Michael Kempson

By Anthony Springford

Surrounded by neat ranks of cast iron printing presses and the smell of resin, bitumen, grease and ink, Michael Kempson’s office reminds me of a Merzbau. I can’t see the walls for books and towers of steel drawers, and it takes Kempson a minute to clear me a seat wedged under an overhang of cardboard. I think there’s a desk in here somewhere, but the University of New South Wales Australia’s convenor of printmaking studies doesn’t strike me as man who sits still for very long. His father was an Anglican minister, and he is quick to suggest that he is something of an evangelist for the social and educational value of printmaking.

Michael Kempson working with Reg Mombassa

Michael Kempson working with Reg Mombassa

UNSW Art & Design teaches etching, relief and lithography; centuries-old techniques in which each print is handcrafted and unique. Editioned prints have been part of the vocabulary of Western art since the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Goya, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse and Picasso used etching and lithography to produce works that could be seen and owned by a middleclass public. But since the second half of the 20th century, digital and photographic technologies offer increasingly easy ways to distribute images. Printmaking departments all over the world now have to fight for their place between one-off art objects and a global culture of digital media, photography and video.

Consultation with Pakistani artist Saeed Akhtar

Consultation with Pakistani artist Saeed Akhtar

Kempson draws a parallel between printmaking and jazz music; both are highly technical, experimental, open and collaborative, with a rich tradition of innovation. To the uninitiated at least, printmaking and jazz can also seem arcane, sustained by a core of devotees and a bit out of date. For Kempson though, it is because printmaking is difficult that it tends to be collaborative and workshop based, fostering connections between artists. Unlike the lonely studio, the print room is a space for political, social and artistic exchange.

Examining a proof

Examining a proof

In 2004 Kempson established Cicada Press with a mission to teach and promote printmaking through collaboration. Well-known artists from around the world are invited to UNSW to collaborate with students on an edition of prints. Cicada offers the artists an opportunity to expand their own practices by trying out new techniques, while students learn by being directly involved in a professional artist’s work.

In the ego-driven world of contemporary art it is rare to see artists of different generations sharing the creative process, but so far Cicada has worked with over 170 artists to produce over 1300 editions of prints. For Kempson; “openness with empathy towards the other is crucial in the collaborative projects at Cicada Press.” Some artists, such as Vernon Ah Kee or Fiona Hall, bring very conceptually rooted approaches to printmaking, while others, such as Elisabeth Cummings or Guy Warren, explore more direct and gestural uses of the medium.

(L to  R) Michael Kempson, Elisabeth Cummings and Sally Marks

(L to R) Michael Kempson, Elisabeth Cummings and Sally Marks

 

Representing in China

Representing in China

This philosophy of generosity and collaboration extends beyond the workshop. In 2006 Cicada Press worked with artists from the central desert community of Papunya, including Michael Nelson Jagamara, on an edition of prints. Artists came to Sydney and UNSW students visited Papunya to realise a unique exhibition of linocuts and etchings that helped to raise money and awareness for the new Papunya Tjupi art centre. More recently Cicada has participated in exchanges and residencies with institutions in Pakistan, Thailand, Taiwan, Canada, New Zealand, Korea, China and the USA, enabling students and staff to build enduring professional relationships across Asia. In 2010 Cicada took an exhibition of indigenous prints to Karachi, and in 2012 it sponsored a travelling exhibition of Chinese and Australian prints that included artists from Papunya.

Michael Kempson is taking his social and artistic ministry, and his students, around the globe. He is changing the way the visual arts are taught and practiced, and perhaps even fostering a more collaborative and generous world in the process.

 

Anthony Springford is a Sydney based artist and writer.

 

 

 

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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: http://www.thepracticeofmemory.info/maps

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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 www.cschneiderart.com

Cicada Press is currently printing the editions of the squares. To stay in touch about exhibitions of Cicada prints, you can follow the blog https://cicadapress.wordpress.com/ and facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CicadaPress?fref=ts for regular updates.


[1] “International Collaborative Problem Solving for the Artistically Engaged” podcast link: http://www.cofa.unsw.edu.au/events/cofa-talks/listen scroll down to March 12, 2013.

[2] For a video summary of this work, see http://thepracticeofmemoryabout.tumblr.com/

A student’s experience : Liz Macdonald

A student’s experience at Cicada Press

By Liz Macdonald, Student in the M.Art program at COFA UNSW

 

 

Custom Printing students work on their group project - artist book

Custom Printing students work on their group project – artist book

Custom Printmaking was recommended by every student I spoke to who had done it, as you have the opportunity to work with highly respected practicing artists making editions at Cicada Press – in the COFA printmaking rooms.

The experience has provided insights that will permanently affect my work – Elizabeth Cummings, whose work I greatly admire, and who is an eminent and expressive artist, came in to share the studio.  Her use of separate plates for different parts within the overall image is fascinating. The seemingly disparate elements become united in the prints – adventurous and assured work the is result.

The student, the artist and the master printer

The student, the artist and the master printer

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Euan Macleod was also working there this semester. His paintings have a sense of mystery that I have found compelling. To be able to watch him work at Cicada Press with no references – drawing from memory – was energising. His technique allowed great fluidity and expressiveness and is completely consistent with his painting.

Both these artists – confident and expert in their practice –  were willing for us the students, to learn from them directly.

The print studios were a big attraction for me enrolling at COFA –  the facilities as well as the tangible energy and quality of work on the walls.  I have not been disappointed. The tutors have been outstanding in both their knowledge of the medium and the application of it – they encourage diligence in pursuing better technical results and the realisation of your intention.

I am gaining tremendous insight under Michael Kempson’s direction.  His feedback at each stage of my work and of work we have helped process as a group has given me a much deeper understanding both of professional printing techniques –  and of how to teach.

It can be hard work taking the Custom Printing class - full days of printing

It can be hard work taking the Custom Printing class – full days of printing

The atmosphere in the print rooms is very welcoming and inclusive.  Bound by a shared experience and difficulties as well as triumphs – students exchange ideas, ask questions and support each other. The whole experience is enlivened by shared information and empathy both between the students and between the staff and students.

Further to this the relationships with aboriginal artists both from remote communities and distant townships and the relationships with institutions and artists from overseas that Michael Kempson has initiated, radiate inclusiveness and build broader experience.

 

What is Cicada Press all about?

Cicada Press was established by its Director Michael Kempson at the College of Fine Arts, The University of NSW in 2004 to foster research projects that facilitate a diverse contemporary dialogue and promote the broad methodological potential of printmaking practice.

For students at COFA the Cicada Press Workshop is an educationally focussed custom printing model that has an emphasis on open dialogue, broad relationships with the artistic community, informal teaching processes with a constant that highlights the importance of lived experience in learning.

AIMS

  • To support practical research into autographic, photographic and digital printmaking processes.
  • To mediate in the production of fine art prints created by artists, collaborative teams and indigenous communities invited to work within COFA Custom Printing undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
  • To foster relationships through printmaking related projects between COFAUNSW and university art schools internationally.
  • To provide educational leadership as a centre of excellence in custom printmaking practice.
  • To develop a local, regional and international dialogue through print exchange exhibitions that reflect current research outcomes.