails, 2015, paper (made by the artist), pigment and glass, dimensions variable.
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Pia Larsen, Autumn Cocktails (detail), 2015, paper (made by the artist), pigment and glass, dimensions variable.
A view of the trestle bridge and surrounds near the Women’s Studio Workshop.

Euan Heng and the Archaeology of the Modern: A Case Study in the Poles of Paint and Print

Imprint Winter 1995 Volume 30 Number 2.
Cover image: Euan Heng, Patriot, 1994, linocut, 67 x 48 cm.

‘The great virtue of the art, for Heng, does not really confirm its autonomous status. He is not interested in mark-making per se; he is not dedicated to the ‘look’ of a print, and does not covert the formalist mannerisms which the printed image harbours almost by default. He is more interested in printmaking as an investigatory tool.’

This article was written by Robert Nelson, and published in Imprint Winter 1995, Volume 30 Number 2.

Euan Heng is the subject of ‘In Conversation’ in the upcoming issue of Imprint (Summer 2015, Volume 50 Number 4).

Printmaking is Euan Heng’s laboratory for critical images. Perhaps better known for monumental figures in oil paint, Heng assays his imagery through works on paper, especially watercolour and print. On account of certain chromatic and graphic limits inherent in printmaking, an image can be conceptually weighed, scanned, divided, combined and adapted, all in sympathy with the medium.

Painting does not offer Heng the same privileges. Painting may have a greater synthesising charm, an ability to ‘bring things together’ in its infinite illusionistic potential and its power of atmospheric evocation. But for Heng, that use of oil paint is appropriate for the final stages of a vision, precisely the moment when the multifaceted aspects of an image need to be resolved toward a monumental outcome. The processes leading up to that synthesis in oil paint are necessarily more ‘isolating’, more niggardly of means, less profligate of chromatic and textural variation.

Hence the discipline of printmaking. The great virtue of the art, for Heng, does not really confirm its autonomous status. He is not interested in mark-making per se; he is not dedicated to the ‘look’ of a print, and does not covert the formalist mannerisms which the printed image harbours almost by default. He is more interested in printmaking as an investigatory tool. It allows him to pick up an image in a more essential form than is encouraged by any other medium.

Drawing would certainly be the closest analogy. But drawing in the normal sense does not suit Heng quite so well (though, of course, Heng draws). A drawing is conceived as a ‘study’ or a pictorial preamble. Heng is not inclined to create preliminary drawings for his paintings. What he wants is something which can indeed aspire to the condition of a complete artwork, something which tests the calibre of an image to stand alone in a final form. A drawing, for that purpose, may be too provisional; furthermore, the fulfilment of the drawing as a complete work – like a Renaissance presentation drawing – would in any case aspire to the illusionistic condition of a painting, without necessarily inducing an emphasis on the essential force of the image. Printmaking ‘naturally’ does this, and especially linocut.

The subtlety of this choice of medium entirely matches the sensitive balance in Heng’s iconography. Heng’s art always seems poised to become a direct narrative. But it never is a narrative in the classical sense of showing a protagonist in some action whose causes we know and whose outcome we conjecture. Heng’s work is not quite narrative; but nor does it simply turn out symbols.

The reason Hen needs to test his figures so much is that they have a lot of allegorical work to do. They have to embody the psychological history of a whole generation, the generation which we now look back upon ­– with a mixture of awe and scorn – as the modernists. Those guys are in big trouble these days. Heng has to work out exactly what they represent.

Heng’s figures are monumentalised and iconically static but always seem to have paused in some action. They often hold toy attributes of work, a veritable kit of diminutive technology, ranging from instruments for making things (such as a hammer) to the thing made by industrial assembly (such as the electric power pole or aeroplane). These objects used to inspire men with great enthusiasm. In the heroic age of modernism, they were potent symbols of progress. Today, they seem sad tokens of a former ideal of progress. To their loss of credibility as symbols of industrial vigour, Heng attaches the melancholy of lost childhood; for as children we loved such toys but now they no longer belong to us, in the same way that youth is no longer ours.

What a mood overtakes the single figures in Heng’s pictures! Their dreamy suspension of personal thoughts contests the severity of their institutional dress, their trim professionality of yesteryear and rather rigid adherence to social codes. Why are these geometricised people so motionless, so short of outlook? The bleak terrain projects the figures in a hiatus of vigour; there is an unnatural tranquillity in which the men fondle their hats with a literally ‘touching’ awkwardness, some indisposition of the prehensile faculty which will disqualify them from any concerted action.

The meaning of Heng’s abstracted professionals is suggested by the purposeful historicism of his works. The wardrobe of the figures dates from between the World Wars and includes gangsters’ hats. Furthermore, the style of the painting recollects the lyrical and metaphysical English masters of the thirties, such as Stanley Spencer; in recent times, the linear succinctness of Léger has asserted itself more powerfully, both in the prints and the paintings. Both the conventions of printmaking and the schematisations of Léger seem to explain the greater use of greys – especially in the very dark shading of geometric volumes – which has infiltrated the recent paintings. Against this, the outrageous totemic colour of Rivera enters the skin tone of Topple Tumble. In all events, the sources of the imagery are now old.

Heng’s protagonists are ‘yesterday’s men’. With their beloved mechanical lo-tech, they no longer seem spunky or even relevant in today’s world of computers. They should wield faxes rather than axes; their wires should aspire to satellites, not to turbines. Heng leaves us in no doubt that his virile men in bluish or reddish-grey suits are economic antiquities, just as the style of painting parades a proud but now defunct modernism, cool, detached, universal in its language of sheer volumes and totalising drawing.

