15 September 2020

Exhibition: Aiko Robinson

Clicking through the various collections on show at the Auckland Art Fair earlier this year, I was delighted to came across three exquisitely executed etchings by artist Aiko Robinson

Among the dense foliage of leaves, branches and blossoming flowers swathes of fabric fall loosely around the limbs and torsos of a headless copulating couple. The hands on the wristwatch point to 6 and 9 and the cityscape in the background reminds us that the lovers could be stumbled upon at any moment. 

Aiko Robinson, A Secret Hour, 2018 
etching and chine-collé on washi paper, 36x10cm, edition of 20 + 2 APs.

Bringing together all these elements of erotic voyeurism, humour, ornate textiles, and the natural world are in direct reference to the traditional Japanese erotic art of shunga, translated as ‘spring pictures’. Shunga rose in popularity during the Edo Period (1600-1868) alongside ukiyo-e, which translates as ‘pictures of the floating world’ depicting dreamy, idealised versions of the city’s pleasure districts and popular leisure activities of the ruling classes. 

Robinson first discovered shunga as an undergraduate at Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland and although initially adopting the genre as a way to shock her professors and rebel against the perception of her work as being too cute and feminine, found a rich tradition of pre-modern erotic art that celebrated sexuality, void of the taboo and shame that surrounds pornography in Western and Japanese society today. Interestingly, she finds herself not only educating Western audiences about shunga but in Japan there is also limited knowledge about this genre, which has only recently been brought to the attention of the global art world though landmark exhibitions such as ‘Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art’ at the British Museum in 2014.

After graduating, Robinson had planned to have an extended working holiday in Japan but as fate would have it she was the inaugural recipient of the Auckland Print Studio residency providing her the valuable opportunity to delve further into the subject matter producing a stunning suite of lithographs under the guidance of studio manager John Pusateri, who she credits as giving her the encouragement to integrate her explicitly sexual images with her signature visual puns which include mushrooms, mussels, loose screws and pussy cats. This resulted in a string of exhibitions across the country and a scholarship to complete a masters in printmaking at Tokyo University of Fine Arts in 2017.  

Aiko Robinson, Cherry Popped
woodcut on paper, 42x62cm, edition of 8

In contrast to Elam, which was highly concept driven, Tokyo University allowed her to focus on developing her technical skills in printmaking and drawing. Her first year was dedicated to studying traditional woodblock techniques although she was warned from the outset that she would never be a master, due to the rigorous division of labour applied in traditional Japanese print studios, with design, carving and printing being all highly specialised areas in their own right. She noticed that woodblock was more popular with international students and that Japanese students were more concerned with exploring and perfecting intaglio processes. The level of detail and crisp, dense lines that can be achieved in an etching compelled her to explore the process further resulting in some of her most exceptional prints to date.

After accomplishing many printmaking techniques, she has discovered that there isn’t one that captures her interest from beginning to end and instead is attracted to different parts of each process. For woodblock she loves preparing and carving the wood, in etching she enjoys preparing the different paper and putting it through the printing press and she is always amazed by the magical alchemy of lithography. Working across printmaking, drawing and watercolour, her process for each medium is the same, starting by drawing in the figures and then adding the details with the aim of drawing the viewer in to spend time with her work. Although the subject matter may cause embarrassment to some audiences, this is by no means her intention, consciously opting for a subdued colour palette and disorientating the viewer with contorted headless figures simultaneously exposed and concealed making it unclear where they begin and end. 

Aiko Robinson, Pillow Picture #3, 2020 
watercolour, gouache and ink on paper, 53x73cm

Her recent work during the global lockdown has included a series of watercolours with gauche, allowing her to work on a larger scale, experiment with compositions and taking a step back from her use of highly intricate details.  

These works will be featured alongside some of her woodcuts and etchings from her time in Japan. You can see them at;
 Fox Jensen Gallery in Auckland in September and October 
and at PG Gallery in Christchurch later this year. 

14 September 2020

10 Years of Waitakere Printers Ink: Barrel Store Exhibition, 18-27Sept

FINDING MY TRIBE, by Tracy Singer

During the Covid lockdown, there was ample time for self-reflection and to appreciate the advantages an art community brings to artists (both in person and through social media), such as inspiration, knowledge, and keeping your mental well-being intact. 

This year will be the 10th year for our group, Waitakere Printers Ink, to be working out of Corbans Estate Art Centre (CEAC), in Waitakere, West Auckland. Founded on our common interest in printmaking, some members have come and gone to pursue their practise or moved away, however many of the original members are still involved. 

The group is a way to promote the love of printmaking in all its mediums. It helps foster camaraderie and networking, enables access to products, raises awareness by learning from others, and provides exhibition opportunities. I highly recommend joining a group, to connect and share the technical and conceptual developments you are going through, as I’ve found the group helps me to emerge with fresh direction and greater clarity. 

Creativity is more than just what you create with your hands. Every artist, writer, photographer draws from a pool of inspiration, from creatives past and present. Even if an idea starts with one person, it can snowball with a collaboration of like minds.
I am reminded of a quote from the great cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, who said, “Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have.”

Ruby Oakley was the initial organiser of the group. She had attended a class with Alexis Neal at a Summer School event at Corbans Estate Art Centre (CEAC), along with Dianne Charraz. Diane's interest in printmaking had been formed while studying a Visual Arts degree at Manukau Institute of Technology. When CEAC brought back Alexis to run a monoprinting class, a plan was hatched to carry on with what they had learned and they booked a room at CEAC with a press, where we now meet monthly. 

