Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Summer School 2012 Interview Series: Alexis Neal on print-making and teaching


CEAC staff member Kyla Mackenzie interviews Alexis Neal in the lead-up to her Summer School class ‘Te Mata Kia Mahi ‘To Work the Surface’ in January 2012. Click here for a full description of Alexis’s class & enrolment details.

KM: I think I first saw your printmaking in the 1990s when you were producing beautiful, mysterious mezzotints of taonga – at that stage you had left Elam SFA and were studying at the Slade School of Art in London.  In what ways did being so far from home affect your print-making practice and perspective on yourself?

AN: I felt I needed to go and see things from another perspective to explore another side of my Identity and my placement within that context. And I achieved that, I come back a lot more confident in my ideas and had a better understanding or over sight of where my position could be developed.

KM:  Do you think there are still misconceptions about the medium of printmaking?  The word alone is often confused with straight reproductions.

AN: Unfortunately in New Zealand we are consistently defending Print and to educate the public is not an easy thing. The diversity of the medium and its layers is very technically demanding and challenging just for the artist alone, let alone the average person to understand the process. So yes the conversation between limited edition print verses reproduction is a difficult one. And it’s value.

KM: How has tutoring over the years affected your perspective on your own work – if at all?

AN: I have really enjoyed the teaching aspect as I love to share knowledge and its really rewarding when you see your students achieve their goals. It certainly has informed my practice and made me look at aspects of my own work, the directions I have gone through and the surfaces I have been creating.

'Exchange for a musket'

KM: You’ve got four days to get students into creating their own imagery: what do you enjoy about teaching others?

AN: Introducing students to new ways of working, asking them to consider layers and how they build those layers. Being resourceful with found materials, how they could use them within their work and just to experiment.

KM: How should or can students generate ideas? A work-book? 

AN: A work book is great as it is a place where we can develop our thoughts and working drawings, a place to store research in a particular area and a place to revisit later on. My self my studio wall has become that work book. But honestly I say to my students sometimes we need to work through the process to understand our ideas. Making mistakes, learning what doesn’t work and what does.

KM: What kinds of materials can add to the rich layering possible in printmaking? 

AN: Re- cycled materials like fabrics, organic surfaces, anything that can give you an impression. Multiply printing using a number of plates inked up and printed on top of each other creating constructed compositions. Chine Colle to collage or to add thin wasi Japanese paper can enhance areas of imagery.  

KM: What qualities do you think are particular to printmaking as opposed to painting?

AN: Firstly they are very different applications and processes, both giving very different effects. The surface quality, the subtly of constructed line and tone and the materials used on works on paper sits very different than paint on paper. The print allowing us the multiply, and the painting, the original.

KM: Alexis, you’ve claimed elsewhere that printmaking and its processes appealed to an organized, methodical person such as yourself.  Is there a balance to be found and encouraged between the method, procedure and the happy accidents along the way?

AN: I think you’re either attracted to print or not, for me I enjoy the technical layers as it allows me to develop my ideas through the process. And that unknown happy accident draws me in even more to discover ‘what if’?

KM:  How does one incorporate playfulness and spontaneity with the discipline of making editions of the same (consistent) image? 

AN: Well the edition is there to be challenged, but there is something quite rewarding when you have spent a lot of time working on plates, creating your relief layers and working out the order of what layers are going down first is where you start to see the work take shape. There’s a technique in getting things consistent. And to really answer your question, it’s in the mark making and the above surfaces that keep it playful and fresh.

KM: What do you find each process within printmaking offers to your own practice and development?  For example, a mysterious quality with the dark medium of mezzotint

AN: There has been a continuous area of research and investigation made so far in my career and sometimes print isn’t the best medium for my ideas. But print is the backbone of my practice and it informs everything else that I do. I see print as my working drawings, but those drawings have been made on plates allowing me to manipulate in any way, giving me options. But I have chosen certain print processes because I am seduced by the velvety black of a mezzotint, I am seduced by the layers I can create through woven surfaces and the endless possibilities of what if.

KM: What elements do you feel make a picture, regardless of medium, compelling?   Meaningful concepts or rich allusions for example, or can a work stand on its formal elements alone?

AN: Content is really important to me and good execution of those ideas. Sometimes we can’t always get it right but if you demand the viewer to look closely at your work I believed it has worked on some level. 

KM: What would you like to see in terms of raising the profile for print medium in New Zealand – to receive the same reception and exposure as painting?

AN: I think it’s about time that the big gallery institutions start putting print shows together that celebrate how rich print is in New Zealand. We need to show case celebrity artists working in print through to emerging artists and community based artists all in the some space. I’m in the process of curating a Works on Paper show at Art Station in October 4th where I will be installing print within a large Poutama wall installation to start that conversation.
I think also maybe the more established galleries should be show casing print more to meet the market and to educate them. We are in a turbulent time where most people can’t afford to buy an original painting and that’s where print should come in, making it more assessable to the public to purchase at an affordable price depending on the edition size and who the artist is.

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