In Put/Print Out: Cicada Press. Megalo Print Gallery, 21 Wentworth Avenue, Kingston. Until May 18.
Of all of the traditional art forms, printmaking has been the one that has most depended on collaboration. Printing presses are generally large, heavy and expensive, and the technical expertise required in many printmaking techniques is highly specialised. This has frequently resulted in the pooling of facilities and knowledge.
Although many printmakers insist on complete ownership of the process in the production of the matrix and the printing of an edition to produce a completely autograph print, others are happy for the intervention of professional printers.
Professional printers, sometimes called master printers, offer services that range from printing an edition for an experienced artist printmaker, who has completely resolved the matrix, to an artist who may never have made a print in his or her life being coached in all aspects of printmaking.
There are numerous printmaking workshops in Australia that print editions for artists - for example, the Australian Print Workshop in Melbourne or Basil Hall Editions in Canberra and Braidwood. One of the most remarkable is Cicada Press in Sydney, located within the University of NSW. It is remarkable for a number of reasons, most having to do with its founder and principal master printer, Michael Kempson, who established the press in 2004.
Kempson is the son of an Anglican cleric who led an itinerant existence, moving with his family from parish to parish. From his father, Kempson inherited the idea that the role of a person is to "cure souls" and has brought this idea to his artistic practice. When I first met Kempson, about 20 years ago, I was amazed by his energy and by his work ethic with many different editions of prints with different artists on the go simultaneously as well as maintaining his own output of work as an artist. Subsequently I learnt his secret: he sleeps only about three hours a night.
The Cicada Press exhibition is marked by the enormous energy of this maverick master printer and artist. It is a crowded exhibition of about 50 prints, made between 2009 and 2019, selected from the 1500 editions by 225 Australian and international artists printed at Cicada Press. Not all prints are created equal, but some of the best works here are of a high international standard.
Some of the most outstanding prints include the work of the veteran Sydney artist Elisabeth Cummings, especially her Mungo moonlight and Mungo lunette, etching and aquatint made in 2016. There is a lightness and scratchiness in the work, where the forms appear to be breathed upon the sheets of paper and air circulates around the compositional elements.
Kevin Connor, another veteran Sydney artist, has a series of six Paris walks realised as lift-ground aquatints in 2017. The tonal drama of his paintings now finds expression in the strong and dramatic forms of the aquatints. Euan Macleod, like Cummings and Connor best known as a painter, has over the years built an extensive oeuvre as a printmaker. His Boatman/Icebergs, 2010, an open-bite etching and aquatint with colour, plays with some of his favourite themes. The vivid blue heightens the sense of drama and suggesting a brooding atmosphere and a sense of doom. Chris O'Doherty, aka Reg Mombassa, equally known as a musician and a printmaker, is represented by one of his most lyrical prints to date, Two dams, two poles, an etching and aquatint from 2018.
This is a beautiful show from the creative epicentre of Cicada Press.