Lock, stock and two burning tapers (Workshop in the bush - NT style).

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Lock, stock and two burning tapers (Workshop in the bush - NT style).


Hall, Basil.


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



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Northern Editions

Lock, stock and two burning tapers (Workshops in the bush – NT style).
by Basil Hall

This brief paper is an adaptation of the introduction I wrote for a recent booklet entitled Land Mark:Mirror Mark, published by Northern Editions with the assistance of the Gordon Darling Foundation in 2000.

Located in a small tropical rainforest on the campus of the Northern Territory University, Northern Editions is a unique custom printing business collaborating with Aboriginal artists and communities to produce limited edition fine art prints. The business shares a purpose-built printmaking studio with the School of Art & Design, and conducts workshops on campus or out on remote communities in Arnhem Land, the Kimberley and Central Australia. Northern Editions assists art centres who wish to establish printmaking studios themselves, and trains artists in printmaking skills and techniques. Individual artists-in-residence are also invited to Darwin to work with Editioning Manager Basil Hall and the printers, and non-indigenous painters and printmakers from the southern states and overseas have been part of this program.

In the making of original prints, the artist does a good deal more than simply supply a completed painting to be “made into a print.” He or she must make the matrix from which the work on paper will be printed. This involves either carving a design into lino or a wooden block (relief printing), drawing on a limestone slab (lithography) or painting on a zinc plate (etching) or acetate sheets (for a silkscreen). Although most Aboriginal prints come about as a result of experienced Aboriginal painters or sculptors collaborating with master printers, some communities are also printing their work on their own equipment and artists collaborate with staff at their own art centre. Some artists generate their designs on computer screens and a CD or disk becomes the matrix for the print. Northern Editions will only print from a matrix made by the artist.

Formerly known as the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Printmaking Workshop (A&TSIPW), Northern Editions, as it is now known, was founded in 1993 by Leon Stainer, following the Getting into Prints conference held at NTU and convened by Tim Smith (Lecturer in the School of Art) and Steve Anderson from the Association of North Kimberley & Arnhem Artists (ANKAA). Speakers at the conference discussed the merits, techniques, marketing, conservation and printing of works on paper, and Aboriginal participants and communities generally, were encouraged to use the newly-built printmaking facility at NTU to try etching, lithography and relief printing.

Over the next three years, artists from Bathurst Island, Emabella, the Kimberley and western Arnhem Land worked with Leon, Franck Gohier and George Watts to produce a fine body of work, which has been extensively toured around Australia as Printabout. Large format offset lithographs by Kimberley artists Queenie Mckenzie, Rover Thomas and Paddy Carlton and rugged, deeply-bitten etching plates are trademarks of this era. A number of exquisite stone lithographs were also produced by artists Mick Kubarrku, Johnny Bulun Bulun and England Bangala.

By 1996, the business had grown too large to be run part-time by one printmaking lecturer, and Basil Hall became Co-ordinator of the A&TSIPW. Soon after his arrival in mid-1996, the Kaltja/Business Conference was convened at NTU by Michiel Dolk, attracting around 100 Aboriginal artists, of whom 45 made a print at the print workshop during the week-long series of talks and meetings. Hall and Stainer worked together to introduce groups from ten communities to lithography and etching, and, following the conference, numerous requests came in for workshops off campus.

The next five years have seen rapid growth and a name change. Hall, Stainer and Monique Auricchio, whom Hall recruited from Melbourne, now run up to eighteen workshops on and off campus each year. The team has expanded to include a full-time Editioning Manager (Hall) and Projects & Marketing Officer (Rose Cameron), four full-time printers and several part-time printers. In 2000, over 200 editions of lithographs, silkscreen prints, etchings and relief prints were commenced. Printers worked with thirteen different communities and around 180 artists. Land Mark:Mirror Mark, an exhibition of prints produced since 1996, toured in the USA and was also shown in Canberra at Drill Hall Gallery.

One of the reasons for the expanded output has been the popularity of silkscreen printing, which was re-introduced to the Printmaking Workshop in 1997, following the development locally of water-based screen inks by Avant Garde. Another has been the success that prints made with Northern Editions in recent years have had in the marketplace, encouraging communities to return for a second and third workshop to hone their skills and produce more product.

Following the lead of Munupi Arts and Buku Larrngay Mulka, both of whom have fine print workshops and are printing much of their own work these days, other centres are now looking at having Northern Editions or the NTU’s School of Art & Design, (through its TAFE program), assist them to set up and operate their own print businesses. Merrepen Arts at Daly River, Bawinanga Womens’ Centre at Maningrida, Injalak Arts at Oenpelli, the Lockhart River Art Gang, Torres Strait Islander artists and others are now equipped to proof and edition in one or more printmaking media.

A third reason for the enormous interest in “getting into prints” is, quite simply, the fact that Aboriginal artists already have the skills to make great prints and need only to be shown the most appropriate surface and drawing tools for those painting or carving skills to be applied in the new medium. Prints are relatively inexpensive to produce and distribute and, because they are made in editions, the artists now understand that they will receive many payments as the work sells over a period of time. This is especially useful as a form of superannuation for older artists who are nearing the end of their painting careers, and who can now have an edition of prints made for sale after their “retirement”.

Northern Editions is involved in the marketing and publishing of prints, if a community or artist wishes. While it is true that the majority of editions are published by the arts Northern Editions is also centres themselves and distributed from the communities, several communities are unable to store and distribute their prints and rely on Northern Editions to do that for them. Northern Editions currently co-publishes the work of a number of individual artists, including Judy Watson, Brook Andrew, Garry Shead, Peter Adsett, Guy Warren, Djalu Gurruwiwi and Dhuwarrwarr Marika. Galleries and the Art Print Network also publish editions. In all these publishing dealings, it is important that all parties are part of the deal and get a “fair go”. Northern Editions often brokers three way deals between artist, printer and publisher and is always looking for the best possible result for each party. Naturally, this role is usually filled by the arts advisor when the work is being published by a community.

Consultation and collaboration are the two most important words in Northern Editions’ mission. The artist is consulted at all stages along the way during production of the print. This may cause the work to take longer to be realised, owing to the vast distances printers and artists have to travel to work together, but it is imperative that the author of the image is the one who makes the matrix and who has the final say. The collaboration between each artist, his or her assistants, the arts advisor and/or translator, the printer/collaborator and his team and the publisher or gallery is a complex and delicate operation. Mistakes have been made in the past, and the wheel is constantly being reinvented because of constantly changing staff in all the communities.

Northern Editions, the APW, Theo Tremblay NFP and other Printmaking Workshops involved in working collaboratively with Aboriginal people have the difficult but important task of maintaining the integrity of this comparatively new business venture being undertaken by the communities. So, too, do the galleries and dealers who are, in greater and greater numbers, moving into the Aboriginal art business. This means that the prints made are the work of those who sign them, and that the documentation is accurate, acknowledging all who have been involved in the creation of the matrix and the actual printing. Reproduction prints should be clearly labelled and, in my opinion, should not be signed or numbered.

In some communities and for a number of individual Aboriginal artists, printmaking is becoming their chosen medium for discussing contemporary issues, teaching the next generation their jukurrpa/dreaming, and talking about traditional subject matter in a new and different way. Projects, such as this the Yuendumu Doors (Yuendumu artists Paddy Sims and Paddy Stewart with Basil).

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