Push Pull Press
Above: Milan Milojevic, States of Play 2017, digital print with multi-plate overlays, 36 panel piece, each panel 30cm x 40cm. Right: Dr Yvonne Rees Pagh, The Strange Dragon Blood Tree of Socotra Island, 2018, etching, 160 x 200 cm. Below: Jennifer Marshall, Crossing of the Red Sea after Poussin, 2017, woodcut.
Review by: Jan Hogan and Melissa Smith
Push Pull Press: a printmaking exploration at Burnie Regional Art Gallery until 3 June 2018
“The ultimate iconography of a work of art – its true topic, in fact – does not lie in the merely given ‘subject’. It lies far more deeply implicit in how that subject is developed.” Phillip Rawson
Three artists well travelled but currently resident in Hobart have developed an exhibition of prints that explores the potential of the medium. Large-scale prints using different approaches and printmaking processes reveal the progression and development of ideas and technique. The underlying concept behind each artist’s reason for scaling up their work is to emphasise how their works are developed, the iconography is implicit in the processes used. These artists have all been committed educators and these prints have an embedded lesson within them. The content, material presence and process are integrated in highly sophisticated ways to ‘educate’ about historical references and their impact the development of the print in a contemporary context.
Jennifer Marshall appears to take the most direct approach by mirroring the exact dimensions of Titian’s twelve-block woodcut Crossing of the Red Sea 1514/15 held in the British Museum collection. She has carefully studied each panel of the print and in her translation of this work used considered and gestural cuts into her blocks, which are printed in two tones of grey, overlaying imagery to allow chance elements of texture and light to occur. There appears to be a resurgence in recent years of this tradition of hand copying works as contemporary artists explore the archives of museums and galleries. The knowledge gained by looking carefully and redrawing the structure, tones and lines of significant works is immeasurable as illustrated in the exuberant mark marking by Marshall in her exhaustive repetitions and renditions of Titian’s work. To assist in her understanding Marshall also studied Poussin’s painting (1632-1634) of the same theme and composition, on a similar scale as Titian’s woodcut. Marshall has completed an accompanying suite of etchings using burnt sienna, which has become evident in Poussin’s painting as it ages. The painting is in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria and was able to be viewed by Marshall repeatedly during her development of this suite.
Marshall’s work celebrates the works in Australian collections and the importance of encountering artworks to understand their materiality, processes and physical presence. The large-scale sixteen-panel woodcut after Poussin reminds us of the importance of print historically, for the dissemination of an artists interpretation of major themes, revealing their composition and tonal range for other artists to engage and reply to. Marshall has given contemporary life to Titian’s woodcut through scaling up the mark to a rougher hand gesture woodcut than the more traditional reproductive ‘objective’ mark making of Titian’s woodcut. The chiaroscuro in Titian’s composition is examined and rendered for exposition to a contemporary audience.
Yvonne Rees Pagh’s magnificent four-paneled etching of The Strange Dragon Blood Tree of Socotra Island, 2017, mirrors the tree form. The warm earthy tones and central blood red tinge suggest corporeality in the earth rather than a traditional reflection of a tree in a river. The branching forms reach beneath the earth and echo the lung form, which is a primary function of trees especially in disturbed territories such as Socotra, an island famous for its endemic flora and fauna but is being destroyed by goats. Rees-Pagh a committed activist, has produced many bodies of works on contemporary political and social issues and sees print as having a responsibility to convey her messages.
Large-scale prints can be produced for their visual impact and also allow for exploration of process to be amplified. Rees-Pagh experiments with multiple processes on her plates, which includes exposing them to extreme environmental conditions. The resulting scarred and pitted surfaces and the irregularity and variety of the marks metaphors for the state of the environment itself. These marks echo the extreme pressures impacting on this particular archipelago of islands. Rees-Pagh through the process of creating this work provides a genuine history behind the formation of the surface, emphasizing the materiality of the print ground, its sensitivity to marks, as it becomes a palimpsest recording the traces of the events that have occurred on it. The print form for Rees-Pagh is a material record of social, political and environmental awareness. As events occur in the world she responds emotionally and sensitively to record the outrage she feels for the injustices and damage occurring to the planet.
Milan Milojevic’s States of Play is a thirty-six-panel digital print with multi-plate overlays that reveals the “rules of the game” of printmaking that he has been exhaustively exploring for a number of years. The print is a metamorphosis of his fantastical creatures and the technical steps revealed to arrive at the rich, saturated formations inherent in his work. The end panels are a ghostly grey layer of traditional woodcut marks of landscapes referenced from the period of exploration in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Milojevic acknowledges that during this period printmaking played a role in disseminating knowledge and in many cases disinformation about the southern worlds being explored. He has incorporated digital print layers with traditional printmaking techniques to gradually “build” the imagery both in complexity and colour to a crescendo in the centre of this multi-paneled print. These are not resolved in the computer but rather in the printing as he reveals in the gradual layering in the panels. The central panel of foliage is depicted in vibrant blues and greens and the yellow and red birds and flowers that are found among the leaves provide a three-dimensional quality.
In States of Play, Milojevic utilises every printmaking tool in his kit. There are reversals, repetitions, overlays, ‘chance’ happenings and a gradual metamorphosis of ghostly traces into the central “tree of life”. The animals distributed across the landscape format of this print reveal the layers required to build their forms, reminiscent of the beautiful blends in Ukiyo-e printmaking that add the illusionistic depth to his fantastical formations. These ‘plays’ with exposing the process also reference the history of printmaking across time and place
In both a literal and physical sense, Marshall, Milojevic and Rees-Pagh have pulled and pushed at the limits of their respective technical approaches, and through their chosen subject matter to create an exhibition of prints that explore the printmaking practice to a new level.
Rawson, Phillip, Drawing: The Appreciation of the Arts/3, Oxford University Press, London, 1969, p.6