AHC McDonald: ‘Five Pieces of Sand’

Above: AHC McDonald, Five Pieces of Sand, 2017, freehand rubber stamps using archive ink on 5 panels of Rives BFK paper, 401 cm x 120 cm.
Right and below, details from Five Pieces of Sand.

AHC McDonald talks about the large-scale four-metre-wide work Five Pieces of Sand.

Imprint: What led to your development of this artwork from a technical perspective – choice of process and materials, for example?

AM: It was quite by chance that I started with rubber stamps. I was browsing books and saw one on the subject by UK artist Stephen Fowler.

I have been wanting to get involved in printmaking for a long time, (my background is photography), but the space and equipment was problematic. Equipment-wise, stamp-printing barely requires more than a scalpel. Fortunately, too, there has been a recent craze for ‘craft stamping’, making cards etc with pre-made rubber stamps, so the range and quality of inks available is surprisingly good.

Imprint: What sorts of ideas underpin the work, in terms of its content and impact?

AM: What are these spaces really like – these five beaches from Cottesloe to Scarborough? What do we as locals feel about them, but keep from outsiders? I wanted to throw in things like the shark attacks and the brutal parking regime of Cottesloe, the perverts in the dunes at Swanbourne and the violence and overwhelming unpleasantness of Scarborough. And across it all the dogs just keep walking. They are incredibly beautiful spots, but they are much more interesting than just beautiful. These are extremely idealised spaces, particularly important for how we present ourselves to the world, but even how we feel about ourselves. I made a study of part of the Cottesloe section, including sharks attacking a diver, for a small exhibition in Cottesloe and it had a huge reaction, negative and positive. It had to be taken off public display at one stage. On the other hand many people loved it and have wanted to buy it. Loved, hated and purchased. You can’t ask for a better reaction than that as an artist.

Imprint: Size obviously matters in this instance – can you please explain the background to how and why such a huge work came to be?

AM: I thought of making a big work covering a section of Perth coastline even before I cut my first stamp block. It just came to me that that is what I should print. I started making tests and studies for it the next day. A rubber stamp Bayeux Tapestry for Perth was the intention! I felt that the apparent naivety of the medium, such as its lo-fi resolution and bright colours could be set against a more serious theme and sophisticated composition. And most rubber stamp art is overwhelmingly small scale. I always want to do the opposite. I’m very grateful that the Fremantle Print Awards have accepted the piece, because it will be the first time I will have seen the whole thing up myself. I don’t have a four-metre long wall to see it all together.

Imprint: Has this adventure inspired you to do more work in a similar vein?

AM: I just love the medium – although in many ways rubber stamps are terrible things to use to make a print, especially something large! Some of the elements have four or five levels of masks and overprints and small pieces of rubber are incredibly difficult to register. The ink dries in seconds, almost before you can get the block to the paper, and you have to hammer every impression with your fist. It’s very time-consuming and easy to make a mistake that could ruin the whole thing. Having said that, building up a composition from many, many small elements means that you are essentially painting with prints, and every piece will be as unique as a painting.

I have been working at a number of pieces, although not at quite this scale, which you can see here


I have in mind a similar large-scale treatment for a section of Melbourne’s inner west, where I have family connections. But I need to find someone with a very big spare table over there.