Q&A with Rilka Oakley, Curator at the Blue Mountains City Art Gallery

‘It is easy to put a bunch of art in a gallery but to tell a good story with artworks is the challenge. The marker of exceptional art is the impact on the viewer – when I am physically affected or emotionally moved by a piece of art I feel compelled to include it in an exhibition.’ 

Rilka Oakley has been working in curatorial positions and arts administration since finishing her arts degree in Printmaking in the mid-1990s. She completed a Master of Art Administration from UNSW COFA in 1997 with an internship on the Australian exhibition fluent at the Venice Biennale. She worked at the Biennale of Sydney on the 1998 and 2000 editions in curatorial, venue management and catalogue management roles; she worked at Ivan Dougherty Gallery as Curator from 2000 until early 2009; and most recently at Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, Katoomba as Curator since October 2012.

How did you become interested in art and prints in particular?

I have always loved art – colour, texture, form, line, image – I like the way things fit together, or not. I am really drawn to contemporary art and this includes printmaking.

With regard to prints in particular I majored in printmaking at uni – I had done some in high school but it wasn’t until uni that I really got to understand the beauty of printmaking. I love the depths of black you can achieve with etching. The layering. The repetition. The textures. The image reversal. I particularly liked monotypes.

By the time I finished my undergrad I really wanted to work with other people’s art as much as make my own so I studied art administration and began working first at the Biennale of Sydney and then as Curator at Ivan Dougherty Gallery in Paddington. I continued to do my own art making and completed a Masters in Printmaking in 2004.

How do you view the role of curator?

For me a curator’s role is to bring out the best of an artwork, and in some cases an artist. Often as a curator I am solving problems – finding solutions to making an exhibition look the best it can. This isn’t so obvious with many exhibitions but with installations or other unique approaches to art there isn’t always an easy way to display the work.

I enjoy curating group shows and creating a conversation between works. I find it is the same creative energy that goes into curating as goes into art production. There is an urge to bring things together to illustrate a theme. It is also an intuitive process – it needs time and contemplation to get it right. It is easy to put a bunch of art in a gallery but to tell a good story with artworks is the challenge. The marker of exceptional art is the impact on the viewer – when I am physically affected or emotionally moved by a piece of art I feel compelled to include it in an exhibition.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while working as a curator?

The most challenging thing for me is working between the requirements of an institution and the vision of an individual artist. It’s like being an interpreter at times – making an artist’s vision possible within the constraints of budget, safety and time.

Can you tell us a bit about what a working day looks like for you?

My days can vary greatly depending on the stage of exhibition development. At the moment I curate three to four exhibitions per year and assist on installs for the other exhibitions in the gallery, so at any given time I will be dealing with all stages of development at once.

If I am curating a show then I work from a theme, I chose the artists and the works and then take the whole exhibition through to completion. In the early stages of exhibition development I might be out visiting artist studios and looking at lots of work. At other stages I will be doing a lot of administration: preparing loan agreements, sending emails, organising freight, discussing logistics. If it is an install week then I am in the gallery: painting walls, unpacking crates, condition reporting and physically hanging artworks. So you can see there is a lot of variety.

Who are your role models?

Victoria Lynn was an early role model in the 1990s. I interned with her at the Art Gallery of NSW where she was the Curator of Contemporary Art and I then travelled to Venice with her, Brenda Croft and Hetti Perkins to help with the installation of the exhibition fluent in the 1997 Venice Biennale. All three are amazing women and exceptional curators. I find I refer back to their exhibitions/styles/insights/sensibilities a lot when I am making curatorial decisions.

The other person who significantly influenced my career is Nick Waterlow. I first felt moved and excited by contemporary art when I saw his 1986 Biennale. I never thought I would end up working with him, but as it turned out I spent a significant amount of my career with him both at the Biennale of Sydney in 1999-2000 and then at Ivan Dougherty Gallery in 2000-2009 where he was Director. One thing in particular I learnt from him was how to see the good in an artwork that you might not personally like. He could see the point of what an artists was trying to say even if he didn’t care for the style. He could get to the essence of an artwork – see the artist’s thought process. He had a brilliant way with artists.

