Semblance of Order – Imprint Magazine

Picture 1

Last year’s Semblance of Order residency and exhibition has been written about in the current Imprint Magazine (Print Council of Australia Journal).  For those of you who don’t remember, Semblance of Order was :

presented in association with Parramatta Artists Studios. With cross cultural collaboration as its core, Semblance of Order is a travelling exhibition promoting Australian and Pakistani art and artists across borders and platforms.

Exploring the limits of printmaking, the exhibition presents etchings and silkscreen prints by five artists from Pakistan and Australia. Featuring Roohi Shafiq Ahmed, Michael Kempson, Ben Rak, Abdullah M.I. Syed and Adeel-uz-Zafar. Curated by Abdullah M.I. Syed.

Semblance of Order is the result of an international artists’ residency program delivered in partnership between Parramatta Artists Studios and Cicada Press (College of Fine Arts, UNSW), Sydney, Australia.

Imprint Magazine has kindly given us permission to reproduce the relevant pages and give you all the chance to read the article written by Angela Butler.

Click here to read the article 3691 Imprint Vol49 No1 _p12+13

Reproduced with permission from the Print Council of Australia, publisher of IMPRINT magazine:


Charlie Schneider : The Practice of Memory

Charlie Schneider : The Practice of Memory

By Angela Butler

Sydney based printmaker and writer

Charlie, busy working on his plates

Charlie, busy working on his plates

“The fundamental idea with these pieces is:

there is a square that you can see, but you also can’t see, so it’s coming and going at the same time.  A lot of my work has been about that presence and non-presence over time…”

How does performative and installation art translate into etching? How could an artform that is lived and breathed still have meaning when pressed onto a page?

I interviewed Californian artist Charlie Schneider at the close of a residency with Cicada Press in March 2013. He had come to Sydney to work on collaborative projects, and to give a talk at one of the COFA public lectures[1]. Once here, he was invited to join a workshop with a select group of indigenous artists, which had been organised by Director of Cicada Press and Head of Printmaking at COFA, Michael Kempson, and Associate Lecturer at COFA, Tess Allas.

Schneider was making prints based on his performative installation titled: “The Divided Line in the Form of a Square (the practice of memory)”, exhibited at Sculpture by the Sea, Sydney, in 2011. It included ten attempts, over the course of the 18-day exhibition, to sail a perfect square in the ocean off the coast of the Bondi to Tamarama walk.  Images of these mapped squares can be found here:

The Practice of Memory - Solid Shapes

The Practice of Memory – Solid Shapes

“I wonder if that shape, if those ten shapes, will be… keep reoccurring in my work over time. I wouldn’t be surprised. Or maybe I’ll make a new suite of shapes. It would be hard because those shapes are so tied in conceptually with this project, this very personal loss.”

Schneider began this work while in an ocean of grief, soon after the loss of his mother. The title of the 2011 project references Plato’s hierarchical device, the Divided Line.  Plato presents a line divided into four unequal parts. These divisions gave rise to the four sides of the squares that Schneider was attempting to sail. The square, among other functions, symbolizes the great equalizer that is death.  For his Sculpture by the Sea installation, Schneider’s struggle to sail a perfect square was a feat of perseverance against ever-changing conditions on the ocean[2]. This work is a performative and lived expression of daily life after loss: it is an experience of the human capacity to go on living.


The work had begun at the commencement of his MFA studies. Committing to show up to the studio every day despite being in the midst of his grief was how he stayed afloat: to be present even in his mother’s absence.

This absence is the essence held within the etchings. The process of grief – the memory of the sailing attempts, the memory of his mother and of his grief – can be held in the hand, seen and felt long after the boat has moored and time has changed the site of the installation.

At Cicada Press, the marks he made on ten small plates represent the reflective and dynamic nature of water as a metaphor for memory. The shapes were not drawn per se, but were formed by the absence of the line.


Schneider explains:

“… I’m not making the line obvious, so, in the same way that the line in the water disappears, it happens in a way that it’s always there, or I like to think of it as always there. Implying the presence of the line mirrors what happened in the project originally, with the original installation and sailing.”

