Saturday, December 22, 2012

Print Making in the 1970s and in the New Millennium
Art Essay

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Introduction
When I began this blog, I was committed to penning ca. 50 posts per year. As this is the beginning of the festive season, this will be the last post for 2012. The next post will appear on the 12th of January 2013 (or approximately three weeks from now).

This post is a lengthy dissertation that I wrote for a seminar I gave to an artist printmakers' group/collective. It is primarily concerned with printmaking in the 1970s and the challenges for printmakers in the new millenium, within an Australian context. Nevertheless, the ideas germinated in Australia were not disconnected with what was happening in a large number of Western democracies (the Arab Spring with its call for greater public accountability that comes with a democratic zeal was not even on an imagined horizon!) The challenges facing printmakers are more universal in this age of the internet - a largely free globalization communication and content system.

I hope you have a very enjoyable festive season and a rewarding new year - whatever your belief system and whenever your new year begins. The festive season is always a time for retrospection, introspection, and prognostication - with or without family and friends. No matter what your situation, have a good one!


Introduction
During the early 1970s - in Australia and elsewhere - various artists and collectives concerned with direct social engagement using art, embraced printmaking as a truly democratic medium. But how is printmaking perceived by contemporary artists?

The printmaking process is the oldest means of producing an image. On the cave walls of Tibrran, Gargas and Maltuieso in the Pyrenees, the soft images of hands were created by blowing color (red ochre and black manganese) through a reed or hollow bone around the stencil (the hand) onto the surface underneath (the cave wall)[1]. These images are in their negative form and moreover, represent the first examples of transfer prints.

In Chauvet France, the red ochre handprints and stencils are found in chambers throughout the cave.

In the French Pyrenees, Grotte de Gargas cave shows that hand stencils were used from 27,000 B.C. Note: it is unclear whether an apparent missing finger is due to a type of sign language or part of a shamanic initiation ritual.

Printmaking is often called the democratic medium, because it is accessible, has an outreach capability and a potential to connect artists throughout the world. Since it is an inexpensive form of art, with mass production capabilities, it is a medium that lends itself to direct social engagement[2]. Its usage spans such well-known artists as Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) {woodcuts and engraving}, van Dyck (1599-1641) {etchings}, Adolf Menzel (1815-1905) {lithography} and Andy Warhol (1930-1987) {screenprinting}[3]. From messages on T-shirts to the posters adorning any surface, prints are the basis of decoration, communication and artistic expression[4].

Albrecht Dürer - The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (1498).
Technique: Woodcut.

Anthonis van Dyck - Etching of Joost de Momper the Younger (circa 1632 to 1641).
Technique: Etching.

Adolf Menzel - View of a Valley with a Bridge, Franconia.
Technique: Lithograph.

Andy Warhol – Gold Marilyn Monroe (1962).
Technique: Screenprint.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski's T-shirt displaying a protest message (mid-1980s).
Technique: Screenprint.

The printmaking process is the most ubiquitous medium of all the artistic media. The diversity of materials and techniques makes it a flexible and resourceful medium, offering artists an unlimited variation of expression and experiment. For example, the silkscreen process was initially an industrial process[5]. By the 1930s it became popular with American artists, because it was inexpensive[6]. This was of particular significance during the Depression, since it enabled artists to reach out to a wider audience who wanted to buy original, but inexpensive art. In the 1950s it was the medium that was recognized as a valid means of art communication. Pop Art utilized the silkscreen process, since it suited the reproduction of its subject matter. The bold shapes, flat colors as well as the impersonal quality of the technique were irresistible to such artists as Andy Warhol[7] and Roy Lichenstein[7-8]. The ability of the screen process to reproduce the powerful instant images has made it one of the most popular printing techniques in the second half of the twentieth century[9].

Roy Lichtenstein – Girl With Hair Ribbon (1965).
Technique: Screenprint.

With the rise of print workshops in the 1960s and especially in the 1970s[10], an even larger cohort of artists was captured by the medium. With the assistance of highly trained technicians (and so with access to printing techniques) novices, painters and sculptors, who came to printing late in life, could now more easily branch into this art form[11] (in addition to the university or art school trained printmakers). The Los Angeles Printmaking Society’s 14th and 15th National Biennial Exhibitions in 1997 and 1999[12] were held at the Laband Art Gallery at Loyola Marymount University. It included artists from workshop settings as diverse as Self-Help Graphics (a Latino artists’ cooperative) and Gemini Gel (the latter publishes well-heeled New York and Los Angeles based artists)[13]. These exhibitions clearly demonstrated that the distinction between the types of artists was based on perceptions embedded within different institutions and hierarchies, rather than with the case histories of their learning experiences. In other words, printmaking is a process, which lends itself equally well to formal and informal learning structures.

