I am not a printmaker.
I am not a printmaker.
SourceAustralian Print Symposium. Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1987 - ongoing.
Countries of context
Australia | India
I am not a printmaker
by David Sequeira
The title of this talk is I am not a printmaker. What I hope to do is give you an idea of the types of art projects with which I am involved and in particular, focus on my residency as an artist at Megalo print studio in 2003
Here’s my background:
I was born in India 1966 and arrived Australia in 1970. I grew up in Melbourne and moved to Canberra in 1995 to work in the Education and Public Programs section of the National Gallery of Australia. I did not go to art school. My qualifications are in Education, art history and art curatorial studies. I have been exhibiting my work since 1993. I am interested in the place that people find in their lives for everyday objects and of my zillions of art heroes, Josef Albers is particularly significant.
I was awarded a studio residency with Megalo in early 2002. At that time I was working full time here at the National Gallery of Australia as the Coordinator of Public Programs. I did not actually take up my residency until 2003. By that time I had resigned from the NGA and embarked on pursuing my art practice full time.
The purpose of this talk is to articulate the place of the residency within my practice.
BEFORE the residency:
The first works that I want to show were all made prior to the residency.
For me these works are deeply connected with the idea of geometry and colour as language or code. I see much of my work as exercises in the selection and display of objects. My work in museums and education informs a great deal of my practice. For me, making works such as these has been about finding and/or creating a resonance with certain objects through shape and colour.
The works (slides)
My father’s library books on a shelf
The Zen Picnic plastic plates in mandala like forms
Collection vases on a shelf
David Sequeira Projects installation of vases, paintings and music
Many of the works that I make require limited physical skill. I prefer to use simple materials with which people are familiar. Books on a shelf, plastic plates, vases…these are all everyday items that people know. They know how they feel; what you can do with them; where to find them etc. The music is another expression or re-presentation of the objects. Vases were taken into a recording studio. The sounds made by striking them were sampled and remixed into minimal ambient music.
title: vase sequence (geometry, rhythm, light)
silk screen on canvas, framed behind glass
suite of 10 prints edition size 3
The title of this work comes from a quote by art historian Titus Burckhardt. In his book about Islamic art, he writes that ‘the artist who seeks to express the idea of the Unity of Existence has three means at his disposal …geometry, rhythm, light’
The process began with a meeting with Paul Peasley the Artistic Manager of Megalo. I had sent him a video which out lined my interests and ideas and by the time we had the meeting, he was familiar with my work. I too had gone into Megalo a number of times and looked at the sorts of equipment and programs that they had run and the type of expertise that they had. Basically we did our homework well before the project started. I talked to Paul about my interest in glass and my interest in really examining the properties of form and colour.
My images are of vases or vessals, but they are not so much about this shape as they are about how this shape interacts with colour.
• issues of transparency
• the blending and bleeding of colours
• generating a sense of movement like ripples in water
• selecting colours in order to create a sense of rhythm, music or sound
all became part of the discussion and working process.
Each print in the suite was made with 3 silk screened layers of transparent ink:
First a base rectangle, then a centrally placed full vase motif followed by two half vases motifs which bleed off the sides of the images. By layering the colours on top of each other we created softness of hue and sense of movement. Clearly the residency offered a complexity to my art making process to which I had never previously had access. This complexity was related to:
• the saturation of colour that could be achieved
• the visual vibration that could be achieved through a series
• the consistency of form that could be maintained through the full suite
• the subtlety of variation of tone and colour
The whole process sounded simple enough when we began planning. Paul specialises in printing on paper. My project involved that type of technique, but printed on primed canvas. BUT there was so much that we did not anticipate.
• each layer took about a week to dry: apart from the time factor, it also meant that the prints were more susceptible to dust etc and the drying racks were located in a community access studio
• the canvas shrunk after every layer causing problems with registration
• the canvas rippled and hardened
• the canvas stuck to the screen
• the canvas and ink were expensive. There was not a lot of material for trials etc.
• technical assistance was expensive…there was not a huge amount of time for experimentation.
In the exhibition CONTOUR at Megalo Print studio and gallery, one set of the works is displayed. The next slide is an indication of how the work might look if the entire edition was displayed as a mural.
Why did I apply?
I applied for a residency because I wanted to stretch. I wanted to see what else was possible. I wanted to extend my practice, even though I did not really know exactly what that meant.
Great things happen when people work together on art projects. I wanted to work with other people and have them be part of my art making process. Access to printmaking equipment is great, but access to people was and is the aspect of the residency that really appealed to me. It is a kind of chemistry of relatedness.
The residency program at Megalo offers big challenges for artists who are not from a print making background. The title of this talk is I am not a printmaker. I am the author if you like of these works, but I am not the printmaker. Megalo residencies offer money for an artist fee/ living subsidy and a material allowance. Technical assistance is not really part of the residence. I ended up using most of the money allocated to the residence to purchase time with Paul Peasley (master printmaker). Artists familiar with printmaking simply use the facilities with minimal contact with staff. Clearly I was not in this position and this put considerable strain on the scope of the project.
I had no concept of the pressure that Paul was facing until I began to notice that the tiny beads of sweat that appeared on his forehead had begun to grow into bigger beads that would collect on his brow each time he pulled the squeegee over the screen. We printed an edition of three on canvas, with one artist proof. The other proofs were done on paper. The point I am making is that there was not a lot of room for error.
We ended up masking the edges of each print. We softened and flattened the canvases by ironing each one in a fabric ironing press. The finished works were then stretched and framed behind glass.
I did not do the residency to learn how to print. I did the residency to make prints…but I am not a printmaker. I came to Megalo with an idea. Paul picked up the idea and we worked at pushing it as far as we could in our limited time together. My expertise is in colour; Paul’s is in printing. I mixed inks and we practised layering them until we got the results that we wanted. This was not without grief, but it was a powerful experience for me to allow someone else into my art making world.
I have often wondered why studios set up residency programs and what benefits there would be for an organisation. It maybe a little arrogant to speculate about what Megalo gained through having me participate in this program. I am convinced that it stretched Paul’s experience and stress levels as a print maker. Most importantly, it brings new people into an organisation…people who then become advocates.
AFTER the residency
The following works are from an exhibition at Helen Maxwell Gallery, Canberra. All of the work was made after my residency.
12 paintings gouache on paper title: music paintings
2 artist books title: the space between us
100 vases title: collection 1 and collection 2
soundtrack MUSIC made by vase samples
I want to conclude this talk by looking at the project that I completed after my residency at Megalo. It was an exhibition at Helen Maxwell Gallery here in Canberra, called The space between us. For me, the printmaking residency had a profound influence in the development of the ideas for the exhibition, and more specifically in the works on paper.
The works on paper could have been screen printed. Implicit in the
• clarity of form
• flatness of colour
• notion of paper as object
• sense of space
• lightness of composition
• understanding of interaction of colour
are ideas that came from my experiences at Megalo and the project that we generated.
© David Sequeira 2004.
Paper presented at The First Australian Print Symposium, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2004