Here are a few details about stencil art techniques in 1930s gleamed from the letters of Marcel Duchamp. At that time stencils were used as an alternative to expensive color printing processes to produce add colors at an affordable price. Duchamp was using professional stencil men in 1934 preparing a stencil reproduction of the Large Glass for his Green Box and, in 1937, to arrange printing of Katherine Dreier’s 40 Variations.
To Henri-Pierre Roché, Paris, 18 May 1934 “…with my stencil man. We’re having a lot of trouble and I have to make him another tracing of all the stencils he’s to make in order hopefully to achieve a result.” (p.189)
To Katherine Dreier, Paris 25 June 1937 “The news are good but slow – Naturally the printing in black of the lithograph was finished long ago – and the 3200 prints taken to the ‘colorist’ who expected to finish in a month. I called him up yesterday and I am to see, in a few days, half of the whole work cut our and ready for color-brushing. This means that his main work consists of cutting out in the zinc foil the areas for each color – The actual brushing of the color does not take much time. Anyway we will have to wait until August before his work is finished.” (p.212)
It seems safe to assume that a “colorist” and a “stencil man” (“homme du pochoir”) are the same. The use of “zinc foil” for the stencils makes sense given the number of prints to stencil and plastics were still being invented. The color is brushed through the stencil and not sprayed because aerosol paint cans were not invented until 1949.
All quotes are from Affectionately, Marcel – the selected correspondence of Marcel Duchamp, edited by Francis M. Naumann and Hector Obalk (Ludion Press, 2000)
“Chocolate box art” is another way of saying a schmaltz painting; the decoration biscuit tins and tea tins used by Anna Davern have a similar aesthetic quality. However, Anna Davern tin collages at Craft Victoria are not just an exercise in playing with kitsch aesthetics. Combining the exaggerated sentimentality of images of England and Australia emphasizes their disconnection. Davern creates absurd, surreal images with humor and fun commenting on a post-colonial Australia. The images of England are as alien as the images of Beefeaters in Australian landscapes.
The Buena Vista of the title, the beautiful view is watched over by absent aboriginals. The silhouette or cutout and therefore absent figures of aborigines watching the scene remind the viewer of the genocidal practices of colonization. The indigenous people are removed or disconnected from the scene. The silhouette figures and the reworking of traditional media with post-colonial themes that Davern uses is similar to the art of Nusra Latif Qureshi.
Davern asks in some of the pieces what if Australia had colonized England? Would there be platypus swimming in the Thames and aborigines in English flower gardens? The Beefeater wearing a Ned Kelly helmet is another of the strong images from this show.
The Anglophile obsessions with the ‘mother country’, England are illustrated in these old biscuit tin lids. It is an obsession that still influences Australian politics. This week Tony Abbott MP has chosen to highlight in criticizing the draft national history curriculum prepared by Dr John Hirst, of La Trobe University for not being focused on England. (The Age 16/10/08) So Davern’s exhibition is a timely, expanding our view of the current ‘history wars’ in Australia. Davern has not simply jumped on this topical issue but has been developing it in her craft/jewellery making practice for several years.
Australia needs more intelligent craft like that of Anna Davern that explores and plays with national identity rather than producing props for nationalists.