Claes Oldenburg - Perfume Atomizer, on a Chair Leg (1997).
Technique: Lithograph/screenprint.
Collective: Gemini Gel.

Printmaking straddles such processes as relief (e.g. includes wooden relief blocks etc.), intaglio (e.g. includes etching etc.), planographic (e.g. includes lithography etc.) and serigraphy (e.g. includes stencils etc.)[14] The desire of artists to create selected atmospheres led them to imaginative uses of existing methods (e.g. Andy Warhol’s screenprints[15]), to combine different processes (e.g. Michael Rothenstein[16]) and to use different surfaces (e.g. ArtCloth[17]).

Michael Rothenstein - Black Paint Box (1990).
Technique: Found objects - wood, paint brushes, metal cans and paint boxed.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski's ArtCloth work – Venezia (detailed view).

One of the major differences between pre- and post- 1960s printmaking is the imagery derived from photo-mechanics[18] – the use of previously printed materials, which employ a halftone screen. Prior to the 1990s, the camera was an analogue device, which was used by artists as an alternative data provider for halftone screen manipulation[19]. With the advance of computer technology (i.e. both hardware and software) in the 1990s, pixel manipulation became commonplace[20]. In artistic circles, computer technology was rendered as a mediating process, rather than an end itself (i.e. computer generated images required human intervention in ordered to be considered "art"). Digital prints therefore embodied this manifesto.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski – A Journey Ends...Another Nightmare Begins - a digital print on paper focussing on the plight of refugees (2007).
Technique: Limited edition fine art prints. Digital print on paper.

The contemporary art of printmaking in Australia and elsewhere, is generated from the action of two forces. The high functionality of prints rendered them as the medium to communicate visual information to the mass audience for commercial purposes[21]. On the other hand, because of its unlimited range of experimentation and expression, printmaking also generates fine-art, which is intended for art cognoscenti on purely decorative and aesthetic purposes[22, 23-24]. In the latter context, the inexpensive nature of the medium enabled the urban middle-classes in Australia and elsewhere, to acquire art within their financial means[25].

Marie-Therese Wisniowski – Limited Edition Prints - Made to Order IV (2004).
Technique: Sceenprint on paper.

In the 1970s a number of artists such as Noel Counihan, Udo Sellbach and Barbara Hanrahan managed to straddle, in their printmaking activities, the two forces that generated prints[26]. Generally they produced prints, which had a social dimension but which were intended as aesthetic objects.

Noel Counihan - She Began No Wars (1979).
Technique: Screenprint on paper.

Udo Sellbach - Parts and Wholes (1970).
Technique: Screenprint on paper.

Barbara Hanrahan – The Children (1978).
Technique: Screenprint on paper.

The orthogonal interest between commercial and fine-art prints rests on definitions of copyright and originality. Mass produced prints necessarily diffuse the notion of originality that the master prints of yesteryear, with their limited editions, struggled to maintain[27, 28-29].

In the 1970s, copyright of fine-art prints did not surface as an issue. Moreover, because of the rise of poster collectives, which were aimed for mass distribution and which espoused an anonymity of effort, little emphasis was placed on originality or copyright. Yet these issues would become central to contemporary printmakers who faced and embraced the onslaught of a digital revolution.

Although there were a number of private presses belonging to artist printmakers (who also did edition work for other artists), printmaking in Australia in the 1970s was largely institutionally based. Hence, the artist-in-training in such institutions as the University of Technology (UTS) Sydney and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) discovered a legacy of well-equipped print workshops established by migrant postwar artists of previous decades[30]. Moreover, the art circles at the time were imbued with an acceptance of prints as an “appropriate” art form, because of the appointments in mainstream galleries in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide of such art curators and gallery directors as Dr. Ursula Hoff, Ron Appleyard and Hal Missingham respectively, all of whom had a personal involvement and commitment to printmaking[31].

William Dobell - Portrait of Hal Missingham (1967-1968).
Technique: Canvass painting.

It was these factors that helped set the tone for a resurgence of printmaking in Australia in the 1970s.

This seminar concerns itself with how printmaking is perceived by contemporary artists. In order to do so, it needs to digress to the early 1970s where, in Australia and elsewhere, various artists and collectives concerned with direct social engagement of art, embraced printmaking as a truly democratic medium. Within this context it is possible to juxtapose the perceptions of contemporary printmakers.