So why a performative installation, at this place and time? He talked about death and grief, and why the scale of the exhibition was important:

“It’s kind of hidden from society, it’s pushed to the margins, and showing this work at a huge public art event felt significant to me. And it tied in also, to the site itself:  with the ocean and the horizon, the Waverly Cemetery across the way, and that distance to California where my mom was, when I was living here, so I like that distance. I love the idea of the horizon line as a symbol of the infinite.”

Given the artist’s background is in other forms of art, an opportunity to make prints at this workshop was something that he was keen on. As with all projects undertaken at Cicada Press, the collaborative relationship between artist and master printer is fundamental to the direction of the process and the outcome. Each person brings something to the table, for example: the artist brings the idea or intention and the marks, and the printer brings the technique and a great expanse of possibilities. And vice versa.

Schneider reflected on the dynamic and the dialogue that occurred between he and Michael Kempson during the process of working up the images:

“I guess we’re looking at what the final outcome is, and he, I think, was feeling like it’s not quite apparent enough. It takes a lot of effort on the viewer’s part to see the square, if it’s even possible, which is what he’s saying. He just bet me that 90% of the class wouldn’t see the square… But that’s beside the point.”

The push and pull of collaboration made for some deep discussions and open-minded thinking on the part of both Schneider and Kempson:

“Michael really wants to make it work for me in what I want, and I think he’s very good at that. And I think a sense of humour helps. Michael understands what I’m doing it for, he’s just trying to push it to where he thinks it’s more effective, and I’m trying to push it to where I think it’s more effective and … I like that. I like that tension. I mean, I’m right, of course.”


Schneider’s etchings were made to be given as souvenirs: tangible memories of the experience of his performative work. Imbued with a deep sense of isolation and determination, as well as connection to others, the practice of memory is a journey that need not be taken alone. He will be giving the prints to the family members and friends who joined him along the way.

For more info about the artist, go to

Cicada Press is currently printing the editions of the squares. To stay in touch about exhibitions of Cicada prints, you can follow the blog and facebook page for regular updates.

[1] “International Collaborative Problem Solving for the Artistically Engaged” podcast link: scroll down to March 12, 2013.

[2] For a video summary of this work, see

Guangzhou & Xi’an

By Angela Butler

Sydney based printmaker and writer

China. In my imagination it had been, for some time, the Ultimate Printmakers’ Paradise. A place where tradition allowed for the depth of experience needed for exquisite execution of print in a contemporary context.

Have you seen the work coming out of this place? I had to get there.

So when I was invited by Michael Kempson to exhibit as part of COFA’s contribution to the 11th Annual Print Works Exhibition of Institutions of Higher Education, I jumped at the chance to go along. We would also be travelling to Xi’an for the opening of the Australia/China “Personal Space” exhibition. Teho Ropeyarn, a graduate of COFA and current exhibitor in the MCA’s Primavera, also had a print in the show and made the trip along with Michael and myself. The 2012 exhibition and symposium was held in Guangzhou, China, and it was the first year that international Fine Arts institutions had been invited to participate.

Teho Ange MK Guangzhou

Angela Butler standing by her work with Teyo Ropeyarn and Michael Kempson

It was called “Begin with Printmaking: the Practice of Mixmedia and Transboundary”. The two day event started with an opening of the exhibition, which was held in a huge gallery on the grounds of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, and featured over 800 works by students, graduates, lecturers and professors of the major Fine Arts Academies in China, as well as University of the Arts, London (Camberwell), and UNSW College of Fine Arts, Sydney.

Guangzhou AFA Art Museum

Gallery shot at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art Museum

My excitement at the prospect of finally seeing all this quality work was high, yet my excitement for seeing student works and meeting other printmakers overtook this long-standing expectation and I found myself engaged beyond my wildest dreams. These printmakers were just like us. The works were diverse, used a range of mediums along with printmaking, and were essentially dealing with the same concerns. Life, the universe and everything.

Guangzhou Academy Art Museum

Outside the museum

I interviewed a couple of students to find out about their lives as art students in China, and found that they have very similar challenges and opportunities as I do. I asked one student if she thought it was going to be difficult to find work after graduation. It was going to be no problem, she said, “…people who are smart and can work will always find work, but it won’t be doing something they like.”

I laughed at this, empathising with the realities of slim pickings for future gainful employment in art.

