Stephen Bird reports on Ink Earth
An Article by Stephen Bird
The exhibition Ink Earth that was held recently involved a ceramic and printmaking collaboration by 3rd year BFA students from the National Art School in Sydney.
Collaborations are not easy at the best of times, so when I asked if any of the 3rd year BFA students at the National Art School were interested in a collaboration between ceramics and printmaking, which they would undertake in their own time and with no set supervision, I was surprised to get an enthusiastic response. In recent years printmaking and image transfer have become widespread amongst artists working with clay. Experiments with a variety of techniques and surfaces have been used to make sculptures and editions of functional ceramics and tiles, so Paul Scott’s book, Ceramics and Print, was a suggested starting point. After a period of experimentation, exploration and making, the exhibition Ink Earth (curated by one of the artists, Ann-Marie Jackson) was held at the Library Stairwell Gallery, National Art School, from 26 July to 10 August 2012. In this review I have tried to let the artists speak about their works in their own voices, with only light editing.
With my own recent interest in human-animal interactions and narratives I was delighted to see Lotte Smith and Mevagh Clarke’s work Rain, rain go away, an installation of figures hanging on the wall with their fairytale puppet-like quality. I particularly liked the play on the use of the decals where they used the registration marks from the print process to draw the features of the creatures. They say of their works, “We share a strong interest in the animations of Studio Ghibli. We based our figures around these ideas, the masks becoming like mystic totems of ancestors. With greater research we learnt about Japanese rain dolls made to ward off rain, and these seemed to look very similar to our designs – hence the title, Rain, rain go away.”
Another work with a human narrative running through it, but this time of a more baleful variety, was Laura Torreblanca and Alex Latham’s Day of the Dead skull called Alex. The work was press-moulded stoneware clay engraved with a dry point tool and washed with black ink. Laura’s Chilean ancestry probably has much to do with her obsession with the South American Day of the Dead Festival where the deceased are celebrated and honoured as a way of appreciating the gift of life. Laura and Alex say they “tried to manipulate the viewer into experiencing anxiety by the juxtaposition of the joyful design and the darker aspects of the mind as symbolised by the skull motif”. This is in no way a sagacious mature reflection on death, but the kind of gentle fascination only the young and beautiful could preserve, flowing over like the lyrics of a Lana Del Rey song, never quite knowing how much is genuine and how much is fashion angst.
Thomas Quayle and Charlotte Perry’s work Insanity explored similar themes of this vision of nightmares. They made a pair of heads which resemble anthropomorphic boulders with strange linear nerve-like petroglyphs. They seemed very static and serene compared to Thomas’s usual dynamic and emotionally charged figures and rather resembled a couple of ancient beings keeping each other company on the plinth for all eternity.
Ruth Li and Yvette Ten-Bohmer also used carved clay, but this time to stamp and print cobalt blue designs onto tear-drop forms creating an installation entitled Summit. The work recalled Chinese literati landscape paintings of slender, jagged mountain ranges. In her artist statement, Ruth talks about concepts of difference and similarity, groupings and isolation, and even though the work was poorly sited within the gallery, it succeeded in capturing the metaphor of the mountain as a place both of isolation for the scholar and contemplation for the artist.
The most challenging work in the exhibition was Rachael McCallum and Eric Mahony’s installation, Contemplation, deflation and irritation. The work occupied both wall and plinth, and in the rather overcrowded space of the gallery it took a while to realise it was a single piece of work. In their words: “Our works, a collaboration between the mediums of printmaking and ceramics, attempted to look beyond the traditional meeting points where the line work and decorative surface elements of printmaking would be introduced to various ceramic objects. Our starting point was the tactile nature of the ceramic object and exploring its possibilities through enclosing some of the forms within wire enclosures like an exoskeleton of the object. Through a series of experiments we sought to etch the line work of the wire onto the surface of the object during the firing of the enclosed forms. This approach caused technical challenges – cracking, collapsing and blistering; whilst some objects did not survive the process, others acquired unique qualities. The forms were left with protruding or intruding surfaces which resembled a printmaking block. The wired up work provided an opportunity to extend the form outwards as well as projecting the line work onto the surrounding walls. In a sense, we created a transient print that would last either through the changing ambient lighting of the day or remain fixed through constant projected light. The forms selected for the exhibition sought to exemplify this pathway, from beautiful tactile ovoid shapes through to deflated, sagging and aging forms to wiry encased forms … as a result, the works played with ideas of life and death as each practice blurred into a sculptural impracticality, printing with shadow rather than ink.”