Our first exhibition was in the studio, from 25 November to 4 December 2011. This space was originally the garage for Corban's Homestead. The group then moved to the Barrel Store at CEAC and exhibited in that space too. In 2013 we had our first ‘Barrel Store Exhibition’. This first year we learned a valuable lesson, with the timing not coordinating with CEAC’s yearly art exhibition. Lighting the large dark space was also a huge technical issue. As the Barrel Store exhibitions become an annual event, trial and error lead to the group acquiring our own lighting, which can be brought into the space and then removed. 

At the time Ruby was working at the West Coast Gallery in Piha, and suggested we put on an exhibition there in December 2013. This drew a lot of interest from the local community and visitors. The logistics were challenging for a large group but it brought the group together.  The collaborative artwork was based on a quilt design, made up of 10x10cm images. 

In 2014, Toni Hartill coordinated another Waitakere Printers Ink group exhibition, this time at the Bruce Mason Centre. In 2015, we had another successful group exhibition at Studio One in Ponsonby. The group filled all the downstairs space, in conjunction with Ruby having a solo show in the main room for her work. 
Here are a few of the artworks from that show:

It is never easy for a not-for-profit group, especially in these times of uncertainty, but sometimes challenges bring creativity to the surface. In David Eagleton’s ‘The Creative Brain’, he researches imagination and the human brain. He tells how creativity can be used in prison rehabilitation, giving inmates a creative outlet that changed the way in their daily thought processes. Creativity gives us a sense of identity and purpose.
In closing, I’d like to encourage you with these 4 steps for attempting creative living:
Try something new  Get off the path of least resistance
Push boundaries  Don’t be afraid of failure
Life is so much more fulfilling with the encouragement and support of other creatives, so if you can, consider joining or starting a group, or as the title suggests, find your tribe.

To celebrate 10 years of the Waitakere Printers Ink group,
come along to our 2020 Barrel Store exhibition at CEAC from 18-27 September. 
Further details are listed here: Barrel Store Exhibition 2020  

08 September 2020

Interview: Hamish Oakley-Browne, Te Kowhai Print Trust

 By Ina Arraoui

With open access community print shops being few and far between in Aotearoa I was curious to learn more about Te Kowhai Print Trust (TKPT) Studio in Whangarei which appears to be a thriving print hub with regular workshops, annual residencies, community programs, print events and a steadily growing membership. 

Offering such a wide range of activities keeps manager Hamish Oakley-Browne on his toes, having to balance his time between grant writing, tutoring and his own art practice and free-lance arts facilitation. Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with him about the challenges of running a print studio and his vision for the future of TKPT. 

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Originally from Auckland, Oakley-Browne completed a Bachelor of Applied Arts at NorthTec in Whangarei in 2014. Inspired by renegade print studios in the US, such as Cannonball Press and Evil Prints, which have a very democratic, collaborative and hands-on approach to printmaking, Oakley-Browne quickly gravitated towards print media to explore a creative style he has coined 'mythopoetic'. Favouring woodcut to depict real and imaginary creatures in a pop surrealist style, his work has a strong graphic quality referencing comic book culture. 

While volunteering at TKPT, Oakley-Browne and fellow print artist Martinus Sarangapany came up with the idea to hold a steamroller printing event, similar to those in the US, reasoning 'if they can do it, why can’t we?' And so, in 2015 Printapalooza was born. 

With the support of TKPT and tutors at NorthTec, the team printed an impressive 17 wood blocks, each one over 2 metres high, one for the artist and the other for the trust to fundraise for the following year. Now an annual event, Printapalooza is very modestly promoted as the biggest print event in Northland, although on second glance it appears to be the biggest in the whole country. For Oakley-Browne the event is not only a successful fundraiser but a great way for the print community to come together on a collaborative project and promote printmaking to wider audiences. The Whangarei Fringe Festival in October is a collaborative event where participants can co-create a comic book printed in various media.


The increase in membership is also partly due to regular introductory courses where a range of different printmaking techniques can be explored. The studio is well-equipped with several presses for lithography, wood block, etching, letterpress as well as a screen-printing. In fact, they seem to be running out of space as more presses get donated on a regular basis. Maintaining, upgrading and finding a space for all the equipment is an ongoing concern for Oakley-Browne, who hopes to reoccupy the adjacent building to allow for a much-needed specialised screen-printing studio. More space would also enable increased access for community, such as visits by school groups and mentoring for at-risk youth. 

In the future he would also like to see their collection of antique presses transformed into a print museum which would also house their large print archive going back to the early 1980s when the studio was first established. Although TKTP is in the process of digitising their archive, they would like to share it globally on an open access digital platform.  

What would seem like a daunting task for most, Oakley-Browne is taking the management of TKPT in his stride. His optimism is fuelled in part by seeing the positive impact it is having on the community especially in such critical times where people are struggling to connect. Having a supportive printmaking community and a large, well-established creative sector in Northland is also encouraging for Oakley-Browne. He is grateful for the many opportunities there are to exhibit and promote his work locally. 

With an eye on the future, Oakley-Browne would also like to see TKPT embrace some of the technological innovations in contemporary printmaking like digital prints, laser-cutting and 3D printing. In saying that, he also thinks it’s important to keep traditional printmaking techniques alive and ensures there is always sufficient training and upskilling in more complex processes such as lithography. When asked what his dream print residency would be, among others he mentioned the Kariuzawa Mokuhanga residency in Japan as there are few Mokuhanga practitioners in NZ and this technique closely aligns with TKPT’s eco-friendly values, already using locally manufactured non-toxic screenprint ink donated by Live to Print. 

Despite the social and economic pressures of the present time, print studios such as TKPT will need to continue to take risks and innovate in order to stay relevant to local communities in a rapidly changing world.

For more information about TKPT's courses, events, residencies, and ways you can support their vision for printmaking, check out their website: tkpt.org/