WA: Contemporary Print Media Awards

Above: Shelley Cowper, Composition 2, 2018, unique state, collograph and woodcut with mixed media, 74cm x 55cm. Image courtesy of the artist. Winner of Table Top Etching Press valued at over $2000 from Future Engineering. Right: Bethwyn Porter, On the banks of the Swan, 2018 monotype, 57cm X 39cm. Image courtesy of the artist. Below: Opening night, Moores Building Contemporary Art Gallery, image courtesy by PAWA. Bottom: Exhibition view, Moore’s Building Contemporary Art Gallery, photograph by Monika Lukowska

The Contemporary Print Media Awards 2018 organised by The Printmaker’s Association of Western Australia (PAWA) is a great opportunity to see a wide range of Western Australian prints. Monika Lukowska asks this year judges, Melanie McKee, Emma Jolley and Carl Altman to discuss the awarded works and provide some insight into the condition of print in WA.

What is the most unusual work entered in the competition, and why did you think this?

Melanie McKee: Fleur V May’s War Games was a drypoint with Chine-collé that took the form of a childhood paper game – the chatterbox. This was a playful and exploratory venture into alternative print formats.

Emma Jolley: A.H.C McDonald’s The Gap was the work I found most unusual out of the selection of work on offer. The image was created using rubber stamps, yet it created a collage like arrangement of marks to form an abstracted rendition of ‘the Gap’ down south. I would be interested to see how this work was made in the studio.

How can you describe the winning prints?

MM: The winning prints were varied, ranging in technique and format from traditional woodcut relief print to a 3D artist book with a very mixed printmedia approach. I was pleased to see two artist books taking awards for the student (Chloe Henderson) and regional (Jane Button) categories. Both artists showed ambition and strong conceptual development in the works, along with some great technical skills. Highly commended was an outstanding aquatint by Elmari Steyn; a striking and powerful composition and subject matter. We were intrigued by the unusual composition, and the way Elmari had really responded to the constraints of the copper plate. Again, exemplary technical skill was shown in the work. Shelley Cowper’s winning work is outstanding, demonstrating a sensitive perception of color, composition and technique. Cower skillfully layered processes and colours, working across woodcut, collograph and mixed media to engage with the abstract subject matter. This is a rather quiet print that persistently called to us throughout the judging process.

EJ: The winner of Best Edition was the work that stayed in my thoughts longest. Emi Ninoseki’s Robin is a portrait of an older gentleman, in a typical portrait posture, gazing out to the right of the print. The way in which she has handled this woodcut is interesting in itself. It is difficult to determine how she began building this image up. The palette choices combined with the gaze of the subject create a very arresting figure with nostalgic qualities. This is the print that I could look at and question for an extended period of time.

How does traditional printmaking techniques and contemporary print work together for future sustainability of both genres?

MM: I was pleased to see such a range of processes in the award, many executed to a very high standard. Whilst traditional printmaking still holds strong, I was intrigued at the number of mono and unique state prints entered this year. For me this is exciting and indicates a shift in approaches to printmaking, where the notion of the edition takes a back seat to more exploratory ventures.

EJ: There are many inherent qualities in the traditions of printmaking that have seen the medium have such longevity. Although contemporary printmakers often don’t work within traditional parameters such as making editioned work, I feel that having such a strong tradition to draw from has created a hotbed of creativity. Traditions have allowed contemporary makers to have the foundation of exceptional technical skill, yet challenge this skill in order to merge disparate processes and techniques, creating innovative, original outcomes.

What are your thoughts about the condition of printmaking in WA?

Carl Altman: Printmaking does not receive publicity and quite frequently this art form is not taken seriously by some learning institutions.  This can be caused by adopting a ‘play-way’ approach.  Is the history of printmaking taught or are the instructors still in that era and mindset of regarding History of Art as a waste of time?  The Printmakers Association has worked very hard for decades and deserves full appreciation for what it is striving to bring to the public but it needs the support of others such as the art suppliers and educational centres. In the current exhibition, there seemed to be an over-abundance of mono-prints. Such works have value but traditionally the Art of printmaking was in achieving multiple copies all apparently the same to the naked eye. The artworks had to show the edition numbers and the clear edge of each print.  When the print run was complete the plate was destroyed. These traditional concerns are no longer considered as being necessary. Fingerprints on a glass are mono-prints and possibly only of interest in a crime scene.

Another consideration is mounting the works, as this provides finish and a concern for the protection of one’s own statement.  This also relates to content i.e. what is the work “saying”. Art is a specialised form of communication, a means by which comments are made without resorting to words. Meanings do not have to be complex.  An artwork can draw attention to the beauty of a subject as seen in the print by June Edwards entitled Koi and Ginko Leaves.  A print does not have to beautiful but can be challenging and thought provoking.

Will printmaking survive?  Of course, it will but it needs a lot of input and not from the same few and overworked practitioners.  

MM: In conjunction with longstanding and vital organizations like PAWA a range of new ventures such as Print Lab Australia and Swan River Print Studio have entered the field in recent months. Opportunities to improve skills and access to extended printmaking networks are better than ever. I think it’s a great time to be a printmaker in WA.

EJ: I think that printmaking in WA is alive and well. Western Australian printmakers seem to be very competent with traditional techniques however they seem to enjoy challenging traditions and also testing out how other medias can work alongside printed matter.