I thought it was time I announced to readers that I have been developing a new website. This blog will stay as a platform for news and random happenings, but I wanted to also have an internet presence that was a more formal portfolio of work. So with some financial assistance from the Australia Council for the Arts, and the help of the good people at specialist webhosts Artspere, I made it happen. Well almost. Plenty of uploading of images and information still to go, but petermclean.com.au is live and ready for viewing!
Weekend Workshops Coming up
One of my favoured printmaking techniques is of course wood engraving, the means of creating detailed graphic images which was once so commonplace it was used to illustrate everything from bibles to newspapers. Technology has long since passed on from the days when commercial printing was done from hand carved blocks wood. But there are a few of us around who love to preserve these archaic methods, while putting them into a contemporary context, and for me it is a pleasure to share what sometimes seems like forgotten knowledge. So it is time again to offer some weekend workshops in wood engraving. I am visiting Sydney at the moment, and will be sharing this technique with students at the National Art School, and while I am here I am also offering a weekend workshop in Newcastle hosted by the Newcastle Printmakers Workshop on May 17/18. Click on the link for more info. After I return to Queensland, I’ll be offering the same course in Brisbane, at the newly opened studios of Impress. That will be 28/29 June. I look forward to seeing you there.
Woodford Folk Festival is a major event on the summer calendar here in SE Queensland and I am currently on the festival site as a volunteer with the set up crew. As I said, this isn’t a small festival, and there are 200-300 people working on site, most of them volunteers, over a period of several weeks. The site is extensive and pleasingly complex, with hills and valleys, creeks and forests, along with the proliferating array of tents, marques and other temporary structures being built. There is lots happening, lots of bustle, lots of busy people doing all sorts of things. There is fun and socialising too, and with many of the volunteers having skills as musicians, artists, dancers, firetwirlers and jugglers and who knows what else, there is quite a creative atmosphere with plenty of interesting spontaneous things going on. So, one day when I managed to have a bit of quite time by myself in amongst all of this, I decided to create something in this lovely little creek-line that I pass on my way to my shifts in the workers kitchen. A small bridge crosses the little creek, giving a nice view of the small pool nestled at the base of a large tree, and that seemed like the right place to highlight with some bright red leaves from a Blue Quandong tree at the back of the kitchen. It began as a line, which wound it’s serpentine way amongst the stones and reached the gravel bank and became a spiral. This was the order of creation, but looking at the finished work, this was clearly working backwards, the leaves telling me to seek back to the source. So this piece is about beginings, about creation, about order and design loosing it’s constraints as it interacts with the environment and follows a natural pathway of flow as it’s energy is distributed and dissapated.
I’m feeling a bit exhausted so I wont write much just now, but In The Wilderness opened tonight at Glen Innes Art Gallery. I lived in Glen Innes for six years and so it was very nice to come back and exhibit here again. The last time I had a solo show here was 2008, so it’s been quite a while, and I’ve never shown in the purpose built Glen Innes Art Gallery, which I was on the founding committee of back in the day when we were still trying to make it happen. I’ll try and write some more soon, but for now just a couple more install shots from the centerpiece of the exhibition which was a series of nine monotypes (76x56cm).
You will recall, that I made myself a new chalkboard way back last summer. The idea of the chalkboard is that it is a way to ‘free up’ drawing practice. By using such an inherently ephemeral medium, not intended to be kept as a finished ‘work’ takes away all sense of anxiety over how a proposed drawing might turn out. Trouble is, this process does its job all too well and so I end up making a drawing I like and wish I could keep. So, this drawing was made last summer, and has just now been washed off, but not before a new version has been produced as a woodcut. A woodcut is of course a very different medium to a chalk drawing, and so off course they are quite different images. To see the woodcut, you had better take yourself along to the next show at The Left Hand Gallery in Braidwood, NSW. Open on weekends, 24/25 August, 31 Aug/1st Sept, 7/8 Sept. As Julian Davies, the resident curator at The Left Hand says of relief prints, “Once something is sliced away it cannot be put back. This is way of making pictures that asks for daring and imagination.” So the antithesis of a chalkboard really.