Often with a group show (not curated but a prize for example) the curator has no control over the content, and yet we have to install the exhibition and make it look wonderful. Nick was able to do this effortlessly by engaging with the intent of the artist and not being shy about placing bold works together. He taught me to tackle an exhibition head on, to deal with and appreciate the many different styles of art, not just my personal preferences.

Can you tell us a bit about the process of putting together Tracing the Line?

Curating Tracing the Line was lots of fun. It has been a journey through fifty years of Australian printmaking history. I discovered that the Print Council of Australia’s commissioned prints reflect and document the changing trends within print processes from the mid-1960s to date. The inclusion of photo etching and screenprints in the 1970s, heat transfer and colour copies in the 1980s through to the use of laser and inkjet printing in the 1990s and digital prints in the 2000s, finishing with a print on steel in 2015. The collection traces the development and progress of printmaking techniques across the five decades since its inception.

It also struck me that there was always a continued presence of the more traditional print processes. The skill and commitment printmakers have for techniques such as lithography, etching, aquatint, mezzotint, linocut – the appropriation of new technologies and processes has not replaced the traditional print process – it has simply given printmakers more tools to choose from.

Tracing the Line, curated by Rilka Oakley, is an exhibition of fifty works selected from the Print Council of Australia’s collection of over 500 Australian prints. As part of the PCA’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations, it opens following the Hungry Eyes symposium (Art Gallery NSW) at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre on 22 October and will be on display until 4 December.

2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: Katy Mutton

‘I am a terrible fiddler – I often end up with smaller editions than I intended because I feel compelled to play with the prints – draw and paint on them, cut them up and create collages.’

Why do you make art?

I’ve always made art, it’s a compulsion. Art is everywhere and the process of making is integral to my understanding of the world. It’s literally kept me alive and enables endless new experiences.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

I love printmaking – the process and the reveal are magical to me but I enjoy working in many different ways. I am a terrible fiddler – I often end up with smaller editions than I intended because I feel compelled to play with the prints – draw and paint on them, cut them up and create collages.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

I have always loved to draw and printmaking always felt like a natural extension of that practice. I made my first prints in high school, they were linocuts. I still remember how much I enjoyed making each mark and cutting back the surface. I loved them so much and still have those original linocut plates.

How did you approach making your submission for the PCA Print Commission?

In 2015 I was working on a series of acrylic paintings exploring tessellation techniques and pattern. I was really pleased with the final works, they were a true labour of love, I spent so much time working and reworking the layers. When the commission call-out came up I was talking with a friend and we both thought one in particular would work well as a screen-print. It was important to me that all eight colours were retained for the print edition as the transitioning colours, across geometric forms, add an illusory quality to the piece. The final version was eight layers but it was definitely worth the additional effort to keep those colour shifts.

Whose work have you been enjoying lately?

I admire many different artists for many different reasons.

I saw some fantastic linocuts by Ryan Presley on a recent trip to Darwin at MAGNT. I admire the work of Alison Alder who first taught me to screenprint at the ANU, Sally Smart, Michael Schlitz and Tony Albert. I probably relate to multi-disciplinary artists most particularly, as my work frequently transverses mediums.

Where do you go for inspiration?

My practice is heavily research based and I love to read. Living in Canberra I am fortunate to have access to many National Cultural Institutions who hold incredible collections. In the last year I’ve spent a lot of time researching at the National Library of Australia and had collection access at the Australian War Memorial – fantastically inspiring places to explore.

What are you working on now?

I have been working on a series of large screen-printed posters works, which portray contemporary military aviation in different contexts as a means to explore the politics behind Australia’s defence investments. I am also beginning to work on concepts for a series of lithographs and installation works, which I hope to develop over 2017.

Katy Mutton was the recipient of the Artspace Residency as part of the 2016 PCA Print Commission. Join us at Artspace before the Hungry Eyes symposium for drinks and a private viewing of the exhibition and studios on Thursday 20 October, 5.30–7 pm.

