Akky van Ogtrop on Organising Paper Contemporary

How did Paper Contemporary come about?

In 2013 I was approached by Barry Keldoulis, director of the Contemporary Art Fair, with the proposal to organise a works on paper section as a special project presented in association with the Print Council of Australia (PCA). This proposal was based on the blueprint of the Sydney Art on Paper Fair (SAPF), which I founded in 1989 and organised until its tenth anniversary in 2005. SAPF was the first art fair in Australia specialising in works of art on paper.

I was unable to go ahead with the project in 2013 (too short notice), but when Barry approached me again in 2015, I decided to take on the challenge. I presented Paper Contemporary as a project in association with the PCA, but planned it in such a way that the PCA was not involved in administration, or any other work in relation to this project. With the fair organisers, I developed a plan for a section focussing on works on paper, prints, and artists’ books – still based on the SAPF idea, but placed within the Sydney Contemporary Art Fair. And that’s how Paper Contemporary was born.

Hosted within Carriageworks, the city’s urban industrial arts precinct, I encouraged and invited a dynamic grouping of print studios, master printers and workshops to participate. Complimenting the main fair, the result was a special survey of the works on paper sector, curated to focus on original limited edition prints, multiples, artist’s books, and zines held at Bay 19.

Why do you think it’s important to have a space dedicated to works on paper within a fair like Sydney Contemporary?

To have the Paper Contemporary participants together as a group has more impact than if they had to compete with the big spaces/galleries.

Ours was an intimate, inviting space and the audience was not made to feel intimidated. It gave them the chance to talk to the exhibitors and see the works up close. Another important reason for me was that Paper Contemporary presents such a good opportunity and platform to show the best of the best, to better educate future collectors on the joy of buying and living with works of art on paper.

How did people respond to the exhibit?

I had terrific feedback, especially about the atmosphere of our space. Many told me it was the most vibrant section of the fair, which is a great compliment for all of the exhibitors. Most of them did very well, not only with sales but also with making new connections. I am sure a lot of follow-up business will occur.

Is there anything you would do differently?

I found this year’s fair better organised than the first one; however, many improvements can still be made. In regards to Paper Contemporary: there is always something I would do differently. With SAPF I tried to improve every fair. Same now, as this was the first year in a building I did not know. To mention a few things: I would do the talks, panel discussions and demonstrations differently. I would consider how to improve the configuration of the stands and the tables. Lighting can be improved, etc. I also hope to get feedback from the exhibitors: that is very important.

What was the highlight of the fair for you? Did a particular work stand out?

This is difficult to answer. Was there a particular work? No, not really. I saw some great works – too many to make one choice. I always enjoy seeing the German Expressionist prints in the Olsen Irwin Gallery. There were some great works in the Annandale Galleries stand. I enjoyed the works by Tan Vargas in Gallery Mutt, Santiago, and many other interesting works in the international galleries. It is really a pity the fair did not produce a catalogue. It always helps your memory…

Akky van Ogtrop is the Executive Director of Akky van Ogtrop Fine Arts. She is a curator, an art historian, an art valuer and the President of the Print Council of Australia.

Vox Pop: What do you think about separating Paper Contemporary from the rest of the fair?

Toby Chapman

‘One of the bonuses of separating Paper Contemporary from other parts of the fair is that it provides new collectors an entry point into works that are probably going to be more affordable and perhaps less intimidating in terms of making one of their first purchases.’

Hong Tong

‘I think the separation is good. People can be in one section and see all different printmaking. I think printmaking needs someone telling how you can do it and what is different so you can get to know different studios and different ideas.’

Karen Ball

‘I think it’s good and bad. I think it actually increases the profile of works on paper, which is an important thing, but then again to separate them can cause people to think that there is something less to be admired about works on paper. So it goes both ways.’

Graham Bell

‘Not everybody wants them mixed together. I personally don’t want them mixed together. I think a separate section for works of art on paper is ideal for this exhibition.’

Peter Lancaster

‘Unfortunate.’

Melinda Schawel

‘I would strongly disagree with that. I’m a paper artist as well and I believe that if we’re going to break down the hierarchy of media, and because there’s so much interdisciplinary work going on, we need to break that barrier as well. And the galleries need to go along with that, not just the artists and the buyers. So if we actually present works on paper in the context of other media, I think that would help.’

