Australian Print Workshop:
a collaboration in print
The acquisition of the second archive of workshops proofs Australian Print Workshop Archive 2, a collection of over 3500 prints by artists Australia-wide, is the culmination of a close association between the National Gallery of Australia and the Australian Print Workshop over the last two decades.
The Gallery’s collection of contemporary Australian prints is extraordinarily rich and by far the largest in the country and it has long been a priority to expand this collection by acquiring the Australian Print Workshop Archive 2. Negotiations spanned almost a decade before an agreement was reached in 2002 between APW Director Anne Virgo and her board and NGA Director Brian Kennedy with the support of Gordon Darling; the archive was purchased for the Gallery with the assistance of funds from the Gordon Darling Australasian Print Fund.
Over 1000 artists have used the facilities of the Australian Print Workshop since it was first established in the old Victorian Meat Market in North Melbourne in 1981, as the Victorian Print Workshop. Its skilled staff, technical excellence and innovative approach to printmaking has made the APW the ideal creative environment for artists such as Rick Amor, Fiona Hall, William Robinson, Akio Makigawa, Davida Allen, and Sally Smart to name a few.
The Workshop has been situated in inner city Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, since 1991. Under the directors John Loane, Neil Leveson and currently Anne Virgo, it has flourished. The APW is inclusive of artists embracing all styles of work, from realistic portraits to pixilated abstractions. There is no ‘house style’ and the prints produced by etching, lithography, wood and linocuts and other techniques reflect the diverse approaches of the artists. Some are already skilled in printmaking and independently access the APW’s facilities, while others are guided by the expertise of the Workshop’s senior printers.
Major projects in which the Workshop has been involved range from the Australian Bicentennial print project of 1988; commissions to provide major hotels such as Melbourne’s Crown Casino and Westin Hotel with original prints for its guest rooms and public spaces; to the 50-metre-long Wurreka (meaning ‘to speak’) etched zinc wall mural by Judy Watson for the entrance to the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Centre at the Melbourne Museum. The Workshop has also been highly active in facilitating the production of prints by Indigenous Australian artists, particularly in remote communities and the promotion of Australian prints overseas.
The long-standing relationship between the Gallery and the APW can be traced through a diversity of projects and events. In 1981, only a few weeks after the first Victorian Print Workshop Director’s position was advertised, Roger Butler, now Senior Curator of Australian Prints, began to work for the Gallery as Assistant Curator of Australian Prints. Later that year, John Loane became the Workshop’s founding director. By the early 1990s a recognition of the need to convey the truly national role of both the Workshop and the Gallery was reflected in their respective name changes: the Victorian Print Workshop became the Australian Print Workshop in 1990 and the Australian National Gallery changed its name to the National Gallery of Australia in 1992.
The first major collaborative project between the Gallery and the APW was the commission to print a number of etchings by Arthur Boyd. In 1975, Boyd gave a unique gift of 3882 works to the Gallery, including paintings, prints, drawings and 147 original etched plates. These plates had been drawn and etched in London in the early 1960s and had never been fully editioned. They demonstrated the wide range of his work at the time. He had been working in a flurry of activity, usually just doing a few proofs before going on to the next image and often just turning the plate over to etch the other side.
Boyd wanted the Gallery to produce prints to help build the Australian Prints Collection through the sale of editions. In 1985 and again in 1987 the Gallery commissioned the then Victorian Print Workshop to print the editions, which included his Self portrait of 1962–63 and prints from the Electra series. The collaborative print project proved to be a remarkably popular project and a great success for the Gallery.
In 1987–88 the Gallery and the Victorian Print Workshop undertook an exceptionally ambitious project with the Australian Bicentennial print folio. Financed by the Australian Bicentennial Authority and coordinated by Roger Butler for the National Gallery of Australia, it involved commissioning 25 artists to create an original print reflecting on the bicentennial year. The folio set out to represent Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian artists and to include works that reflect the multicultural nature of Australian society and gender equity. The folio drew artists from all Australian states and territories and includes the works of Banduk Marika, Sally Morgan, Nick Nedelkopolous, Hossein Valamanesh, Vicki Varvaressos, Barbara Hanrahan and Robert Rooney.
The Victorian Print Workshop was chosen as the partner in the production of these works, as the only print workshop capable of offering these diverse artists the necessary expertise and equipment. Each artist was flown to Melbourne where they had the workshop and a technician at their disposal for two weeks. All expenses were met and each artist was paid a flat rate of $4000. After producing a screen, plate or stone to come up with a Right to Print proof to their satisfaction, the artists returned home and an edition of 80 was printed.
Some of the artists were already skilled printmakers, for others like Mike Parr it was their first experience with printmaking and one that would act as a stimulus to further experimentation with the print medium. Part of the strategy of the folio was not only to engage a wide variety of artists with printmaking and provide an impetus for print production by using the Victorian Print Workshop, but also to promote Australian printmaking both in Australia and overseas. Folios were given to Australian regional galleries that had large collections of Australian prints, for example, Newcastle, Ballarat and Geelong regional galleries. There were 25 international recipients, including the British Museum and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as gifts to national collections in Asia, India, China, South-East Asia and Latin America — facilitated by financial support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Workshop director John Loane engaged specialist printers to work with individual artists: Pam Debenham printed Robert Campbell Junior’s screenprint Spearing roo; Mike Parr worked closely with John Loane to produce his etching Map I; and Ray Arnold printed Maria Kozic’s Self-portrait and Ann Newmarch’s 200 years: Willy Willy, as well as his own A fiction? Susan Norrie, who was living in France at the time, worked with Australian printmaker Daniel Moynihan at Lacouriere et Frelaut print workshop in Paris to proof the plate for her Untitled etching. John Loane and Janice Hunter subsequently printed the edition at the Victorian Print Workshop.
