As a student I didn’t lean anything about printmaking.

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As a student I didn’t lean anything about printmaking.


Lanceley, Colin.


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



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Colin Lanceley

As a student I didn’t lean anything about printmaking.

by Colin Lanceley


Firstly, I’d like to congratulate Roger Butler and his staff for getting together that splendid exhibition of Australian prints upstairs [Prints and Australia: Pre-settlement to Present]. I hope you’ve all seen it. I think there are some incredible surprises there.

I grew up in Sydney, and went to East Sydney Tech. during the 1950s and I didn’t know anything about prints at all, in fact I don’t think I knew what a print was, and I certainly wasn’t taught any print–making techniques. It simply wasn’t available. It was drawing antique casts, drawing the nude and occasionally the landscape and so on.

So, there were lots of surprises in that exhibition for me, because I grew up and studied here unaware of that wonderful tradition and particularly the work done between the wars, much of the very best work by women.

None of this information was available to us at the time. I didn’t learn anything about print–making and my experiences as a print–maker were blessed with knowing wonderful people who taught me, the first of which was Janet Dawson, who I think isn’t here today, a wonderful lithographer who was running a litho-press at the back of the old Gallery A at Toorak Road in Melbourne.

I went down there and sort of slept on the floor and drew and printed and proofed, and I had my first experience of printmaking, and my first experience of seeing that fresh black ink on a white piece of paper, an experience that I have never recovered from. I still, when I am proofing with somebody, and all through my career have been blessed with wonderful people to work with. I still have that fresh sensation whenever I see the paper turned up; when I see my image alive on the page it gives me the most incredible thrill and I think it’s something that I wouldn’t ever want to lose.

I’m going to just show you some of my work. I think some of my best things have been done in terms of suites of prints and it wasn’t really until I went to England in the early 1960s, 1965 I think, [that] I became aware of the work of Christopher Prater (he was out here, I think a year ago, under your auspices).

Chris really had, almost single-handedly, revamped the whole idea of silkscreen as an artist’s print medium. He was a commercial screen printer and had a small business, and he knew Paolozzi and Kitaj who asked him whether he would make a print for them, which he did. And he had that incredible jolt of recognition which changed his life, and he became a really outstanding artist–printer.

Now, the first significant prints that I made were a suite of silk-screen prints with Chris Prater. When I joined Marlborough Fine Art in London in 1955 they said ‘What can we do for you?’ and I quickly tried to think on my feet and said ‘Well, I’d like to make some prints with Chris Prater’ and they said ‘Fine, go and see him.’ and ‘How many would you like to make?’ and I quickly said ‘Oh, six’ and I didn’t really have an idea in my head.

However, I did make six prints and they were based on Bartok’s Miraculous Mandarin ballet suite; roughly based on the movements of the ballet. I think one thing about them is that they are a fairly typical response to what was happening in silkscreen printing in London at that time. Chris, for instance, was employing all sorts of collage from Letraset, diagrams, all sorts of textures going on to the stencil which I was enormously thrilled by as a collagist myself and this was really, I suppose, the basis of my Homage to Bartok, as another collagist. These prints are in celebration of that.

I fell very naturally into the rhyme of what was happening at Kelpra Studio at that time. I also met a lot of the other artists who were working there.

I don’t know whether you know the movements of the ballet. It’s a rather violent ballet and isn’t performed very often. This is Number Three, which is called The entrance of the thugs. I was trying to create metaphors of my own for Bartok’s metaphors. I approached the whole the thing the way I approach my paintings and larger works, which is to bring together disparate elements; to try to pin down a poetic reality and an intensification of that reality.

I think that’s one called Strangulation, or Embrace, perhaps. That’s Strangulation, I think. I can’t remember the titles, but that’s Andre Breton as a child.

It was a very exciting time because of the bringing to the fine art process all of these different commercial techniques. That big area of blue on the bottom, for instance, is a straight piece of Letraset to create an effect of water. That’s the last one in the suite, called Leavis Stodd.