1970s Printmaking: Various Artists and Collectives Concerned with Direct Social Engagement for Art in Australia and Elsewhere
The 1960s brought a social revolution to the Western World. A new generation questioned the values of the previous generation: they readily embraced hallucinogenic drugs in preference to alcohol; they engaged in Eastern religions in preference to the Judaic-Christian religions; they demonstrated against the military-industrial complex and the wars it generated; they demonstrated against discrimination of all sorts from color to gender to sexual preference to culture; they fashioned their own life style - the so called "underground counter-culture"[32].

Students were at the vanguard of most of these movements - movements that challenged norms in society and moreover, the authority of governments. Graphical formats such as posters, magazines and postcards carried new messages and ideas to an international audience[33]. All became part of the search for a new visual language that grew out of the experiences of the struggles and concerns of the 1960s generation[34].

Mobilization poster against the war in Vietnam (July, 1966).

By the 1970s, these vehicles of communication developed into art movements with their own unique momentum. For example, by 1971 Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro founded their Feminist Art Program[35].

Judy Chicago – The Dinner Party (1974-1979).

Miriam Schapiro – Kimono (1976).

In Australia the political delineation between eras of socio-political thought was earmarked by the 1972 election of Gough Whitlam’s Labor Government[36]. With the abolition of tertiary fees and the introduction of Advanced Colleges of Education, there were more artists in formal training than ever before. Many of these artists came from poor socio-economic backgrounds in contrast to the middle-class culture milieu that hallmarked Australian artists of yesteryear.

“Its Time” Poster Campaign for the Election of Gough Whitlam.

There was a growing perception among the younger generation that the fine-art traditions were "dead" and that these traditions had become divorced from the interests and concerns of the Australian people. As Allen[37] describes it, the concerns in the 1970s focused on three sets of relations: “relation to the natural world; relation to the audience; relation to tradition and language.” It was the second relation that was of paramount importance for so many printmakers within the non-aboriginal art circles in Australia in the 1970s. This relation opened up the question of direct social engagement; that is[38], “...question of reception, of public, of constituencies and ultimately of political responsibility”.

Chips, Mackinolty - For the man who said life wasn't meant to be easy - make life impossible.
The Earthworks Poster Collective, established in 1971.

While the perception of death of traditional art could equally apply to other artistic media[39-40], printmaking with its potential to communicate visual information to a mass audience quickly became the major protest art form and attracted the interest of the socio-politically active youth. Moreover, because of its relative ease of entry (in terms of cost and skill[41]) the medium was readily available to the larger ‘untrained’ cohort.

Sydney Anarchists (1970s).

Whilst Allen[42] views the seventies as a “...confusing period of rapidly exhausted fads”, it may be instructive to regale key aspects of a collective such as Earthworks, since its creation, development and demise symbolizes the rise and fall of the direct social engagement of art in Australia.

Earthworks Poster Company began in 1971 and was made a screenprinting poster collective in 1972[43]. It resided in the Tin Sheds at the University of Sydney. It was a collective in the sense that: (i) decision making was non-hierarchical and so would be determined by a democratic vote that was then implemented and carried out responsibly; (ii) everyone got paid the same amount of money; (iii) everyone could use the Earthworks symbol (i.e. a triangle enclosing an eye); (iv) the stencils, design, printing and stacking would be a shared workload; (v) and no one in the collective was to place their signature on the posters[44]. Furthermore, the collective had elements reminiscent of a commune (i.e. unrestricted, open and shared accommodation) and it was also predicated somewhat on an underground counter culture (i.e. use of drugs, involvement of rock and roll bands, and in its early days, a non-legal existence[45] in terms of its occupation of its premises). The collective not only created socio-political posters, but also had active outreach programs, assisting community groups on a number of left wing socio-political issues and agendas[46].

Earthworks Poster Company (1975).

Founding members, such as Colin Little and Mitch Johnson, were not trained as artists and were proud of it[47]. The Earthworks Poster collective offered them an anonymity they desired[48]. The first posters were decorative in style, largely regurgitating the graphic art styles developed for the youth sub-culture in Europe and North America[49]. These posters were imbued with Eastern and spiritual symbols. They were aimed to reflect and resonate with an audience that could recognize its own genre, its own style and its own symbols. An excellent example of this type of poster was that produced by Colin Little and Asko Sutiner advertising Yellow House. It largely drew on Martin Sharp posters of Sunshine, Superman and Vincent[50].

