Meg Buchanan (1949-2021)

Vale Meg Buchanan (1949-2021). Among many, Dianne Fogwell mourns the loss of a friend and colleague.

3 July, 2021
In Exhibitions,
Printmaking, Q&A

From top:

Meg Buchanan, Nocturnal IV, etching, v of 5, 25 x 25 cm 

The artist at work.

Meg Buchanan, Allegretto VIII, etching, 7 of 25, 58 x 33.5 cm

(images Courtesy Beaver Galleries)

Our friendship of some 40 years, both personal and professional. 

Meg studied painting at the Newcastle School of Art, later printmaking in Paris and New York and she held senior teaching positions at the Creative Arts Centre, Wagga Wagga (now Sturt University), Canberra School of Art (now The Australian National University, ANU, School of Art and Design) and the National Art School, Sydney.

Our first meeting was in Wagga Wagga when I was a student being assessed in a drawing class in 1978 and later when I was a part-time lecturer at the Canberra School of Art. Meg had returned from Paris and married Greg and they decided to settle in Canberra.  We bonded again with grand ideas and inky hands over the big pink press, editioning and working hard to establish those big dreams for future art spaces via Studio One and the Kingston art Space. Time was spent with politics of the day and many stark and real discussions with exhausted legs after long days in the studio and late long dinners, Turkish dinners at Anatolia restaurant in Manuka with Ali and mumma reading our palms to tell our futures. We had much fun with bad jokes about ducks and trucks (and we all know what goes with ducks and trucks) big lunches fabulous artists, a few tears, many different hair styles and after being so tired we had dress ups with red tarlatan veils. Studio One was a big dream to bring a section of the Canberra art community together, enticing artists of importance to the ACT, the print to offer classes not available at the Canberra School of Art and a place of professional standards to learn. We wanted to provide spaces for artists to come and work in a professional studio with their own desk within the studio space. Many did and many have still have thriving careers and good memories of those days.

We wanted to reach out nationally through those who came to the studio to have their work editioned and give classes, to provide a place for training future printers. Who could not deny that printing Fred Cress editions with Basil Hall planted a seed for a master printer who has contributed much to the national print community. We also wanted to reach the secondary school students so that a more informed group would wish to attend colleges and TAFE and universities in the visual arts.

Community access was important but so was working with artists who were established in their field of practice. Money was short and energy was great and satisfaction grew over many years of change in knowing that the grand idea was important and has lasted through so many changes and grown stronger with each development.

Meg and I enjoyed many excessive lunches and on other days waited patiently for the pie man’s van to come so Meg could have a sausage roll and me the country meat pie. Meg and I were proud that the grand idea lasted through many hands and changes of locations – even that it lasted longer than ourselves – it was worth beginning.

Our academic relationship as colleagues at the Canberra School of Art lasted many years as well and drew out many discussions over assessments, art spaces and we smirked a lot as our eyes met across board rooms acknowledging that being the “ovaries in the room” was a token gesture in those early years of balancing the genders and equal opportunity.

We saw many exhibitions together of our colleagues and friends and spent time discussing their reviews and the reviewers. Talking though our own work, techniques and compositions in the studio. There was artistic respect between us, a trust that made me thankful for those studio discussions. This long professional relationship is rare among artists and is to be valued if you have one. Ours lasted till I last saw her walk out my front door, she walking so slowly and me wondering how long I had left with my friend.

For me it’s the many personal memories that sing.

Taking Meg to the plane to go to Greg and Paris in 1979.

Meg giving up cigarettes to take up cigars and her idea of “cut and paste”.

A memory in the early days of the classic computer and Word, seeing Meg with full-sized pages printed in Arial size 40 font spread out all over the floor of the farm’s lounge room and a pair of scissors and sticky tape in each hand. I said “the Word program will do that for you Meg” and she told me to fuck off; she was stubborn as a mule when she wanted to be.

Going to see Dolly Parton on her Melbourne tour and Geoffrey Rush in The Importance of Being Earnest.

A road trip with Gaye and Elspeth to have our hair cut by my sister whose salon was four hours away.

Taking Jan Brown and all the mothers and my neighbour Katerina to movies. Everyone was over 80 except us young ones who were to fetch and carry ice creams and potato chips. Meg and I deep in conversation in her Ute parked in the front yard and Katerina deciding to deliver coffee and freshly baked biscuits to the UTE door.

Going to see Jackson Browne for a picnic lunch on the green and sitting through a two-hour continuous concert; of Reuben my son and Greg patiently waiting for the break in the sound performance to finish his fabulous long joke to Mark and Meg’s face.

We grieved the loss of our mothers over tea and biscuits but were never able to sort out the extended family.

Our visits to Jan Brown in her home, the hospital and the nursing home, talking sculpture, printmaking, drawing, religion and astronomy, Jan is a woman we both respect and love.

Meg’s toughness and kindness lasted till her final texts to me while I was recently in hospital. When asked she would not talk about her own health, just Greg being in hospital and why – well that would be told to me later. Meg wished both Mark and I well, told me to get well; she was very private and I understood that.

We did much together as artists and we had similar values on hard work and what was important and worth the effort but it is the simple moments and friendship of years, that outlasts everything. These are moments treasured and will be missed.

It was sad that the surgeon had taken half my voice away (though he does promise to give it back) as I would have loved to have sung at Meg’s memorial. It would have to have been My Way and perhaps a little Dolly Parton tune thrown in. One thing to be said about Meg was that she walked to her own tune and lived her life on her own terms. I will miss you my friend and so will many others, here are some words from those you have touched:

I still recall some great advice she gave me as a foundation student.

Meg was such a great woman – she was so supportive and offered many words of wisdom to me over many years.

A big loss to our art community.

One of my most memorable teachers.

Gratitude to have had her as a teacher.

Meg’s impact was deep and wide, and over many years.

One of the best. Mischievous, irreverent, witty, wise.

Goodbye my friend I will miss you and I wish you peace.

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