chalkboard 002

August 16, 2013

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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.

 

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woodcuts, Dürer and the desperate man

June 13, 2013

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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.

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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.

The Desperate Man (after Dürer), Woodcut, Peter McLean, 2013

The Desperate Man (after Dürer), Woodcut, Peter McLean, 2013. Printed in black ink on grey stonehenge. 28x65cm

(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).

raw ink magazine

May 16, 2013

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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.

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libris awards

May 11, 2013

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Opening tonight at Artspace Mackay in North Queensland is the annual Libris Awards for artist books.  I hear this is the biggest show yet with work from over 90 artists selected. The work I have in the show is titled “Bone Sequence II”, and is of course the second book of this type that I have made from a sequence of prints taken directly from an animal bone.  A third is slowly underway.

 

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How do you print from bone you ask?  In essence, I treat the bone as if it was a wood engraving block.  Careful sanding with fine grade carborundum paper creates a polished flat surface, acting as a section through the bone and revealing detailed intricate structures within.  I don’t need to do any further shaping or carving, I’m just there to reveal what is already present.  This flat surface then has printers ink applied with a roller, and an impression transferred to paper.  Again, my work with wood engraving told me how to go about this in a way that would capture the greatest possible detail with the greatest possible clarity.  The process is repeated many times, creating a sequence of ‘samples’, which coincidentally turns the whole bone into dust.  Collated into a book, these images, one per page, act as a model or analogue for the real object now destroyed in the process.  In the above image you see the strong black image printed on translucent paper, showing the receding shadowy hints of the subsequent pages beneath.  Perhaps this process is also an analogue for human culture and society.  The more ‘advanced’ we become, the more our ability to obtain and collate knowledge of the world increases, the quicker we destroy it.

 

Artspace Mackay Libris Awards will be showing until June 30 2013.

wood engraving classes

April 8, 2013

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I began teaching a new class today at the National Art School in Sydney.  I have been working with first year students over the last six weeks, giving an introduction to woodcut and etching. Today I began working with second year printmaking students on a relief printing course and began by introducing them to wood engraving, which is one of my favourite techniques to work with and also one I particularly enjoy teaching.  I think that is partly about it being a technique that is not practiced my many people, and offered as a class quite infrequently, so I enjoy the idea of being one of the people who is keep that knowledge and practice active.  It certainly didn’t look like the NAS tools had been used recently.  I think the students were a little surprised to see how small the blocks were that they were being provided with, but I soon managed to impress on them the fineness of mark-making that is possible and they have all undertaken admirably ambitious designs that they soon realised will take time enough to carve, despite (or perhaps because of) being so small.  I look forward to seeing some of the images start to be printed some time tomorrow.

I am also offering a number of other opportunities to learn this medium in the coming months, with weekend workshops running in Newcastle and Brisbane.

The Newcastle Printmakers Workshop will be hosting me on Saturday the 18th and Sunday 19th May with more details available at http://www.newcastleprintmakersworkshop.org/Workshops.html  For enrolments contact Samantha on 0422 362 924 or samantha.powell@det.nsw.edu.au

On the weekend after (25/26 May) I will have made my way north, and will be running the workshop at the Brisbane Institute of Art in Windsor, with more information and enrolments available on their website.  The BIA phone number is (07) 3857 5377.

I will also be teaching wood engraving and woodcut as part of the NAS public programs winter school in July, with more information available on the NAS website soon.

 

the eye

March 31, 2013

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I came across this delightful feature in a small creek in Royal National Park recently, just upstream from my camp.  Royal is on the outskirts of Sydney and is Australias oldest, and the worlds second oldest National Park.  With that deliciously dark hole, it will definitely be making an appearance in some prints sometime soon.  I’ve been thinking of it as The Eye.

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Monotyping at Megalo

March 17, 2013

 

 
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In between teaching days at the National Art School in Sydney, I’ve been doing some walking and camping, time on Sydney Beaches, seeing some shows etc.  This weekend I have traveled to Canberra for a bit of time in the studios at Megalo.  It’s a bit like a second home here at Megalo, since I am so familiar with the studio and presses.  I’ve been taking advantage of the big Hilton electric press to make some more monotypes, with the imagery referring back to summer in Queensland.  I’m thinking a whole new series might be nice, with the figure in the landscape being more explicit than some of my previous work.  They always take a lot longer than I expect though.  I only took two prints yesterday, and one at least should be trashed.  I’ve been here several hours this morning, and only the above print has so far come off the press, but I’m reasonably happy with it.  Bleed printed in a greenish black ink on a half sheet of Hahnemuhle (76 x 56 cm). Below is the second print from yesterday, showing how the drawing changes each time, especially since I am only working from a rough thumbnail drawing about one inch square, which itself was drawn from memory soon after visiting this creek in Mapleton National Park.  What might be lost in faithful realism, is amply made up for by what is gained in the freedom to express a mood and sense of the place without feeling the need to copy a photographic reference.

 

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Diversity in Print

March 7, 2013

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Last night saw the opening of Diversity in Print an exhibition of prints at the Royal Queensland Artist Society gallery on Petrie Terrace (Brisbane).  I’m in Sydney teaching at the moment so couldn’t get to the opening of course, but the good people there phoned to tell me I had been awarded a second prize for the wood engraving Forest Tunnel shown above.  This print was one of the ones I made in California, while at the JB Bunk residency.  I particularly like the crispness of the printed bark, that I had carefully retained on the block of birch wood as I cut and polished it prior to carving the image.  This print also makes use of  hand printing with a banana leaf barren in such a way as to produce subtleties of tone through the controlled use of variable pressure.  I’m glad to have been able to represent the somewhat neglected art of wood engraving in a show called Diversity in Print.

The show is on until 23rd March at 162 Petrie Terrace, Brisbane.

drypoint

March 4, 2013

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It was a busy start to the year, and my internet connection at home is rather tenuous, and so I somehow neglected to blog about the very exciting news that I have acquired a small etching press.  With assistance from the Australia Council for the Arts via an Artstart Grant, and the craftsmanship of Stephen, the press man at Melbourne Etching Supplies, my press arrived in early January.

Having a press now enlarges the range of techniques I can print at home to include intaglio methods such as etching and drypoint, as well as the type of monotypes with deep flat blacks that I like so much.  While a two person job to lift with ease, the press is technically ‘portable’, so I will, if need arrises, be able to print ‘on the road’ or give workshops in a broader range of techniques in locations without access to a press.

The first print I made on the new press was the drypoint above, depicting a curious waterfall I recently visited in Conondale National Park.  A day was spent exploring Peter’s Creek, upstream from Booloumba Falls, including this waterfall which plunges into hole about two meters across, with a very solid bedrock barrier between this turbulent, but out of sight, base of the falls and the large swimming hole in front of it.  No hint of current or bubbles gives any indication of the necessary connection between the two.  The maps I have give no name to this feature, but thought it deserved one, so Cauldron Falls it is.

As for the title of the print: So I Called it Cauldron Falls.

last days for ‘In Place’

February 7, 2013

There are only a couple of days left of my exhibition In Place at Brisbane Institute of Art.  It is by far the biggest show I have put on to date, with 63 items listed in the catalogue, including prints, drawings and artist books. I will be in the gallery again on Saturday from 10-4 if anyone wants to come and ask questions, hear my spiel, or bring me tasty treats like Cecily and Elliot did last week – thanks so much, it was very yummy.

A few more gallery install shots for those who couldn’t make it.

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