On one level, the works are an allegory of the displaced industrial prowess of the Anglo-Saxon world, a culture nourished by heroic modernism. Just as England, Australia, America and Heng’s native Scotland can no longer rely on the industrial manufactures of the post-War years, so the art of the same countries must say melancholy goodbye to the bold modernism which symbolised their former progress. Now we think of enthusiasm for those same industrial manufactures of that period as boyish, immature, embarrassing.

Of course, we still have all those tools and industrial installations – albeit with great refinements – and so we paradoxically never say goodbye. As a culture with feminist aspirations, we can reject the boyish enthusiasm for lo-tech; we can transcend the enthusiasm but we still need the lo-tech. And as artists, we can reject modernism but we still live with modernity. Heng never lets us forget that modernity is haunting.

Printmaking lets Heng explore all of these allegories as an aside to painting. The images are not necessarily fragments which will be reconstituted in a painting but simply ideas which feel their way to meaning. The only part of the allegory which the print cannot investigate is the part which is proper to the medium of paint itself.

Consider the paint in one of the large oils: it is an allegory in its own right. Within the abstracted drawing of trouser or jacket, Heng expatiates in the celebration of the elements of painting. There are passages of a modernist liturgy, the apotheosis of purity, perhaps just in the heightened luminosity of a cadmium. Heng’s red seductively takes us to orange here and magenta there; his blue moves between green and purple.

Why would this chromatic habit be allegorical all of a sudden? Because it narrates history, a peculiar and identifiable moment belonging to the modernist tradition. The spectral transitions make me think of a subdued Delaunay. It is an optical strategy elaborated from the precepts of Chevreul: as in Orphic Cubism, the colour wheel goes busily spinning its systematic cycles over visual reality and the artist is empowered with a logical way of conditioning vision. The result is extremely beautiful. The resonance of the colours does not proceed from their transparency but by analogous colours bouncing off one another, as though singing higher and lower than a clear note and producing a headier chord through their combination.

These are effects proper to painting rather than print. The advantage of printmaking, for Heng, is to create an image in a complete form, which, however, lacks such painterly effects. The ‘effects’ are not the aim, neither in painting or printmaking. Heng is as little interested in mark making per se in painting as he is in printmaking. However, as he is going to elaborate his images in a painted form using the modernist language of painting, he first forges his ideas outside that medium which encourages the manipulation of a formalist language for its own sake.

By using printmaking, Heng can avoid conditioning his images solely by the painted language, a language full of gestural incumbencies. Heng’s method is a strategy to avoid that same mark-making formalism which, ironically, is often associated with the modernist print. Heng’s art comments on modernism; it does not subscribe to modernism. It uses modernist tropes; but the investigative paradigm – which uses printmaking so centrally – ultimately denies the autonomy of any visual language (either belonging to painting or printmaking) which was a central conceit of modernism.

Invisible Silence – Recent Works by Slavica Zivkovic

Ceramic artist Megan Patey reflects on Slavica Zivkovic‘s recent exhibition at Wollongong Art Gallery.

Slavica Zivkovic, Invisable Silence I, 2015, serigraph

Searching. Longing. Yearning. Glimpsing. Finding. These are the words that echo inside me when I contemplate the recent work of Slavica Zivkovic.

Zivkovic’s prints, drawings and sculptural pieces were recently on show at the Wollongong City Gallery in her exhibition Invisible Silence.
Everything is this exhibition was selected by Zivkovic to produce a carefully orchestrated celebration of several year’s work.

As well as the prints, drawings and sculptures, other items – such as small antique cabinets acting as supports for the sculptures, and two large Turkish dough baskets suspended from the ceiling – formed an integral part of this large exhibition.

Zivkovic’s art is made up of her invented imagery: symbols from her travels, and echoes of her Serbian parentage. As Sasha Grishin notes in the finely written catalogue essay, Zivkovic remains based in the Southern Highlands in Australia, while spiritually her art celebrates a very individual internalised vision that exists neither on earth, nor in heaven, but on another plane of existence characterised by an invisible silence.[1]

Through her subtle use of layering, Zivkovic draws us immediately into her interior world, her inner silence. Subdued sheets of patterns are superimposed one on top of another, over which motifs and figurative elements are placed, giving the artwork its distinctive dreamlike character. The use of small, distinct pictorial elements hint of journeys into other lands.

In the past twenty years, Zivkovic has travelled often. Her travelling is an important source of inspiration both for her personally and for her art. She travels alone and often to third world countries, where she is drawn to the spiritual centres of these countries. As well as revisiting her home country of Serbia, Zivkovic has explored Easter Island, walked the steps to Machu Pichu, walked the Camino (in northern Spain), worked in Cambodia, and travelled to Northern Ethiopia, Armenia, and Russia.

Imagery from her travels seeps into her work: a tiny mountain with a church on its peak, a small cross on top of a building, a round hut with an arched entrance, the rhythmical lines and shapes of exotic vegetation – all absorbed through the eyes of this inveterate traveller.

This is not an intentional thing. It is like the weathering of nature. It happens subconsciously, over time, gently becoming apparent in her art.

Zivkovic’s work has a religious feeling, but is not about religion. Religious sentiments are important concerns for Zivkovic, but her sense of religion or spirituality is much broader and she does not directly follow any religion. Religious motifs become little signposts, used as signatures for what she is expressing in her work – the tilted head of the main figure, the angels’ wings, the boats, the decorative embellishment of an icon, the large searching eyes reminiscent of medieval art work – these recurring motifs convey compassion, caring, and searching. These sentiments underpin Zivkovic’s work.