To view this year’s commission prints visit the PCA website, pick up a copy of the spring 2016 issue of Imprint (Vol. 51 No. 3), or visit one of the participating venue galleries listed below:

2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: Gwen Scott

‘I have spent years appreciating prints and printmaking and have collected a lot of Australian printmakers work but now it’s my turn to produce some of my own prints, I’m loving the deep and meaningful relationship I have with mixing up the inks, printing and getting surprised!’

Why do you make art?

Creating and appreciating art has always been part of my life. The process of creating something brings a lot of joy, calm and relaxation. I use colour a lot because that’s what really attracts me. Mixing and splashing paint or ink around is a lot of fun. Losing all sense of time and concentrating on something so intensely (but more often obsessively) is something that I enjoy doing.

Raised by artistic parents I saw my parents spend long periods of time in their studios and so was influenced greatly by their lifestyle, creative processes and joy of art.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

I have spent years appreciating prints and printmaking and have collected a lot of Australian printmakers’ work but now it’s my turn to produce some of my own prints. I’m loving the deep and meaningful relationship I have with mixing up the inks, printing and getting surprised!

How did you get interested in printmaking?

Through books on Rembrandt and William Blake and seeing prints by Lionel Lindsay, Thea Proctor, Eric Thake, Margaret Preston and Barbara Hanrahan at the Art Gallery of NSW when I was a teenager. My appreciation of printmaking has been ongoing for decades but my practice of it is more recent.

My practice didn’t manifest itself until well after art school. I did the compulsory semester of printmaking but it didn’t inspire me, so I majored in painting and drawing and spent numerous years after art school practicing painting, drawing, needlepoint tapestry and mosaics. Over the years I did revisit my rudimentary printmaking skills through workshops and short courses. However, the dedication and time wasn’t there. It wasn’t until 2010 when I had the time to focus on doing more and playing around with colour that I got hooked.

After retiring from working as a librarian for over twenty-five years, the last two and a half years have been spent developing my skill with linocutting and the reduction technique. The problem-solving aspect, the use of colour and the surprise effect you get using the reduction technique fascinates me.

How did you approach making your submission for the PCA Print Commission?

I had been working on a new body of work on the theme of Pomona and just worked further on that for the PCA commission. All the prints in this new series are colour reduction prints, so my intention was to produce a reduction print if selected. Initially, I submitted three prints that I liked the best from my new series for the first round of judging. Then when I had to produce a bon a tirer (B.A.T.) I chose to do a detailed colour gouache on paper in the dimensions of the intended print. Along with the gouache I submitted a Pomona print that I had done previously to show evidence of my work. Finally, I set about completing the artist’s proofs and the edition together as this was the only way I could do my reduction print unless I wanted to do it twice!

Whose work have you been enjoying lately?

A trip to Sydney this year to see the Grayson Perry show was a treat but discovering the work of an African artist El Anatsui at Carriageworks was even more inspirational. His large-scale installations of repurposed materials are sublime and at the same time tragic, a commentary on human waste and resourcefulness.

Where do you go for inspiration?

My immediate environment provides a plethora of motifs to work from so it starts there and the simple act of walking a few kilometres provides a wealth of imaginative ideas. Also, art books, art galleries and museums, the internet, music and film. My favourite interests are: surrealism, english landscape painting, the arts and crafts movement, animal art, early european tapestries and roman and greek mosaics.

What are you working on now?

A small edition for the PCA Inaugural print exchange, an edition for Australian Print Workshop‘s Impressions show as well as a solo show at the Boulevard@ Montsalvat in November.

To view this year’s commission prints visit the PCA website, pick up a copy of the spring 2016 issue of Imprint (Vol. 51 No. 3), or visit one of the participating venue galleries listed below:

2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: Rochelle Summerfield

‘My first love of printmaking was etching and collagraphs printed as intaglio. I loved the rich textures and depth of tone. I discovered collage, and print matter generally, and have developed photography and digital skills. With a love of both classic media and digital technologies, combining these skills seemed quite a natural evolution.’

Why do you make art?