I’ve been looking at a lot of Albrecht Dürer images lately. I acquired a secondhand book about Dürer recently, and I already had a book of the etchings and engravings. One day I must get the companion book of the woodcuts. I’ve also been able to see some of the woodcuts ‘in the flesh’ a couple of days ago, since the Queensland Art Gallery has the entire Apocalypse series, plus a few other woodcuts, on display at the moment. (on show until 21st July 2013). Dürer is of course, one of the greats of Western art history. Born in 1471 in Nurenburg, he was part of the great revolution in image making and distribution brought about by the development of the Gutenburg Press around 1450. One of my favourite Dürer images is the one above, sometimes titled ‘The Desperate Man’, though Dürer himself gave it no title. It is not a woodcut, but an etching done in iron plate, and possibly his first use of this medium which was in it’s infancy at the time. So, with all this as background, and having just bought some ply wood with the intention of making some new woodcuts, and armed with the love of reversals and contradictions perhaps common to printmakers, I set about making a new work based on The Desperate Man.
So, in making a woodcut homage to one of Europe’s first great woodcut artists, I’ve chosen to base it on one of his etchings – a medium he seems to have made infrequent use of (there are many intaglio prints by Dürer – mostly engravings). When I teach relief printing, I seem to end up talking a lot about ‘black line’ and ‘white line’, and indeed I thought about this again in making this print (and I wrote about black line way back here). You see, when Dürer made woodcuts, along with those that followed for many many years, his designs were ‘black line’. An image would be drawn on the wood in black ink, and then the negative spaces lowered by carving, so that the lines would be left in raised relief (and hence the term relief printing) where they would receive black ink to then be transferred to paper. Lately I’ve been preferring to make images with a ‘white line’ approach, thinking of the marks made by the carving tools as positive white lines on a black ground, coalescing to create and image delineated in white lines. This doesn’t alter the nature of the way the process works – it is still the raised areas that receive and transfer the black ink, it’s just a different way of thinking about the creation of the image. A lot of my recent images have been made in this way, from drawing with white chalk or pastel on black paper, to the monotypes of white clouds and skulls hovering in black spaces. Indeed with this new print of The Desperate Man, I have continued my recent liking for bleed printing, that is printing right to the edges of the paper rather than leaving a white border. I think this enhances the idea of the white line, making up the white object floating in a black field. Viewers are sometimes fooled into thinking these prints are printed in light ink on dark paper, so used are we to the idea that the ‘negative space’ of an image equates to being ‘left blank’. I love to watch that moment of confusion as people viewing these works figure out the mechanics. To come back to that idea of printmaking being an inherently contradictory beast, this is indeed the case with a relief print, in the sense that the areas that print are those where no carving has taken place, but this is often masked in the way the conceptualy active parts of a design often seem to be made up of the blacks. In a black and white image of course, as with any binary system, one side cannot work without the other.
Confusing? Perhaps now you feel like The Desperate Man.
(Yes, I know, I’ve left out his head. All the better to display the wonderful pose of the hands, which somehow makes me think of Child with a Toy Hand Granade by that rather more modern master image maker of humanity, Diane Arbus. The Queensland Art Gallery, incidentally, also has some Arbus photographic prints on display at the moment).
You might think that something called Raw Ink Magazine might be a publication about printmaking, or perhaps tattoos. Actually it is about neither of these, and yet both! Raw Ink Magazine is an online publication about everything creative going on in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, especially art, design and music. They are no flash in the pan, with this months issue (May 2013) being number 20! Arts journalist Ruth Dunn interviewed me recently. We talked about printmaking, walking, ecology, process and inspiration. You can see the results in issue 20 of Raw Ink Magazine.