Denise Gillies and Lynne Mitchell, Traces in Time, 2017, dyptich collagraph, chine colle, collage, Blind embossed on handmade paper with cotton threads mounted on found handmade paper
Denise Gillies and Lynne Mitchell, Constellar 1, 2017, collagraph on hand made paper with hand printed fabric overlay and hand stitched cotton mounted on Indigo card
Denise Gillies (right) and Lynne Mitchell (left) at work.
Denise Gillies and Lynne Mitchell discuss their collaboration for Bunbury Regional Art Galleries show On the Same Page.
Imprint: You both have an interest in the very broad area of landscape- can you give some background to your individual approaches to this and how you encountered each other’s practice and how it lead to this show?
Denise Gillies and Lynne Mitchell: Landscape is indeed a broad term that we both use to describe our individual works. In saying that, it may be landscape per se with some recognizable elements, very abstracted landscapes or it may be to do with the environment and man’s impact upon it. Both of us also often include elements of time passing and history in our individual pieces.
At least some of our focus on landscape most likely stems from both growing up in rural areas, although in different countries, Australia (Denise) and England (Lynne). Certainly Lynne’s background as a geologist definitely has a bearing on her choice of subject matter. We are also strongly influenced by the area where we both live, the Ferguson Valley, a beautiful area of small farms, hills and forests to the south of Perth, WA.
We had both been working and exhibiting separately as printmakers for some years before Lynne and her husband moved south to live here. Consequently we met as members of The Southwest Printmakers group and exhibited together in various group shows for a few years. From the beginning people commented on the visual similarities in a lot of our work, and most of this was from before we had even met.
We both do a lot of collagraphs while not restricted to this technique. Our individual works are often layered both on the paper with a variety of printmaking techniques, but also metaphorically in the way a piece’s content may be interpreted. And while we may branch out from traditional printmaking by introducing mixed media, our art is always print-based.
The idea of a collaboration grew from discussions around our commonality of print process and more importantly our like-mindedness. Initially we planned to have a joint exhibition with just two or three collaborative pieces with the rest made up of our individual works. However, like many of our other plans, once we got started the end result was quite different.
Imprint: In collaborating how did you approach the nitty gritty of forming ideas and then making them work?
DG/LM: We thought collaborating might be difficult. In fact it proved surprisingly easy.
Our exhibition title, On the Same Page, was decided long before any work was done. It became our guiding principle and as our collaboration got underway we continually referred back to this title.
Initially there was a lot of brainstorming and writing of ideas. This was only about the proposed collaborative pieces as we had decided that our individual pieces would be up to each of us. Having exhibited together over several years and become friends, we had confidence our individual pieces would work well in any exhibition.
One of the first working steps was to actually make most of the paper we used. We made it from leftover edges torn from our individual prints and we also integrated small pieces of actual discarded prints from both of us into the paper mush. Hence we ensured we were both always On the Same Page. This hand-made paper features in most of our collaborative works.
All our collaborative works were done with each of us in the same studio working side by side. We jointly made and printed small collagraph plates. We each printed fabric. We worked together composing the various elements of each artwork . Every step was a joint effort. (‘What about this?’, ‘Shall we put this here?’ ‘I prefer this colour’ etc. ) Our original plan was that each of us would make a plate or do a piece of art in her own studio then give it to the other to add to in some way. That never eventuated as we found the pieces we were most happy with, were those produced when we worked on them at the same time.
Imprint: What are some of the joys and possible pitfalls of working in this combined manner?
DG/LM: We only had joys in our collaboration. We grew in confidence in what we could do the longer we worked together. Because neither of us is precious about her work and because of the trust we had in each other the whole process was extremely smooth. We liked what we were producing and marveled that it was so different from our individual works.
In the end we produced seven individual pieces each and twelve collaborative pieces.
We can imagine there could be many pitfalls for others embarking on this process. Personality plays an important part in a collaboration such as ours. We think there could be major clashes unless each person was prepared to put his/her ego to one side. Two people working as we did, would need to trust and respect the other’s art practice. The temptation to dominate or overrule could lead to the loss of both a professional and a personal friendship.
We went into this collaboration with confidence our personalities were compatible enough that we could push through any possible pitfalls if they arose. Luckily for us none did and it all worked.
Imprint: Now this work is complete what are your reflections on the ways others might respond to or encounter your work?
Because the exhibition has been opened and we have given artists’ talks we have had the opportunity to gauge the opinions of others.
When we first said we intended to do collaborative work, most people found it difficult to grasp how it could happen. When we explained how we had worked together, our artist friends in particular found it hard to believe. In other collaborations we have researched, the artists have worked independently on either the other’s work or plate to produce a single piece. So far, we haven’t been able to find any other examples of artists working as we did.
Now the artworks are on display peoples reactions have been gratifying. However, people are surprised that the style is, as our friend who opened the exhibition said, as if there is a third artist. The work we have produced is far from anything else either of us has ever done. Little of either of our individual styles is present in the collaborative pieces. Comments on our individual works are also interesting. The general consensus is that our individual works are more confident and vary considerably from previous works.
We enjoyed the collaborative process immensely. Not only did we produce a body of work of which we are very proud, but we had a lot of fun doing it. This collaborative process is something we plan to develop further.
On the Same Page is at Bunbury Regional Art Galleries until 17 August