I feel happy when I draw and make art. It enriches my life and gives it meaning. It helps me work out how to see and be in this world – it is my way of connecting.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

To me, printmaking is a variety of methods, skills and approaches – textures, marks, tonal properties, everyday print matter and mass media – that I can draw upon to make work.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

I began exploring printmaking as part of my degree at Southern Cross University. My first love of printmaking was etching and collagraphs printed as intaglio. I loved the rich textures and depth of tone. I discovered collage, and print matter generally, and have developed photography and digital skills. With a love of both classic media and digital technologies, combining these skills seemed quite a natural evolution.

Who is your favourite artist?

I will have to say three artists in particular – Arcimboldo, Hannah Höch and Max Ernst. Arcimboldo for teaching me how to make pictures as puzzles – through his work I realised that was how I see the world! Hannah Höch for teaching me a way to make pictures about women that are relevant now; and Max Ernst for teaching me how to combine collage within a background, in works such as his famous surrealist novel in collage Une Semaine de Bonté.

Where do you go for inspiration?

Several places generate inspiration for me. When I make work, I find collage stimulates new ways of looking and thinking about things and not just cut-and-paste, collage-type processes. Living in Seelands and looking right onto the mighty Clarence River with its wonderful birdlife has been a source for inspiration and renewal.

In my practice I find artist residencies are really good for inspiration, being in a new place and talking art with other like-minded souls (families can get quite sick of that type of talk!) For new ideas on what is happening in art beyond the regional I look at contemporary artists’ work, installations in metropolitan galleries and online.

What are you working on now?

I am working on drawings for a site specific installation. It’s going to be a billboard, so is extending me and my work in scale. It will be installed in Victoria Park, as part of ‘Future/Public’, Artlands, Dubbo 2016. I am one of ten artists selected for an exhibition of propositional public artworks to be on display in various venues for the Artlands Regional Arts Conference, 27–30 October, 2016.

To view this year’s commission prints visit the PCA website, pick up a copy of the spring 2016 issue of Imprint (Vol. 51 No. 3), or visit one of the participating venue galleries listed below:

2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: Pia Larsen

‘I make art today because I continue to enjoy the challenge of synthesising ideas through materials, process, time and place.’

Why do you make art?

I come from a family for whom making art, and living with art, is a way of life. I grew up in a creative environment and learnt early on how to work with ideas from one state to another. I make art today because I continue to enjoy the challenge of synthesising ideas through materials, process, time and place.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

I have been using printmedia since childhood and its complexities and qualities have been formative for my work in print and other mediums.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

At Kinma Primary School I had a brilliant art teacher, Angelika. Her approach was non-hierarchical and encompassed sculpture, lino, batik and screenprinting, as well as field trips to places such as Long Reef, where we gathered ‘found objects’ (rubbish) to arrange in a large bed of plaster.

How did you approach making your submission for the PCA Print Commission?

My submission consisted of three works. Two were completed during an artists residency in the US at the Women’s Studio Workshop, October–November 2015. The third image, from 2016, juxtaposes two paper milk carton objects with digital images printed on the surface, also created during the residency. This work plays with scale and uses time and place to explore the geo-politics of the US.

Whose work have you been enjoying lately?

I have been looking at Cindy Sherman’s work and her latest incarnation of female archetypes; Baldessari and David Noonan for their use of overlay and appropriated images; and Kiki Smith as a woman artist who uses a broad range of processes and has interesting things to say about being an artist and the context in which she works and lives.

Where do you go for inspiration?

I look at artists’ work online and visit exhibitions around Sydney and interstate. I read across a range of topics and listen to programs on Radio National that explore philosophy, politics, religion and the day-to-day lives of Australians, and people from around the world.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on bottle objects in paper with watercolour/gouache that reference the US flag, its colours, pattern and potent symbolism. They will be exhibited in a group show with Charles Cooper and others, to coincide with the outcome of the US election in November, at SLOT Space in Redfern, Sydney.

To view this year’s commission prints visit the PCA website, pick up a copy of the spring 2016 issue of Imprint (Vol. 51 No. 3), or visit one of the participating venue galleries listed below:

2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: Heather Kunjarra Koowootha

‘I showed my drawings to printmaker Theo Tremblay three years ago and he invited me to make prints with him. I saw prints by the artists at Canopy Arts (in Cairns) and was curious how they were made.’

Why do you make art?