Her recent work includes patterns of stitching that follow the shape of a leaf, the shape of a boat, and the lines of a journey. Zivkovic told me a story about the stitching: on her last visit to Ethiopia, she watched several women stitching cloths. But these cloths had been stitched many times before, and in that moment, as Zivkovic watched, the stitching embodied the extreme contrasts in the world, between how some people have so little, and some have so much. This is typical of Zivkovic’s work: the interweaving of travel, and artistic experience, with her inner world.

All of these aspects point to Zivkovic as a person, her past, her travels. As Sasha Grishin so succinctly expresses in his catalogue essay: Innocent and deceptively simple, there exists a quiet profundity in her art and at times if you listen very carefully and in complete silence, it seems that you can hear the angels singing.[2]

 

 

[1] See catalogue essay for Invisible Silence by Emeritus Professor Sasha Grishin AM, FAHA, Australian National University, Wollongong City Gallery, 19 September – 22 December 2015.

[2] ibid.

Brent Harris’s The Fall

Brent Harris, VIII from The Fall series, 2012, monotype, image: 31.5 x 23.5 cm, sheet: 48.0 x 38.0 cm. Collection of the artist, © the artist. Photo: Brent Harris

‘Imagery emerges, is sometimes buried and then rediscovered by working in this way, as a composition takes shape through a gradual process of layering and accumulation.’

This article was written by Jane Devery, Curator of Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Victoria, and published in Imprint 2012, volume 47 number 2.

Join us for the launch of Imprint‘s special commission print The Problem by Brent Harris, next Thursday at the Fitzroy Town Hall Chambers. 

Like much of his past work, Brent Harris’s latest series The Fall explores ideas that come from thinking about the peculiarities of life and death. It deals with, as Harris has put it, ‘the absurdities of the human condition’.[1] Currently numbering more than forty monotypes, The Fall has developed from the small colourful paintings that have dominated the artist’s output since late 2009, and has arisen in particular from his desire to find a way back to printmaking. Like his recent paintings, these complex images feature enigmatic imagery that suggests a number of possible narratives. Otherworldly figures and forms coalesce in inky pictorial spaces in these strange nocturnal visions. These are confounding images in which the magical and the disquieting coexist: heavenly skies appear alongside fields of skulls and scenes of deluge. In one image, an aging man sinks into a pool of water surrounded by a chorus of floating faces. In another, a feline creature and her shadowy companions engage in rites that remain unexplained.

Since producing his first prints in the late 1980s, Harris has generally pursued printmaking in parallel to his painting practice, often making sets of prints that directly correspond to his paintings. The idea to start working in monotype came to Harris when he saw a large number by Edgar Degas at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in late 2011[2], and his curiosity about some imperfections in Degas’s monotypes provided an unexpected starting point:

‘… when viewing the Degas monotypes I was taken in by miss-printing and strange registrations, so the ‘would-be’ flaws were actually the way into the works for me,’ he recently explained. ‘One work in particular that I saw in Boston was titled The Washbasin 1879–83, a reprinting from the print to make a second impression, a mirror image appears. The second image [was]… paler but it was this impression that Degas would then …work up with coloured pastel. The two impressions of this one mono[type] were hanging side by side in the exhibition, and the first printed showed markings where it appears that the plate had been laid over the back of the print to increase the pressure when printed… There was some miss registration where this plate sat on the back of the print and this small detail I found inspiring.’[3]

Back in Melbourne, Harris set up an old press that had been sitting unused in his studio for several years, and with the help of printmaker Adrian Kellett set about producing his first monotypes. Inspired by Degas, Harris used the dark-field or subtractive technique where the plate is completely covered in printing ink and then wiped back with a cloth so that imagery emerges in the light areas where ink has been removed. Harris soon realised that this process related closely to the way that he was working in gouache. Unlike the carefully executed works he produced between the early 1990s and 2009 — remarkable for their precisely delineated compositions and immaculate uninflected surfaces, Harris’s recent paintings result from a spontaneous working method and are arrived at intuitively. While in the past, Harris would produce numerous working drawings before developing them across a series of finished drawings, prints and paintings, he now resolves an image directly through the process of making the work itself. Imagery emerges, is sometimes buried and then rediscovered by working in this way, as a composition takes shape through a gradual process of layering and accumulation. Unlike the paintings, which are often developed over a number of days or weeks, the monotypes come about much more quickly — several are often printed in a day. Working in this way, without planning or premeditation, has presented a new set of challenges.

‘Clear images may come to the surface, but I find that if an image is too strong too early its presence starts to dominate the process, hindering other possibilities and so must be erased’, Harris recently commented. ‘As a result, many images are found and buried in this way, before the picture starts to declare itself as a whole. I would have to describe this approach as intuitive with many alternate figurations presenting themselves and many recognitions made along the way.’[4]

