The devils triangle: Open Bite Print Workshop.

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The devils triangle: Open Bite Print Workshop.


Barstow, Clive.


Australian Print Symposium. Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1987 - ongoing.



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The Devils Triangle.
by Clive Barstow

An educational perspective on the relationship between artist, agent and printer through the activities of print workshop Open Bite Australia by its co-ordinator.

Note: This paper was presented alongside an illustrated website containing films and archives of some of the projects outlined in italic type.

The website containing information for Open Bite Australia has four main functions:

>Information & communication
>Archiving for projects and research
>Technical support manual for remote access
>Active virtual FTP site for interactive projects.

The Open Bite workshop is almost by accident the new kid on the block, and operates within the Print Media studio of the West Australian School of Visual Arts Edith Cowan University Perth. The workshop was originally established as an access facility for graduating students to enable them to undertake print projects outside of the confines of the undergraduate program. Through an association with local artist agents Desert Designs and more recently Indigenart WA, the workshop developed a commercial arm enterprise in 1997 involving residency programs for indigenous artists already involved in the West Australian art market. Artists would be invited to work in the studio, in many cases alongside and in collaboration with local students, to develop printmaking techniques that would normally be impossible to access in the remote desert regions of northern and western Australia. Most of these artists are established painters and are looking to printmaking as a means to reproduce and distribute their work to a wider audience.

The first major project involved Jimmy Pike, and his uncle Peter Skipper who were founder members of Desert Designs in Perth and unlike most other artists since, had already gained some experience in basic print processes. The students along with Jimmy and Peter went on bush camp for one week to Leewana to experience printmaking under very basic conditions. The following week saw the artists returning to the studio, students in turn exposed to the discipline and rigours of commercial proofing and professional printing methods. Because of the skill of the artists and the intensity of this two week inaugural project, nine suites of images were editioned and published over the following six months including relief prints, etchings and stone lithographs. This huge commercial outcome was neither expected nor planned, but did help cement the viability of the workshop within academic and institutional thinking. The immediate success of this project for both artists and students, opened the floodgates and almost by chance established the workshop as a main producer of limited editioned prints in Western Australia. The workshop now regularly editions for Mary McLean, Gordon Landsen, Jimmy Pike and others, in addition to running print workshops within remote communities.

Being sensitive to the history of exploitation of Australian Indigenous artists particularly within the arena of painting, Open Bite seeks to offer artists the opportunity to drive projects free of commercial pressure. Cultural issues aside, the triangle of artist, printer and agent can at times pose an egotistical relationship across aesthetic, technical and commercial concerns. Because the priorities of Open Bite are educational, product is viewed more as a documentation and celebration of the artistic experience, and therefore seeks to advantage both artist and students. This frees up the artists to work in a completely uninhibited way and allows the development of lasting relationships based on trust and open-ended collaboration. Any profits from publishing activities, which may result from projects such as this, are fed back into technical research, community workshops or local arts sponsorship.

It was always my intention once we were established to take the print process back to the remote desert communities of Western Australia as a reciprocal arrangement, to allow the less established artists who requested it, to taste printmaking as a primary medium.

Our most recent workshop was held in Ninga Mia east of Kalgoorlie, as part of a major research project we are undertaking with University of Maine, examining non toxic print chemistry suitable for extreme desert conditions. Processes were trialed with the local arts community in solar plate etching and acrylic resist techniques, alongside the more traditional print processes. These workshops serve a number of educational, cross-cultural and research needs, and to support this kind of activity, an online printmakers technical manual has been published as part of the Open Bite webpage to allow access to specific information from anywhere with an internet link.

Open Bite activities are not limited to working with contracted Indigenous artists. The project page of the website acts as an archive for our activities, and demonstrates the breadth of international artists that have worked with us since 1997. Artists from America, Europe, Africa and Asia have undertaken a number of diverse projects with us, many of which have not produced tangible outcomes, but have enabled the artists to engage in work of a particular nature that often reflects our unique position both geographically and philosophically.

Project Pop is a collaborative project between artists in Perth and England and investigates the notion of cultural and colonial stereotypes. Artists exchanged and shared the development of thematic images based on assumptions about their artistic partners, who were in fact anonymous throughout the process. This eventually generated a visual representation of a “hybrid middle ground” in a tongue-in-cheek attempt to resolve the continuing debate around cultural identity.

The life forms project is an animation sequence produced by printmaker Kwok Cheung and West Australian choreographer Chrissie Parrot. The analysis of a classical dance move was animated for use as an on line teaching resource for remote access. The film took on a beauty of its own and was eventually adapted and used as a back projection for a live dance sequence as part of the 2000 Perth arts festival. The project illustrated our cross disciplinary approach to printmaking and is particular to our position within the West Australian Academy of performing Arts.

Open Bite has developed an inter-dependent and self-generating position where educational philosophy works hand-in-hand with commercial activities, in turn funding industrial research and development projects and community workshops to strengthen its educational base. Its future lies in the continuing positive and balanced relationship between agent and artist, without which the workshop would inevitably assume a subservient rather than contributory role. At present, we seem to have a win – win situation where the devils triangle has been re-aligned to the advantage of all.


© Clive Barstow, 2001.
Paper presented at The Fourth Australian Print Symposium, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2001.