Interview: Bronwyn Rees, Printmaker

Art Press Release from Australia. Published by Rebecca Gabrielle Cannon on Thursday 23 July 2009.

Motherland IV image Tall Grass Trees (2009) image The Great Australian Dream image

Bronwyn Rees' exhibition "Selected Works" is currently showing at the Firestation Print Studio Gallery where she has been an artist-in-residence since 2004. Her studio sits above the historic Metropolitan Fire Brigade building in Armadale, Melbourne.

ELIZABETH BANFIELD, a fellow printmaker and Firestation member, recently put a few questions to Bronwyn about her exhibition and her art practice in the community workshop setting.

The etchings and artist’s books, the drawings and paintings; they all seem to follow on from one another. One image will lead to another. Does this enhance your journey through the art making, as well as the viewer’s?

Inasmuch as they are all part of a journey, they are related. Since 2000 there has been a lot of upheaval in my life: I lived in Queensland for twenty years and then moved to Scotland for three years to work at the Glasgow Print Studio. I came back to Australia to live in a new city, Melbourne, and then had a baby. So after long periods of settled existence there was a lot of upheaval and change, which I am only now recovering from.

How do you find making art with restrictions – such as black and white? Do the restrictions make new things happen? Such as new tonal relationships and a renewed joy in the mark making?

I do work well within restricted parameters. After last year’s experimenting with a lot of new techniques – methods of printmaking, as well as making books – I decided to go back to the basics of etching. That was the technical parameter. Aesthetically, I decided to use ‘A Different Path’ (2003) and the Motherland books (2008) as my starting point. The use of black and white evolved from there, and came to express the harsh tonal contrast of the Australian sunlight, and then references to the terrible fires of February inevitably crept in.

The artist’s books have an intriguing sense of place, especially Motherland IV with its cut-away sections, but also Motherland II with its map contours and strong contrasts of tone. What is the origin of the Motherland theme?

I originally visited Wilsons Promontory in 2000 and took the photograph that the image is derived from. I conceived and made the work in Glasgow when we were thinking of going home. A lot of the time living in Scotland I thought ‘through the looking glass, darkly’. So much was an exact reflection of life in Australia – hence the title Motherland – which is an ironic reversal of the Colonials attitude to Britain. Indeed it was my grandmother’s attitude – she did look a lot like the queen, and had a similar outlook. In my heart, it expressed a longing for the wildness of the bush – our twisted trackless land and teatree stained creeks, which is not unique to Wilsons Prom, but is also a feature of many childhood holiday haunts.

The books I just mentioned are in a concertina form, something that can be seen as a book of separate pages or a long complete picture, depending on how it is displayed. But the book The Great Australian Dream (2008) is bound in a Coptic binding and can’t all be seen at once. Was it your intention to change the way the viewer goes on their journey with this one?

The Great Australian Dream refers to the expectation that most people in this country have to buy a home of their own. I have always rented, because the lifestyle I want, and what I could afford to buy, are two very different things. However, that doesn’t stop me dreaming! In the dream I say: if I could buy, which version of the dream would I pick? Regardless of money, you can only live in one place at a time. Inner city? The burbs? Acreage? The country? Consequently the book is telling a little story – sequential, connected ideas.

From the landscapes, both the paintings and etchings, I get a sense of the fragility of the environment, but also its volatility. That our ability to escape the city to the fresh air of the countryside can be fraught with danger – the strong, eerie forms of the burnt trees in Tidal River II (2009), for example, enhanced by the immediacy and power of the drypoint mark making. What was it like to draw the burnt landscape of Tidal River? Did it naturally lend itself to drypoint?

Like so many of these things, I did not consciously set out to make a picture of burnt trees, but that is what it ended up being. I have seen a lot of burnt trees over the last two years. I have visited Wilsons Prom and as I mentioned before, the fires have been in everybody’s minds.

You spent two years working at the Glasgow Print Workshop, and currently work at the Firestation. How important is it to you to work in such an environment?

Until I worked at GPS, I did not realise how much I needed that community of artists to provide the moral support and professional guidance to make the work the best it could be. Although the Firestation doesn’t have anything like the facilities or funding of Glasgow, creatively it is a wellspring of ideas.

“Selected Works” by Bronwyn Rees is showing at the Firestation Print Studio Gallery until 29th of July 2009

2 Willis Street, Armadale

11am -5 pm Wednesday to Saturday

Elizabeth Banfield is an artist and member of the Firestation Print Studio Committee of Management

Firestation Print Studio Gallery
Bronwyn Rees’ exhibition Selected Works