Biblical themes and religious subjects have often provided the starting point for Harris’s art, but his interest is not religious but psychological and often originates from his knowledge of art history. In 1989, as a young artist, Harris received critical acclaim for the series of minimalist paintings and aquatints The Stations of the Cross, a powerful representation of the fourteen stages of Christ’s journey towards death. In 2009, while artist in residence at the British School at Rome, he planned to revisit the subject and produce a set of drawings that he could later translate into a new set of intaglio prints[5], however he found that he couldn’t ‘hold onto’ the subject. Inspired by a number of frescoes he encountered in Italy, he instead began a series of colourful works in gouache — a transition that lead to the recent shift in his painting. It was not until early 2012 and his embrace of the monotype technique, that Harris found a way back to the subject. For Harris, The Fall connects closely to the 1989 series The Stations. Both deal with the psychology of death. ‘I am very drawn to the subject of “The Fall” in relation to the psychology of the three falls of Christ in the Stations of the Cross …,’ he recently stated, ‘…each time Christ falls his ego is reduced, so as he approaches death the fight against passing over becomes weaker. I am sure this applies to us mere mortals as well! A surrender has to be enacted.’ [6]

Brent Harris is an artist whose work often touches on the unspeakable, and in these latest works he appeals to our deepest anxieties and fears. Magical and terrifying, and utterly compelling, they provoke us to consider the mysteriousness of life and the uncertainty of what might lie beyond.

 

[1] Brent Harris, artist statement provided to author, January 2012.

[2] The exhibition was Degas and the Nude, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 9 October 2011 – 5 February 2012.

[3] Brent Harris, ‘Viewing Works on Paper in the Flesh’, unpublished artist statement, provided to author April 2011.

[4] Brent Harris, artist statement, 2011.

[5] Harris had discussed this possibility with master printer John Loane before departing for Rome. Brent Harris, conversation with the author April 2011.

[6] Brent Harris, artist statement emailed to author, April 2012.

PCA Member Q&A: Prue MacDougall

Juno, 2015, etching and screenprint, 40.5 x 28.5 cm (image size) 69 x 49 cm (paper size). This print was selected for the 2015 PCA Print Commission.

‘My addiction to printmaking started at an early age. I have always enjoyed working with paper. As a child I collected things like stamps, bus tickets, cigar collars and Victorian swops, which I would then use to create surreal collages. ‘ 

Prue MacDougall lives in New Zealand

Why do you make art?

Creating for me is a form of meditation: it blocks out the world, it helps me express my personal thoughts and feelings. Through art I can tell stories, create illusion and perform magic.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

I have studied, taught and practiced printmaking for the past thirty years.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

My addiction to printmaking started at an early age. I have always enjoyed working with paper. As a child I collected things like stamps, bus tickets, cigar collars and Victorian swops [or ‘Victorian scraps’ for scrapbooking], which I would then use to create surreal collages. At secondary school art was my favourite subject. I always drew and made things outside of class time. The collage process is still an integral part of my work practice. After completing my BFA in printmaking it seemed a natural extension to become an art teacher.

Who is your favourite artist?

Francisco de Goya and more recently Paula Rego and William Kentridge.

What is your favourite artwork?

At the Museo del Prado I saw a fantastic exhibition of Goya’s etchings. To list a few here: Bravissimo! (depicts a monkey playing a guitar), Hasta su Abuelo (a donkey dressed in a suit), Miren que Graves! (bestial characters – one with a bird head and human body) … all works conveying dark social commentary. Paula Rego’s Goosey-goosey Gander features female headed geese, Ladybird, Ladybird has women dancing with insects. Picasso’s The Vollard Suite prints consists of 100 wonderfully drawn etchings, which incorporate amazing experimentation with the print process. Recently I went to a Séraphine Pick painting exhibition and fell in love with the work on display. The intermediate step in the development of her work relies heavily on images garnered from social media sites, which are then repurposed for her final images.

Where do you go for inspiration?

When I travel I purposefully go to any Natural History Museums I can find. In London the Horniman Museum is a favourite. I love any display that has ‘cabinets of curiosities’ or ‘wonder rooms’, which house small collections of extraordinary objects. They are like small museums in their own right. Like Séraphine Pick, I find internet sites an invaluable resource.

What are you working on now?  

I have been one of the coordinators of Thinking of Place, a collaborative venture between Australian and New Zealand based printmakers. Most of the works incorporate traditional printmaking techniques such as woodblock and etching. The travelling exhibition has recently shown at Depot Artspace, Auckland, NZ, and next year will show at KickArts Contemporary Arts, Cairns, AU, 11 January – 20 February 2016 and the Post Office Gallery, Federation University, Ballarat, AU, 6 April – 21 May 2016.

I am part of the Aotearoa SGCI Themed Portfolio collaboration which I will be taking to the Southern Graphic Council International Conference Flux: The Edge of yesterday and Tomorrow in Portland, Oregon USA, 30 March – 2 April 2016.

I am also currently working towards a solo show in Wellington NZ and various selected group exhibitions in 2016. My website needs work!

Barbara Hanrahan: A Self Portrait

Imprint 1978 Number Three
Cover image:
Barbara Hanrahan
The Little Girls 1978
etching, 35 x 25 cm

‘Drawing my own imaginative world upon the litho stone or scratching at the etching plate with my needle, I felt as brave and free as I had as a child. When I raced from the class to catch the nine o’clock train I wore white cotton gloves to hide my fingers that were stained with printing ink.’

This article was written by Barbara Hanrahan (1939–1991) with an introduction by Alison Carroll and published in Imprint 1978, number three.

Barbara Hanrahan is an extraordinary woman. About herself and her art she is explicit, direct, penetrating and simple. She shirks nothing. No reviewer can match her in this and few artists have a self-view so devoid of inhibition as her, or her skill to present it.