I have to make some artwork because it’s a whole new journey through life experience.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

I became interested in printmaking because it allows me a full range of tones, textures and fine detail. I am beginning to work with colour and I can try different colours and see how they work in with my ideas.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

I showed my drawings to printmaker Theo Tremblay three years ago and he invited me to make prints with him. I saw prints by the artists at Canopy Arts (in Cairns) and was curious how they were made.

How did you approach making your submission for the PCA Print Commission?

I was working on this print about the history of my mother’s people and how they were forcibly removed from Fitzroy island, near Cairns, the missionaries burning the village to force them to the boats to take them to the mainland, and Mr Tremblay suggested I send a proof to the PCA for consideration. I was overjoyed when they accepted it, because, after all it is a very personal statement.

Whose work have you been enjoying lately? Where do you go for inspiration?

Foreign artists, represented in art galleries in Cairns, and artists I come in contact with. I live in a remote area of Queensland and look forward to big exhibitions like Inkfest at the Tanks Art Centre in Cairns, like what we just had recently. I am inspired by North Queensland Indigenous works by artists such as Paul Bong, Sid Bruce Shortjoe and Mylene Holroyd. They are doing etchings and it encourages me to keep going. I also get inspired by stories from my elders and childhood memories.

What are you working on now?

I’m working up a series of drypoints on Perspex about a colonial battle which took place in Yarrabah, where my great-grandfather, Tobias, was a war hero. I’m also working on some small etchings making fun of racist politicians.

Congratulations to Heather Kunjarra Koowootha who received the Indigenous Artist Award as part of this year’s commission.

To view this year’s commission prints visit the PCA website, pick up a copy of the spring 2016 issue of Imprint (Vol. 51 No. 3), or visit one of the participating venue galleries listed below:

2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: John Ryrie

‘I have been interested in printmaking since I was about nine or ten years old. Picasso’s etching and lithographs were the first prints I looked at.’

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

Printmaking is my main medium. I am also a painter, sculptor and a musician.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

I have been interested in printmaking since I was about nine or ten years old. Picasso’s etching and lithographs were the first prints I looked at. I was eighteen before I made my first print.

How did you approach making your submission for the PCA Print Commission?

The ‘Waiters’ Race’ was part of the Lygon Street festival back in the 1990s.

Whose work have you been enjoying lately?
This year there have been a lot of good print exhibitions: at the NGV we’ve had DegasWhistlerJan Senbergs and, in the member lounge, Piranesi; in Ballarat, William Kentridge and Pam Hallandal. I have also been looking at Laura Knight, Stanley Anderson, Robert Sargent Austin, Günter Grass and Bruegel.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a folio of prints based on Punch and Judy. It was started in 2006 as a State Library fellowship project. There is an exchange folio called Panoply organised by Rona Green and another for the Scarlet Fund. I have one print in each of these. I am also working on another limited edition book that I hope to have finished by the end of this year.

To view this year’s commission prints visit the PCA website, pick up a copy of the spring 2016 issue of Imprint (Vol. 51 No. 3), or visit one of the participating venue galleries listed below:

2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: Rona Green

From today until 31 October, our fabulous 2016 PCA Print Commission prints will be available to view at a range of venues around the country (please see details listed at the end of this interview). To celebrate and to offer a little peep into the worlds of the artists selected for the commission by our esteemed judges – Roger Butler, Senior Curator of Australian Prints and Drawings and Illustrated Books at the National Gallery of Australia, and master printer John Loane of Viridian Press – today we also kick off an interview series in which we will highlight one of the ten prints and artists involved in this year’s commission each week.

‘From looking at my work it is probably fairly easy to tell what is of most interest to me: animals, appearances, stories.’

Why do you make art?

It is deeply amusing to do so.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

Involved and intense. It’s a very close friend.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

At La Trobe University in Bendigo during the early 1990’s I was taught by a couple of excellent printmaking lecturers (Peter Jacobs and John Robinson) who totally infected me with their enthusiasm for the medium.

How did you approach making your submission for the PCA Print Commission?

