The reluctant review

Come on, you must have wondered why I haven’t said anything more about the CPM Print awards I went to at Murwillumbah, haven’t you? You’re all so on-the-ball and intelligent that I bet you noticed the Tweets and then the silence. Or maybe you didn’t, and it’s just me sitting here for a week wondering what I can say without sounding like a horrible person. Oh yes, that’s what it is.

I just checked the dictionary definitions of envy and jealousy, just to check which word I should be using about myself in response to the BEAUTIFUL work I saw on display at the Tweed River Art Gallery last weekend. It seems that I am deeply, deeply envious of other people’s talent, which is not a particularly nice thing to say about myself but, sadly, very true… I walked into the lovely end galleries where the National Print Award entries were hung and was almost physically shocked by the strength of the selected works. Mine, also selected and hung on the last wall of the show, really was one of the weakest pieces there (deciding then and there that I didn’t much like the frame OR the position in which it had been hung didn’t help). Damn

There were several pieces by people whose names I had expected to see: Tony Ameneiro, Yvonne Boag and Mario Luccio, to name but three. And the mid-north coast of New South Wales i.e. my stomping ground, was well-represented with Brenda Nunn and Lina Bluhm both getting work into the show as well as me.

Highlights I noted include several pieces referencing the recent bushfires: a diptych and a single piece by Christine Wilcox, and an intruiging piece by Marian Crawford. Marian’s was a box frame containing dozens of small, twisting paper shapes cut from prints and joined together by umber threads. The work was titled Embers, and perfectly captured the bits of burnt wood that fly around in a fire. Aesthetically it was beautiful, but it was conceptually haunting as well: having seen all the press and read about the horrors of the February bush fires in Victoria it is somehow emotionally difficult to acknowledge beauty in the middle of the carnage.

I felt the same about Christine’s amazing CARDBOARD drypoints of charred trees on Japanese paper. The techniques intrigue me: how do you do a drypoint on cardboard..? And I was interested to see that these prints too were box-framed and yet the thin, tough Japanese paper on which they were printed was stuck to the glass with book repair tape (?) – NOT what I think of as an archival approach to framing works on paper! Maybe I’m missing something, but I would have thought that the lack of distance between the glass and the paper would cause all sorts of problems with the humidity and insects in this climate. I wish I could show you a photo of the work, though. I’ve scoured the web to try and find a gallery of Christine’s work, and Marian’s, but in vain and of course I couldn’t take photographs at the exhibition for copyright reasons so you’ll just have to take my word for it that they are stunning pieces.

Tony Ameneiro has twice been chosen by the Print Council of Australia for its annual commission (I knew I was in good company when I was chosen last year!), and he won the Freemantle Print Award in 2007. His entry to the CPM National Print Awards is a drypoint landscape (with some etching – mainly, I think, to reinforce the darker areas) called The Gib NW Face. I hope he will forgive me for reproducing it here, but it is such a striking print. It’s quite large – he doesn’t give dimensions on his website but I would have thought it’s about 70 cms wide by 100 cms tall – and it makes an impressive statement on the wall. I love rock faces and did a series of prints of rockfaces myself a few years ago, but this piece shows the power of drawing from observation, which mine never did since I executed them from photographs. I think what I love about this print is its power: the big, fluid gestures in the use of the tools, making black velvety gouges in the image. It isn’t photographic in quality: it is closely observed, lovingly worked, gutsy and uncompromising.

Julie Barratt produced another interesting piece: a collograph with lino-cut, and pierced and stitched elements, made up of many squares brought together in one frame. I have still not contacted her about the possibility of an exhibition some time at her lovely gallery in Alstonville…

Gary Shinfield had a striking triptych positioned near the start of the exhibition, called Weather Pattern Triptych. He’s an artist whose name I’ve seen around but know very little about, and although I find lots of references to him on the web I still don’t feel I know very much! But I do know that I like his work, and this piece worked for me. It was a series of three unframed prints, mounted with map pins again (a bit of a theme in the show), showing layers of coloured etchings that evoke the shapes and swirls and accumulations of cloud and isobars of different weather systems. Up close you could see that quite bright colours were used in places, but the work was brought together visually by the common use of a mid-brown, which was the dominant colour. In fact mid-browns, umbers and yellow ochres set the tone for the first gallery-ful of prints, with many artists using this palette.

There were brighter prints here and there, and I particularly liked Rebecca Rath’s monotype Scribbly Bark III, which was composed of very bright colours that had been overprinted with an off-white plate that hid much and exposed a little of the underlying life in the print. It was very effective, and I hadn’t previously thought of using colour in that way.

But finally we come to the very worthy winner of the National Print Award, Debra Luccio. You can visit her website to read about her work with dancers and see her technique, but in brief she watches dancers in rehearsal and in performance, drawing madly, and then uses those drawings to make the most exquisite large-scale monotypes back in the studio. Her methodology is traditional: large copper plates are inked up, wiped back using little more than a paintbrush and a finger wrapped in cloth, and then printed on a lovely big press. How simple! And yet how delicate and evocative the prints: the trail of ink left by a wiping finger beautifully outlines bone and muscle and shadow. I love making monotypes myself, and I’m interested to see that Debra doesn’t hide the marks inevitably made by the roller when inking up the plate. I’ve always agonised about getting a completely smooth and consistent surface, but perhaps I don’t need to bother! In her work the uneven background (if you can call it that) contributes depth and shadow to the images, working well in the second of ‘ghost’ print too.

This print, Spin, is the piece that won the National Print Award

It was lovely to meet Debra at the gallery. I’d gone early to attend the Print Council AGM in the morning and ended up having lunch with Debra and Jan Davis and Christine Cordeiro afterwards. We all knew she’d won because someone dropped a large hint to us, but she was unaware, despite the fact that she’d been phoned in Melbourne earlier in the week to encourage her to attend something that was a very long way away from home. She’s good company and tall and elegant, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that she was once a dancer herself. Anyway, she richly deserved the award and it’s not her fault that I’m sighing with envy at her talent and achievement!

Where does it all leave me? Actually I think it’s done me some good. It’s given me something to think about and something to aim for. It’s put my work – which is still good work – in context with other work that I think is better, and after the initial despair it’s allowed me to give myself a break. Instead of killing myself to put entries in to a couple of up-coming exhibitions I’m giving myself some time to think. We’re about to start building our house and there are some health issues floating around that could become distracting again; I have a lot on my plate at the moment. The best thing I can do for myself is take the pressure down a little and allow myself the opportunity to get on with some new work, but at a less frenetic pace. So that’s what I’m going to do, and having made that decision it feels like the right one to make.

One thought on “The reluctant review

  1. Hi Sara, I do know how you feel after visiting a great exhibition. Don’t loose sight of the fact that your work was in this great exhibition! and remember too that we are not always the best judges of our work!

    I can see your blog fine! The new layout looks good. I had a similar report about mine when I first changed it and the reporter can now see it fine – without me changing anything. I don’t know what it all means!

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