Colin Little and Asko Sutiner - Summer Show At The Yellow House (1972).

Martin Sharp – Sunshine Superman.

Martin Sharp – Vincent.

Earthworks membership changed in 1974 with Chips Mackinolty (see above), Toni Robertson and Mark Arbuz joining the collective (and with Colin Little leaving to travel overseas)[51]. Chips Mackinolty was at the vanguard of the radical student politics working on Honi Solt and other student publications[52]. He started using the screenprinting facility at the Tin Sheds to alert students of intra university politics. After only one screenprinting lesson both he and Toni Robertson ran a weekend workshop for the Student Action Movement and then produced four or five posters for the University of Sydney and University of New South Wales using mostly quick and cheap paper stencils[53].

Toni Robetson, Women’s Liberation (1976).
Earthworks Poster Collective.

Mark Abuz – Royal Visit (1980).

By 1975 Earthworks posters centered mainly on women’s issues. Some of these posters had titles such as: Sisterhood is Blooming and Spring Will Never be the Same, Women’s Refuge and Women of Vietnam - just to name a few[54]. These works kept Earthworks afloat financially, since many of the community groups were unable to pay for even the printing consumables. Many prints were generated using hand-drawn transparent positives and five-star film. Di Holdway, who was assisting in 1974, would draw the wording for the artists onto transparent positives, which were needed for the photostencil process[55]. Earthworks did not initially have access to a copy camera and so could not use the continuous photographic method, which required the skilled use of a dot screen[56].

In 1976 Joan Grounds was made director of Tin Sheds. She shared many of Earthworks collective’s values, especially wishing to involve the surrounding community in Tin Sheds activities. In that year Michael Callaghan joined Earthworks and in the following year, Marie McMahon, Jan MacKay and Ray Young joined.

Young joined, with Jan Fieldsend joining in 1978[57]. Many of the collective clients fell within the broad/radical left movement of student politics (e.g. Anarchist Movement, International Socialists, Socialists Workers Party, Communist Party, Anti-Uranium Mining, Radical Education, Women Behind Bars, Sydney Filmmakers Cooperative etc.)[58] It is therefore not surprising that key members, such as Michael Callaghan, joined Earthworks to switch from conceptual to mass art in order to vent his anger on such issues as Whitlam’s sacking, high unemployment, cuts to welfare spending and the arrogance of political leaders[59].

Marie McMahon - Needlework Demonstrations (1976).
Earthworks Poster Collective.

Jan MacKay and Chips Mackinolty, "The oo oo ah ah oo ah ah Dance" (1973-1979).
Earthworks Poster Collective.

Ray Young – Beginning of a School Holiday Dance (1979).
Earthworks Poster Collective.

Jan Fieldsend – Watch For the Info Van (1979).
Earthworks Poster Collective.

Michael Callaghan – Smash Uranium Police States (1978).
Earthworks Poster Collective.

As Earthworks did not have access to sophisticated printshop facilities they later used the copy camera facilities at the Tribune in order to use the continuous tone photographic method[60]. This changed the appearance of their prints, enabling the flatness of hand-cut stencils to be combined with three-dimensional images. Collage or montage was now often used in order to enliven the imagery (e.g. Toni Robertson’s, the Economic Landscape series[61]).

Toni Robertson – History I (1977).
Earthworks Poster Collective.

Toni Robertson – History II (1977).
Earthworks Poster Collective.

By the end of the decade Earthworks had exhausted its fuel. A number of prominent members had left. Michael Callaghan went to Griffiths University to take up an artist-in-residency and then to Wollongong, setting up Redback Graphix in the process. Toni Robertson eventually moved to Canberra to work at Megalo printshop, which Colin Little had started with Alison Alder (also of Redback Graphix).

Alison Alder – When They Close A Pit (1984)
Redback Graphix.

By the late 1970s, street/student movements had become mainstream or splintered into smaller and smaller fragments of "mobs" with single issues or were disappearing rapidly, as governments were on the threshold of incorporating these issues into policy. Depleted and with no mandate or underlying theory to sustain their momentum, it was time for Earthworks to move on. Leaving the Tin Sheds in 1979 and seeking an address elsewhere, with no success of a grant application assisting them, Earthworks became a seventies event [62].

Michael Callaghan – Ratrace Dance (1978).
Earthworks Poster Collective.