A lot of handsome cats have been drawing my attention of late so it seemed like a good opportunity to use one of these as a reference for the purpose of the print commission. The dapper cat character I conjured up lives a wild life. Hopefully he will provide interesting company for those who choose to have him come live with them.

Whose work have you been enjoying lately?

Derek Boshier, Michael Craig-Martin, Lee Lozano, Pauline Boty, Dorothy Iannone, Paul Compton.

Where do you go for inspiration?

From looking at my work it is probably fairly easy to tell what is of most interest to me: animals, appearances, stories. Artists whose work I admire include Alberto Giacometti, Jean Dubuffet, Francis Bacon, John Brack, David Hockney, Peter Blake, Diane Arbus, Philip Guston, Ida Applebroog, Leon Golub, and Ed Paschke. And I am particularly keen on Egyptian art and the Dutch Golden Age. Not to mention TV …

What are you working on now?

Preparing for a solo exhibition of printmaking at Bendigo Art Gallery and a solo exhibition of painting, drawing and printmaking at Australian Galleries, Melbourne. Both shows are scheduled for late 2017.

Q&A with Marco Luccio

I don’t tend to wait for inspiration to strike, I just go in my studio and work. I do, however, take time away to restore my energy and allow space for new work to come into being.‘ 

How did you start out as an artist?

I started out as an artist by doing VCE art then completing a fine arts honours degree at RMIT. I was always encouraged to be an artist by family, friends and teachers from very early on so it gave me a strong sense of what I wanted to do with my life. It hasn’t always been easy to pursue an art career, as most artists will attest, but it’s never been boring! It’s very fulfilling and at times absolutely thrilling.

What is it about printmaking that attracts you?

 I love the marks, the directness, the chances, the accidents, the absolute joy of the first proof, the satisfaction of completing a challenging piece, the unique possibilities of expressiveness, the relationship printmaking has to drawing, the integrity of the medium and the fact that, for me, the subject and the medium are often the same, interconnecting quite often with the themes I pursue and the manner in which I create the plates.

I love the way it feels to gouge deeply into a plate to create powerful and rich velvety blacks, and the contrast of sensitivity that a light touch allows. Each plate offers a new passport to exciting new worlds … and, of course, it’s plain great fun.

Can you tell us about the process of making work for New York Mythic?

It all began with my first trip to New York in 2007. I have made several trips to Manhattan over the years. This is a very large show. It features three bodies of work and around eighty-five artworks.

It pulls together a selection of the 2008 drypoints from the series Citscapes of New York. Also it includes a body of etchings that were started in 2013 but etched this year and will be shown for the first time in Australia as part of New York Mythic. Then there is the forty or so artworks made just this year, a collection of paintings, charcoal drawings, drypoints and mixed media.

To create New York Mythic I started by making sketches in situ in New York from various vantage points such as the Chrysler Building but also, for the first time, used photos as a reference. These were snapped whilst white knuckled and terrified (I’m afraid of heights!) in a helicopter flight over the City of New York.

I wanted this show to capture New York as an imagined and expressive construct, views that may give the viewer a new perspective not only literally but also in the use of mediums and approaches.

Some of the works are very big – up to eleven and a half feet. I think this engages the viewer in a way that smaller works don’t.

With these big images I poured ink and water and built layers over and over until the images started to guide me. I wanted to have a sense of scale that I had not previously explored. I also have drypoints in this show that are four by six feet. They are deeply gouged and were incredibly physically challenging to scratch, ink and print – though I think this physicality, this exertion of energy is fitting. The subject and the medium, as mentioned earlier, become one. New York has this monolithic sense of imposing power and a formidable presence and I was driven by these feelings in making the work.

Do you have particular rituals or routines that contribute to your creative process?

Yes I do. If I have time I like to start with a coffee at my local cafe and write in my journal. Sometimes I like to plan my day and have an idea of what I may tackle but other times that may change completely. I like to be organised but it generally doesn’t last longer than two minutes, and that’s if I’m lucky! When I’m right in the middle of producing a whole body of work it’s often a bit chaotic with a constant reordering to make sure I’m on track.

I like to have all sorts of music playing, classical, pop and lots of jazz or sometimes the football … I’m a sad Collingwood supporter, but it offers me a nice break from the studio. Cricket also gets a run at times.

