How the hell do we cause a change in attitude?
How the hell do we cause a change in attitude?
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You’re never going to get an opportunity to see me again. Thank you. Thank you, Bea [Maddock]. I haven’t met Bea and it’s the first time I’ve heard you, thank you, Colin [Lanceley].
I’m terrified. It would have been easy to back out, but I thought ‘no’. I think I must be seen as a role model, but I don’t know. I don’t know if you’re all going to come tomorrow with orange hair.
But, yes, I will do it. I believe very much, I care, I suppose, passionately for prints. My hotplate is my stove, but I’ll get there. I’m from Broken Hill. We’ve moved from Broken Hill. We’d been there for two years.
It’s a long, long way away from Canberra. It’s isolated. It feels sort of twenty years behind the times. The attitude to women is twenty years behind the times. The mythology is made by men and perpetuated by men, and I’d sort of seen a revision of a very distinct, or an emphasis on the feminist viewpoint. I think perhaps for a little while it might even have been viewed as ‘Okay, it’s another ism. That’s it. We’ve been there, done that.’ and I see it.
In fact I’ve made little images of Ned Kelly but he’s a woman.
I thought ‘This is it.’
Anyway, I’ll try. I’ll start.
Last week we were in floods in Broken Hill. I mean, it seems so silly being cast adrift in desert ocean. I didn’t have a phone so I couldn’t ring Roger and sort of say ‘Help, where do I start?’ But I thought a lot. I’ve made screeds of notes but then I realised that reflecting on your work sort of causes havoc with the original intention. You can manipulate if you want to. Curators do it all the time. You can make anything fit.
And so, for the next part I should be wearing a dog suit, because I think that’s how the art world does… I mean, it’s a sympathetic audience that we have here but I don’t know whether it goes much further. I think the art world does view the print as the underdog. It’s not my sentence. It came from the latest Bulletin. The first woman bishop in America, she said: ‘The Church is a massive institution, and massive institutions are sort of like elephants…’ I thought St Bernards, if you’re talking about the underdog, are hard to turn around. And I thought ‘That’s true.’
How the hell do we cause a change in attitude? How can we get more people to take notice of the print? I mean, I could be the only one that’s feeling like this. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t see prints in contemporary shows. Where the hell are they? I see very little purchased by the galleries, by collectors.
Every artist will talk about the difficulty of finding an exhibition space, and when you do they put it behind a frame and all the frames are the same, so you’re sort of boxed in. I mean, part of the work has been trying to work around that and I don’t know whether I’ve achieved it or barked up the wrong tree or whatever, but we’ll go on. So, really, I’d love to see a big change; more experimentation and more time given to the print.
I’ve got a few slides and I think we’re supposed to talk about our own work, and I think I’m of the era where that conditioning takes over that you don’t, sort of, talk about it, you do it. I’ve done that, but I’ll try to talk about it.
We’re told that the first five years are the most fundamental to our formation. I mean, I see it in kids. I tried to go through all the images and work out what it was, and first was a very beautiful book given to me when I was two. I don’t remember why it was given to me but the lady had red hair and the prints were on very beautiful paper and the words were on softer paper. It was an adult book and I thought it was wonderful. The other is my father. He was branding potato bags, almost still does, in a huge potato shed. I always remember yellow dust, and this machine would be whirling and there would be red paint spattered everywhere and it would have H.P. Banfield, First Grade, Crookwell.
And I think perhaps that I’ve mixed those two somewhere along the line and maybe that’s where I’ve arrived. But I didn’t get to start printmaking, unfortunately, until I was pregnant with my first child. And it was with Mirabelle Fitzgerald at Willoughby Workshop, and she was just terrific. She allowed me great freedom. I was very greedy. I wanted to learn everything I could.
This is the red one, Down. Wrong one. Right, that’s one of the first. The were very small, and they were very bloated women, and they all changed. The edition didn’t stand still because I’d heard things: ‘Oh, print making, it’s dead; it’s static’ Umm, what the hell, that’s not true.
And this is another one. Yeah. And they were all very naked, and they sat in the middle of a huge frame, and they starred. And I made some editions. I made 20, and perhaps one got shown and perhaps one got sold and the rest went under the bed.