Today, the posters from Earthworks have become an art commodity, increasing in monetary value[63]. Moreover, their posters have been exhibited throughout Australia (e.g. Watters Gallery in Sydney, George Paton in Melbourne and EAF in Adelaide) and are now held in the collections of the State Library of NSW, the National Gallery of Australia, the Queensland Art Gallery and the University of Sydney[64]. In other words, the prints of Earthworks Poster Collective are now considered mainstream art. Similar ebbs and flows during the 1970s can be traced through other non-aboriginal Australian print collectives in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Wollongong.

In Aboriginal Australia, with the threat of a disappearing culture, printmaking was seen in a different light in the 1970s. It centered on the first relation of Allen’s hypothesis[65]; that is, a movement to rediscover the natural world within a myth context.

In 1970 Tiwi Designs was established at Nguiu[66]. It was one of the first Aboriginal artists cooperatives and because of its success other print cooperatives were established[67]. Fabric printing for the Tiwi was stamped with the authenticity for survival. Initially it was used for wearable "white" art. With paper prints, many aboriginal artists saw the limited editions as an easier alternative for earning greater income [68]. Few of the non-urban aboriginals were prepared to spend time away from the communities to gain the necessary technical skill to ensure consistent production of fabric or paper printing[69]. More and more aboriginal artists were licensing designs to commercial studios for reproduction and so in the 1970s removing the printing process from a community context[70].

Tiwi Design - National Aborigines Day Celebration Week (1981).
Copyright Marie McMahon.

With commercialization of their work, a disempowerment was starting to surface at the end of the 1970s. Appropriation of aboriginal artwork in the 1980s was a natural consequence[71].

In the 1970s with printmakers’ overtly concentrating on art delivery, solidarity with the "masses" and commercialization, perhaps Allen’s observation that[72] “...the art of the seventies looks like a disparate group of artistic movements in search of a theory...” reflects the chaotic opinions of a market place and those artist printmakers who wished to directly lead, follow, serve, resonate or exist within it.


Challenges Facing Printmakers In The New Millenium
Four decades on, contemporary Australia is more technology bound than ever before. With the advance of the digital age and the internet, text messages can be sent and received instantly using stand-alone computers, mobile phones, ipads and occasionally using FAXes[73]. The former three also act as audio-visual devices. Community radio and television is available and a special broadcasting service has been funded to air indigenous and multicultural voices and experiences to the broader Australian community[74].

Manipulation of digital imagery has blurred fiction into reality and vice versa. A hamster can bum dance [75], babies - just born - can talk[76], huskies can bask in lounge chairs drinking Martini’s under a hot Jamaican sun[77] and video games[78] consume a sizable fraction of the daily lives of children and adults alike.

Social issues have been fought and though won, are still under challenge. For example, feminism is a strong undercurrent within society, but now there is evidence of a backlash[79]. Senators in the USA believe woman's bodies can reject the sperm of rapists and so abortions - even in these tragic cases - should be legally blocked. Homosexual preferences are annually celebrated in a Sydney Mardi Gras (which is sometimes nationally televised), but calls for the abolition of that celebration continues[80]. In Australia, same sex marriages are not permitted even though Tasmanian laws have been enacted to test this notion. Although prostitution is legally available, and sex shops and porn sites are economically viable, erotic films have recently become more strictly classified[81]. On social issues, contemporary Australia is at a stand still - not sure if it should go forward into a more liberal age (ex-Prime Minister Julia Gillard) or retreat into a more religiously restricted society (now Prime Minister Tony Abbot).

The issues confronting contemporary printmakers are no longer driven by the need for the social engagement of art. Communications are global and all pervasive. Getting a message out using the printmaking media is no longer a priority for its own sake. The internet is now "THE" democratic medium (re: Arab Spring). Moreover, if publications are required, the educated masses can utilize modern computer technology and employ publishing application packages, which are easy to use and produce cheap pamphlets and/or posters[82]. The public uses social forums such as blogs, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter etc. to publish ideas on any subject such as political messages, witness news events in real time, and sadly, bully the vulnerable. Internet lists like Yahoo and LinkedIn etc. now create collectives that bridge continents. The globalization of discourse - at all levels - is now a living reality.

The focus for printmakers in contemporary Australia has once again centered on the master prints (i.e. limited editions - see Made To Order). Fine-art traditions have resurfaced. Art theories in terms of post-modernism and deconstruction have threaded their way through prints. With this focus, the questions of originality is once again at the fore.

The question of currency is whether or not the computer program and hardware is contributing more to the originality of a digital print on paper or cloth than the thoughts of the artist printmaker. This delineation is hard to decipher since only the outcome of a print is judged and not the difference between the initial intention and the outcome. No judge counts or wants a map of keystrokes (if any) from the start to the end of the process in the production of a deconstructed digital print.

