I first saw Joel Gailer’s art when he established Brunswick Arts in 2004. I didn’t think much of it at the time; back then he appeared to be searching for a direction, his own voice, for a style of image making that was his signature. Now he has found it in one of the most traditional of art forms – printing.
Joel Gailer’s style is conceptual, minimal and pushes on the boundaries of printmaking. Gailer isn’t attacking the boundaries of printing; he is not trying to escape the limits of printing. Gailer is pressing hard up against the boundary to get a good print of its relief; like one of his prints where 2 wooden beams print by pressing the sticky ink onto the heavy paper that the beams hold up against the wall.
Using the definition of boundaries to make prints on is both obvious and cheeky. There is no respect for the boundaries, as Gailer gets too close for respect. He boldly states the obvious in his titles. And this cheeky wit has won him awards including in 2008 the Fremantle Acquisitive Print Award for Hot Process, a page in Art Almanac that Gailer had paid to be included in the magazine.
Gailer’s solo exhibition, “Why buy when you can make your own” at Michael Koro Galleries is a bold statement of his style of printing. Many of the prints on exhibition are made using printmaking techniques that are not considered artistic: commercial offset lithograph printing in two art magazines, commercial sign writing, digital print, and photocopy. But these are all undeniably forms of printing; as are the two car tires (with white rims to match the overall colour scheme) that have been used to print phrases on the gallery floor.
It looked like Michael Koro Gallery had been painted specifically for this exhibition. The black floor, white walls and white plinths matched the black and white of Gailer’s printing. Of course, it is the other way around; Gailer’s printing is influenced by the aesthetics of the gallery space, the art magazines and the art world.
The title of the exhibition, “Why buy when you can make your own”, is a question that many people have about extremely minimalist art that requires few technical skills to produce. It is also a problem for emerging artists to sell this kind of work. Gailer has a solution for this sell the copyright of the piece, attractively mounted in a perspex tubes on perspex plinths ready for display.
Brunswick Arts has a group exhibition of print makers “The Intentional Mark”. It features the work of three emerging artists: Lilly Dusting, Zoe Minnis and Emma Nunan. There are a lot of very dark marks in this exhibition, all the more intentional because they have been printed using a variety of printing techniques.
Only Emma Nunan gets an essay written about her work. Is this because she won the 2008 RMIT Open Bite scholarship award and the Brunswick Arts Entry 09 Award? Or is there another reason why she has won the praise of Melissa Johnson of the Canberra Institute of Technology? (There were other inconsistencies in the exhibition display, like the title of the exhibition not being on the price list.) Johnson writes about the wabi-sabi aspects of Nunan’s fragile, raw and disintegrating prints. I saw the austerity of the formal arrangement, folding, crumbling of the prints as a type of post-minimalist sculpture exploring the possible arrangements of the paper. A few of the works really push the envelope of prints: the reflection of the light from the mirrors on which her folded prints are resting and the video of rotating threaded prints.
Lilly Dusting is exhibiting a lot of black marks in a variety of media. Sometimes these marks make a landscape formed from the variety of intensity of the same repetitive crosshatching mark. At other times they are just black marks etched into the plate. I was not as impressed with these works as I was with her prints that I saw at the RMIT printmaking graduate exhibition 2008.
The aquatints and mezzotints of Zoe Minnis are illustrations of cephalopods: nautiluses and octopuses. Using the aquatint method of printing allows Minnis to create large dark areas without crosshatching. The dark of her prints is the dark of the waters in which the nautilus swim; it is also the dark of the ink straight from the plate. The light, un-inked areas of paper form the alien bodies of the nautilus that Minnis depicts with accuracy and beauty.
The end of this year brings the usual round of art student graduate exhibitions. And this year a few art sales.
I am disappointed that I missed the RMIT sculpture graduate’s show. I did see at 1st Site RMIT University printmaking graduate exhibition. There is a huge variety of print making techniques from digital prints to linocuts. Lilly Dusting’s etchings “Plate 6” are beautiful delicate views of the bottom of china plates complete with paper sticker and makers marks. In a different direction Kim Hudson’s screenprints “With love to the ones I love” is a punk freak-show, graphically crude but effective.
I also saw at No Vacancy the RMIT Graduate Photography Exhibition. There was very little to get excited about unless you were recruiting a photographer for an advertising agency. Most of the photographers appeared very focused on their careers.
In a sign of the global economic recession this year Mahoney’s Gallery is having a sale. I have never seen a sale at an art gallery before. The red sale signs are out the front and prices have been drastically marked down. Most of the art on sale are prints and photographs from their stockroom. The sale was not listed in Art Almanac; it has not been widely advertised. I have heard that there are other galleries recently having sales, from the Harrison Gallery in Sydney to 696 in Melbourne.
It is a myth of the art market that art does not devalue; it was another myth that house prices don’t devalue that lead to the current economic crisis. Art prices did decline during the Great Depression and it is likely that art prices will fall again in this international recession especially for the very expensive contemporary art. At the moment there are bargains in the art market and on the stock market for those who can afford it.
After this round of exhibitions most of Melbourne’s art galleries will close down until the end of the year. And there is still enough strength in Melbourne’s art market that next year more gallery spaces will open.