The journeys of Stephen Spurrier’s curious mind

REVIEW

Journeys of a Curious Mind: The art & lives of Stephen Spurrier 

and Ugg Boot Press: It’s a long story

Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery, 29 October-18 December

Reviewer: Jan Davis

An exhibition which honours a fifty-year career couldn’t be a better way to draw the Print Council of Australia’s fiftieth birthday celebrations to a close. Journeys of a Curious Mind: The art & lives of Stephen Spurrier celebrates an extraordinary Australian printmaker, relentless producer and inspiring teacher, possessed of unmatched curiosity, wit and generosity.

When writing about Spurrier it is impossible to divorce the work from the life. This artist moves through the world in a most imaginative way, awake to all manner of curiosities and contradictions from studying the miniature in the natural world to imagining the broadest cosmos, examining the human condition from the psychological to the physiological.

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Stephen Spurrier’s Cosmos #3  (2014 -16), hand-coloured multi plate etching and screenprint on paper, 40 x 29.5cm

Spurrier’s earliest etchings made during and immediately after his studies at RMIT in Melbourne, such as Man cloud II (1969), reveal his early concerns with psychological space and our interactions with the world. These concerns thread their way continuously through his practice and remain evident in current work such as Cosmos #3, (2014-16). His early screenprints show the influence of Japanese prints with their use of blended colour, and introduce mixed materials and collage, a hallmark of Spurrier’s future practice.

Journeys of a Curious Mind: Spurrier becomes an inveterate traveller, setting up temporary or semi-permanent studios away from his Melbourne base. A trip to Cape Tribulation yields scale and colour to Outside Biloela (1984); later an Ecuadorian trip gives edginess to the colour etching There’s a gunner on my tongue (1991). Paintings and drawings from journeys — to Barcelona, New Delhi and Bundanon — show his trademark use of mixed-media.

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Above: Stephen Spurrier’s Man cloud II  (1969) woodcut with screenprint on paper, 61 x 53cm. Above right: Ugg Boot Press: It’s a long story, installation view Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery

Ugg Boot Press: It’s a long story is dedicated to Spurrier’s artists’ books. This accompanying exhibition in the adjacent gallery space is curated by Mary Collins, Research Commissioner for Ugg Boot Press. ‘Mary Collins’ is another creation of Spurrier’s curious mind. She writes commentary and book introductions on Spurrier’s behalf, her voice bringing a steadiness and a seriousness of intent to counterbalance the artist’s frivolity. In the introduction to POSTCARD PUZZLES she observes ‘…that holiday travel is a luxury is sometimes forgotten by many of us. Other people in the world travel only for survival…’

Ugg Boot Press publications fill this second gallery space: concertina artists’ books tumble down the walls, series after series of books with titles such as Strangers in the Garden – Gymnophobia jostle for space in display cabinets, many produced through Spurrier’s highly original use of the colour photocopier. Here one also finds the collaborative artists’ books Stephen made after he left Melbourne in 1998 for a teaching position at University of Southern Queensland. These are really conversations with his now-distant colleagues: funny or elegant, sexy or dark.

Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery is to be commended for this ambitious exhibition that so sensitively encompasses the complexities of the fifty-year professional career of an enigmatic and curious man. The exhibition is supported by a full catalogue and lively public program.

Jan Davis is a Lismore-based artist and Adjunct Associate Professor at Southern Cross University.