Marion Manifold, who won the Shell Fremantle Print Award in 2001 for her paper print series remarked[83]: “Much of the questioning and hesitation as to the merit of digital prints seems to revolve around two points: the degree of skill needed and the impression that digital prints are quick to produce...I spend thousands of hours to create a set of prints: taking the photographs, manipulating ideas, experimenting with techniques, different inks...”

Marion Manifold – Papillons (2000).

Whilst the integrity of her prints is not in question, what should be addressed is whether the process is based on trial and error alone (and so is made only feasible because of the instant feedback of the electronic age), thereby being devoid of any original intent by the artist printmaker. Such prints - devoid of original intent - may be classified as an "effect" searching for a "cause". It should be remembered that IBM’s "Deep Blue"[84] computer program outplays most human chess players.

It is now possible to grab a digital print and use a random number generator to re-map pixels and so create a new work of deconstructed art, without a human hand touching a single key[85]. Using a random number generator would also ensure that a particular arrangement would be unique.

Following a long Australian tradition, along the lines of the “Ern Malley Hoax” (1944)[86], it would not be surprising if, in the not-too-distant future, a computer program, similar to IBM’s Deep Blue, could win the Shell Fremantle Print Award! Hence questions with respect to causality (or the lack of it) in digital-prints still have not been effectively addressed by contemporary artist printmakers.

In a digital age it is just not originality that is at stake, but the actual copyright of the print must also enter into the debate. To give this a focus let us investigate a musical analogy. A song is initially composed by musicians, but if the arrangement/production is the unique aspect of the song, who owns the copyright? In the musical world this is blurred with an effective arranger/producer sometimes by consent[87] becoming a co-writer, whereas in other cases being rendered just as the arranger/producer[88].

A similar situation has arisen with digital prints and with prints available on the internet. For example, artist printmaker Douglas Sheerer argues that[89]: “… I am at this stage not overly worried about possible copyright infringement (anyone with a computer and modem will be able to download my images and print them out)”. However, others have not taken this point of view. Artists like Heather Hesterman, John Wolseley, John Pollard and myself have used the actual production techniques in order to secure copyright of their work. For example, Hesterman, and I have both consciously given greater weight to our copyright, because both of us use fabric instead of paper as our art medium[90]. Furthermore, in my case the MultiSperse Dye Sublimation (MSDS) technique, which I have created, renders each of my sublimation prints on fabric as unique. Wolseley and Pollard go one-step further than most of their paper contemporaries. Wolseley makes his own paper and although he may generate print editions, each print is made unique due to the specific properties of the individual sheets of paper[91], whereas Pollard has invented his own technique called “Aquachrome”[92]. Other printmakers use more time-honored traditions of destroying the templates of their process and so preserving the unique markings on their works in order to ensure closure.

Douglas Sheerer – Game Play.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski - Flames Unfurling.
MSDS technique using a delustered satin fabric as the art medium.

Unlike the 1970s, the contemporary non-aboriginal printmaking groups are cooperatives rather than collectives. To illustrate the difference in philosophy and structure, two modern cooperatives will be highlighted – the Newcastle Printmakers Workshop and the Exchange Partners in Print/Media.

The Newcastle Printmakers Workshop in Australia began in 1983 with a grant from the Office of the Minister for Arts, The Community Arts and Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council and the Newcastle Trades Hall Council[93]. It is still a very active group in the new millennium. It largely arose from the community art and the working life movements of the 1970s. The eclectic coalition of the initial funding agencies clearly emphasizes a broad-based and agenda-less community cooperative. It is a cooperative in the sense that it is largely designed to share equipment, exchange ideas, develop and encourage some common experiences. For example, they regularly exhibit as a group, encourage ad hoc partnerships between painters and printmakers or sculptors and printmakers etc. It is what they do not do or share that clearly delineates it from such collectives such as the Earthworks Poster collective (see above).

The social engagement of the Newcastle Printmakers Workshop is restricted to the printmakers themselves. They have no agendas in raising the consciousness of community groups on any other issues except on the techniques of printmaking. They are not attempting to define or develop a common voice in their art.