Barbara Hanrahan’s art, as she says, at its worst can descend into decorative prettiness; at its best it is as forceful and perceptive as herself. The powerful images of sexual confrontation, the interest in ideas of heroes and heroines as pivots of civilisation, and the concern with the processes of generation – of both things and people – are all central to her and her art. The strong forces of Hanrahan’s art are momentarily diffused and subsequently enriched by both the intellectual wit of her images and the careful, loving craftsmanship of her technique. The admixture of all elements, including the basic questioning of human relations, result in complex, sometimes whimsical, sometimes biting, works of art.

Adam, made in 1964, has the strength and directness of image which is later evoked in Wedding Night, of 1977. The crude lines, stark compositional divisions and thick black inks reinforce the pain of the human condition, or rather situation, depicted. The Three Graces, Flying Mother, or even Dream People – with the wonderful line ‘The Girls in Our Town Go to Parties in Pairs’ – are easier meat.

A craftsperson intensely interested in the mechanics of printmaking, Hanrahan has made images in wood engravings, intaglio, and recently silkscreen. She fully exploits the intricacies possible with wood engraving as well as the rough tone and ‘bitten’ line of the etching to emphasise the implications of her images; subject and technique are mutually interdependent. While often working in black and white, Hanrahan is also a skilled colourist: Flying Mother, for example, is made up of pinks, scarlets, orange, lime green and purple, encased in a black border.

Hanrahan works in relative isolation, caring little for the trends and fashions of her peers. She stands as a strong individual in Australian printmaking.

* * *

I began making prints in 1960 at the South Australian School of Art. I had just finished three years of an art teaching course that was split between the art school, the teachers’ college, and the university. Though I knew a lot about general painting and life drawing, geometry and embroidery, hygiene and speech education, I knew little about art. I had never concentrated deeply on one particular discipline; I had always been cut up into tiny pieces as I fulfilled the requirements of the South Australian Education Department.

1960 was an important time for printmaking in Adelaide. In February a graphics studio was re-established at the art school (then housed in the Exhibition Building on North Terrace), under the direction of Udo Sellbach. It seems ironic that one of the most exciting events in the school’s history should have taken place in the last few years of the Exhibition Building’s existence (it was demolished after the school moved to North Adelaide in 1963).

When I think back to that period, the marvellous ritual of printmaking – the queer stinks of meths and turps, the mysteries of acid and resin – is linked with all the out-dated, inconvenient beauty of the old building: its fantastic creeper-swathed façade; Venus and David in the drawing room; the clay modelling room in the basement with its alarming assortment of outsize eyes and noses. It was 1960 – modern times, and Jackson Pollock was hero, but the last vestiges of an era of repoussé and artistic anatomy lingered on.

The studio really came to life in the evenings when a number of young artists – Alun Leach-Jones, Robert Boynes, Jennifer Marshall among them – made their first prints. Sellbach, whose imagination and enthusiasm were infectious, taught lithography; Karen Schepers was in charge of etching. Leach-Jones, the largest person in the class, was usually willing to carry your litho stone from workbench to press. It was a magic time for me as twice a week I went to school on the Terrace to work at my prints.

The first ones I made were woodcuts. They were very German Expressionist in character; I was particularly influenced by Kirchner. I hacked away at drawing-boards, the back of an old wardrobe – nothing was safe. Suddenly I had found a compatible medium. I had never felt any affinity with oil paint and canvas; paper and a more indirect technique suited me perfectly.

Printmaking soon became the most important thing in my life. Drawing my own imaginative world upon the litho stone or scratching at the etching plate with my needle, I felt as brave and free as I had as a child. When I raced from the class to catch the nine o’clock train I wore white cotton gloves to hide my fingers that were stained with printing ink.

From the first, all the work that I did was figurative. The images were always human – usually a female form. In those early days I was worried by two seemingly opposite styles, which reflected two contrasting aspects of my character. On the one hand I would work small and concentrate on detail; on the other I slashed away at my woodblocks – some very strong, tortured female figures evolved. But it was a problem I had to solve: the two styles rarely came together. I was making my tortured women and my delicate ladies by moonlight at the same time.

When I look at the work from these years now, it is the sheer quantity that is impressive. The most important thing was not the end result, but the fact that printmaking had such a hold on me. It was a wonderfully intense period, when I worked out my ideals and beliefs. I felt peculiar because at that time in Adelaide there was no one at a similar stage I could relate to. Abstract expressionism was the accepted mode; perversely, I began a series of linocut nursery rhyme animals – dappled ponies, spirited tab-cats – and accompanying texts.

My ignorant, stubborn belief in myself was strong enough to push me on to London in 1963 to work at the Central School of Art and Design. It was a good time to be there. The brittle witty ‘pop’ art of that time was exactly what I needed to give my rather saccharine images an edge, to push me on to prints that would blend the whimsy and strength that till then had always existed separately in my work. I was stimulated by the early, very fresh prints and paintings of Peter Blake and David Hockney. The Central School, before the introduction of national diploma or degree courses, was a wonderful place to work. It awarded its own Diploma of Etching, and the course attracted artists and students from all over the world. Some of the last few survivors of a vanishing race of master printers worked beside us. Old Bill Collins had pulled etchings for Lionel Lindsay; no one knew more about lithography than Ernie Devenish. Gertrude Hermes and Blair Hughes-Stanton, two of the foremost English wood engravers, were there, too.

The etchings I made at that time were different from the earlier work in that sex and social comment had crept into them. Their titles are telling: Virgin Pin-Up, Beauty and Wowsers … yet at the same time as these new images evolved, older ones kept coming. From 1960 to the present, a series of female forms constantly recur. They seem like old friends – these grotesquely patterned Earth Mothers, these sturdy floating girls with their shivery-grass hair; they have become part of a private mythology. They are saved from prettiness by a strength of outline, an odd sense of menace – detail stops being merely decorative when it becomes obsessive. Three Graces, a drypoint, belongs to the same period as Adam and Tart and Stars.