I like to work regularly in my studio but also have great enjoyment making paintings and prints in situ on worksites or in landscapes. 

I don’t tend to wait for inspiration to strike, I just go in my studio and work. I do, however, take time away to restore my energy and allow space for new work to come into being.

What do you hope people will get from the experience of viewing your work?

I hope people get the feeling that they are not only seeing an image that represents the physical place but also a sense of what it’s like to be there, what your body might feel like when it’s in front of these cities or landscapes. What your senses tell you about a place. I hope the viewer might feel a sense of connection to the marks that represent the subject as much as the subject itself. I hope that they also may get a sense of me in the work too, and of themselves as much as the places I draw.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a new book with the great author John Hughes.

Previously we worked on the book The Garden of Sorrows together, which featured sixty of my etchings, and are now collaborating on a new book. I have been making new drawings for that project. 

Also, The Garden of Sorrows is in early production to become a theatrical performance by the wonderful Snuff Puppets. The first introductory performance was performed at the NGV Australia last year and the further complete performances should be ready for touring next year.

New York Mythic will be on display at fortyfive downstairs from 13 September to 8 October.

Q&A with Robert Avitabile

‘I became interested in prints because I like drawing. The simple expression of marks on a surface is both a beginning and an end and is very satisfying. Drawing can be a beautiful evolving statement of an idea and I like it when printmakers carry this freshness and energy into their work.’ 

How did you become interested in art and prints in particular?

Art wasn’t part of my childhood in semi-rural Ashwood – I was inclined to be outside most of the time, with the only distraction from this being early black and white TV after dinner.

My father’s night class charcoal drawings of Voltaire and The Discus Thrower, etc., from the National Gallery School in the late 1930s to early 1940s weren’t on our walls, but lurking in the back of his wardrobe.

Art came along when I was ready and ironically it was my father’s hidden drawings that sparked my earliest interest and attempts at drawing. The serendipitous opening of the NGV on St Kilda Road in the late 1960s had a profound effect on me since we were now living in St Kilda East. A beautiful world had opened up before my eyes. I could easily walk or catch a tram there and it all made sense.

I began Preliminary Year in Art and Design at Prahran Tech in 1972, and was able to develop ideas and techniques that I had no way of pursuing earlier. I did three more years of a Graphic Design major, with ongoing Life Drawing and electives in Printmaking and Photography also being an important part of my studies. After four years of drawing and the influence of wonderful teachers like Glenys McIntosh and Pam Hallandal, I cannot imagine my life without it and I mourn the downgrading of Drawing in educational institutes today.

I became interested in prints because I like drawing. The simple expression of marks on a surface is both a beginning and an end and is very satisfying. Drawing can be a beautiful evolving statement of an idea and I like it when printmakers carry this freshness and energy into their work.

How do you view the role of curator?

I am an artist and I became a curator by default. I like how art objects interact and (as a classic Libran) I like to arrange them. I also like stories of artists and their careers and I strive to tell these stories in the context of their art. This is how I work and I imagine it’s how others work. However, a gallery owner’s work as a curator is only part of a big job description.

When I was about 16-years-old I curated my first show in my father’s shed – it was a collection of my own Picasso copies. I have now been fortunate to put together some major shows at Metropolis Gallery in Geelong, working with a number of amazing artists including Marco Luccio, Adrian Lockhart and Andrew Chapman; the many prominent Australian printmakers around whom I have curated a number of Collectable Print shows; emerging local artists like Michael Gromm and Steve Salo; comprehensive retrospectives of Kenneth Jack, David Newbury and Bill Harding; and exhibitions in association with a number of prominent Aboriginal art centres. When I look back at each exhibition, it’s the artists’ stories that bring their exhibitions together to connect with viewers. And so it’s the role of a curator to help tell these stories in more ways than simply finding pictures to hang on the wall.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while working as a curator?

A curator understands how people will ‘read’ a group of works by an artist and how they can be presented in the gallery space to best advantage. An exhibition is a partnership between the artist and the gallery, with mutual respect necessary for a great result.

