Megalo International Print Prize. Megalo Print Gallery, 21 Wentworth Avenue, Kingston. Until March 28, 2019.
The inaugural Megalo International Print Prize was held last year and this year it is a bit of a repeat performance. The prize money has edged a little higher, from $10,000 for the first prize to $12,000, the puzzling prohibition on digital prints remains and three judges still select the finalists from submissions presented as digital photographs.
The field of entries this year is similar to last year, even if slightly reduced. In 2019 there were 367 entries from 246 artists from 31 countries, and this year 359 works from 229 artists from 32 countries. Last year there were 37 finalists, this year 38 from 14 countries. It is a strong show, although possibly slightly less adventurous and edgy than its predecessor and dominated mainly by established artists represented by signature pieces.
Many of the prints are big and bold, which I suppose is to be expected in an art competition where it is important to be noticed. Local Canberra artists, including Peter McLean, Annika Romeyn and Dianne Fogwell, have gone for powerful monumental images. Other Australian artists such as Robert Hague and Rew Hanks have continued with their intricate, ironic postcolonial commentaries worked out with a bewildering degree of detail.
The Melbourne-based artist Graham Fransella is represented by a knockout colour etching, Crossing (2019). It's not as large as some of his monumental productions but full of vigour and visual surprises. It is a print that creeps up on you and unexpectedly reveals itself. There is a gorgeous piece by Eunice Napanangka Jack, Kuruyultu (2019) -rhythmic, tranquil but with the energy of a tightened spring. Another Indigenous artist, Paul Bong (aka Bindur Bullin), based in Cairns, is represented by one of his well-known shields - this one less about political defiance and more a celebration of a way of life and the preservation of culture.
Leah Bullen, Rose-Mary Faulkner, Damon Kowarsky, Melissa Smith, Stan Squire and Daren Bryant are some of the other strong contributors in the Australian contingent of finalists.
The internationals perhaps do not make up as strong a field as last year but have a number of surprises. Jacob Crook is an American artist, not known to me, whose moody mezzotint Nightrise II (2019) has something of an Edward Hopper quality, where the enigmatic shadows convey a sense of drama and foreboding in this people-less streetscape.
The young Russian artist Olga Danilova, from the Repin Academy in St Petersburg, has been establishing a reputation as a linocut printmaker. Her monumental print Arctic walk (2019) plays with perspective and the vastness of space, where the figure with her dogs negotiates a complex encoded landscape. It is a print that becomes more complex as you enter it.
The Polish artist Anna Trojanowska, who describes herself as a marble stone lithographer, has in her print Evaluation's Event_04 (2019), created one of the most technically intriguing works at the exhibition. There is a game between two and three-dimensional space and the contrast between the intimate handmade quality and an abstracted reality. It is a more adventurous print than the one she exhibited last year. Her countryman Lukasz Koniuszy produces more conventional etchings of monolithic monuments within a deserted cityscape drawing on the heritage of Polish surrealism.
Not all of the work in this exhibition is uniformly wonderful, startling or unexpected, but it is a good cross-section of Australian and international printmaking - an art form that continues to attract some of the world's best talent. It is an exhibition that will surprise, delight and inspire audiences.