Exchange Partners in Print/Media began in 1992 and in 2000 started their website with a National Association for the Visual Arts grant[94]. It does not offer access to physical facilities. It is largely an electronic exchange cooperative, since it has a website in which printmakers can share their artwork and offer ideas on a range of topics and issues[95]. Its main purpose is to bring together a disparate number of printmakers flocking around a central theme in order to exchange printed works and to donate such a collection to various galleries and museums. For example, in 2002 its portfolio theme was on Art and Politics. It invited and then contracted 30 printmakers to produce a collection on that theme. Each printmaker was given the resulting portfolio. The collection was subsequently acquired by a number of associations and galleries such as the Print Council of Australia and the London Print Workshop. The terms of the contract did not attempt to define or develop a common voice for the printed art.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski – Rainforest Memories (2005).
Exchange Partners in Print/Media.

Aboriginal Australia has moved on from the 1970s with respect to its printmaking, yielding prints that have a strong appeal both within Australia and overseas. Printmakers such as Kevin Gillbert, Judy Watson, Gordon Bennett, Karen Casey and Treahna Hamm are all art-school trained[96] and so have gained mastery of printmaking techniques. It is interesting to note that these printmakers have gone beyond their traditional "primitive art" imagery, taking control of it in order to transform their imagery for new and different purposes.

Judy Watson – Red Rock.

Karen Casey – As Above, So Below.

Gordon Bennett – Original (2005).

Treahna Hamm – Exploding Fish (1994).

A political dimension is also found in a number of these prints, with Kevin Gillbert claiming that[97]: “Our art is political. Art has always been an extremely powerful communicator of the human factor in all of its inglorious as well as its glorious manifestations ”. For example, a political dimension is embedded in Gordon Bennett’s etching [98], "Poet" (1994), in which he has utilized aboriginal imagery to protest against white man’s appropriation of aboriginal art.

Gordon Bennett – Poet (1984).

Outreach programs have also been constructed in which aboriginal and non-aboriginal printmakers have taken positions as artists-in-residence within Aboriginal communities, thereby assisting to renew printmaking techniques and processes within these communities[99] (which appeared to be waning in the 1970s). The structures of these cooperatives and the political dimension of their prints are reminiscent of the social engagement of art practiced by the non-aboriginal poster collectives of the 1970s.

Cobra and Aboriginal art explores the influence of the ideas of the European avant-garde movement Cobra on the development of contemporary Aboriginal art.

In contemporary Australia, printmakers and their prints are highly fragmented by styles, subject matter and techniques. For example, artists such as Sally Robinson and Danny Moynihan have revitalized the radicalism of the tradition of the poster collectives, whilst others such as Imants Tillers and Sally Smart have utilized post-modern theories in order to challenge the assumptions concerning art objects and its possible audience[100]. Subject matters range from depicting urban environments in terms of social structure and power relationships (e.g. Bea Maddock, Marie-Therese Wisniowski and John Wolsely) to social settings from a feminist outlook (e.g. Jo Flynn and Julie Haas) to a metaphysical reality (e.g. Allan Mitelman and John Neeson) to Environmental Art (e.g. Marie-Therese Wisniowski and Aboriginal ArtCloth[101].

Sally Robinson – Mount Olg I (1981).

Danny Moynihan (hard ground etching).

John Wolsely – Dunes Climbing A Mountain (1992-1993).

John Neeson – Hourglass II.

Diversity, pluralism and polyvalence have become the catch phrase descriptors of the contemporary Australian printmaking landscape. Not withstanding an initial backlash[102] and questions about originality[103], what has become clear in contemporary printmaking is the increasing reliance on digital prints on paper or cloth, concomitant with post-modern deconstruction theories. For example, in the 2002 Shell Fremantle Print Award, there were 99 selected entries and over 25 were digital paper prints, by far the largest selected body of works. Most of these prints were post-modern deconstructed images[104]. The winner was Poppy van Orde-Grainger, who produced a digital print series with splashes of watercolor images, depicting an urban setting in terms of a social structure. The 2001 Shell Fremantle Print Award winner was Marion Manifold, who entered a post-modern deconstructed series of digital paper prints[105]. Whilst the Shell Fremantle Print Award (now named "Freemantle Arts Center Print Award") selects works from which a winner is chosen, it is clear that in the minds eye of the recent judges the future of printmaking in the new millennium appears to be rooted in post-modern deconstructed digital prints.


Conclusion
Where do we go from here? It is my thesis that with the arrival and ubiquitous use of digital prints, the termination of deconstruction theories in the print media will occur in the not-too-distant future. Just like economic rationalism, if analyzed deconstruction is a logical consequence of an illogical premise; that is, it assumes that non-connectivity or objectivity is the ultimate human goal/condition.

