Interview: Mark Graver

Mark, you have recently returned from a residency in Hobart. Can you tell us a bit about the residency and what it involved?

It was a 5-week International Artist Residency within the Tasmanian College of the Arts, part of the University of Tasmania, based at their Hunter Street campus in Hobart, specifically, within the printmaking department.

I was given a private studio and accommodation in an artist residence flat within the university with 24-hour access to the building and the printmaking studios.

There was a solo show at the end of the residency period and I made all the work for that while I was there working with the photography technician on their large format Epson 9900 inkjet printer and in the printmaking workshops.

There was some contact with students, talks about my practice to the 2nd and 3rd year groups and some tutorial contact.  I also gave a public lecture in the university lecture hall and was involved in organising ‘Orogeny’ a 3-day print symposium.

What is the art scene in Hobart like?

There’s a number of good dealer galleries and museums and an art centre.  The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) was showing Tempest – “a major new art exhibition conceived and developed by internationally acclaimed curator Juliana Engberg” with international artists such as Tacita Dean and William Kentridge alongside works from the collection. I also have work in the TMAG collection so it was nice to be able to visit the building.

There’s a public print studio. Moving Creatures, which is run by John Robinson the print technician at the Uni – they had an exhibition opening of their member’s work while I was there.

Then there’s MONA!  The Museum of Old and New Art which is amazing.  You get there by catamaran up the river.  Wine and canapes included!

How involved in the local arts community were you during your time there if at all?

Apart from participating in the public lecture programme run by the University, The Oregeny Print Symposium was my main contact with the local art/printmaking community.

‘A symposium to discuss the processes and possibilities of Print will be held in the Plimsoll Gallery at the Tasmanian College of the Arts, Hunter St, Hobart. Keynote speakers include Trent Walter from Negative Press, Mark Graver current Artist in Residence at the Printmaking Department at TCoTA, Yvonne Rees-Pagh curator of the Giving Voice exhibition, and Josh Santospirito Hobart comic artist and organiser of the Her Majesty’s Really Great Graphic Festival. Speakers will present provocations and reflections on their practices in order to stimulate dialogue on what role print can play in the broader community into the future; What needs to be put in place to allow these interventions to occur?’

We also ran short 2 hour workshops around different print related themes with participants responding to some of the questions raised in the morning talks.  I ran a workshop making a digital video – gathering footage and sound editing and exporting.  We were able to make a 2-minute video that was then screened in the lecture theatre.  Other groups made drypoints, screen printed newspapers, zines and text based manifestos.

There was also an exhibition to start the symposium which coincided with my own solo show.

Did your work change/get influenced by the different working environment in any way?

I think one of the problems that can arise when going to residencies is ‘What will I make?’  I basically had 4 weeks to make the work and a week to print and hang the show so it was quite intense.  Much of my work is based around ideas of place as although I didn’t plan the work beforehand I work with a number of on-going themes and techniques that I was confident I could relate to Hobart.

One of my recent bodies of work is around moving water, rivers etc. as a metaphor for passing time so I was able to relate this to a river running through, and under, the city.

I researched the place and the history by walking and reading historical plaques and informational signboards.  The art college is situated right in the centre of town in a building that now sits on reclaimed land where the first colonist landed.  I found that the area had been called Old Wapping which became a rundown area of poor housing, bars and brothels.  One of the first etchings I ever made was made in Wapping in East London so that became another link.  I called the exhibition Correspondences – large digital prints, a small series of 20 prints and a digital video/sound work based around these historical, social and geographical connections.

What attracted you to this particular residency programme?

It’s an invitation only residency and I was invited through connections I’d made with John Robinson the print technician from the Art College.  John came to Wharepuke to do an intensive professional development residency in December 2014 funded by the University. He came here to learn about Acrylic Resist Etching techniques and then took what he’d learned back to the University print department as they wanted to change to from acid and solvent use to safer etching techniques.  Part of my residency was to follow up on this and see if they needed any further advice around Acrylic Resist Etching.

Why do you think residencies are important?

The most important thing for me is to have a sustained uninterrupted period of work without any of the other day-to-day distractions that I have here (we run a print studio, art gallery and sculpture park on site as well as accommodation/residencies etc.  so there’s always balances to be made with time).

Having the exhibition gave me a deadline to work towards and having access to large format printers gave me the opportunity to make some large scale (810 x 2000mm) digital prints.  Getting work seen by a new audience is also valuable.

It was good working within a University Printmaking department and with other printmakers on the symposium.  I used to teach on a degree programme here in Kerikeri but the course was closed down and we were made redundant in April and I miss that academic interaction.  There’s also a shared language among printmakers and we found many connections.

Creating and sustaining networks is also an important part of the experience – we’re now looking at what else we can do in the future.  Perhaps bringing a show to Wharepuke or putting together a proposal for the next Impact Print conference in Spain in 2018

What’s happening next for you?

I’m always working towards various show, open submissions etc.  (I’ve been involved in 14 so far this year).  There’s a new print biennial in Armenia and one in China that I’ll make new work for.  Most of the shows I’m involved in tend to be outside NZ and often they’re museum shows rather than commercial. There’s a couple in Korea at the moment and one touring the UK.  It would be good to do more here in NZ but there seems little opportunity for printmaking and less for 50-year-old printmakers!

When I was teaching I had access to research funding and curated a number of international exhibitions, portfolio projects and a symposium in the UK but this has dried up now so my focus has become more local.

At Wharepuke we’re installing new works in the sculpture park and we’ve just received some local funding that will allow us offer a paid residency here so there’s planning to do for that.  It will probably be for a sculptor to come and make something on site.

I’m also planning how to run more printmaking workshops and to try and bring some of what’s been lost through North Tec’s closure of the Arts Degree back into the community.