A context for my work.

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A context for my work.


Orchard, Ken.


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



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A context for my work
by Ken Orchard

I took great delight the other night when I listened to June Wayne speak at the City Art Institute in Sydney. She was talking about print-making and the artist in general as a high class cottage industry.

I work with very few tools, as opposed to the way you work, Bea [Maddock]. I use one carving tool, one knife. I hand-burnish all my work. I don’t use any form of press except when the plates are of a certain scale as would allow that to happen.

I started off thinking about what I would say to you today to give you some sort of context to my work. As Roger [Butler] just mentioned, some of my works are quite small. These two images are from a larger series of collages, which I did about four, or five years ago and I was producing A4 size photocopies from collaged engravings. The dog in this one, for instance, is a collaged element into the whole image. The images were put onto acetate and hand–coloured. They were eventually meant to be seen as a lapse dissolve video. There are 160 individual images and they run in a sequence. I was using a photocopy machine like a tool to investigate the detail in each of the images, picking out particular details to zoom into and to find a link between one series of zoom–ins and finding a bridging mechanism into another detail and out to an original size image.

At this point I discovered that the textural aspects of the engraving in conjunction with what a photocopy does to an engraving are really interesting. It changed the texture and allowed me to think of it as a means where I could make marks but I didn’t have to make marks with my hands.

I’ve been making prints for many years. I started printmaking when I was about 15. I’ve been through two art schools, one in Adelaide and one in Sydney, and I’ve just received my Masters degree about two weeks ago. I’ve been in sculpture all that time. I’m in the sculptural area because I was in the sculptural area and I still consider myself in many ways as a sculptor because of the latitude that it allows you in making images; the freedom it allows.

I’m quite interested in the ideas of how I put my pictures together; what happens when you put elements together. You can see on the left–hand side in the image on the left–hand side a reversed image of the small collage; a cropped section. I was fascinated too with the 50 or so originals and also the 100 other ones to crop sections out and juxtapose and put them together and create some sort of new meaning; some new whole from parts.

This is a work from three years ago called Three textures. It’s a woodblock print. It’s hand–coloured. They’re very different in their scale. The one on the left is more or less A4 size. The one on the right is about eight feet high. These images are hand–burnished as I said before. I like the idea of it being a low technological input because I work from home. I don’t even actually have a studio at the moment which presents it’s problems.

The decision to colour it was something that I wasn’t sure of at the time. Most of the other work that I’ve done since 1986 has been black and white, and that’s in keeping with the original photocopying and engraving material which I worked with.

These two works are called Network, the prison of vision. The print on the left–hand side is the wood block and the print on the right is the print on canvas. I sometimes print on paper; either Stonehenge paper or Ushers paper and these works were so large that I couldn’t get paper that was big enough so I had to go to rolls of canvas to find material that could take the idea of scaling up an image to this scale.

Network, the prison of vision is made up of two parts. This is merely one part. The second part are these two works. These works are from 1987, undertaken when I was in residence in Griffith University, in Queensland. In these works I’m interested to describe three textures as a juxtaposition of images that affect each other’s meaning and displace each other’s meaning and form a new whole meaning which is entirely different from the meaning of each part. This is a contrast where the two individual images are meant to be seen exhibited from the ground upwards and opposite one another with a space of about eight metres between each plate. Each of the plates is about 11½ feet high so the spaces that are represented are spaces that are scaled to the human body. You could believably step into them if they were like Alice’s looking glass. They’re dealing with the convention of perspective but the contrast between how perspective as a convention is overlaid upon an architectural space, this one, and the other is geological manifestation. It’s the Tessellated Pavement in Tasmania.

I have an artist’s statement here that might clarify this work a bit more. It’s in seven points. It’s set out like a dictionary. Network is the noun for Point One. A work of art comprised of two woodblock panels, each divided into seven sections into which numerous lines have been gouged; all this scarred surface. Two reproductions after engravings of the Tessellated Pavement in Tasmania, 43º south, 147º26" east, taken from Garran’s Picturesque Atlas of Australasia, Volume Two 1886, page 503.

An interior view of the upper cell of the Mamertine Prison in Rome, 41º53" north, 12º30" east, taken from Cassell’s Illustrated Family Bible, circa 1845, page 337 in the New Testament.

