Discussion Summary: The Future of Printmaking in NZ, 26 July

Yesterday I attended the panel discussion titled ‘The Future of Printmaking in New Zealand’, 
held at the Gus Fisher Gallery, coinciding with the exhibition Printmaking: Beyond The Frame
For those around the country that couldn't attend, the following is a summarized version of the discussion
between Dr Carole Shepheard (Artist, PhD Fine Arts, Print Advocate) 
and Steve Lovett (Artist, and Senior Lecturer, Manukau Institute of Technology).

Susanne Khouri, Intentions (detail, one of 6 pieces), 2014
Screenprint on silk organza, wire coathangers.
Installed size 260x58cm

Steve’s opening comments touched on printmaking as a process, 
having a tactility or “aesthetic resonance” with its substrate and viewer.
He spoke about print being a tool or vehicle, dialoguing with the world outside the matrix. 
This is a dynamic conversation, always evolving. 
Printmaking simultaneously interacts with both the history of print and its future.

Carole began by acknowledging the major contributors in NZ’s printmaking whakapapa, 
such as the NZ Print Council in the 60s-70s, past & present artists and art educators 
that have been influential advocates of printmaking in Aotearoa. 
A reminder to recognise these printmakers are fine artists - not ‘guild members’ or ‘craft artisans’. 
Carole also recognized and expressed appreciation for the generosity of NZ printmakers, 
 for willingly sharing their print knowledge and information with each other.

It is important to accept that printmaking today is different than it was 20 years ago, 
which is different again than 40 years ago – it doesn't stay the same. 
Printmaking needs to progress beyond the distracting limitations of definitions and traditional boundaries. 
Print has always faced some form of political action and challenge. 
Gutenberg’s adaption of the printing press (around 1448) triggered a revolutionary movement 
that could be described as agents of social change - politically subversive and socially disruptive – 
disseminating the bible to the masses challenged the Catholic Church’s hold on the Word of God 
and was hugely influential in the Protestant Reformation and the spread of Christianity throughout the world. 
Not long after this, Durer then used that invention to print woodcut images 
that comment on mass-culture, industrialization, distortion, corruption, and leisure. 
We can also utilise printmaking to cross the territorial divides 
of culture, politics, economic, technology, materiality, dissemination of ideas, etc.

Steve Lovett, some people who may (not) be here (detail), 2014
Screenprinted concertina book

Technology and materiality interact with one another, to constantly say new things. 
Steve raised the issue of the submission ‘criteria’ for this exhibition stating no digital works. 
No other discipline stipulated what technologies were/weren’t admissible, so why does Print? 
This tension around process has the potential to unsettle, 
but it also creates the potential for us to engage with fresh perspectives and techniques.

Carole proposes that we embrace this opportunity to take risks and experiment with new things. 
She encouraged artists to debunk a few myths and to raise the level of debate associated with printmaking. 
The works in this exhibition are beyond just a ‘craft’, there is advancement in ideas. 
Carole suggested the ‘recipe’ for bettering of Print is:
Print = Skill + Practice + Concept + Presentation

Printmakers love to learn new processes, and it is good to also engage in conversation about it, such as; 
“How might this be used? What does it mean if we go down this path? Has it any value or importance?” 
Yet the unpredictable about this discipline fascinates and excites us 
– innovation, invention and technological advancement – 
such as the adaption that took place in print with the impact of photography and photocopiers. 

You’ll never make good work by technique alone; it needs an idea to follow through with it. 
 Internationally, printmaking is now showing up in installation art. 
Steve recommends to his students that they start with 3 fundamental questions about their work 
as a starting point to position the idea: What is it? How is it made? Who else is making it?
We each need to develop a habit of making everyday, looking and responding to work and ideas. 
Let’s take this opportunity to have an adventure and conversation with both the practice and the context. 
Our print process can be likened to grammar – when it is used well we don’t notice it in the work.

