Two etchings by Gregory O’Brien
By Michael Kempson, Head of Printmaking and Director of Cicada Press, College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales
In February this year Gregory O’Brien visited Cicada Press at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales in Sydney to work on a project for the Maxwell Fernie Trust.
I had made an etching in 2008 with O’Brien for Bowen Galleries’ Crossing the Tasman portfolio, a successful collaboration but one realised via the mail without actually having met the artist.
For me it was a great pleasure for us to finally work together for, during our correspondence on the earlier project, I came to enjoy Greg’s enthusiastic manner, his crisp inventive drawing and the wit and rhythm of his poetry.
We even discovered a musical connection that made this new project all the more relevant. In Sydney during the 80s he worked at a famous local nightclub, The Basement, at the same time my jazz singing partner had regular performances.
Cicada Press is an educationally focussed, custom-printing workshop that invites recognised artists of diverse conceptual and aesthetic temperaments to make fine art prints with the support of our students.
Greg is known in this country for his curatorial work, particularly with Australian artist Fiona Hall as well as his connections with expat Kiwi artists living in Sydney, like Euan Macleod.
However, his own work and poetry is less known and it was a good opportunity for myself and those supporting me in this project to understand a little more about Greg’s creative methodology. While relatively new to etching, O’Brien’s graphic sensibility is ideally suited to the intaglio process.
Much can be learnt from observing how an artist works in a medium that is unfamiliar. The students who have assisted in translating Greg’s moving tribute to Maxwell Fernie have enjoyed seeing him going about his work with a sincere commitment and obvious joy.
Exploring methods of image transfer onto the etching plate, his decision making based on state proofs of the developing image and the hard work that follows in regard to the discipline of editioning.
Echoing the legacy of Maxwell Fernie, Greg offered generous advice to students keen to learn about his creative work and benefit from his diverse experience.
There are strong parallels in the work of the Maxwell Fernie Trust and the instruction we offer at Cicada Press. Both are dedicated to bringing complex creative forms of expression, requiring considerable technical skill and rich with tradition, into the future through the nurturing of a talented younger generation.