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 dont 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
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
We Australians favoured oil based inks. I dont 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