Tuesday, 31 July 2012

NZ Fine Prints shocked to lose our land in CBD rebuild


The release yesterday of the blueprint for the rebuild of Christchurch's central business district is great news for Christchurch, it's going to be a world class city to live and work in. However personally and professionally this writer (Antony Ellis, co-owner of NZ Fine Prints) is  bitterly disappointed that our perfectly ok to rebuild on CBD land that has been the home of New Zealand Fine Prints for nearly fifty years is going to be taken from my family by the council to be part of the green frame to the east of the new smaller CBD.  Our plans to rebuild the largest specialist art print gallery in NZ are now replaced instead by, wait for it,  a lawn.
Temporary repairs following the first quake
Although people buying prints in Christchurch are actually a relatively small part of NZ Fine Prints' overall sales (our biggest markets are Auckland, Wellington and overseas (if you group sales to expatriate New Zealanders and gifts sent out of NZ together) we were excited about being part of the rebuild of the Latimer Square precinct, a gallery like NZ Fine Prints is just the kind of unique niche retail business that makes the central city different from a mall or business park and draws people into the city to shop. We never wanted to be stuck in some utilitarian distribution centre out by the airport, it might make logistical sense for an online retail business to be right next to CourierPost but you would be mad to choose to spend 1/3 of your daily hours in the bland monoculture of industrial buildings when you can be in the heart of a city instead.

The DNA of New Zealand Fine Prints online store with its "long tail" of every NZ art print available in stock has been shaped by our unchanging location of nearly fifty years in in Christchurch's CBD.  NZ's largest art print store is obviously now predominantly an online business but even in today's world of online shopping customers knew there was a physical gallery to visit, that they were buying from a family owned and New Zealand based company.  We were not one of the huge American websites offering photo library scenic shots as "NZ posters", nor were we one of several dozen websites who have come and gone offering NZ prints, posters, framing etc run from home and relying on others to drop ship the prints to customers on their behalf or simply being an affiliate site fulfilling sales via an affiliate program.

Far end of our gallery stockroom (following Sept 4's
earthquake the table was for sheltering from aftershocks)
Owning our own warehouses (originally built for the Zealandia Wax & Candle company in the 1880s) in the centre of the city for such a long time led to a wonderful experience for print buyers. The smell of paper when they walked through the door, the sight of racks and racks of prints with the balance of editions carefully wrapped in brown paper and stacked on top of the shelving sometimes up to the ceiling.  Labels with the names of NZ's most famous artists and printmakers, files of correspondence with the likes of Colin McCahon, Rita Angus or Gordon Walters. Packages of prints of famous paintings imported from the States, Europe and Australia and decades of catalogues charting the changing tastes of New Zealand art buyers. 

We sometimes joked we were the "print sellers of last resort, a buyer would be looking for an obscure NZ print, for example a particular early view of Auckland, and this would trigger a chain of phonecalls and emails to us from galleries and picture framers as the buyer rang around repeatedly trying to find the picture but everyone knowing if they hadn't managed to find it yet if anyone still had the print it would be somewhere in our warehouse in Christchurch. And yes, sometimes we knew we had the print a buyer wanted in stock - but took some hours digging to actually find it.  Given both the size of the NZ market and the need to publish reproduction prints in such large editions before digital printing we did a brisk trade in replacing prints for people because if a print was damaged we might still have prints from the very same edition published twenty years before that were in pristine brand new condition.

Until very recently even our print codes told you where they were located on a physical shelf (letter was the bay, number was the row), there are some amusing artifacts of this system still at Prints.co.nz where for instance code "B00" meant the pile on top of the B rack!


