1st January, 2004#

A Plate Never Ends: The Drawings of Dianne Fogwell

Dianne Fogwell likes to draw. Once she liked to draw on etching plates, and then she began to draw on linoleum. Now she has moved to drawing on woodblocks. It is not with a view to print an edition of the image — although sometimes an edition is printed. Rather, she enjoys drawing on printing plates of one kind or another, in one method or another, or combining methods.

Fogwell chooses to draw on print matrices rather than paper as a support because she has a great familiarity with them and enjoys the process. As well as being active in her own art practice, she also has taught printmaking and editioned prints from her early days at Studio One, Canberra in 1982.1 Five years later in 1987, she founded the Criterion Fine Art Press in Braidwood and continued to producing limited editioned prints. In 1996, she became Lecturer-in-charge of the Edition+Artist Book Studio at the School of Art, Australian National University. In this capacity and as a master printer and designer, Fogwell has collaborated with a number of artists to edition their prints and artists books and built up a wealth of experience.2

Such experience means that Fogwell has become a consummate technician, to the degree that the rule book is often abandoned. Her own drawing on print matrices is experimental. She always draws directly onto the support without preparatory sketches, and the process can be open-ended as the artist considers that ‘a plate never ends.’ 3 There is no preconception other than a simple idea: ‘I have never have liked that idea of imagining an image.’ For this reason, ‘I’m thinking about hats. I’m thinking about grass. I’m thinking about flying.’

In her early work, such as Magic Hat of 1984, Fogwell has attacked the etching plate with an almost pure nitric acid with widely expressive and sometimes unforseen results: ‘I would just have a solid bath of acid and throw it in and walk away. And sometimes come back the next day… I love acid, I love it. I guess it’s the fact that it’s uncontrollable. But you have an entry to it. You know that if it’s 1:5 or if it’s 1:10 or it’s 1.20 it’s going to respond differently, but you never really know’. The result in Magic Hat is a wondrous image of a hat printed from a metal plate which looks like she has gauged the lines with an electric power tool, rather the etching process. This was just the first stage of the drawing. Fogwell printed a proof of Magic Hat in black and then painted over it in gouache of a resonant blue. In the later drawing Head into Paradise 1988, the artist has also made an impression from the plate, which she then embellishes by rich colourings, gold leaf and added marks, and strokes. The works are joyous, influenced by her love of Byzantine art, its richness, simplification of imagery and decorative nature. 

The birth of her first son, Reuben, saw a change in Fogwell’s work. Suddenly she was aware of mortality and of fear: fear of death. Her work becomes sombre, seen in the floating ghost-like forms which appear in Constellation Father 1990. The uncertain existence of a delicate new-born child is brought home in another painful image of that year, Cot dreaming. Here we see the tiny skeletal figure of a baby, wrapped in coffin-like swaddling, lying trapped in a crib. Fogwell’s brightly-coloured palette has disappeared and the enchanted and enchanting imagery of her earlier work giving way to stark direct drawing with acid-resist pen on grey plates, while dark shadows and textures emerge from the adherence of fine rosin-dust used for aquatinting, as well as etching stop-out. For Cot dreaming the image of the corpse-like baby has been drawn by biting, scraping and scratching the zinc plate.

In 1987 Fogwell moved to Braidwood, which was an old gold mining town on the Southern Highlands of New South Wales which had become a small arts community. There she established her workshop and gallery. Despite enjoying the bucolic existence she ‘felt very confined.’ Winter Harvest 1994 reveals this sense of restriction. Despite the beautiful imagery and fairytale appearance of the scene, it comes with a feeling of suffocation. Beautiful flowers smother the plate. They appear everywhere from top to toe on the plate; no part of the surface is left alone. The sun shines on the world, but it is a contained world. The cherry tree is surrounded by a fence and a mythical bull-minotaur enmeshed in farm wire. Despite the claustrophobic imagery, Fogwell’s drawing maintains an evanescent quality by the use of diluted acid (about one part to twenty), in contrast to her earlier, more expressive lines formed by the strength of the acid. 

Fogwell returned to a more expressive drawing with acid after the birth in 1996 of her second son Jack. In 1998 the artist produced a series of plates where the experimental nature of acid drawing reappears, but with greater subtlety. She used diluted acids, power tools and acid stop out, for her portraits of Jack wearing indescribable hats, moonfaced and hovering beneath the clouds or within a glade. Those she printed and coloured appeared in her artist’s book and compact disc, Jack Unhook the Moon.

Dianne Fogwell’s art practice has also brought her involvement with the other arts. When she turned forty she set out to provide an account visually, musically and in storytelling of her five older sisters and herself and to ‘interpret what has kept us together and what has pulled us apart.’ 4She produced an artistÕs book and compact disc, Gene Pool 2000 for the occasion In 2001 her horizons extended further, when Fogwell asked composer Ian Blake, choreographer Tammy Meuwissen and writer Merryn Gates to collaborate for the exhibition/performance/catalogue Resonance. Such contemplation of different arts came to inform her drawing on plates. She began to include musical notation or writing using a fine power tool. This drawing technique, which became delicate and ethereal but not controlled or confined, can be found in Resonance 2000, written to her father following his death (not written straight after his death, but a letter to him 20 years on, talking to him about what had happened in that interval), and Confession of 2001, where she admits to over-possessively hoarding her treasured Guggenheim yo-yo, which after all is simply a toy.

More recently Fogwell has turned to collage as her current method of drawing. She developed an ‘alphabet of images’ using gouged linocut shapes, which she then melds, combining disparate elements into some sort of order with a certain lightness of touch. When recycling a repertoire of images, she has begun to explore drawing with woodblocks and stencils — cutting, hosing, scraping, incising, adding and subtracting her favoured shapes. In From the sky 2004 the artist has combined floating ghost-like forms, fields, and clouds and printed them for a layered almost translucent image. The use of so many different blocks and sheets marked in so many different ways now allows endless possibilities.

Jane Kinsman, 2004
Senior Curator of International Prints
Drawings and Illustrated Books
National Gallery of Australia

1 From 1982 to 1986 Fogwell was co founder and director with Meg Buchanan of Studio One. This was a print access workshop, as well as a fine art etching and drawing studio in Kingston, ACT, which produced limited editions for artists.
2 This includes Rosalind Atkins, Jan Brown, Meg Buchanan, Barbara Campbell, Tony Convey, John Christie, Noel Counihan, Fred Cress, Christopher Croft, Helen Geier, Bernard Hardy, Euan Heng, Petr Herel, Inge King, Martin King, Lucas Kandl, Bruno Leti, Sally McInerney, Sir Sidney Nolan, Gaye Paterson, John Reid, Udo Sellbach, Jorg Schmeisser, Ben Taylor and Robin Wallace-Crabbe.
3 Dianne Fogwell interviewed by Jane Kinsman, 9 May 2004. Henceforth all comments by the artist are from this interview unless stated otherwise.
4 Dianne Fogwell, quoted in Dianne Fogwell: Collected Works 1979-2001(Canberra: Arts ACT, 2001) p. 29.

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