A work which literally used shadow to print an image was Edward Hobbs and Mie Nakazawa’s Statum, a video projection of collaged images onto six corrugated ceramic tiles. They said of their work: “We looked at the flat surface of printmaking and strived to reconfigure it into a three-dimensional form. We explored distortion and movement of the projected images across the surface of the distorted tiles, and in our imagery we focused on architectural forms and surfaces from the built environment. Our work was greatly influenced by Gordon Matta Clark and Rachel Whiteread who both explored buildings as the physical material of their art works.”
The most accomplished works in the show were the tiles and vessels with embossed delicate, linear images by Ann-Marie Jackson and Margaret Vickers called Mangrove Meanderings 1,2,3 and 4. Their works consisted of embossed paper, ceramic tiles and vessels printed with images from a linocut and enhanced with oxide washes of rutile, yellow ochre and manganese oxide. They showed a developed simplicity of form and pattern, intriguing images of the most subtle abstract shapes that looked as if an insect had woven or spun them from silk. Ann-Marie and Margaret say of their work: “The linocut image was derived from a series of photographs of mangroves. The photos had strong tonal contrast, intricate patterns and a linear quality suitable for printing. The ceramic forms were kept simple and clean cut, acting like a canvas for the delicate and complex pattern of the print.”
Another group of works which used linocuts, but in a very different way, were the translucent tablets and leaves by Madeleine Hudson and Anika Craney, Figures in the Landscape and Leaves: Veins of Life, made from Southern Ice porcelain. The delicate and transparent quality of this material conveyed the fragile but robust nature of the surface design, filled with suggestions of figurative forms inspired by the landscape. The artists said “… after rolling out thin slabs of clay, we pressed the linocut patterns onto the surface then manipulated the tablet to create a free-flowing form that accentuated the pattern on the surface. In the gallery, the works were displayed on top of a light-box, the light from beneath representing the life source of our land and lives. The sun illuminates the life we know; we are transparent life forms. Without the light, everything we know could not exist”.
Anika’s three works, Leaves: Veins of Life, were displayed in the window panels of the gallery allowing natural and artificial light to pass through and illuminate the fine details of the veins within them. Anika says, “This series was inspired by the fragility nature holds in the winter. When inspecting leaves in the frost, their frozen forms convey the delicacy of life, and the physical and emotional similarities we have with the natural cycle of the land.” It was a bit disappointing that the effect of the light through transparent porcelain was almost completely lost under the bright gallery lights, but (as I understand), this was beyond the control the students had over the Stairwell Gallery space. But, on the other hand, an added bonus of this work was the beautiful and serendipitous music the leaves made as the air current moved them and they made contact with the glass panes – and I can still hear those Lana Del Rey lyrics:
Come and take a walk on the wild side
Let me kiss you hard in the pouring rain
You like your girls insane
Choose your last words
This is the last time
Cause you and I, we were born to die
Students involved: Rachael McCallum, Eric Mahoney, Anika Craney, Madeleine Luschwitz, Edward Hobbs, Mie Nakazawa, Laura Torreblanca, Alex Latham, Anne-Marie Jackson, Margaret Vickers, Mevagh Clarke, Lotte Smith, Ruth Li, Yvette Ten-Bohmer, Thomas Quayle and Charlotte Perry.