Deborah Klein: PCA Print Commission 2017

Above: Deborah Klein, Pressed for Time, 2017, archival pigment print, 31.3 x 23.2 cm (image) 48.4 x 35 cm (paper)

Deborah Klein discusses her work selected in the 2017 PCA Print Commission.

Q: What is your relationship to printmaking and how did you develop this interest?

DK: Through the years my relationship to printmaking has shifted and changed. In the immediate post-art school period and for a long time afterwards, relief printmaking was my primary means of creative expression. For the last fifteen years or so, however, my work has come to be fairly evenly divided between printmaking, painting, drawing and, more recently, zines and artist books.

When I enrolled in art school in 1983, it was as a painting major. But almost from the start, I found myself drawn to printmaking and soon switched majors. There has always been a narrative element to my work that I sensed would be better suited to a more graphic medium. I was particularly attracted to the direct nature of single-block linocuts. For many years I’d admired the woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein and the German Expressionists. An investigation of the prints of Australian modernist artist Margaret Preston and her contemporaries also fuelled my growing interest in the medium.

Q: How did you approach your submission for the PCA Print Commission 2017?

DK: For the past two years I’ve been developing a body of work, collectively titled Leaves of Absence. It’s my first foray into archival pigment prints. I’m entirely self-taught, with no previous experience with or technical knowledge of the medium.

The first works in the series were made for what was supposedly a one-off project, but I found myself increasingly attracted to this completely new way of working, even as I was still feeling my way with it. In time, my confidence with and commitment to the medium grew and it has developed into a significant extension of my printmaking practice.

My three previous works selected for the PCA print commission (the first dating from 1986, the year after I graduated from art school) have each represented key developmental stages in my imagery. So the time felt right to submit a work that reflected its newest direction.

Q: What are some of the foundation ideas that have guided the creation of the visual content of the work you submitted?

DK: For the past six years I’ve been dividing my time between Melbourne and the Victorian Goldfields city of Ballarat, primarily in the latter, where I have a house and studio. During that time, I’ve become increasingly interested in the history of the area and its surroundings.

Pressed for Time is part of a body of work focusing on the absence of Chinese women from the goldfields during the Australian gold rush. The eucalyptus leaf in this work and all those in the series were gathered in the tiny Victorian Goldfields town of Newstead. The forest floor is still dotted with holes, the last traces of the 3000 Chinese miners who once lived and worked there. The miners’ plight on the Goldfields is well documented, but almost nothing is known about the women who remained in China. The silhouettes hand-painted onto each leaf represent one of those unknown women.

Q: How does it relate to your broader body of work?

DK: Lost and hidden histories are dominant themes in my work. Doomed to anonymity, my characters are sometimes masked, or stand with their backs turned to the viewer. More recently, as in Pressed for Time, they appear in the guises of Shadow Women. Silhouetted figures first appeared in my work in 2013, most notably in Tall Tales, a series of one-of-a-kind vertical concertina artist books.

Q: What were some of the technical challenges involved?

DK: At first everything about this body of work was challenging, as was completely uncharted territory. From the day I gathered the first eucalyptus leaves in Newstead, I worked intuitively. I had no set guidelines or instructions to work from and had no idea if the images would actually work as prints.

In the past, I printed most of my linocuts myself. On occasion I’ve worked with some wonderful master printers, but in every case the image was already pretty well resolved.

The digital prints were an entirely different matter. For a number of practical reasons, including necessary access to specialist equipment, I had no choice but to work with a printer, and in much closer proximity than I had in the past. I was already way out of my comfort zone and found the prospect incredibly daunting. I knew it was vital to find a printer who understood the ideas, aesthetic, and visual language of the work and wouldn’t be judgemental about my lack of experience in this area. Through a fortuitous recommendation from a fellow printmaker, I found just that in Luke Ingram and his colleague, Daisy Watkins-Harvey, at Visual Heritage in Abbotsford. I trust their judgment and have learned a great deal from them. They encouraged my fledgling efforts from the start and on a number of occasions have helped me to further refine the imagery during the crucial proofing stage.

Q: What other projects are you working on? 

DK: At present I’m working towards a solo show at Tacit Contemporary Art in Melbourne. Fallen Women, my first exhibition of archival pigment prints, will run from 29 November-17 December 2017.

Website: http://www.deborahklein.net/

Art blog: http://deborahklein.blogspot.com/

Book blog: http://mothwomanpress.blogspot.com/

Prints can be ordered at www.printcouncil.org.au