Sydney Printmakers turn 60 and the crisis facing Australian printmakers
In our art schools today, printmaking is under attack. Throughout much of Australia, printmaking facilities in art schools have been cut, staff retrenched and, in some instances, students have been discouraged from enrolling in printmaking majors.
In contrast, some of the best contemporary Australian art has found expression through printmaking and, it is predominantly made by women artist printmakers. It is a sad irony in Australian art history that art forms dominated by women artists are the ones most under attack from conservative political establishments.
Sixty years ago, Sydney Printmakers held their inaugural exhibition. They arose, in part, because of the paucity of institutional printmaking facilities in Sydney. Today, they are even more critically relevant to the artistic life of this city than they were six decades ago. The calibre of work in this exhibition can be summed up in one word – it’s brilliant.
There are 47 artists in this exhibition, 34 of whom are women, and not a single dud amongst them (that includes the men). The quality control, if that is the correct term for steering the group, by Susan Baron, Helen Mueller and Angela Hayson, has been remarkable (not to mention the exceptional integrity of all of the artists involved) and Katharine Roberts’ curatorial contribution has been outstanding.
One of the inspirational aspects of this show, and of Sydney Printmakers in general, is that it spans the generations from the wonderful Barbara Davidson, who studied at the National Art School (then the East Sydney Tech) in the 1940s through to Angus Fisher, a printmaker of exceptional ability, who studied at the same institution sixty years later.
What is this exhibition, ‘To the edges’ about? Each viewer will take something different from it and every single opinion is valid and needs to be respected. For me, the show technically is about the art of printmaking – about pushing the art form to the edges. I do find it incredibly exciting – the delicate yet vibrant Balinese hand-coloured solar plate prints of Susan Baron, the pulsating relief colographs of Anthea Boesenberg, Danielle Creenaune’s amazing and complex lithographs, Angela Hayson’s graceful yet expressive alchemy of techniques on a monumental scale and the miraculous multi-block woodcuts by Roslyn Kean. The exhibition is studded with exceptional technical feats that to the eye of the viewer appear almost effortlessly breathed onto sheets of paper.
Thematically, at least for me, this exhibition is about a planet pressed ‘to the edges’ – to the edges of destruction through climate change and the threats facing our different environments. Glance at the layered organic and sensuous mangrove filters of Helen Mueller, the delicate cloud dreamscapes of Susan Rushforth, the watery miracles of Gary Shinfield, the burning visions of Laura Stark, the metaphors for our changing sources of energy in the striking work of Anna Russell, or the political vegetation of Michael Kempson. Many of the artists manage to combine lyricism, a note of eschatological gloom, plus a spot of irony or simple humour.
As you walked around this exhibition you will be constantly surprised, challenged and delighted. This is an exhibition of a very high order by a very talented cross-section of artists based in Sydney and the surrounding regions. An enormous achievement of Sydney Printmakers has been their ability to constantly reinvent themselves and to remain relevant with what is happening in art at the present moment. It is a huge achievement to present an exhibition of such calibre on the sixtieth anniversary in the life of an organisation.
Printmaking is a democratic art form – not necessarily the “friendly little craft” in Margaret Preston’s memorable turn of phrase – but an art form that frequently gives birth to multiple originals that are financially accessible to more people who love art than the more expensive easel paintings or sculptures.
This exhibition keeps this tradition of ‘art for the people’ alive and the Manly Art Gallery and Museum and the wonderful Sydney Printmakers need to be congratulated for this memorable show.
To The Edges: 60 Years of Sydney Printmakers,
Manly Art Gallery & Museum, West Esplanade Reserve
Manly NSW 2095
Friday, 25 June 2021 - 10:00am to Sunday, 1 August 2021 - 5:00pm
GRISHIN'S ART BLOG
Sasha Grishin AM, FAHA is the author of more than 25 books on art, including Australian Art: A History, and has served as the art critic for The Canberra Times for forty years. He is an Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University, Canberra; Guest Curator at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; and Honorary Principal Fellow, Faculty of Arts, at the University of Melbourne.
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