These are some prints, again made with Kelpra in the 1970s. I’d made a drawing, a sort of rather dishevelled image, and it looked a bit like a knight in armour. I began to elaborate a sort of powered, metallic sort of chrysalis about a soft image, and it had sort of a mad staring eye and I was wondering what I could do with this and what it could possibly be, and someone said ‘Oh that looks like Don Quixote.’

I hadn’t read Cervantes’ book since I was a child but got it again – it’s quite a read – and I produced other images. I began to tailor the image I already had and then, having made a character, just put the character through various adventures. I think there’s one in the exhibition upstairs, actually. That one on my left is the one which I started with.

This again, I think, is one of the interesting ways in which one can apply the, kind of, collage philosophy to printing (in that) one can just sort of pile in images, if you like, move them around until they seem to fix where they want to be. It’s a very interesting way of working, and with all of the technical expertise I was getting from Chris Prater it was a tremendous learning experience for me.

I used to go to his workshop and sit on the lightbox for about six weeks just sort of playing with textures; drawing on sheets of sandpaper and rubbing off bits of Letraset and anything to try and get the effects that I wanted, and referring to him all the time because he had a superb memory which I didn’t have for overprinting; wondering what colour I had put where and how (strong) it was going to be, and what it would do when it was printed over another colour in a different weight and so on.

So, those skills were something that I learned a great deal of from him. This is a lithograph; an offset lithograph that I made at the Drachma Press in Melbourne, called The empire builder. The image really is of a sort of exotic, alienated figure in a strange landscape.

Another homage to another very important influence on my life was to T.S. Elliot, and these prints, again silkscreens made with Chris Prater at Kelpra, are based on sections of Elliot’s poem The wasteland.

The first one here is called The burial of the dead, and if you know poem I’m sure that some of those images will be really quite evocative. ‘Come in under shadow of this red rock and I will show you fear in a handful of dust…’

A game of chess. ‘The chair she sat on like a burnished throne’… is the basis for that main image there.

The fire sermon. Unreal city. Death by water. And this is what the thunder said. The image of the crackle of thunder in an absolutely dry, parched landscape. And the image of the ghostly third form, casting a shadow on the road.

When I came back to Australia in 1981 one of the first people I met was Fred Genis, who is a wonderful lithographer. I’m sure you know his work. It’s been a tremendous privilege to work with these people. I don’t think I could really, sort of, make prints at all – I have no equipment at home, for instance. I could probably go back to the 1930s kitchen table thing with cutting pieces of lino, but otherwise I depend very heavily on the technical help and expertise of masters like Fred Genis.

I made a suite called Places, which were really celebrations of some of my favourite places in the world.

This one is called La Trance Su Mer. Up on the downs. Kakadu. That’s The Blue Mountains.


I always in my work like to make the white paper do a great deal of work. It’s one of the reasons why I get such a thrill when the black goes on, I think. Also, when the black goes on my prints the whole thing is tied together because most of my drawing is in black.

That’s Mattila, which is in Crete. The main image there is a soft limestone cliff which is honeycombed with caves, which have been occupied since neolithic times.

The road to Chablis. It’s about Burgundy.

I found Fred’s sensitivity to the way I worked really very, very helpful. Fred’s Dutch, I suppose rather spare sensibility seemed very appropriate to the way I put my images together and the way I tried to, sort of, ‘hang’ them with tensions between them.

This is called Maharka.

A little more recent. This is the last three now, three Australian landscapes. These were a commission, actually. I don’t often do things for commissions but I suppose I feel a little bit ambivalent about the whole sort of corporate commissioning thing, but I did these for the Convention Centre here in Canberra. This is called Coastal landscape. They’re silkscreened by the way and they were made with Larry Rawling in Melbourne. The image really comes from the sort of coastal escarpment south of Sydney, towards Wollongong.

That’s a vineyard landscape called Vintage landscape. The imagery, of course, from the print Chablis.

The last one is called Rural landscape, which has something, which I suppose we could say is about the desecration of the landscape.

And that’s it. Thank you.


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