The production of the Australian Bicentennial print folio, embracing a diversity of artists as it did, became a stimulus for other similar significant collaborative projects for the Workshop including the Noel Counihan tribute print folio which followed in 1988, the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria print folio in 1991 and the Australian Opera 40th anniversary print portfolio in 1997. In 1998 the Gallery was closely involved in the evolution of the Sydney 2000 Olympic fine art and again collaborated with the Workshop. Roger Butler was Chairperson of the committee for the selection of artists; Brian Kennedy launched the folio in 1998; Deborah Hart, now the Gallery’s Senior Curator of Australian Painting and Sculpture, wrote the catalogue; and the Australian Print Workshop produced Gordon Bennett’s lithograph Home decor (Counter composition) black swan and Fiona Hall’s photo-lithograph Bloodline for the folio.
Over the years the Department of Australian Prints, through the Gordon Darling Australasian Print Fund, has purchased many works from the APW. Of particular note are many Indigenous works, including the extraordinarily delicate lithographs produced by the late Kitty Kantilla/Kutuwalumi Purawarrumpatu and the remarkable etchings and linocuts by Tommy May Ngarraija and Butcher Cherel Janangoo.
The association between the Gallery and the APW has also taken place on a more practical, educational level. When Giorgio Upiglio, master printer with Milan based Grafica Uno, and
Ken Tyler, American master printer and founder of Tyler Graphics, visited the Gallery to attend the opening of major exhibitions of their productions, both printers embraced the idea of conducting master classes at the APW. In 1989 Giorgio Upiglio presented a master class in colour etching to 12 invited artists and in 2002 a master class in lithography by Ken Tyler was attended by 20 artists and educators.
The friendship between the APW and the Gallery has flourished under the leadership of the current director Anne Virgo. Anne is well known to curators at the Gallery through her strong associations with contemporary art as former Director of the Canberra Contemporary Art Space. On several occasions Roger Butler has been invited to open exhibitions at the APW gallery, most recently in December 2002 to open APW Celebrating 21 years of printmaking.
The exhibition Place made: Australian Print Workshop at the National Gallery of Australia celebrates this long association and the acquisition of the Australian Print Workshop Archive 2. The exhibition is a snapshot of the involvement of Australian artists in the production of prints at the Workshop between 1981 and 2002. The 100 prints selected from the Archive represent the stylistic, technical and political concerns of 57 artists who have worked with the APW during this period.
The fifth Australian Print Symposium will be held in April 2004 at the Gallery to coincide with Place made: Australian Print Workshop. It will focus on the importance of place in the production of prints. Speakers from various print workshops in Australia, India, Indonesia, Singapore and Papua New Guinea will be invited to attend. The symposium will also address other places where prints are made: for example in regional Australia and remote communities; working alone at home on the kitchen table or garage; stencil art produced on public walls.
This major gathering of printmakers/practitioners, curators and art historians is held every three years at the Gallery and since the first symposium in 1989 a number of APW staff have presented papers. In 1989 former Director John Loane spoke about custom printing; in 1997 Martin King, currently APW’s Senior Printer, related his experience working with Indigenous artists in remote communities; and in 2001, current Director Anne Virgo’s presentation Here, there and almost everywhere focused on 20 years of print production at the APW.
The Australian Print Workshop’s interest in South-East Asia through a range of projects and travelling exhibitions, is most recently demonstrated by the residency of internationally acclaimed Indonesian artist Heri Dono at the APW in July 2003 — the artist’s first printmaking experience.
This recognition of the importance of Australia’s place in the region parallels the development of the Gallery’s Australian Print Collection, which through the Gordon Darling Australasian Print Fund collects in the same geographical area.
In forming such a collection the Gallery is seeking to fulfil the vision of Australian art historian Bernard Smith’s recommendation to the National Art Gallery Committee
of Inquiry in 1965:
Such a collection should not be confined to Australian art … A great and unique art collection could be formed if centred upon the arts of South-East Asia and the Pacific basin. Such a collection would include, for example, the arts in India, Indonesia, the islands of the Pacific and both North and South America. European and Australian art would have their place but not dominate the field. Such a policy would have regard for the new gallery’s likely purchasing strength; it would be grounded in Australia’s immediate international interests; it would help us to form a closer acquaintance with and a better respect for the cultural activities of our neighbours; and finally, it would not be a belated attempt to do something others have already done better than we can possibly hope to do.
Place made: Australian Print Workshop opens at the National Gallery of Australia on 31 January 2004 and will then travel nationally. The fifth Australian Print Symposium will take place at the Gallery 2–4 April 2004. The collection can be viewed in its entirety at www.australianprints.gov.au.
Roger Butler Senior Curator Australian Prints and Drawings
Anne McDonald Curator Australian Prints and Drawings