Between here and there

APW FitzroyCarolyn Hawkins, Sophie Westerman and Kasia Fabijańska
Australian Print Workshop, 210 Gertrude Street Fitzroy.
Closed March 24.

A STORY of threes weaves through this exhibition of 35 works by three talented and capable artists working their chosen mediums. All were scholarship recipients in 2015 – this is the fruit of their work while engaged in those scholarships, awarded through the Australian Print Workshop’s program of support for emerging artists.

Carolyn Hawkins, recipient of the APW Collie Print Trust Scholarship for Emerging Victorian Printmakers, shows us the everyday, the familiar corners of urban living, the detritus and stuff of just being. Hawkins’ etchings are technically astute, gently rendered, beautifully balanced in tone and structure and as comfortable as favourite socks. Of the fourteen accomplished and confident works on display, two are absolute stand-outs.

Trashed is a garden in decline, overgrown in the margins and dominated by a large brick wall at one end, an ancient Hill’s hoist in the middle and littered with the remains of last weekend’s festivities. The centre of the garden appears to show the remains of the classic backyard cricket pitch with an old board propped against the Hill’s hoist at the batter’s end and the time-honoured wheelie bin marking the bowler’s point of attack at the other. I suspect it was a good game – bottles litter the field and upturned plastic milk crates mark the slips cordon’s positions – perfect props for launching that speckky, or for sitting on during times of slack play. It won’t ever be the feature for Home Beautiful or Architectural Digest, but it is a place of energy, of celebration and community for one tribe, and obviously loved for the memories it holds.

House is a rendering of one small corner of suburban Melbourne. Composed of nine separate plates, the work presents the front ¾ perspective of a typical suburban house of the type that sprung up all over Melbourne in the 1920s and ’30s. Hawkins’ view is both fond and honest. This house is a little tired, a bit worn, but possesses a gentle and proud air, content in its existence and unashamed of its marks of habitation. It is a happy home. Home to who? I suspect this is a rental property, the classic share house. I wonder how long such a house will survive in this age of urban density policy, the drive for development, the imperative of return on investment and the desire for the new.

That gets me to the strength and purpose of these works. In this portfolio, Hawkins creates articles of documentation, records of familiar places that hold positive associations. The subject of her documents though, may not have much time left. Hawkins’ images have an air of time passing; soon the current inhabitants will change and leave, new people will come, perhaps bringing the wrecking ball. They are notes to self and reminders to us all to enjoy what we have, not endlessly want for more, to rejoice in our existence, not fuss about what we might or might not become and to remember where we came from and why remembrance is important – the game is about the playing, not just the result; the journey’s about the travel, not only the destination.

Sophie Westerman, recipient of the APW James Northfield Lithography Scholarship takes us on a journey inspired by a somewhat obscure short story by Ernest Hemingway, Homage to Switzerland. Hemingway’s work tells the story of three travellers waiting for a train that has fallen behind schedule. Divided into three parts, each story is different, but each are hung on a common framework, amplified by Hemingway’s choice of setting, structure, syntax and length. Thought by some to be a work that’s part observation, part commentary and part autobiography, the basic premise of Hemingway’s story is fairly gentle at first glance. The telling is sharp-edged and recounts how three damaged individuals deal with the time they have waiting for the train and with the other inhabitants of the station cafe.

Images produced through the lithographic process often possess a gentle and subtle nature too, but lithography has a hard edge in Westerman’s hands. With reference to Hemmingway’s short story, she has produced a portfolio that is arresting in simplicity and powerful in the dialogue. The titles of each of these works are derived from Hemingway’s story, with the exception of one, Self portrait as a waitress. While that doesn’t insert Westerman into Hemingway’s story, it does announce that this group of fourteen works is a commentary and contemporary interpretation of Hemingway’s observations.  As a collection, the works have rhythm and resonate among each other to impart meaning – a trio of repeated, but slightly altered images (echoing the structure of the original short story) ties them together into one big statement. Having said that, each of the fourteen is more than capable of standing alone, gems of fine judgement and printing skill. By way of example, Please? (a question that seeks clarification of the ambiguous, not a seeking of permission) is a small work of simple construction. It is the silhouette of a female figure in half-length portrait, rendered in the gentlest greys and set against the stark white of the paper it is printed on. The effect is one of turning to greet someone with bright sunlight behind them – your eyes are dazzled, near blinded by the light, your acquaintance is obscured and appears almost a shade or ghost. It is one of the subtlest and sublime images I’ve seen in a while.

The etching and aquatints of Kasia Fabijańska, recipient of the APW Dowd Foundation Scholarship, recalls a long tradition of carefully-observed illustration for scientific documentation or the rich-in-detail illustrations from a much loved storybook. Fabijańska’s technical capability is evident through surety of line and the luscious, aquatint greys and blacks of her plates. Those qualities, choice of image and context transport the work beyond illustration – these works have firm comment and pointed meaning. Through these seven works (four individual images and one triptych) we visit old worlds, places of secrets, magic and hidden meaning, places to wonder at the majesty of nature – and at its fragility. Fabijańska makes a clear statement about how humans can and will alter the environment, not always with longevity and survival in mind, only the service of immediate want and creation of personal wealth. While the trio of images FRACing 1, 2 and 3 are a powerful statement that reminds us of the perils of mining for mining’s sake, History is a confident tour-de-force, and confirms (if such is needed) a talent that will endure.

The title of this show, Between here and there, creates three points for reference; here and there, plus of course, the focus, the bit in the middle. That’s a time and place that is in view, but something of the future or the past – it is not where we are now (here) nor is it the place we have come from, or our destination (both there). Anything can happen between here and there. That’s what these artists show us – what can happen in that bit in the middle where we store old memories and find new ones, live and play out our quirks of human behaviour and traverse, perhaps even alter, our individual destinies.

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