Pia Larsen: What we know

Above: Michelle Munzone, In Jest, 57 x 76 cm.
Right: Afaf Al-Shammari, The Mystery of the Human Brain, 57 x 76 cm.
Below: Jane Stratton, Pia Larsen, Michelle Munzone, Vicki Wacha, Zahra Mahde and Susan Stewart in the Printmedia Studio, Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney, 2016.

Pia Larsen  reflects on recording knowledge through printmaking in the ‘What we know’ project.

It all began with Jane Stratton, (Creative Director, Think + DO Tank Foundation) and her vision to create a visual record using the medium of print, of people’s knowledge and know-how in Western Sydney. Classes were to be held in the Liverpool area with me as teacher and artist in residence assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.

Jane’s inspiration came from Denis Diderot’s 1766 Encyclopaedia: A Description of the Arts and Trades. Diderot’s Encyclopaedia created a beautiful account of the contemporary handicrafts of the day, using engraving to showcase the skills of artisans and manufacturers throughout the regions of France.

The printmaking workshops started in September 2016 at the Liverpool Women’s Resource Centre and ran over four weeks with 9 students, Jane and myself. Each week involved transporting and setting up a print studio. This included a small press, tools, inks, paper, water bath and other materials. I began by introducing printmedia through stencilling, demonstrating the process with cut and torn paper to explore negative and positive space, layered imagery and offset print techniques. They also explored drypoint on acetate plates as well as collagraphs on cardboard. As people gained confidence a queue formed at the small press and every class became a flurry of activity and creative endeavour.

During the course I talked about work by artists including, Henri Matisse, Kiki Smith, Ruth Burgess and Louise Bourgeois, discussing how the particular properties of print served their intentions as artists. Toward the months end the students began to formulate their ideas and imagery for a large-scale work (57 x 76cm), using either drypoint and/or stencilling and/or collagraphy. They created a template for the different layers and elements within their image and planned the printing sequence for the processes of intaglio/relief and/or stencil impressions. The final printing to be undertaken later in the year at Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney.

When the group gathered in December at SCA it was evident that they appreciated the opportunity to utilise the print studio and spend time in the environment and atmosphere of the Rozelle campus. They worked solidly over the following days to produce a set of three prints, with support from Janet Parker-Smith, Printmedia Technical Officer and myself. For most students the first layer of their image was a bleed print in colour. Vicki Wacha mixed and printed a mustard-yellow base for her figurative and patterned drypoint images in black. Zahra Mahde had prepared a stencil of the word ‘mum’ in Arabic calligraphy that printed as white lettering within a bleed print of transparent aqua. Her final layer consisted of offset impressions from leaves floating over the Arabic script. Susan Stewart had prepared a stencil of a large oak tree in white against an autumnal yellow background, overlayed with leaf and acorn shapes in green and brown. Macki Riveros printed her dancing figures as intaglio and offset impressions in red, blue and yellow creating multi layers of overlapping figures until they merged in a blur of coloured movement. Michelle Munzone had created detailed drypoints of theatrical characters that she printed over a rainbow roll bleed print of blue and purple.

Their experience at SCA including, mixing inks, intaglio printing, managing the large format presses and rollers and other studio equipment consolidated and built on their creative and technical know-how. And it was particularly gratifying to observe how people become enraptured with the medium and its potential, hungry to learn all the methods and processes so they could take control and create work on their own. They were also inspired to continue their art training despite limited access to art studios and training facilities in Western Sydney. I enjoyed the interactions and many discussions about people’s ideas, their lives and backgrounds and the way those stories and histories emerged in the final works through subject matter, symbols and pictorial composition. The work I created as artist in residence rendered the creative energy of Western Sydney as a field of vivid colours overlaid with the geography of people, place and space in the Liverpool area. The forthcoming exhibition of work from the What We Know project at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre represents “Chapter 1”. Our vision to involve more people over time and expand the project as a creative voice for the community.

Two hundred and fifty years ago in France engraving served to beautifully showcase the contemporary handicrafts of the time. In Western Sydney today print beautifully showcases fascinating stories interwoven with forms of knowledge and know-how from everyday life, stories that emanate from the most diverse part of greater Sydney with its many cultures, perspectives and histories.

Pia Larsen is artist-in-residence and teacher at Think + DO Tank Foundation.

The Motion Room is at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, 30 September–19 November. Exhibition launch: Saturday 7 October, 1-5pm.