With deconstructed digital prints on paper or cloth, the interplay or feedback between the computer and the artist printmaker is so intricate that the original intention may be continuously and incrementally eroded so that it is no longer reflected in the final outcome. This serendipitous or trial and error process may have spectacular effects but will leave the viewer divorced from the original intention of the artist printmaker (which would be obliterated by the iterative process, rendering the work as an "effect" searching for a "cause").

In the new millennium, Western society is no longer so secure. September the 11th of 2001 ushered in pre-emptive assaults on regimes deemed to be ‘rogue’ by the USA. Smart bombs, smart wars and video deaths are one consequence of scientific objectivity. Terrorism has brought death to Australians. Not In My Name rallies and demonstrations have straddled such issues as reconciliation, internment of refugees, globalization and peace. Societies are now more than ever delineated in terms of source religions such as Islam and Christianity. The "haves" consume more and the "have-nots" consume less (although the latter is growing in ever increasing numbers).

Usable land is shrinking, the planet is warming, people are cocooning and some are concerned about genetically modified foods and animals (including humans). Forces beyond human control have been unleashed (e.g. tsunami’s, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, hurricanes, droughts). Although these forces have always been present it is our immediate consciousness of their frequency that disturbs us. We communicate global disasters more quickly and with greater coverage than ever before. Moreover, we are worried that these climatic events are linked to climate change caused by the population explosion of human beings - the latter being the generator of so much stress on biodiversity, on the plant life, on the animal kingdom and moreover, on the sustainability of life itself on this planet.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski, Global Warming - Surviving Remnants.
MSDS technique using a delustered satin as the art medium.

The Global Financial Crisis has seen economies fail (Portugal, Greece and Ireland to name a few!) The largest economy in the world - the USA - is twittering on the brink of a financial nightmare caused by its massive debt, owed mainly to China. The threat of a fiscal cliff threatens the world economy. The unemployed discarded in these countries are largely thrown into a financial wilderness by their governments and told to fend for themselves for their financial survival. The hopeless and hapless that occupied Wall Street emphasized who paid the price for the lifestyle of the privileged few - "Privatising profits and socialising debts" - is dismissed by Wall Street as a laughable side show of little political importance or consequence since the moneyed people will always rule (e.g. the new Russian oligarchs).

As the socio-political landscape is becoming unstable, contemporary printmakers who are trapped in deconstruction may find themselves out of step with the new millennium consciousness. Deconstruction is illogical, since the human condition is not cemented in the vagaries and luxuries of scientific objectivity. In fact, deconstruction is steeped in stripping away emotionalism from an art object in order to render it in its most essential and impersonable form.

If you look at The Scream by Edvard Munch (1893) what do you see? Shock, horror, anger, compassion and that curious element - what made her scream? In other words, this painting connects the viewer to the human condition, and not to some distilled, remote and objective consciousness.

Edvard Munch – The Scream (1893).

The new millennium art viewer in these uncertain times are aware of their doubts, and some have even mapped out their own socio-political agendas and solutions (as would have been reflected or argued for them by the printmakers of the 1970s). The modern art viewer, in these turbulent times, may not be able to connect (or even want to connect) with the luxury of resting in the scientific objectivity of deconstructed contemporary art - especially if it is divorced from original intent.

It is my contention that in the new millennium, the “Not in my Name” prints on paper or cloth (whether digital or non-digital) will once again connect the viewer to the human condition, and more importantly, the original intention of the artist printmakers will impose itself on the outcomes of their art, thereby rendering the processes used (i.e. screen, computer or wood block etc.) not too dissimilar to the process employed when using a canvas, a brush and some paint.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski - Rainforest Glow.
MSDS technique using synthetic velvet as the art medium.
These Environmental ArtCloth works attempt to hypnotise the viewer into unconscious support for sustainability.


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[52] ibid. p38.

[53] ibid. p38.

[54] ibid. p40.

[55] ibid. p41.

[56] ibid. p41.

[57] ibid. p37.

[58] ibid. p47.

[59] ibid. p47.

[60] ibid. p41.

[61] ibid. p41.

[62] ibid. p51.

[63] ibid. p49.

[64] ibid. p49.

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[101] ibid. p16-17.

[102] Faludi, S. “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women”, Anchor Books, Sydney, 1991.

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2 comments:

Sondra Borrie said...

Thank you for this wonderful post. Have a special year in 2013. Best wishes, Sondra

Pat 1348 said...

Does anyone know of a sculptor/printmaker from the 1970's named J B Thompson? Was born in Vernon, Tx in 1932. Was praised by Don Brewer, the Director of USC's Fine Arts Gallery about 1972.