After a year back in Adelaide, I returned to London in 1965, where I spent the next eight years. I bought an etching press and set up a studio; I taught part-time at Falmouth School of Art, Cornwall (a very small art school, then, in a lush tropical garden setting) and Portsmouth College of Art. I felt a great affinity with London. I loved the stimulation of a huge city, the healthy sense of anonymity it afforded – the way I felt small and unimportant. I wasn’t pinned down and placed because I had an image to live up to; I was no one and because of this I was able to change.

In a big city it is easy to be alone. Through isolation I rediscovered myself. The Adelaide of my childhood still existed inside my head. Without conscious planning, I stopped making prints and began to write. In London, while snow flew at the pane, I recalled the quince tree by the fowl-house, the geranium by the lavatory … without meaning to, I found I’d become a writer. The Scent of Eucalyptus, a memoir of childhood, was published in 1973.

Three books later, I find that I usually spend a year drawing and making prints, then a year writing. It was through my novels that I recognised the depths of my feeling for Australia, and realised that it was necessary to return again in a physical as well as a mental sense.

Recently I have been making screenprints. It was a challenge working in the medium which, in the past, I disliked most because of the abuse it had suffered. I didn’t want to produce propaganda; I didn’t want some master technician to transform a painting into a print for me through photographic colour separation. I wanted to make prints that were sensitive, personal; I wanted to work as fine as I possibly could, and explore colour – which seems to me to be the screenprint’s greatest contribution to printmaking.

I am concerned in my work with the deep unchanging basics of life. Such prints as Flying Mother and Wedding Night hopefully confront the big things head on – yet gracefully, wittily. Many of the prints I have made express the eternal dichotomy of Life and Death, Reality and Dreams. The heroine of the etching Dream People muses on other worlds from the safeness of her womb-like room, while above her stalks the ‘real’ world – the proper Adelaide people, each part of a pair, who wait to pounce. This theme of dissociation, of this world and that, is treated again in the screenprint Heroes. Valentino and Jimmy and Jean, by dying, inhabit a world that is so much more vivid than that of everyday.

The formal device of dividing the print into two, representing two different areas of experience, is used also in Iris Pearl Dreams of a Wedding. Iris is my grandmother. She features in a series of etchings I am working on now. The most recent Iris and her Garden is made up of six small plates that, grouped together, symbolise Iris – or any woman – at various stages of her life. The garden – Iris’s and Eden’s – is another fundamental theme which I return to again and again. It is so rich in connotations, the image can be read on so many different levels. In the wood engraving Adam and Eve I have come back to beginnings in more ways than one. The woodblock, the medium I started with in 1960, is the most basic of all. Margaret Preston and Thea Proctor, my favourite printmakers, used it for most of their work.

PCA Member Q&A: Jenny Peterson

Merge, 2015, intaglio and relief, 70 x 56 cm. This print was selected for the 2015 PCA Print Commission.

‘I love the fact that working on a metal plate is NOT spontaneous. You have to push and pull with marks; there is trial and error, chemistry and physics.’ 

Jenny Peterson lives in Victoria

Why do you make art?

Making art exercises my brain and body while connecting my heart to the world around me, through the objects and ideas I work with. Making art is about problem solving the challenges you create yourself or those that present themselves to you. I grew up on a dairy farm in Gippsland. I’ve always felt that being a visual artist is like being a farmer: you work hard with what you’ve got, usually independently, working with natural or elemental factors. You set your own routines and ways and then at some stage you negotiate the market with your product. You need perseverance, resourcefulness and resilience to achieve. You do it because you enjoy the work and the lifestyle.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

I love the fact that working on a metal plate is NOT spontaneous. You have to push and pull with marks; there is trial and error, chemistry and physics. Once you know that something will create the texture or tone you want, you have some control and it becomes yours. I have worked for many years as a studio technician so these processes have become second nature. On the other hand there is always a new way to do something or a way to adapt the rules for new work.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

At art school as a mature age student in the early 1980s I did ceramics and printmaking. Something about the need for process is fundamental for me. I set up a screenprinting studio in our rented house after graduating as a cheaper alternative to setting up a ceramics studio. Soon after that I worked full time as a printmaking and photography technician for several years and gained a lot of experience working with lecturers and students. Eventually I purchased my own etching press in 1994.

Who is your favourite artist?

I don’t really have one ‘favourite’ but I enjoy looking at skilful watercolours made by local artists; perhaps because I don’t paint myself, these types of paintings hold mystery and innocence at the same time. I’ve always enjoyed Rosalie Gascoigne’s assemblage work and in my recent writing I reference her ‘driving and looking’ in her local region. Her works with road signage and her collecting and assembling of objects are interesting.

What is your favourite artwork?

Botticelli’s Birth of Venus – since I saw it at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence in 2013. Such a famous and much referenced image I’d seen many times before – but to stand in the Botticelli room with this large work (and the Primavera nearby) and many other people gazing, it had quite an impact on me. Slightly grimy with a film of age, it had the impact of a real object at the same time it had an aura of a beautiful picture. It is a beautiful picture!

Where do you go for inspiration?