Sign for NZ Fine Prints going back up after Sept 4
Personally for this writer 202 Hereford St has been the stage and backdrop of my life, where my family has lived our personal and professional lives since before I was born.  It's the place where my sister and I would wait all day for Dad to finish "a couple of things at the office" before we could leave for our holiday, where in the late 1970s we would watch the weird green light coming out of a photo copier the size of small car for hours and where we would be employed to lick the backs of hundreds of envelopes in return for caramel milkshakes from the cafe two doors away. It's where my wife to be and I came up with the idea to use the new technology of colour photocopying to create catalogues of prints to send to picture framers, galleries and schools. And we photographed all the prints with a new fangled digital camera on the deck by the carpark when we decided to put our mail order catalogues online back in 1999.
The ghostly outline of our buildings following demolition
We have been excitedly planning our part of the rebuild and were looking forward to having a modern (i.e. warm!) warehouse, office and showroom in the heart of the new Christchurch. What an amazing process to actually live through we thought, to watch the city being rebuilt around us. We looked forward to being one of the first businesses to "re-colonise the inner city".

After 18 months of working from shipping containers and from a temporary office in Cashmere yesterday was supposed to be the day we could begin getting down to the detail of rebuilding our buildings we lost in the quakes, we simply wanted and expected to put our gallery back on our land and this compulsory land acquisition announcement is a cruel twist in the already traumatic journey we have been on since September 2010. We don't want to shift, we'd lost our buildings but want to rebuild on our land, our place to stand, NZ Prints' turangawaewae.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Stamp design to wall art (Part 2) - further discussion with artist Lester Hall


The release of historical NZ stamp designs (from the 1898 and 1935 pictorials), surprisingly effective in large wall art size - see our previous article "Postage Stamps to Wall Art" - prompted further discussion with artist Lester Hall about his groundbreaking "postage stamp" series of prints.  Back in June we had described how this controversial contemporary NZ print-maker used the conventions of postage stamp design to explore issues of Maori and Pakeha identity and that thanks in large part to his popularisation of the idea the postage stamp style print has become a "veritable trend" in NZ art.  

NZ Printmaker Lester Hall
We asked Lester Hall when he began to create prints that used the conventions of postage stamp design? Hall said that it was back in 2008 "I set several images first so they were in a context of stamps like any other set of stamps. The statement was about being Pakeha and I made a commitment to update the "Hories and Whities" series of diary pages I had done (in the late 80s and early 90s). These were an investigation into Being Pakeha." Hall said "The stamp style was my drawing a line in the sand, it says I am clear about the thoughts surrounding the images. Stamps were immediately historical in context. I shifted from diary pages which were from a place that was private and self analysing to stamps because stamps are statements, not questions." 

Talking to Hall it became clear that for this artist the referencing of postage stamps in his art was not just about designing each individual artwork to echo a stamp's design in isolation, but also to "insinuate the possibility of collecting". Hall said that beyond the obvious connotations of collecting prints "this collecting idea is about putting several important hypotheses together to form a philosophy."  With Hall agreeing that the format is becoming ubiquitous, (he says the stamp design is "losing its edge"), we asked Lester if there is scope to develop artistically within the stamp design theme? Some recent works such as Queenie are not strictly in the stamp format so is this design becoming restrictive in any way?  Hall said "First and foremost I am a social commentator so the artistic imperative comes a distant second to my narrative. I am moving in a sideways direction now, into book covers and posters but the subjects I create will be able to revert to stamp when I think it is important for the context of people already collecting stamps. Queenie is formatted into an Argentinean designed stamp and is exactly as that Victorian era stamp was created. That artist just thought outside the square so to speak."

