Faced with the prospect of exhibiting in my local hall over 200 hundred original prints, gleaned from years’ of print exchanges, I needed to think ‘off the wall’, which describes accurately the set-up that eventuated. And, it worked a treat!
Comments from visitors were all positive, the ‘backyard’ atmosphere casual, but the works presented as professionally as the method allowed, and the prints easily viewed up close to appreciate, and marvel at the detail and techniques employed by each printmaker.
The hanging frames were developed and built by a cluey friend and keen woodworker. I provided a rough sketch and requested they be ‘portable’. We made the idea workable and good friend built six – hinged and folding versions of a small old-fashioned clothes line. Thank you, Peter!
After painting the first one with the lines attached, and almost garroting myself – there’d be no exhibition if I were defunk – I removed the cords (no mean feat, tackling good knots with arthritic fingers…) and cross bars from the rest . Six different colours would add a bit of gaiety.
Protecting the Prints
The prints are precious, as well as original works of art. To avoid creases, fingermarks and direct handling, I plastic-sleeved the works. The smaller ones, I put two to a sleeve, carefully adding a staple or two as spacers, to keep them positioned separately. Here was another exercise in dexterity and patience. New plastic sleeves hate to be parted! I’d rather have done without the white, punched strips, but acid-free cello bags would add dramatically to the cost, may not hold up to the ‘pegging’ as well, and, it was only for one weekend.
Descriptions and Colophons
Collating the various colophons (information on artist, method, inspiration etc) for the exchange prints was time-consuming. I had thought of individual ‘labels’ for the prints, but did not want to cover any part of the individual work. Plus, time was becoming the bane of my life. One of the ‘joys’ of flying solo with any project.
I did have the colophons available, though they didn’t get much use, except for a couple of queries by visitors, when I looked up the relevant information for them.
Not For Sale
There was disappointment for several visitors over the weekend, that the prints exhibited were not for sale. I explained (and also had a handout leaflet available containing the story) that they were not my prints to sell, and I would never part with them. Amongst the collection are a few prints from printmakers no longer living, which have very special meaning for me.
I likened the exhibition to someone visiting the National Gallery, pointing to a work on the wall, and saying, “I’ll have that one, thanks.” If only… I did offer to contact the relevant printmakers, to enquire whether more of the particular print was available, but no visitor followed up. Overall, everyone was happy to get up close, study, appreciate, admire, and discuss the works and different methods of printmaking.
One visitor commented how great it was to be able to ‘handle’ the works without fear of damage when glare was an issue. A gentle touch with a finger and all became clear.
Participation and Flexibility
I had available a linocut for folk to try their hand at printing. Not everyone who came along wanted to print, but those who did, thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The smiles and grins of pride, seeing their finished efforts were also a joy for this printmaker.
One young girl spotted the ‘leftover’ block from one of my exchange prints. A Tawny Frogmouth, it was a three colour reduction wood block that I had mounted as display, along with examples of the stages and progress through the colour layer and reduction process. She loved the bird. After explaining that there was no guarantee it would print well, being the remains of the block, she was till keen. I was willing if she was. It was no effort to remove the block and let her at it. She produced two lovely prints, and went away very happy with her new-found skills and works of art she planned on framing.
Others who printed their own Kelpie linocut were equally thrilled. All were attentive and keen to learn the printing process. None were hesitant in asking questions. And some didn’t even bother donning an apron, provided. Foregoing gloves, none worried about mucky fingers, though were grateful for ‘wipes’ on hand. I also showed how useful ‘paper fingers’ can be! (One woman marvelled at the fact that they were strips of folded milk carton, not store bought.)
Each person who printed, then co-signed their work with me. It was a collaboration – my block, their effort in printing.
Due to the weather – rather warm – I chose oil-based inks for the adult and teenage visitors. There is nothing more frustrating (for me, too!) than ink drying on the glass and roller, before one can get it to the block and paper. I did provide easier-clean-up water based block inks, and Christmas blocks on hand for any young ones, though they were not used. Given the time over, I would work out some way of involving the local school students…(more frames?).
Most visitors took advantage of the refreshments available, provided by another Sandford resident (thank you Lez). It was scrumptious weather, warm but with a gentle breeze. Taking a breather to sit, eat, drink and socialise beneath the beautiful 150 year-old oak tree in the hall’s grounds was idyllic.
One visitor, and another who could not make it over the weekend, both from other parts of Victoria, suggested the ‘event’ would make a great travelling exhibition. Something to think about. Though, given my current mode of transport, I would have to rethink the fold-ability of the hanging frames… I do like a challenge.