I get inspiration generally from things around me, my work is about my response to the environment – the natural landscape and objects within it. My recent Masters project and the exhibition at Latrobe Regional Gallery is a collection of intaglio prints and photographs which document road signs and a journey in the Gippsland landscape. It is about driving and looking. I’ve used broken signage, inked them like etching plates to create prints on paper. Mimicking signwriting techniques I’ve also collected and printed words that describe the activity of collecting objects and taking a road trip.

What are you working on now?  

Following this latest project I also have a collection of photographs of signage from an overseas trip. Rather than bringing home the actual metal I now want to investigate photo etching to recreate these images as ‘found objects’.

The Story of Australian Printmaking 1801–2005

Imprint winter 2007, volume 42 number two
Cover image: Monique Auricchio, The Embrace, 2007, two-plate colour etching (sugar lift, aquatint), 24.5 x 24.5 cm, edition of 40.

‘…in this case the size, scope and comprehensiveness of this exhibition are such that it cannot be mounted by any other institution and will not be attempted for at least another generation.’

This review of the National Gallery of Australia’s ground-breaking print exhibition was written by Professor Sasha Grishin and published in the winter 2007 issue of Imprint, volume 42 number 2.

This was the one exhibition that anyone interested in Australian printmaking could not afford to miss.

The National Gallery of Australia holds the nation’s largest collection of Australian prints, over 36,000 prints, posters and illustrated books, and has mounted a huge exhibition of some 760 works, largely drawn from its own collection and supplemented by a number of strategic loans. This is the National Gallery’s ‘definitive exhibition’ of Australian printmaking, mounted by its Senior Curator of Australian Prints and Drawings, Roger Butler, who has been in the job for 26 years. The show inevitably carries the imprimatur of the National Gallery as the official history of Australian printmaking. While anyone who has read more than a couple of art gallery press releases is cautious on encountering expressions such as ‘once in a lifetime’, ‘unique’ and ‘never to be repeated’, in this case the size, scope and comprehensiveness of this exhibition are such that it cannot be mounted by any other institution and will not be attempted for at least another generation.

So how are we to read, interpret and assess the National Gallery’s attempt at a comprehensive history of Australian printmaking? One way of thinking about the history of printmaking is to see it as an adjunct to a mainstream construct of a history of art, an account which is essentially written as a history of painting and sculpture and more recently through installation art and new media arts. Riva Castleman, who was the long serving Director of Prints and Illustrated Books at MoMA in New York, advocated such an interpretation when she wrote: ‘The surge in the popularity of prints during the last decade of the nineteenth century established conditions that have encouraged almost every major twentieth-century artist to create prints. This circumstance allows a more complete review of the history of art of this period through prints than is possible for any previous century.’1 In other words, this approach presents a survey history of art with its successive movements and developments as reflected in printmaking.

An alternative approach is to argue that printmaking has its own unique histories, which occasionally, although not invariably, correspond with developments in other art mediums. Printmaking frequently has a different cast of characters to those who dominate painting and sculpture, and prints meet quite different social, formal and artistic needs to that of other mediums. Internationally, apart from such mavericks as Rembrandt, Goya and Picasso, whose significance as printmakers was equal to their significance as painters, many artists, including Hercules Segers, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Jacques Callot, Seymour Haydon and scores of others who are central to any history of printmaking, are virtually unknown within a broader history of art and receive only a passing footnote in general histories of art.

A third approach to the history of printmaking is actually to look at printmaking as an effective form of visual communication, where the art content may play a relatively minor role. It is an approach popularised by William M Ivins2, Curator and founder of the Prints Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Here printmaking is caught in a schizophrenic bind between its function – communicating visual information to a mass audience – and pleasing aesthetics. Religious handbills, advertising and billboard posters, fall into this category.

All three approaches are, of course, perfectly valid, but they result in radically different exhibitions and potentially present different histories of printmaking. A strength, as well as a weakness, of the National Gallery’s exhibition is that it to some extent combines all three approaches. This leads to a huge exhibition where reasons for the inclusion and exclusion of individual prints are difficult to determine. We have a lovely display of early nineteenth century tradesmen’s cards and printed notices from our early colonial history, as well as view books and examples from the illustrated press. Later on in this chronologically arranged exhibition, we have a display of commercial travel posters and military recruitment posters and by the 1970s a plethora of political posters, prints and handbills addressing the conflict in Vietnam, Aboriginal Land Rights and civil rights issues. There is a curiosity value in such exhibits, a number of which have been rarely shown before. It is also amongst these prints, as historical artefacts, that questions of museum display become a significant issue. As virtually none of these prints were intended for display in an art gallery, their inclusion in this exhibition transfers them from either the commercial sector or the pubic battleground of hoardings, walls and streets into the rarefied atmosphere of the gallery space. The political posters particularly appear somewhat subdued and impotent in their new setting. All of these works certainly do demonstrate the numerous non-purely artistic functions that printmaking technologies have played throughout Australian history.

For me the strength of the exhibition lies with the exhibits by artists who were first and foremost printmakers and who have used their chosen medium to make a comment which could not have been made through any other art form. Take for example the absolutely stunning wall of Jessie Traill intaglio prints. While her art has a legendary reputation amongst printmakers, her prints are largely unknown to the broader art community. Her use of industrial iconography, her modernist aesthetics and her mastery of bold etching techniques make her work significant in any national or international survey of printmaking.

Another highlight lies with the women relief printmakers of the 1920s and 1930s, both those who were inspired by Claude Flight and those who arrived at their own form of decorative modernism from Japanese sources. Dorrit Black, Margaret Preston, Thea Proctor and about a dozen others form a strong core to the exhibition. While many of the names may be well known, the choice of exhibits in many instances is unusual, exciting and engaging.