Point Three is: A relationship between various forms of reproductive media, namely engraving, photomechanical reproduction and woodblock carving.

I’ll stop at that point and pick up an aspect to do with the processes of my work; to do with impacting different types of reproductive means into one surface so that you can recognise the works as engraving and when you see the works in the flesh they are of enormous scale, and you can also recognise the photomechanical, or what I call the ‘hands off’ part of the process, and then I project these up and I carve them so I invest a lot of hand gesture backing to the plates, both in the carving of it and the hand–printing of it. So that these three layers are somehow impacted and are cemented together into one surface.

Point Four of the Statement is: A graphic correspondence between interior architectural masonry and tessellation disclosed by natural reproductive processes, or reductive processes — erosion of the sea platform in the case of the Tessellated Pavement; a visual concordance between these two structures.

Point Five: An opposition of two one–point perspectives arranged in such a manner as to affect psychological responses in a viewer or an implied relationship between these two works and a third party; the person that walks down in between the two panels.

Point Six is an inversion of the traditional value according to the mediating substance, that is it’s persistent reduction to the status of artefact by labour investment in the primary surface. Importantly, in this work, the woodblocks are the positive images of the spaces that are defined in Mercator Projection terms, so the plates are really the final art work and so the prints are then forced to take on the status of artefact, even though they are editioned.

This work is editioned at four. The triptych, on the other hand, is editioned at six and of course you can understand why those numbers are so small; because of the nature of the scale of the work.

I have considered doing a work which would be quite large and making 100 of them and stockpiling them but I don’t know. I’m not too sure. I’ve had some criticism about the way that I either keep my editions small or if I make them large. So, it’s a contradiction which I can’t work out just yet.

The one on the right is the plate and the block exhibited at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne earlier last year, and it’s not the true indication of the entire work because the block of the Tessellated Pavement is over on this side and you can’t see. It’s quite important to that piece for it not to be seen as it’s seen here in the car park at the university but you stand in between it and you rotate through 180º so that there’s some ‘sense surround’ effect; you’re totally encompassed by it.

The next work is called DGB 16, Folio 54, 55, Volume 12. Again, it’s a woodblock print. I’ve used plywood and craftwood in the production of my works. I use craftwood now. I find it a much more tractable surface to work with. This work is broken up into 112 panels and (there is a) detail on the right. It’s a work that’s important. It’s meaning is taken up by the context in which it’s placed. The title of the work, DGB 16 – I’ll just use that term – is the archives location number of the original drawing by Eugene von Gerard which is to be found in the Mitchell Library in Sydney. The work is scaled to exactly 120 feet long in the 112 panels in editions of, I think, 12.

Importantly, it’s gridded in the way that it is to draw a parallel or draw a reference between it’s reproduction of the von Gerard work, in this case a working drawing for his painting that is in this gallery, the northeast view from Mount Kosciusko and the Tillers work, which this is based on, is a reproduction after the von Gerard painting and I wanted to make a print that was symbolically associated with the Tillers painting on a formal level in terms of it’s coding; the gridding is like a code to read the context, and also to somehow sit the work as a reproductive form in between an original drawing by von Gerard and a copy of a painting by Tillers. Because Tillers was making a singular painting I wanted to try to ironise that idea. Instead of making, say, a drawing of an enlarged drawing of von Gerard’s drawing to put it in relationship to Tiller’s work I decided to use a reproductive form so it was somehow ‘devalued’ again.

You used the term ‘ghettoisation’ the other night in your talk which I think is a very appropriate analogy which was more of a blanket term about printmaking as such. I think that print–making for me is my major art practice at the moment and I think that possibly a way out of the incredible labour intensification in the works is possibly to incorporate, in the future, painting with the printed surface, be it on paper or on canvas. Obviously, probably more suited to the canvas surface.

There are only two more works to show you. This one’s called Transfermation; ‘transfer–mation’, one word. It’s a work which can be broken up into its separate parts. It’s a detail taken from an early Australian folk engraving of a gold digger knocking down his cheque. You might know the image. It was produced, I think, in 1882. I’m interested in this work not to draw attention to that fact; it’s context, but to produce an optical surface which draws you close to recognising some sort of figurative element but not allowing you to see it too.