Yeah, and this is what happened to the rest under the bed. Now, Colin, I too read T.S. Elliot. This is my interpretation. So, all my editions got chopped up and I was very fortunate because there was an exhibition from the Print Council called Print as an object, and that sort of allowed me scope to take off.
I knew we had to have some slides. I don’t know who did that one but a friend helped me with the others and I saw that there were possibilities. Maybe they haven’t quite worked but; We sent them to sea and the dog’s there. I mean, the poor little dog; the young dog keeps coming up again. And if you notice in Tarot cards the dog’s always there with the Fool, and [in] mythology the dog, he went with the ferryman.
…It’s also the time of the boat… the refugee people and I remember filling the little boat up with rice. We had to take a Chinese meal to a friend’s house.
I’ve skipped a lot. I didn’t think you’d want to see all the rest. Printmaking I see closely allied with literature and at the same time, when I was working, I was finding that I had to compete with big paintings. I mean, gosh. Big paintings and little etchings. How do you get noticed? And also I wasn’t interested particularly in editions. I thought ‘this is not working’ but I noticed that I could start with the same plate but the narrative I could paint back into the ink. Because I didn’t have drying racks I had to put the prints on the bed and then I could see the narrative coming. I had a whole exhibition where I put my novels on the wall, and yeah.
This comes further. This is the beginning of the awareness which is of Aboriginal art and I at first found that I was just merely… It was appropriation; it wasn’t working, there was nothing.
And that whole thing, once again, of equal rights, which I titled the work, and also the idea that the Bicentenary – here today gone tomorrow; what’s news today is gone a bit like newspapers that they bundle up. So, I had a lot of them but I also had bundles on the floor but I’m not the only one that’s done that.
The Bicentenary; good things came out of it but also there’s lots of memorabilia and nostalgia and collective guilt — wow! So, I hope people aren’t offended. I made my ‘teabags’ and first of all I did photocopies of comics and the headlines and then I reduced them down and down and down, and swapped them for Liptons teabags and lined them up with the black babies and the white babies and sort of marching into war.
When I did that photograph I kept thinking of Olive Cotton. She did that beautiful Teacup ballet. The shadows were lovely.
This is never going to get a viewing in a gallery. It’s been and done. We left Black Heath and I had ‘the Last Supper’.
I knew that these photocopies would never get to a gallery so I chopped them all up and made them into the bunting and I made mad hats, so I had that mixture of ‘Mad hatter’s party’. We held it in the little Masonic Hall of Black Heath and we had a band, and it was the best exhibition you’ve ever been to.
These are just a friend’s prints, so you’ve got to bear with me. That’s them. And I was questioned: ‘Why aren’t they women?’ and I said ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter. A woman has orchestrated all this.’ Mind you, by the end of the night they all had time playing Christ — I’m sorry — and it was quite interesting because they were all Black Heath artists and Mountains artists and the Communist Party and Greenpeace, and they all knew how to sing Onward, Christian Soldiers.
That’s one end of the table and that’s the other end of the table. Ned Kelly is at the end. We had to rope in two sons because we didn’t have enough men, and the prints are on the mugs and the plates and the anti–Bicentenary comics. I hope you don’t mind because I just love them. That’s a few of them. Oh, they’re very dark.
That’s my husband in the umbrella.
And there they are – they sort of lurched forth into song. They’re terrible. I thought you’d like that one. I mean, at the same time it is serious. It is, it is.
That’s one view of the Last Supper that no one ever thought of doing, the back. And at this stage there’s one work that I really wanted to show and it’s in the box but we don’t need to open it because I sent some slides down saying ‘Help, Roger, can you get these developed?’ which he did. I took two reels of film to get one slide or two. I’ll see.
That’s not a good slide but it was the anti–Bicentenary birthday cake. Do you remember the one they were going to build over the Cross? It’s the prints. I think some are upstairs. What it actually says, perhaps it shows better… No, it doesn’t. It’s the I, the O and the U, and I used the white avenging angels and the black babies.
And that’s it. Thank you.
© Kate Lohse, 1989.
Transcript of paper presented at The First Australian Print Symposium, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1989.