The Print Council of Australia.
The Print Council of Australia.
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The Print Council of Australia.
by Graham King
Well, after all the brilliant lectures, speeches, talks we’ve had today I’m just terrified I might bore you to tears because I’m going to speak a bit historically. It may be of interest, I hope, to some of the younger members of the audience. Some of the old ones, I just hope you’ll shut your ears if it’s boring.
I’m thinking of 1960, at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. The then Head of the School invited a number or artists to come and use the print–making facilities one day a week. I was one. Tate Adams was the then print-maker at the College. Fred Williams, Barbara Brash, Janet Dawson [and] I think several others. It meant that we could go in and make prints.
I used to get there at eight o’clock in the morning, work for half a day and then back to earning a living. It meant that by 1962 we had enough work together to have an exhibition. The then Curator of Prints at the National Gallery of Victoria, Dr Ursula Hoff, was sympathetic to us and she gave us an exhibition in the Print Gallery in the old National Gallery in Latrobe Street.
I mention this because there was a dreadful outcry both from critics and lay people, not about the quality of the prints but the fact that prints could be shown in this noble institution and the people weren’t dead, even. It’s an indication of where we’ve come, I think.
In 1966, some of us got together to start this Print Council of Australia. When thinking about it; what I should say, the first thing that hit me is that over those years literally dozens and dozens of people have given hundreds of hours of their time to make this day possible. As I said, it’s been active since 1966 and, while we don’t want to detail a history, I think there are many points that are worth remembering and will probably be repeated.
When the Society was suggested we were adamant that it not be just another artists society, but [that] it must have the support of both artists and anybody interested in the arts. The membership print, of course, was inducement for the interested person to support the society and the artist had the chance to exhibit, of course, and for all members to participate in any of the various activities.
I must mention the first membership print. It was a lithograph donated by my friend John Brack, by–printed in an edition of 200. You must understand that there were no funds other than the membership subscription of ten dollars. Incidentally, I was told recently that someone sold that lithograph for $1,400.
The first Print Council exhibition was held in 1967. A prize donated by an advertising agency was offered. Four identical exhibitions were assembled and shown at the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Art Gallery of South Australia and the Arts Council of Canberra, and several exhibitions opening in the same week and later travelling to State galleries.
Another thing we’re considering for future planning are international exchange exhibitions. A number have been held in the past. A number have been held in the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Japan, Fiji, Sweden, Germany, Singapore, Poland and some other countries and these exhibitions have been supported very well by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
I like the story of two exhibitions we had travelling in South America. There were two shows travelling in America. One exhibition was sent down to South America and shown at the Embassy in Lima, and they created around it an Australia Week. I think that means that, really, more work has been shown by Australian artists, in more countries, than has been possible before.
Another effort of the Print Council has been the Student Exhibitions. The first was held in 1973. I think it could be valuable if these exhibitions could be sent to all States. This is dependent on available funds.
It is interesting to look at the development of printmaking in the past decade. Today we’ve heard from the marvellous stories of June Wayne. They’re also told brilliantly, I think, in Pat Gilmour’s book Ken Tyler, master printer.
I find the most exciting change for me over these years is the redefining of the ‘original print’. I visited the Print Council of America in New York in 1970 and although it was constituted somewhat differently from the Australian Print Council the definition of an original print was very positive yet very strict. It must be editionable, and the monotype was unacceptable.
I believe the really exciting development since this society commenced is the new appreciation by the artist [of] print qualities and the possibilities. We now see magnificent exhibitions of monotypes and mixed media prints. There are world-famous artists using a mixture of all available means; etchings, photography, screen, prints et cetera plus, of course, the possible use of collage, photography, cast paper, computer technology and possibly finishing with some hand–drawn work, making it a one-off.
I think this has happened because an appreciation of the print medium has given them inspiration, and the appreciation of surface qualities possible.
We still have the problem of reproductions being passed off as original prints. I’ve no objection to a good reproduction. I think it’s still a matter of public education to bring about an understanding of the different value of the original print.
Another development over this period is the number of art schools in all States, which have good workshops and are producing dozens of excellent students with highly developed technical skills. To pursue their career these graduates need studios with access to presses, as most can not afford to buy their own.
The only access print workshop I’ve had experience with is the Victorian Print Workshop in Melbourne. It commenced in 1980 and is supported by the Victorian Ministry of the Arts. It has enabled artists to continue their work and produce exhibitions, and has also run master classes and demonstrations by international master printers.
A continual concern is making the Print Council a really national society, representing artists throughout Australia. The publication Imprint, first published in 1966 as a four–page leaflet, has developed into a magazine of quality.
I’ve some of the early copies available here for inspection, if anyone is interested:
I understand Imprint has always been especially valued by country members. Three directories of printmakers have been published, the first in 1976 and the latest has just been launched. The list of ideas for the future is not short. We see the Print Council Gallery as a venue for showing students’ work, for exhibitions of young, emerging artists’ work, for use by interstate and overseas artists. We would like to see more travelling exhibitions, lectures, practical workshops, demonstrations, guest artists et cetera, et cetera.
The work involved in organising these various items is considerable. The special exhibitions are dependent on funding other than membership subscriptions. Funds come from the Visual Arts and Crafts Board, State governments and other government bodies and recently the very generous gift from Dr Michel Lefevre who made possible the 100x100 Folio.
I’ve only touched on the various efforts of the Print Council. There have been many other activities, various types of exhibitions and demonstrations et cetera. I don’t think members have ever been short of ideas. The problem is implementing them. I hope some thought for future development will come from this getting together of members today.
I would like to finish with an old quotation. I think it applies both for the artists and the Council: ‘The artist never quite knows what he is making until he has made it and is not sure what he is looking for until he has found it.’
© Graham King, 1989.
Transcript of paper presented at The First Australian Print Symposium, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1989.