The Problem

the problem small‘I have always worked my ideas across different media: painting, printmaking and drawing. Most often drawing comes first, which will then lead onto a print or a painting and this is often where things get mixed up. Sometimes a print will lead to a painting, but just as often a painting will be developed in a printmaking technique.’1

Since making The Fourteen Stations, a series of etchings and aquatints produced at Viridian Press with John Loane in 1989, Brent Harris’s involvement with printmaking has been long and varied, often overlapping and informing other areas of his practice. In this new work, The Problem (2015), printed by Trent Walter of Negative Press, two techniques are combined: photopolymer gravure and screenprint.

The gravure plate forms the ground: a perplexing palimpsest of inky, layered imagery. Finger marks swarm and merge into strangely shifting profiles, a heavy figure lurches forward with one arm raised in an ambiguous gesture. These marks reference The Fall #7, a single monotype from a large series shown at Tolarno Galleries in 2012, in which the artist adopted an intuitive method referred to as the ‘dark field’ technique2. In using this process Harris often embraced the absurd imagery that began to emerge as he wiped the blackened ground.3

In contrast, the precise execution of the bearded foreground figure, achieved through three screenprinted layers, recalls the more graphic quality of earlier works such as the Swamp and Grotesquerie paintings from the late nineties and early noughties, where the compositions were resolved through drawing and reassembled on the canvas.

As is often the case in Harris’s work, the bearded figure in The Problem has travelled, in various incarnations, through a series of works. First emerging in a small panel painting on board in 2010, he resurfaces in a large painting The Dream (2015), and then again, reversed and enlarged, in the painting Peaks (2015). As in Peaks, where Harris describes this bearded figure as ‘some kind of witness’4, his gaze is directed back into the work as if contemplating possible meanings buried in the marks of the ground. Etched and inked with red ochre, he might be looking at an ancient rock surface scarred by time: its ambiguous layers – where images, impressions, ideas emerge and overlap; can be felt, but also slip and recede – make sense in their resemblance to the experience and complexity of life itself.

Most recently, and corresponding with the development of The Problem, the figure appears again in a new painting, To the Garden (2015), which in its title and details refers to Gauguin’s painting Christ in the Garden of Olives (1889). This transference of information across time and media is a distinctive aspect of Harris’s practice. The artist’s imagery is continually evolving and suggesting, but resisting, set narratives or status; aptly dwelling between abstraction and ‘odd figuration’5.

Part of the lure of Harris’s work, evident in The Problem, is the artist’s willingness to remain open to the possibilities inherent in process. These are lived works, in which the artist’s singular visual language embraces complexity and reflects a deep knowledge and love of art.

Emily Kiddell
September, 2015

For sales or enquiries visit the PCA website or contact Georgia Thorpe at generalmanager@printcouncil.org.au

1 Brent Harris, artist statement provided to the author, 2 September 2015.

2 A reductive technique where a plate is completely blacked out with printing ink and imagery emerges where the ink is wiped back. Usually only one good impression is printed.

3 Brent Harris, artist statement provided to Jane Devery for her article ‘Brent Harris: The Fall’, Imprint Vol 47 No 2, 2012. The artist stated: ‘as this series developed I found myself reflecting on the absurdities of the human condition’.

4 Brent Harris’s notes on the process leading to Peaks, 2015, email correspondence, 2 September 2015. Here Harris cites Colin McCahon’s early figurative paintings, such as Crucifixion according to St Mark (1947), as being full of witnesses.

5 Brent Harris’s notes on Peaks, 2015, email correspondence, 2 September 2015.

New Print Commission

Brent Harris, The Problem, 2015, photopolymer gravure and multiple screenprint layers, 76 x 56 cm, edition of 30, $880 unframed. To purchase visit the PCA website or contact Georgia Thorpe on generalmanager@printcouncil.org.au

The Print Council of Australia is delighted to unveil The Problem, Brent Harris’s beguiling new work printed by Trent Walter of Negative Press as a special commission fundraiser print for Imprint magazine.

Echoing the artist’s process, in which he has collaged and extended recurring imagery from his broader practice, The Problem mixes photopolymer gravure and multiple screenprint layers. Produced in a limited edition of 30, The Problem will be on display at Sydney Contemporary at the Imprint stand, where we will be taking orders for sales.

Visit the Print Council of Australia’s website or contact Georgia on generalmanager@printcouncil.org.au for more information or to place an order.

Our special thanks go to Brent Harris and Trent Walter of Negative Press for their enthusiasm, intelligence and hard work in realising this project. Thanks also to Cathy Leahy, Silvi Glattauer, Kylie Blackley, MADA Monash University, and Jan Minchin and Olivia Radonich of Tolarno Galleries.