Eurobodalla-based artist, printmaker Julie Mia Holmes, recently opened an exhibition of her transfer monotype birds and linocut/blackened landscapes at Books Kinokuniya. Artwork related to climate change and global warming are prominently exhibited including images of the natural world—be it ancient Tasmanian or British trees, bush landscapes, native birds or other animals.
The summer heat in Australia is looming. Bushfire and flood endured in the recent past are central to artistic concerns Australia wide. At present the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, home of the exquisite Margaret Carnegie Print Collection, has decided to program a year of artwork regarding our struggles with climate change. I am looking at a great deal of birds, such as Martin King’s monotypes and etchings of birds in flight, winning numerous prizes, or Lucy Culliton’s numerous monotypes of pigeons and chooks.
Holmes’ process is of interest. The linocuts are almost a metre in height and seventy centimetres in width, they are conventionally cut, and printed in the extremely small edition of two, by hand or with a baren, on Kozo paper. The drawing method is extremely direct and the grand scale places the viewer in an immersive blackened landscape similar to that of the Erobodalla fires, which devastated eighty per cent of the forest just outside the artist’s area, decimating natural life.
The artist states about the six-month linocut process:
I like the contrast between the monos and linocuts. It always feels like a push and pull between chaos and control. To make the drawing for the linocuts is always such a fast, energetic gestural experience. I go for a walk in the forest and observe, then draw afterwards from the memory and the feeling of being in the landscape. I use materials I’ve collected on the walk dipped in drawing ink to make the marks on the plate. It’s always swiftly done and on the ground, all perspectives becoming one. Then I carve and carve…and carve…..! all the marks as precisely as I can. It’s like mapping a memory. They take a long time, I think on average about six months or more. Lots of time spent contemplating tiny marks and lines that most people would think insignificant but every mark is important in making the final image. It’s how I look in the landscape, always head to the ground looking for the tiny things – insects, understory, treasure. And they do feel like carving light and hope. A documentation of something not yet lost. There is always a feeling of carving time and space, making room for something.
The depicted birds are statements of life, of resilience, natural rejuvenation, and hope: They are transfer monotypes again on a very thin Kozo paper, hand-coloured, and adhered by the processes of chine collé to a more hardy Hahnemuhle paper backing. An inked unincised surface is pre-prepared near a studio window and paper laid, then drawn upon when the delicate visitor arrives for their ‘close up’. These are drawn from moving life, and the printmaking process, the transfer of ink to paper is done while viewing the artist’s subject.
The fleeting glimpses of tiny wings, and recognisable defining species distinct proboscis, and feathered features, of Eastern Spinebills, the strength of chest of the Bowerbird or White Winged Chough are deftly sketched, immediately rendered, then iteratively drawn, one upon another, and soon pulled from the inky bed. The curve of the body, and swoop of the wing iterated again, and yet again, as a mindseye photo, forever held on the gossamer wing of Kozo’s thin paper.
Celebrated Bauhaus artist Paul Klee and his contemporaries Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack, Erwin Fabian, Bruno Simon and Klaus Freideberger all made transfer monotypes during and after WW2 with the process to great effect. Margaret Olley, Jon Cattapan, Sally Smart and New Zealand based Jason Greig also used the method, manipulated for their form of artistic practice.
These monotypes include the hand colouring of Klees work, which is essential to define the difference between birds: the heraldry of head, chest, wing-tip, and tail do not make sense in monochrome. The irregular thin paper reminds me of the same irregular but non-traditional, found papers of Fabian’s delicate monotypes; Sidney Nolan’s printing on multiple sheets and the back of tissue paper from his work at Fayrefield Hats; or the wonderful, radical, swift line, and flagrant but fruitful use of print process, and material by Jackie Gorring.
A Bird in the Hand is at Wedge Gallery, Books Kinokuniya, Sydney, 4-30 October
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Julia Mia Holmes, Bowerbirds, 2023, monotype with chine colle and coloured pencil, 20.5 x 32.5 cm
Julia Mia Holmes, Eastern Spinebills, 2023, monotype with chen colle and coloured pencil, 33.5 x 25.5 cm
Julia Mia Holmes, Relief Print I (Gums), 2023, linocut on kozo, 99 x 70 cm
Julia Mia Holmes, Relief Print III (Autumn), 2023, linocut on kozo, 99 x 70 cm
Julia Mia Holmes, White Winged Choughs, 2023, monotype with chen colle and coloured pencil, 28.5 x 23 cm