"Poll Tax" Print from Lester Hall's Aotearoaland series
References postage stamp design & "Chinese Girl
in Yellow Jacket" by Vladimir Tretchikoff 
And what does Lester think of other NZ artists who are now also referencing postage stamp design? "Use a format by all means", he told us "but to imitate colour way, style and subject so closely - this is not derivative it is creepy!".  Of course an actual Lester Hall print is quite distinctive from the imitators copying old NZ stamps in mass produced frames, no other artist is creating such a coherent different series of artworks to stimulate and inform debate about the place of Pakeha in New Zealand.  As Lester says "The place of Pakeha in New Zealand is a complicated and evolving understanding. My subjects vary because of the lighter and darker sides of that setting. I create differing feelings of happiness or danger etc to draw in a wide audience and to ask people to be brave and think for a change and maybe speak about their desires and hopes and expectations. So where an image of the Buzzy Tiki can relax and draw in a mind living in a lighter World the devilish print of the Boogieman will find its way into the more brooding contemplative mind which peers deeper into the souls of man. The differences are driven by a desire to have a broad perspective and creating a deepening trust of the subject in us all."

So where is the art of Lester Hall headed now? "Fashion", he says "exists in all art and as it heads towards the darker and more morbid forms of the Victorian so will mine."

Monday, 16 July 2012

Tony Ogle talks about his new print "Matapouri Window"

Tony Ogle
Tony Ogle doesn't produce a lot of prints.  Sure, viewed as a single collection created over several decades he has amassed an impressive body of artwork but it has actually been a six month wait for a new print since his last edition (Time Out Tongaporutu) arrived in stock right at the end of 2011. In Tony's latest print "Matapouri Window" shown here the artist returns to his geographical roots. Many years ago Ogle, together with fellow printmaker Tom Burnett, established a screenprinting workshop at Matapouri Bay, a charming sandy beach 40 minutes from Whangarei and 5 minutes from the fishing mecca of Tutukaka.

Compositionally the print uses the device of a window to create a view within a view. Tony says it's an idea with a venerable tradition in art history, "It works well to create depth and gives the impression of a picture within a picture. (a frame within a frame)" and he says "people love 'views'". Matapouri Window is a deliciously colourful print, an exhuberant celebration of screenprinting technique that lines up multiple colours perfectly. There are actually a total of 17 separate solid colours and 2 grey glazes used to make this print. It transports the viewer to Northland, to a time of year and day and to a state of mind. As we say in our catalogue listing, it is "the quintessential Tony Ogle print".

"Matapouri Window" new 19 colour handmade print by Tony Ogle
Tony Ogle has been working as a printmaker for a long time but when we asked him how long it took to print with the complexity of "Matapouri Window" he told us that he spent "6 days working on separations off the original. 1 day preparing the screens, 2 and a half days mixing colours. I averaged 3 colours printed on the 200 sheets so approx. 7 days of printing." As a comparison Dame Robin White when she was asked about her early printmaking experiences in our May interview, she said "I started in the beginning of March and worked on [the print] full-time and finished it about the first week of April, so it took me well over a month - working every day, eight hours a day or sometimes more". Printmaking by hand is definitely hard work being technically demanding and time-consuming.

"What about the complexity of the image?" NZ Art Print News asked Tony "Did you have a higher number of A/Ps (Artist Proofs) than normal to get the registration right on all those stripes?". Ogle told us he had "Only 3 complete rejects plus a small number that can be successfully hand retouched. Successful registration relies on a number of factors - accurate separations firstly, lining up registration marks on screens and care placing paper into registration tabs on the table."

And lastly we asked Tony about overglaze that he has used for the first time to accent the shadows and add further depth to the print. He told us that "Glaze consists mainly of clear acrylic solution - so it is very watery compared to creamy paint. A small amount of black was mixed in to give the shadow effect whilst allowing the colours to still show through." We had heard that the glaze had been a bit tricky to apply. Tony said ruefully that "Any hair or chip of paint lying on the surface of the print will be highlighted  by a glaze not overprinted like other colours so keeping things clean is important. Also you need to give the prints time to dry properly otherwise the glaze will stick to the paper when stacked up."

This new print is already selling steadily despite being listed for sale for just a few days so far. If you collect the work of Tony Ogle "Matapouri Window" is highly recommended as it is large, technically complex and extremely attractive - you can buy this print online here or call NZ Fine Prints on 0800 800 278.