Jan Palethorpe discusses her new project with Jan Davis, GOLD, entered in the Geelong Acquisitive Print Awards.

20 August, 2021
In Exhibitions,
Printmaking, Q&A

From top:

Jan Palethorpe and Jan Davis, pages from GOLD, 2021, woodblock stencils, 20 x 29 cm

Q: What were some of the foundation ideas for this exhibition project?

A: Our collaborative artist’s book, GOLD, has a long gestation, with roots that can be traced back to a friendship that began in 1984 when I was a student and Jan was the printmaking technician at the VCA in Melbourne. Although we have lived in different locations and states in Australia, postcards  and letters are the threads which kept us in contact. I was living in London and travelling throughout Europe, then the Kimberley finally landing in Castlemaine, and she from Clifton Hill to Avoca to Ballarat then Lismore with years of international  travel in between.  Our postcards resurfaced in a book we made together ‘Dear Jan’, exhibited at the Arts Hub in Newstead in a group show, Cut ‘N Paste early in 2021. Prior to this, Jan and I planned to make a book of lithographs together, and we travelled to the Guanlan Print Base in 2017, where we each had a residency. The limitations of the edition requirements at Guanlan meant that our concept could not be realized there. George Matoulas had made us a maquette for this project and we eventually used his design for GOLD.

Q: How did the artwork selection take place?

A:   There was a profound trust in this project, I think there has to be with any true collaboration. For some time we had been sending sheets of paper, woodblock and stencil images, back and forth between Tullera, NSW and Chewton, Victoria, between Widjabul Wia-bal  and Dja Dja Wurrung  country. In 2021 we threaded a selection of those sheets together with fragments of my poetry to make GOLD. Jan chose passages from four of my poems, and in an act of drawing with typewriter and stamps, wove fragments of text into already-layered pages as whispers and echoes of my original poems. It is impossible to say whether our images drove the text selection, or the text determined the image sequence. There was a type of orchestration going on, a truly collaborative synthesis.

Q: How does the exhibition manifest – what do visitors experience?

A: GOLD is lusciously bound by George Matoulas in gold infused paper. The pages are layered with woodblock and stencilled images, and with letterpress, typed and stamped texts. GOLD is for simultaneously reading and looking at. There is a type of tension/harmony/cadence between the text and the images, the semantic meaning of the text not wholly located in the words per se, but in the relationship with their surrounding context.  My poems which were the source of the text in the collaborative body of the work can be found in full at the end of the book. GOLD is opened at a double page spread but there is also a video of the book. Understandably, curators are very careful with objects such as these and the video allows access to the complete work.

Q: What are some of the key works and what subject matter do they deal with?

A: GOLD is a landscape of memories: of travel, of rural lives, of studios shared and separate, of friendship. My poems were written over a ten-year period, some when I was travelling, while the final one, Gold, is a reflection on the brutal history of my local landscape in the central goldfields of Victoria. All the poems have a quality of lament or sadness to them and this is matched in the dark and sometimes brutal imagery. The title for the work GOLD hints at the fact that the pursuit of richness, a ‘gold rush’ if you like, is ultimately futile, often disastrous.

Q: What is it about the printmaking experience that you most appreciate?

A: I love the smell of oil-based inks!  I also enjoy the process, the need to be methodical and carefully prepare for the birth of an image.  It is quite a meditative practice, it can’t be rushed, and when everything is in place it is a very satisfying art discipline to work in, but at the same time full of surprises.

GOLD will be exhibited during the Geelong Acquisitive Print Awards opening Friday 28 August-4 October.

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