Between a rock and a hard place - various artists.
Megalo Print Gallery, until May 28.
Reviewer: Sasha Grishin.
For those who love lithography, and I am certainly one of these people, this exhibition is an absolute treat.
The term lithography is from the Greek and means literally writing on stone. Whereas relief printmaking, etching and engraving were art forms widely practiced in the Renaissance, lithography was discovered only in the late 18th century by a failed Bavarian playwright, who noticed that if you wrote something with greasy crayon on a slab of Bavarian limestone, you could fix the marks onto stone. When you wet the stone, ink would adhere only to the crayon and could be precisely transferred onto a sheet of paper. This technique could be used to quickly and cheaply duplicate drama scripts and music scores, and caught Napoleon's interest as a way of rapidly spreading facsimiles of orders and communiqués in military campaigns.
Goya developed this form of "chemical printing" as an art medium in the early 19th century, the great Honoré Daumier produced literally thousands of lithographs and, in Australia, S T Gill made hundreds of lithographs that defined the Australian character. Henri Toulouse-Lautrec revolutionised colour lithography and created some brilliant lithographic posters, Picasso turned the medium on its head and made it modern, while Chagall and Matisse created some of the great lithographic art works of the first half of the 20th century.
What all of these artists had in common was that they did not print their own lithographs, but generally employed the services of a master printer. Fernand Mourlot was amongst the greatest lithographic master printers in Europe and worked with Picasso and Matisse, while a few generations later, Ken Tyler in America had a profound impact on lithography and created some of the most iconic images of the 20th century, as lithographs, working with Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell, Claes Oldenburg, Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Nolan and David Hockney.
A master printer does not translate an artist's drawing into a lithograph, but is more like a midwife, who technically facilitates the creation of the original print. Melbourne-based Peter Lancaster is a master lithographic printer who has worked with a number of Australia's finest artists to create some absolutely brilliant lithographs. Kaye Green, a wonderful Australian artist, who frequently prints her own lithographs, describes her experience of collaborating with Lancaster as a "perfect working relationship". Her lithographic prints Tall tree with strong trunk and A bare tree on a steep cliff, both of 2015, create a profound meditation on nature, like the mind and spirit of a tree.
The thing about lithography is that in the hands of a poor artisan, it can merely replicate the effect of a drawing or a painting, while in the hands of a master it creates a work of startling originality that has its own voice and is distinct from any other medium. Rick Amor works across many mediums, but what he achieves in his wonderfully moody images, such as his Walking man, 2010 is unique to this art form.
Kristin Headlam is a Melbourne-based artist whom I greatly admire, her haunting lithograph Tea, 2010, is one of her finest works. In lithography, each colour is usually printed separately, so in Headlam's print there are four plates, but they are printed so that seams are revealed and the white of the paper is allowed to shine through, creating a slightly eerie image, an impression heightened by the deliberately truncated composition.
Danny Moynihan has for many years engaged in his art the idea of the anthropomorphic Tasmanian Tiger. In his brilliant colour lithograph Tasmanian Tiger, 1996, the play with light, the strongly cast shadow of the main protagonist and the general apocalyptic setting makes for a fantastic print. Geoffrey Ricardo is best known as an etcher, his lithograph The Nuptialists, 2006 is technically a challenging but fantastically engaging print, where humour and tragedy are presented in equal measure to confront the viewer.
There are also some great lithographs by Robert Hague, Annika Romeyn, David Frazer, James Pasakos, Tony Ameneiro, Jim Pavlidis, Euan Heng and the late John Coburn. This is an all-star-cast exhibition.
Today lithography is a medium under attack. It is complex, time consuming and expensive. Many art schools have abandoned it in favour of the instant gratification of digital printmaking. This exhibition demonstrates that Australian lithography, at its best, is a great and unique art form.