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A Letter from Downunder

by Monica Kargulewicz

1996 is not regarded as one of our best years. Very few artists are selling artwork in Australia and not much is happening here. The States of Victoria and Tasmania are having a recession although it is not official yet.

Printmaking is taught as a major subject in all our art schools, however staff are being cut back due to federal government budget cuts and an increase in university fees. Although printmaking is regarded as the hot art medium of the late 20th century these cut backs could eventually spell the end of our printmaking courses. Some staff are being asked to resign and take redundancy packages.

Australia has a variety of printmaking competitions however our art scene is "a closed shop" and none of our art competitions allow for international artists to enter. Our top art competitions are the Archibald Prize, the Doug Moran Portrait Prize and the Dobell Prize for Drawing.

The Dobell Prize for Drawing is quite a new competition. Painting is still the dominant art medium. We do not have a high calibre printmaking competition like the Biennale in Ljubljana. None of our competitions have such wonderful and large catalogues such as those produced by the Macedonian Triennale and the Ljubljana Biennale. Australian curators do not differentiate between printmakers and artists who get prints editioned. Nor do they acknowledge the significance of the international printmaking triennales and biennales despite the fact that some of them have been running since the 1950's. Quite a large proportion of professional artists simply do not enter competitions. I find it cheaper to enter competitions overseas rather than in Australia. For example it is very expensive to get work freighted by an art courier from Melbourne to Brisbane and back because of the distance involved. The cheapest way to send artwork is by Australia Post and this is only really suitable for smaller framed work.

Australia has one printmaking magazine called "Imprint" which is the journal of the Print Council of Australia. It is a Melbourne publication and it is published quarterly. It is a thin, mostly black and white magazine which receives assistance from the Department of Fine Art at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. We have lots of other general art magazines which also include articles on printmaking. I think "Art and Australia" is our best magazine. It is a very classy Sydney magazine which is available overseas. If you want to know what is happening in Australia then that is the magazine to read.

To get a clear perspective on what is happening in the Australian printmaking scene you need to look beyond the access and custom print workshops, the printmaking competitions and art magazines.

When I left art school in 1984 there was one lousy access print workshop in Melbourne. Now we have masses of them plus we have a variety of workshops which specialise in custom printing. Printmaking does not revolve around these workshops. A lot of printmakers have their own equipment. There are many reasons for this. Some artists live "up in the bush" and have no choice but to buy their own presses and screens. Some artists just don’t like print workshops because of the bitching, and others have no need for them. A large tablespoon is quite sufficient for editioning linocut prints. You would be surprised how many artists I know who do their screen printing or copper etching at home in the laundry, garage, in the shed, or in their own private workshop. These days printmakers go to workshops primarily because they like to socialise. And of course the non printmaker (the faux printmaker) has to go to workshops because he/she would not have a clue how to create or edition their own print.

Melbourne is regarded as the place to be if you are a printmaker. The main reason for this is that we have the two top art shops which specialise in printmaking supplies. Printmakers can survive without access printmaking workshops but definitely not without Days Screen Printing Supplies and Melbourne Etching Supplies Pty Ltd.

Artists come from all over Australia to go to these shops. (Everything is far away in Australia and a car is essential) Melbourne Etching Supplies Pty Ltd is in Fitzroy, which is an inner suburb of Melbourne, and is a printmakers heaven. They specialise in all the print mediums. Charbonnel and Graphic Chemicals and Inks Co are probably the most sought after brands of ink for etching, lithography and relief printing. M.E.S. also stocks a variety of handmade papers, rice papers and unusual colours such as Fabriano black etching paper or Arches black paper. The most popular printmaking papers are BFK Rives (white and grey), German Etching Hahnemuhle, Velin Arches, Fabriano and Arches.

Days Screen Printing or Days, as we call it, is my favourite. The sign on the door says "no hawkers?' and a bell rings when you enter the shop. They sell everything for the screenprint artist including inks for printing on fabric, paper and other items.

We Australians favoured oil based inks. I don’t know any professional artists who use water based inks even though they are healthier. Everyone likes the quality of oil based inks. One of my friends actually had a "bad trip" from using lacquer thinners to clean the ink off her screen. She thought fur was growing on her face!

To be continued

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