By Sarah Bovis
Printmaking as an art-form for the last century at least, has been one which has suffered and triumphed as the decades roll over. The composition of prints and print related works have been developed and pushed in a wide variety of directions which now shapes the presence of printmaking in contemporary art. Whether it be through recently introduced media such as collagraph and digital print, or more traditional mark makings of woodcut and engraving, Manly Art Gallery and Museum’s most recent exhibition Hot off the Press: New Directions demonstrates exactly how these media are affecting the art world today.
The exhibition spreads itself through three spaces, showcasing art works by the Sydney Printmakers. The extensive variety of works on show directly reflects the broad range of mark making forms available under the large umbrella of printmaking. Upon entering the foyer, visitors can see the entrance into each gallery room which bring forth a welcoming aura wherein an exploration of each space is encouraged.
The ‘Access Gallery’ space is the only room with a window to the outside world. Here is a scene of sand, water, sky and a green and yellow ferry. This allows for an absorption of the world outside the gallery walls while simultaneously basking in the brilliance of the art works displayed within the exhibition space. Wendy Stokes’ Layered Reference XV, a unique state screen-print is placed in a position of praise in between Seraphina Martin’s mixed print media work Finding Inner Depth and Helen Mueller’s etching Cursive 2. Stokes’ print deals with observation and depiction of the ocean and shorelines which parallels conceptually with the practice of screen-printing wherein the artist must layer tones and shapes and movements, wash and re-wash the screen, and actively engage in a pulling forward and pushing back motion when printing. These prints, along with Salvatore Gerardi’s etching Nocturne Suite from the Series Tidal Crossing are thematically similar. Although it was perhaps too obvious a curatorial move to gather most of the art works dealing with water and the ocean into the gallery space with a view of the ocean, it enabled me to be directly affected by the calm atmosphere created by this collection, and to therefore fully immerse myself into each work.
Curator Therese Kenyon’s collation of landscape-based works in the centre room was made apparent while observing each print on its own. Tiiu Reissar’s drypoint Creeks Left Hollow articulates decay associated with drought. The work is printed in black ink on Velin Arches paper where twists and turns of dry tree branches curl into the bare, sinking ground. There is an absence of life in the print that works well against Ann Bewah Wu’s drypoint entitled Rush. Although Reissar’s landscape is simply that, a landscape, Wu’s black and white print is a landscape which discusses the human condition. More specifically, Wu refers to the Christian belief of God’s consistent love for his creation; subject matter that promotes consideration of whether or not this belief is relevant for humanity. Both artists use the same print technology to create their mark making, yet they tackle the landscape in different ways. Kenyon’s choice to hang these works which deal with differing aspects of the landscape render a more convincing and less obvious thematic experience than the works in the ‘Access Gallery.’
The more pressing matter concerning this exhibition exists in the realm of contemporary printmaking and the ways in which it is manifested into the creation of art works. This exhibition demonstrates the result of works derived from a collective of some of the best printmakers in Sydney.
I was most inspired by Charles Arnot’s screen-print Self Portrait Stirred and Shaken: here is a practice that lies in cutting up, layering, and rubbing away ink drawings on acetate which he transforms into stencils to print with. His use of highly expressive drawings accessed from his subconscious is a personal response to his everyday life. It is this type of experiment that improves the way contemporary printmaking has evolved.
Upon leaving the confines of the gallery walls, it became evident to me how important the medium of printmaking is in the art world in the twenty first century. Not only are old technologies employed by printmakers in this exhibition, but new technologies also, as well as a large experimental trend where textures, lines, and patterns are juxtaposed to create new works with purpose and rigor. Hot off the Press: New Directions serves to offer a broad range of print techniques, and although some are applied poorly, many are articulated brilliantly, engaging the viewer and demanding a response.
Hot off the Press: New Directions, Manly Art Gallery and Museum, 15 July – 28 August 2011.
Tags: Access Gallery, Ann Bewah Wu, Charles Arnot’, Helen Mueller, Hot off the Press: New Directions, Manly Art Gallery and Museum, Printmaking, Sarah Bovis, Seraphina Martin, Sydney Printmakers, Therese Kenyon, Tiiu Reissar, Wendy Stokes