Nicol Sanders-O'Shea, Home Cloud, 2014
Screenprint, mixed media, installation. Installed size 300x300cm.

Steve suggests it isn't common these days for writers, curators or institutions to be our advocates,
to publicly support and promote on behalf of individuals and/or printmakers as a group. 
There is a need to consider whose responsibility is it to train the next generation of printmakers in NZ?? 
Individuals? Practitioners? Organisations? Institutions? 
When educational institutions neglect to provide or sideline comprehensive print tuition, 
it has a flow-on effect through secondary and tertiary level to professional outputs in galleries. 
We need to encourage connections, especially with young members and senior practicing artists;
 sharing, investing, mentoring, etc. 
Let’s not be complacent or nostalgic about what NZ printmaking was in decades past, 
but consider ways to make it better going forward.

Carole commented on the ongoing dialogue about the importance of editioning.
She referred to a quote from Hugh Merrill, who suggests print should be understood 
as a fluid and vital means of expression rather than a secondary act of representation.” 

Printmaking is not bound by editioning, we can act with variability if we want – 
we can be as expressive and experimental in our process and ideas as any other art medium.
Carole suggested that perhaps printmakers make fewer prints in an edition, 
rather than struggling with archiving and storage issues of unsold works, perhaps 5-10 is sufficient? 

Jean Clarkson and Sue Pearson, Hei (detail), 2014
Relief print, screenprint, intaglio, installation 

She quoted Charles Cohan (Professor of Printmaking, Hawaii University), who wrote 
the print matrix, which is capable of multiplicities, could be used to produce variability, 
and should not be for replication purposes only”. 
Also, taking a light-hearted perspective, with the quote: 
Printmaking, like sex, is not only about reproduction” [author unknown].

In closing, Carole suggests a few potential ways we could strengthen contemporary printmaking:
  • Get more public galleries on-side to curate shows
  • Ask the CPCANZ to do a membership drive that recognises senior printmakers, Maori & Pacific Island printmakers, and students
  • Establish more professional contacts
  • Get to know curators and gallery dealers
  • Argue the ‘variable’ along side the ‘reproducible’
  • Limit public discussion about ‘process’
  • More productive links with our printmaking counterparts, especially Australia
  • More critical writing and articles
  • Make amazing work that cannot be ignored! 

A reminder that there are several opportunities for New Zealand printmakers to participate in; 
such as the curated print exhibition Impressive 5 later this year at Nathan Homestead in Manurewa,
 the Waikato Painting & Printmaking Awards, 
and the national Printmaking Awards being held again at Mairangi Arts in March 2015.

One of the attendees asked the question, “Where to from here? What do I do next?
Steve suggested to set a self-initiated ‘production quota’, for example, make a piece of work every day, 
read articles, look at artworks, dialogue with other printmakers about what we see and make. 
Carole also discussed the benefits of emerging printmakers being mentored by established printmakers. 
It can be as simple as communication through email to provide feedback and suggest alternative research, 
followed up by in-person visits to see the work, or forming small peer groups.

Maria Martin-Smith, Taking Time (detail),  2014
Letterpress, laser-cut box, pencils

Dagmar Dyck spoke on behalf of herself and several other artists, 
expressed her thanks and support to those who are already great advocates of printmaking. 
She noted that there was a frustration at the difficulty in getting quality NZ art resources, 
so we are all grateful for all the help that has been made available to us.

A participant queried where might be any way to share academic articles and useful links for printmakers, 
such as the quotes and articles mentioned in today’s discussion. 
I am happy to offer to host this kind of content here on www.nzprintmakers.com 
so it is available to printmakers regardless of whether they are Print Council members or not. 
I welcome all NZ printmakers to send me information about any printmaking exhibitions 
and print-related projects (both in NZ and international) 
that can be shared for the betterment of our knowledge and practice.

Please feel free to add your comments and additional ideas below, 
or head over to NZ Printmakers page on Facebook to post some ideas or discussion topics.