Two Cities in Print: Artists navigate Portland and Melbourne

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Tina Biggs and Therese Coffey sorting Two Cities print editions. Photo: Carmel Wallace
Brigid Thomas, Portland Ships, 2017, etching
Bronwyn Mibus, The Folly, 2017, drypoint with roll-up and (right) Rone, Collins Street, 2014, lithograph

Trevor Smith examines the creative ties that can be formed between two very different cities.

In the centre of a 19th century streetscape of historic buildings in Julia Street Portland, Portland Bay Press, an intimate gallery and print studio, shares the former Campbell Stores with the Julia Street Creative Space and June Hedditch artist apartments.

The complex is a treasured asset to Portland’s artistic community, as it is to the stream of visiting artists who have called Portland home during their residencies in the Hedditch apartments.

Under the curatorship of Portland artist Camel Wallace in collaboration with Dianna Gold, the foundations of Two Cities in Print had its origins more than a decade ago in 2004 in a print exchange exhibition titled Surface Tension – twenty-one Contemporary Australian Printmakers. Displayed at the National Arts Club in Manhattan, it was a joint project with the New York Society of Etchers.

A decade later Carmel and Dianna came together again and curated 37° 48’ S: artists Navigate Melbourne, a print exchange project exploring the cultural diversity of Melbourne, and shown in New York in 2014, then Sao Palo in Brazil, and in Melbourne in 2015.

From these two projects, a decade apart, has emerged the Two Cities in Print exhibitions, bringing the project to the regional and rural areas, first at Warrnambool Art Gallery in 2016 where the works of the Melbourne participants were shown in tandem with printmakers of the Warrnambool region, and now in Portland where the Melbourne printmakers have been teamed up with artists from the far south-west, and artists who have spent time making art in Portland through the artist residency program.

Through their prints, the metropolitan artists reflect the cultural, and the natural and built environments of their home town. They show the distinct skyline, the busy freeways, the street culture, the characters, the events and the stories that make Melbourne a vibrant multicultural mix.

Not dissimilar, the Portland artists reflect on their home and environment – storytelling, the flora and fauna, maritime themes, and their proud history both in the natural and human-made environments.

As their subject matter, the Portland artists have embraced the icons of this town and environs – the blue whales and the gannets that both have connections and stories unique to this region; Fawthrop Lagoon and the changing face of the foreshore, which are both reoccurring subject matter recorded by artists over time; the heritage of the town through iconic structures such as past history in Macs Hotel and relatively recent history in the Corkscrew; and the ships in the harbour and the hard-working tugs that we see head out and guide ships in.

This project not only offers viewing opportunities for the general public in showcasing the printmaking talent of the region, but offers opportunities for the exhibiting artists. The Portland artists in this exhibition represent a cross section of career stages and milestones. Some are well established and exhibit regularly, some pursue their interest in printmaking through the workshops and exhibiting opportunities offered at Portland Bay Press, some are emerging artists, and one is exhibiting her work in a formal exhibition for the first time.

As part of the project, each exhibiting artist has produced an edition of 20 prints, a significant undertaking for those emerging in their printmaking career.

Through their work, the artists, both metropolitan and local, have employed a myriad of printmaking techniques in creating their work – both traditional techniques that have been used by artists for centuries, and new techniques that have only emerged in the past few decades, made possible by the development of digital processes.

Two Cities in Print has provided the Portland artists a platform to share their passion with the wider community, and I am confident the project will be revisited in another place and time, where another crop of printmakers can share their passion with their community.

Two Cities in Print is at Portland Bay Press until 31 May

Trevor Smith is Cultural Collection Officer at the Glenelg Shire Council