A simple answer might be that there are no challenges, only solutions.

What does a work day look like for you?

My working day starts at home and after the usual activities I check my diary and social media, but sometimes when hot weather is forecast, checking a bonsai before work is more important – apologies.

I usually drive but also regularly walk our dog to the gallery, so we both get a good half hour exercise. I check emails and chat with our gallery assistant if she’s working that day. After replying to emails while serving early customers and attending to anything immediate, I settle into the current exhibition management as well as keeping an eye on future planning. A lot of my day is ‘on the run’ and no two days are the same or predictable.

Upstairs we’re lucky to have our own in-house Geelong Picture Framers, so I also spend time there having a chat and making sure it’s looking good and running smoothly.

I enjoy interacting with customers, as this is an important part of running a gallery. Sometimes I might visit an artist’s studio or some galleries, or spend a quiet day working from home.

Most of my time is spent thinking of the future and staying one step ahead of what’s happening, while keeping my feet firmly on the ground in the present. You could say the drawing beneath all this is constantly changing and that’s how I like it.

Who are your role models?

While I believe that once the exhibition is on the wall the curator, exhibition designer and anyone else should be invisible, there are many anonymous curators in public and private galleries whose ideas I must have absorbed over many years – some reminding me what is good and some not so good. I am probably more influenced by many years working as a freelance designer, producing many interpretive design projects for historical, natural heritage and indigenous art sites. Many of those projects incorporated writing, illustration and design and many talented people for whom I worked were specialists in presenting beautiful visuals and stories in exciting, cohesive and innovative ways.

Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for, and process of, putting together your current group exhibition Mono?

When I look at monotypes the freshness of creation is still there: the energy of drawing is embedded in these works. Any artist brave enough to be involved in making monotypes must surely have been drawing for many years. You’ve only got one chance to pull the perfect mono and it seems artists like the adrenalin rush of this medium: not knowing exactly what’s going to happen when their painting on a copper or plastic plate goes through the press in union with a sheet of paper. You could say the artist and the print are both under a lot of pressure! If you are able to see this show, I hope the results achieved by Tony Ameneiro, Kim Barter, Anita Iacovella, Bruno Leti, Debra Luccio, Janice McBride, James Pasakos, Linda Robertson and Wayne Viney explain this better than words.

This exhibition was the brainchild of Wayne Viney who came to an opening of Linda Robertson’s here last year and said: ‘Why don’t we do a Monotype show?’ and I said ‘OK why not? Who else does Monos?’ So we stood around scratching our heads and put down a few names. Then with the help of Dr Thomas Middlemost (over the phone while agreeing to open the show), we finalised the exciting list of artists for Mono. Thanks Wayne and thank you Tom!

This early stage was one of introductions and pulling all the artists together and getting them working towards a common exhibition date, with exhibition details and gallery requirements emailed and positive replies received. Every stage of an exhibition is important – it’s like an organism that grows and grows and on the opening night of Mono there was a very positive response from artists and guests. The artists were there to celebrate, but the magic is that most people see this as the start of the exhibition – it really started last year!

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m talking to Mono visitors and passing on what I know about monotypes, the artists and their art processes. The exhibition is open and so it’s all about our visitors to the show.

But of course we do have another exhibition coming up in October, so preparations for Robert Ingpen’s Storybook Art has been a concurrent priority for some time at Metropolis Gallery involving cataloguing, photography, writing press releases, framing and presentation of about eighty works, then designing advertising and other printed materials.

In November we are presenting Panoply, a major exhibition of printmaking curated by Rona Green and including forty emerging and established Australian artists.

Between these two shows we have just slotted in an exciting little Collectable Works on Paper show, which came to us recently out of the blue. This is where flexibility as a curator is important to get it all done. Without the help of my partner Ilze, gallery assistants Amber Daly and Alex Game, and our framers upstairs, none of what we do would be possible.

Running a commercial gallery anywhere is probably one of the hardest things to do; however, it’s an occupation that incorporates everything I’ve ever learnt and experienced in art, design, life, business and so on, and importantly how to work within your means without becoming burdened.

 

Mono is on display at Metropolis Gallery, Geelong, until 3 September.