From the more recent period, Bea Maddock’s magnum opus, Terra Spiritus … with darker shade of pale is another of those show-stopping masterpieces of printmaking which reinvent the tradition and challenge us on a number of different levels. Its display in a showcase may not be ideal, but is certainly better than representation through a single image. It is a work which gains power through its seriality with the constant revisiting of a set number of artistic and conceptual concerns.

Then there is the question of the inclusion of the work of prominent artists who have a very high standing in Australian art, for example, William Robinson, Tim Maguire, Savanhdary Vongpoothorn and Fiona Hall, but whose prints play a relatively minor role in these artists’ oeuvres. In any major exhibition where pressure on space is at a premium, should they be included almost as signifiers of the broader role which they occupy in Australian art, while dedicated artist printmakers, for example, Hertha Kluge-Pott, Sally Smart, Neil Emerson and Murray Walker, are not represented at all? By combining all three philosophies of the history of printmaking, the impression exists that, despites its huge size, one would need about twice the wall space to realistically fulfil the full scope of the project if we consider the more recent period.

Personally, I find Australian printmaking over the past 50 years considerably more interesting than that of the preceding 150 years. I suspect that there was not a single printmaker who worked in colonial Australia whom one could describe as a printmaker of international standing. As much as one loves S.T. Gill, Ellis Rowan and Nicholas Chevalier, they are only of a local historical significance. In the same breath, I must confess that there are many rare gems in this section of the exhibition, which I have now revisited on a number of occasions.

In contrast, in twentieth and twenty-first century Australian printmaking, there are a number of artists who are of international standing and whose prints stand up in any international company. When one looks at the final room of the exhibition, which includes the work of Ray Arnold, Azlan McLennan, Gordon Bennett, G W Bot, Butcher Cherel Janangoo, Tony Coleing, Brent Harris, Kitty Kantilla, Roy Kennedy, Bea Maddock, Dennis Nona, Laurie Nona, Heather Shimmen, Alick Tipoti, Aida Tomescu, Judy Watson, Kim Westcott, Helen Wright and John Wolsely plus the artist’s books by Milan Miljevic, Patsy Payne and Robin White, it makes an exceptionally authoritative statement on the richness, vibrancy and diversity of contemporary Australian printmaking.

As wall space in an exhibition is always a finite resource, even when, as in this exhibition, prints crawl up walls, appear over doorways and occupy display cases, an argument could be advanced for privileging the more recent period over the less artistically adventurous, but historically interesting colonial material. Even though the exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive account of printmaking in a three-volume catalogue, with the colonial volume already published and the other two optimistically scheduled for May and August of this year, many artist printmakers will inevitably feel unhappy at their exclusion from the show. Subsequent exhibitions focussing on more recent work will not alter the arguments over inclusions and exclusions in this particular exhibition.

If one ceases to lament about that which has been excluded and praises that which is up on the walls, one can only say that this is indeed a most spectacular exhibition. While Australian art history, the art market and the art industry have always promoted painting as the supreme art form in the hierarchy of visual arts, this exhibition makes the convincing claim for printmaking as a distinctive art form in which some of the most artistically innovatory and socially relevant art has been created, particularly in recent decades.

Professor Sasha Grishin AM FAHA, art historian, critic and curator will be chairing a number of sessions at the first Mildura BMW Australian Print Triennial this weekend.

 

1 Riva Castleman, Prints of the 20th Century: A History, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1976, p. 11.
2 William M Ivins Jr, Prints and Visual Communication, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1953.

PCA Member Q&A: David Frazer

Lost Man, 2012, wood engraving, 11.3 x 7.5cm.
The making of David Frazer’s The Deal, 2015.
David Frazer lives in
Castlemaine, Victoria

Why do you make art? 

Good question. I couldn’t bear to get a proper job. I had the need to connect with people and communicate with them, probably because I’m insecure, neurotic and possibly a little bit mental.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

I started off as a painter, I did well at art at school but we didn’t do any printmaking so I didn’t even consider it when I went to art school. I majored in painting and sub majored in sculpture. After giving up trying to paint, several years after art school I discovered printmaking and really took to it. I printed linocuts with a spoon on my kitchen table and also did a weekend etching course at the CAE. I loved the graphicness of it and it’s restrictions. It seemed more suited than painting to storytelling.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

After quitting art all together following art school and pursuing a career in showbiz, which was a substitute for my failure to write songs and equally as pathetic, I decided I couldn’t do anymore crappy karaoke gigs and extra work on Neighbours so I got back into art and focused on printmaking. I found that I could use narrative better with printmaking: I had a subject and doing a print in my mind was a bit like writing a song. I went back to uni at Monash and did an honours year in printmaking where I learnt heaps from my lecturers, who were also really good printmakers like Geoff Ricardo, John Neeson, Tim Jones, Dean Bowen and Ros Atkins. I never looked back.

Who is your favourite artist? 

Tom Waits

What is your favourite artwork? 

I really can’t choose just one, but I love the tail-piece vignette wood engravings of Thomas Bewick in his books A History of British Birds and A General History of Quadrupeds.

Where do you go for inspiration?

The fridge.

What are you working on now?

Just more prints for my solo shows next year. A book of engravings illustrating one of Don Walker’s (Cold Chisel) solo songs that I plan to launch in 2017, along with a series of work inspired by his music, and some in–your–face cartoon-like prints – stuff I started out doing and always wish I still did.