Xian art museum

The Cicada Press envoy outside the Xi’an Art Museum


After two days in Guangzhou, we headed north to Xi’an, where the latest exhibition of “Personal Space” was opening at the Xi’an Art Museum. This exhibition was curated by Michael Kempson, Director of Cicada Press, and features print works by 25 Australian artists and 25 Chinese artists. It has been touring Australia since 2011 and recently arrived in China where it will tour over the coming months.

MK and Jasmine

Michael Kempson about to give a speech at the opening of Personal Space at the Xi’an Art Museum

The Xi’an Art Museum was a colossal space which had threatened to be too big for the works that were on show, but which turned out to be perfect. There was a quality of space, light and sound which allowed us to properly spend time with each work without disruption. Furthermore, the exhibition was opened by way of several formal speeches, including two vice presidents of Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts, COFA’s Head of the School of Art, Sylvia Ross, and the exhibition curator, Michael Kempson. A fitting venue and opening for works which so expertly exemplify the heart and the skill of printmaking.


Gallery shot of Personal Space exhibition at the Xi’an Art Museum

I had seen this show when it opened at Manly Art Gallery and Museum in 2011. At that time, I had been studying printmaking for about five minutes and felt every bit the novice – in the art world, in printmaking, in being a student again. My experiences since then, and particularly since having time in Guangzhou and Xi’an, the works in the Personal Space show have peeled back some of their delicate layers of meaning. It was a meaningful and inspiring experience to see this work in a new context: talking with fellow students from China about Chinese and Australian prints in a Chinese art museum. All of a sudden, the whole thing was very real. And I loved it.

I think meeting students and artists in China and getting a glimpse of how everyone works has opened a new door. The feeling of belonging to this community, this community of Australian and Chinese printmakers –  students, teachers and artists alike – has strengthened my passion and dedication to taking part in the discourse.

For me, this was the greatest opportunity possible to learn more about the practice that has begun to fire my heart. Printmaking in China was everything I thought it would be, and so very much more. I look forward to exchanging prints with the students I met there, and creating our own community of transnational student printmakers! I am already incredibly proud to be a part of what is to come.

Interview : Elisabeth Cummings

Interview : Elisabeth Cummings

By Angela Butler

Sydney based printmaker and writer

I recently went to the Cicada Press studios at COFA to talk with Elisabeth Cummings, an Australian artist who works predominantly in painting, but who also has a bit of a history with etching. Well, more than a bit. Elisabeth is currently working on several prints with Cicada Press Director, Michael Kempson, and the students of the Custom Printmaking class. The following is based on an interview given at the studio in Paddington.

Elisabeth first worked on etchings with Michael Kempson at Meadowbank TAFE several years ago. Prior to this, she had made prints at art school, and again some years later, however she says back then she hadn’t understood a lot. It was with Michael that she started to understand much more about etching: “He was very in tune with what I was trying to do, and then there was the delight of having them (the prints) editioned for me”.

For myself, as a student in the Custom Printmaking class, it has been great to witness that the skills we are acquiring really can translate into art that exists in the everyday world, beyond the walls of art school. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see the process from the very beginning, from making decisions about the size of an image, all the way through to editioning and exhibiting. Every step along the way presents its own challenges, which can be daunting (even overwhelming) but with practise become less so.  It gives context to the lecturers’ repeated cries during class of wipe your edges clean!

I asked Elisabeth whether she worries about students working with her plates: “It is a collaboration in a lot of ways. I’ve been lucky enough to have students who’ve got stronger wrists than I have to scrape. They might scrape where I wouldn’t scrape but that doesn’t matter at all, I like the chance of what might be, because my work is like that. It isn’t absolutely precise and I’m open to all sorts of things happening.” Elisabeth finds that she learns a lot too from seeing what students are doing. “It’s a very rich experience.”


Cummings was born in Brisbane in 1934. She studied in Sydney at the National Art School from 1953 to 1957. Her early work, in painting and print, was more abstract than her present practice. The paintings she makes today are imbued with a complexity of colour and such a range of marks that they are at once aloof and inviting; layered, concealed and emotive. I wanted to find out about how the important elements of her painting translate into etchings.

“With painting, the change is totally immediate, and with etching it’s not”, which can be frustrating for Elisabeth because of her working method. “With painting, I’m changing things all the time, it’s moveable… it’s all in a state of flux and change. I eliminate all the time and re-paint… adding, subtracting, adding, subtracting.”