I’ve tried to achieve that by using the photocopying process; of repeatedly copying the image and blowing it up so it distorted the immediate recognition of what it was and then allowing that repetition to then break out of itself so it was like a wallpaper in effect.

There’s a power point in the room here on the left so you can see it’s scale, but this is really like a hint of the possibility held in this idea of reproduction or treating a work like an Australia Post sheet of stamps, so that it could take upon [itself] a lessened value than a work of art in terms of being put into a gallery or any space, but treating it like wallpaper, up on the walls, up on the ceiling. It was exhibited recently in Sydney on the ceiling in a strip, and not many people saw it.

The final work that I’d like to talk about is called Blueprint (for a moment of inertia). The titles of all my works are quite important in terms of giving a lead–in in terms of possible interpretations of how a work can be talked about, how it can be discussed, how it can be criticised and probably in this instance how it can be curated possibly as a strategy in itself.

The block is on the left–hand side, the print on the right. This is a proof on paper at the moment but I intend to print it onto canvas when I find a space. It’s in 12 panels and it’s an image based on a collaged engraving by James Gleeson. Gleeson did a series of works in 1975 for about five years, 1975 to 1980, called Un moir de Sonte, which is ‘A month of health’. In the series, he was paying homage to Max Ernst’s series from 1934 called Un suremain de bonte; A week of kindness. His series is actually less structured. It’s in four parts but it’s actually less structured thematically than Max Ernst’s work so there’s not a theme through it like there is with Easter Island statues or the use of the Line of Belfort, which is probably the images which are most reproduced. I believe there are some of them, if my memory serves me correctly, in this collection.

I’m very interested in contemporary art theories in relation to my works. In fact, sometimes I think the theories affect the way that I think about my working processes and what I may and may not do, which is a very rational thing, and yet there’s an element in the way I work which I like to think is quite an intuitive way too.

There were 134 images on the wall at Holdsworths Gallery in 1987 and I chose this particular image to use for very idiosyncratic or subjective reasons. I was struck by the fact that it has a power. It’s an arrested moment. It’s a static image, but it has a power of suggestion of movement, or of rotation about a central axis, which is why I’ve drafted into the title this idea of a moment of inertia, which is a very literal way to look at an image and think of what to call it. At the same time, I’m very concerned with style or stylistic concerns in my work, and in work generally.

So, Richard Hamilton’s paintings from the late 1960s reproducing the photographic textures of blow–ups in painted form, or Tom Philips’ use of those same sort of distorted photographic renditions in print or painting form. The stylistic element interests me in this work because I see it in this work as an end point, or I feel trapped by the medium or the interest that I have in a particular type of image which is a black and white, on/off, very digital type of image. In that there’s the suggestion of inertia about my own attitudes to my practice; that I can’t do any more, or something may block me in the future from the idea of repetition, or of repeating oneself.

I went through art school in the late 1970s and the methodologies there were very much inspired by the Duchampian models and there’s a suggestion that with stylistic consistency there’s an ease with which you can produce images. The stylistic elements allow you to produce multiples; you can experiment whereas the Duchampian model seems to be predicated on an understanding that each step that you make may be entirely different; an entirely different formal step. I see that, in a way, as recreating the wheel each time you think of producing a new work. You don’t use the same medium. These are just thoughts that I was struck with when I was considering making this work.

It is, in fact, a collage by Gleeson, which has been overlaid on top of an original by Frank Mahoney, an Australian artist of late last century, and there are four signatures now in the corner of the work, Mahoney’s and the engraver’s signature, in this instance Hayman, and Gleeson’s signature. This is what attracted me to this particular image; because of that cluster of authorial identifications in the image, and I wanted to reinscribe it in my own fashion, again, with style.

It’s quite a large image and the print has the positive image as opposed to, say, Network where the plate is the positive image and the prints are the reverses of them. So, the whole status of the wood block itself, I think, needs to come under some investigation.

I don’t think that the surrealistic attitudes or the surrealistic models necessarily apply to this work any more, whereas I would look at Gleeson’s work entirely in relation to Ernst’s work because it was actually specified as a homage to his works, whereas a reproduction of it on this scale and at this point of time of history in Australia and, in fact, in the international climate would need another type of theoretical model attached to it, but I’m not going to answer that one just at the moment.


© Ken Orchard, 1989.
Transcript of paper presented at The First Australian Print Symposium, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1989.