However she really enjoys how the result is unlike a painting, which she says is the interesting part. “An etching is an etching, it has quite a different quality to a painting”.

With one of her earlier prints, she had planned out very carefully how the plates would go together and she didn’t like the result at all – she had to go back and change each plate to get what she wanted. She likes what happens when she scrapes, and the adding and subtracting on plates which “can make the process very labour intensive”. This is where students, mindful of the opportunity before them and with strong forelimbs, can come in handy.

The Yard – Etching 2010


When it comes to colour, it feels like it is both a carefully considered decision as well as an intuitive response in Cummings’ work. “It’s a bit of both. You start the painting and then there is that dialogue with the painting, and what the painting dictates… it’s a process of feeling one’s way” .

I wondered how this translates into the process of printmaking, where the physical matrix of the plate holds the composition and mark-making, and colour is only visible when it is printed. “With printmaking, of course, with a three-plate print, the colour is limited. Working out what to do with colour when you’re used to having a huge range, and having to work out how to get what you can out of that limitation is quite a good challenge. But there are ways … of allowing other colour in, doing a la poupee in certain areas – I love to bring in other bits of colour. It enriches things. You might think ‘Oh, I’d love a bit of yellow in this corner, and blue just here, nowhere else on the plane’ which is when Michael will bring in the a la poupee. It’s wonderful, but it makes more work for the printers!” Elisabeth chuckles at this.

Elisabeth CUMMINGSMichael KEMPSONCICADA PRESS, The red table.

The Red Table – Multi-plate etching.  2001


 As a student, my interest in the work of other printmakers is growing in terms of the rhyme and reason for print beyond my own obsession. I asked Elisabeth about other printmakers whose works contained what interested her or revealed something which she enjoyed. Her comments remark on how one marries influence with output: “I really like what Fred Williams did with landscape, with etching. Euan (Macleod) does very interesting things that relate to his painting. That’s always exciting to see, some process that I wouldn’t have thought of using. It’s sometimes interesting to explore that when you see somebody else doing it and you think you’ll explore it yourself. But the thing is, you always make your own mark. The way you scrape through the ground, or what you do with the sugarlift, you’re making your own mark. Of course, one’s influenced by things one sees other printmakers doing, but it becomes changed.”

Elisabeth recently saw Goya’s ‘Los Caprichos’ etchings currently touring in regional Queensland, and described her experience of being in awe:

“They’re amazing, he is such a brilliant draughtsman, he draws like a dream. You can’t believe the brilliance of the drawing. And the control of the medium, he probably did all of that himself. The control of the aquatints, the brilliance of the drawing, and then of course the imagery which is so compelling. You’re absolutely knocked out by it… and that’s hard to emulate! One’s impressed.”

Elisabeth CUMMINGSMichael KEMPSONCICADA PRESS, Arkaroola landscape.

Arkaroola Landscape – Multi-plate etching. 2005



A major subject throughout Elisabeth’s career has been the Australian landscape. I wanted to know about this, her experience in country which is familiar but unknown to me. “They’re all based on landscapes I’ve seen and experienced. Sometimes drawings can stimulate the memory, but then the etching, like a painting, takes its own course.”

When I asked where I could go to experience Australia’s landscape, Elisabeth’s response was enthusiastic: “Just go to Alice Springs and go out from there! The East MacDonnells, the West MacDonnells, it’s fantastic. The Flinders. Anywhere! Just go out to western NSW, Broken Hill. You know COFA has a place out there at Fowler’s Gap. That’s all arid zone, it’s pretty amazing, that country.  It’s the desert, and it’s fascinating to be in.”

I told her that I had never been out there. “You will one day. I always wanted to get to Europe when I was younger and I did, but that’s what I missed, the Australian bush and the Australian land. So I’ve been exploring Australia these last few years, and there’s a lot to see, there’s so much to see.”

Termite Mounds – Multi-plate etching.  2010



Some recent prints by Elisabeth Cummings will be shown in an upcoming exhibition of artists who have worked and printed with Cicada Press: “Master Prints” opening 6 December, 6pm, at MLC School, Burwood.

To see Cicada Press printers inking up a Euan Macleod plate “a la poupee”, watch this youtube clip: