1st February, 2008#

Elements: Dianne Fogwell

The exhibition title, ‘ELEMENTS’, refers firstly to the numerous intricately-carved blocks of linoleum and wood that make up the imagery of Fogwell’s larger works. Secondly, to the assemblage of these individual matrices that interact to evoke the four natural, corporeal, or worldly elements of earth, water, fire and air. These elements are combined with a fifth, more elusive element, which for Fogwell is a manifestation of spirit or intuition. These elements form the foundation of most of the world’s major philosophical and belief systems, from the Greek theoreticians to Buddhist and Hindu thinkers and this is a useful key for reading the artist’s imagery.

Recently much has been written about Dianne Fogwell. As well as insightful catalogue essays by Professor Sasha Grishin, art historian, and Jane Kinsman, Senior Curator of International Prints, Drawings and Illustrated Books at the National Gallery of Australia, there are numerous transcripts, most notably an informative podcast from the “‘How I entered there I can not truly say’: Collaborative Works from the ANU E+ABS” exhibition at the State Library of Victoria,1; consequently it is no surprise that she did not want me to merely interview her. Instead, we met informally, over dinner and in her studio with our partners and children as a basis to our discussions.

Fogwell’s early artist books and the connection of her children to her artistic practice, her years living in Braidwood, NSW, and the impact of working full time on her family are well documented, so I will not canvass these topics. I will instead concentrate upon two facets of Fogwell’s career: the time she spent as a student at one of the precursor institutions of the Charles Sturt University, the Riverina College of Advanced Education [RCAE]; and her most recent work which have been selected for this exhibition.

Riverina College of Advanced Education 

In 1975–76 Fogwell studied painting in Wollongong. Although accepted for further study in Sydney, Fogwell searched for an art school that was on the periphery: a school that did not include the distractions of Sydney, Newcastle or Melbourne which were the usual choices of artists from the Wollongong area. “I did not want to study in the city as I felt there were too many distractions and not enough focus on the ART” 2.

An active debate was also taking place on similar issues at this time between the Principal of RCAE, Professor C.D. Blake and the Principal of the Sydney College of the Arts, John Baily.  Blake wrote that “there are quality artists both in Australia and other regional parts of the world who prefer the advantages that a regional location offers over those of a metropolitan environment” 3. Baily, however, claimed that if one “put an artist of any real consequence into the country, sooner or later he will be champing at the bit to experience the stimulus of the city” 4. Interestingly, this debate is still being played out by art students and university administrators alike.

Fogwell attended the RCAE from 1978 to 1979. This was the first year after the art school moved from South Campus to the main Wagga Campus, and the School of Creative Arts was named. She studied under Euan Heng and the seed was planted for a life of prints and books. Fogwell originally purchased numerous delicate sable-haired brushes as she held a desire to paint: “Painting was my first passion and I felt a connection to Sidney Long ever since I first saw his work in the Art Gallery of NSW when I was twelve” 5.Detailed painting and small canvasses were seriously discouraged in the RCAE painting department in the late 1970s, as it was with most painting schools at the time. House paints such as Dulux and Riplin enamel were the rage. When a painting lecturer rudely made this fashion clear by snapping her delicate brushes, and presenting her with a thick and unyielding house paint brush, she decided it was with printmaking that her immediate future lay. In printmaking, and especially in etching, Fogwell was soon fostering her love of refining intricate forms.

Originally the RCAE printmaking studios were set up by Arthur Wicks for screen-printing and photo etching only. While Wicks was on sabbatical (from 18 July 1977 to 31 December 1977) they were re-organised by Heng to include relief printing and more conventional print methods in plate and paper preparation plus the use of a much wider variety of hand tools for drawing. Wicks, the committed conceptual artist, was at first sceptical of this return to a traditional approach but fully supported the effort over time. Fogwell found in Heng an educator who fostered the creative spark: “I was attracted to Euan’s attitude and approach to art. He was tough but understood what was needed to foster a young artist’s needs; it was Euan who encouraged me to move to Canberra. I feel he made the connection between my early experiments with aquatint after seeing some etchings by of Norman Lindsay and he suggested I seek out Jorg Schmeisser. My intentions were always to paint, but in those early prints I found that my natural mark suited the fineness of the etched and carved mark possible from intaglio and relief processes. The first print I printed for another artist was also for Euan Heng and in many ways these combined elements formed the pathway for the rest of my career.” 6

Heng had just arrived in Australia and had been appointed to the newly established position of senior tutor in applied arts, lecturing in printmaking. While his role expanded substantially in the years he worked in Wagga, printmaking was and still is an important part of his work. Heng bought his first house at Forrest Hill, a Royal Australian Air Force enclave on the outskirts of Wagga Wagga, at the age of 32. Heng’s late 1970s and early 1980s etching aquatints (some on angled plates) are among his most beautiful monochrome works. The trees he depicted evolved from Wagga roadside sketches and the aquatints of Richard Hamilton. He resigned in 1982 to take up an appointment at the Gippsland Institute of Advanced Education.

Dianne Fogwell’s husband, Mark Lewis, studied sculpture at RCAE in 1980 and 1981, and they met while she was in heated discussions with a lecturer on one of Fogwell’s return trips to Wagga Wagga in 1980. He in turn was completing his HSC and was also looking for an art school to attend outside of the city. Dianne’s long term friend, fellow printmaker Meg Buchanan, was lecturing at RCAE from 1975 to 1979. Originally Fogwell’s drawing teacher at RCAE, Buchanan became business partners with her for a while, co-founding Studio One in Canberra in 1982.

The School of Creative Arts campus – and especially the printmaking department – was a hive of activity in the late 1970s. Euan Macleod states that “next to the University of Tasmania’s art school, RCAE was probably the most lively for visiting artists”, due to the connections and ability of Arthur Wicks and a supportive Visual Arts Board. Shane Forrest, a practising artist now living in Sydney and student at RCAE who graduated in 1979, recalls that “Arthur (Wicks) arranged for another student, Karen Dayman, and I to go to the Victorian Gallery School to learn lithography with Bea Maddock and Allen Mittleman. On our return, with just the rudiments of black and white lithography, Arthur volunteered me to create two editions of lithographs for Mario Merz. Some of the artists and arts administrators/writers/historians who attended short residencies at RCAE at this time included Jonas Balsaitis, Elizabeth Coats, Noel Counihan, Jim Cowley, Fred Cress, Suzanne Davies, Tess Jaray, William Kelly, Richard Larter, Mario Merz, Clive Murray-White, Robert Owen, Jacki Parry, Noel Sheridan, Bernard Smith and Tommaso Trini, to name a few.”

The vibrant flow of visiting artists also played a significant part in Fogwell’s career path, especially the artists Noel Counihan and Fred Cress. It was Counihan’s reputation as a communist and a political cartoonist that made Arthur Wicks invite him to do a residency on the campus, but Counihan insisted on leaving politics out of the classroom. Fogwell attended every drawing class that Counihan held and formed a friendship that lasted many years. In 1982 Counihan was asked by Fogwell and Buchanan to officially open Studio One, but due to illness his opening speech was read by Udo Sellbach, Director of the Canberra School of Art. Fogwell was invited to curate an exhibition of Counihan’s rare lithographs for the Criterion Fine Art Gallery, and during her time as Lecturer in Charge of the ANU Edition + Artist Book Studio she was given permission from Counihan’s widow to commission GW Bot to cut and edition his last two uneditioned linocuts, ‘Boy 11’ and ‘Laughing Christ’.

 At the request of Fogwell and Buchanan, Fred Cress gave a drawing master class at Studio One and during this time together they editioned two of Cress’s finest etchings.  Fogwell has maintained a connection with Cress and in 2005 continued to work with Cress on three etchings published by Berkeley Editions. Richard Larter also opened a two-person exhibition for Fogwell and Paul Harvey in Albury 1981.

The move to the main northern campus from the south campus and the disorganised initial years of the School of Creative arts gives one insight as to why Fogwell left Wagga to study in Canberra. Forrest states, “We were very disappointed when we moved, as South campus was far more conducive to art-making with its multitude of old buildings, halls and lovely gardens . . . The new building was remote, cramped and had no room for studios. It eventually got worn in but never had the charm of the old campus.” 7Petitions were received by the Principal of the College regarding the lack of facilities, lack of space for the visual arts and lack of time the students could work with the facilities.8

The students wanted to work at weekends and after hours. Baily’s words ring true at this time and it was the restriction of time for printing that Fogwell states drove her from the college in Wagga Wagga. In Canberra she consequently found an art course where students could work daily in the studio and completed her final year at the Canberra School of Art. It was only by apprenticing herself to Jörg Schmeisser during that year that she gained the beginnings of her technical mastery over the medium of printmaking. Fogwell continues to edition for various artists that she respects, and says that these collaborative printmaking endeavours over the last 25 years hone her “aesthetics and craft.” 9

The Current Work

‘Elements’ predominately consists of Dianne Fogwell’s expansive, multi-sheet, immersive environments on paper from 2006 to date. Prints such as the sixteen-panel piece ‘Casting Dreams’2006, the four-panel ‘Serendipity’ 2007, or ‘Beyond’, the latest four panel piece from 2008. The works’ shining gold, coloured or silver surface consists of up to five different metallic inks laid on handmade Asian and European  papers with up to twenty passes on the press for each sheet. The prints push the boundaries of opulence, printmaking craft and its allegiance to paper. These glowing ‘walls’ of art have the mien of an early Byzantine mosaic or hang like tapestries from a medieval castle.

These works are far removed from the intimate delineated square or rectangle of an etching or linocut that snugly fits within a solander box in a print room. They are installation prints, of a scale and texture reminiscent of textiles or wallpaper printing. The works’ texture comes from printing and overprinting. The layering of the inked blocks are an allusion to time passing, testing the limits of the inks and the fragility and strength of the paper support.

Fogwell’s works are unframed, and seemingly flow onto the floor and up, defying gravity, to the roof, and spread across the walls, becoming an immersive vista. Colin McCahon broke from the frame in his paintings to depict the natural environment of New Zealand. The practised naivety in his imagery (which parallels some of Fogwell’s work) adds an abstracted spiritual aspect to the composition.

Whereas McCahon relies on precise text, blacks, rocks, and dark green to sustain a sombre atmosphere, Fogwell – who is acutely aware of Australia’s place in Asia, having been invited to exhibit in both Korea and India – has based her colour schemes on the opulent golds and silvers of the traditional arts of India, Korea, China, and Indonesia.

Fogwell uses metallic inks not merely for decorative purposes but for their ability to reflect the colours she finds in the natural world: of the small creatures and native grasses at her feet. The arcane aspect of the metallic base provides a potential mirroring, and different readings of the surfaces allow objects to appear and disappear depending on where the viewer stands, adding to the esoteric nature of her subject matter.

The works reveal a landscape resplendent with detail. Exploring, one sees the built and natural environment constructed of everyday elements, leaves, moths, shoes, letters and more exotic metaphors, hand-drawn scripts and scores of music. Fogwell explains: “these objects, both natural and man-made, are symbols, a strange calligraphy of images and have become my alphabet.” Works skirt the boundaries of states of mind, through depicted human experiences and distant glimpses of items which implore feelings of time, permanence and decay. Fogwell states: “when I work I am able to reach into all four corners of the studio and grab these blocks together and place them just like you do with words, constructing meaning. It’s the idea of a very personal language, and the images don’t hold me to words, they don’t hold me to the page; they could escape the page very easily or they could embed themselves.” 10

The immense labour in Fogwell’s recent printmaking, coupled with the gallery size, scale and immense conception could not be reproduced for an Australian ‘art market’. These recent works are in some way the folly of the artist, what she must produce to discuss and describe her way of being in the world.

In 2002 Fogwell had a month’s residency on the Greek island of Skopelos. On the island she commenced her ‘alphabet of images’. Fogwell states that what she “discovered on this residency has informed all my work since . . . I looked closer and I started to see these elements drifting in and out of the history of my view.”

“There I was overwhelmed by the sensation of being in an ancient place. I felt I was trespassing on the land, and sensed the damage from the human presence upsetting the balance of nature. In Greece, you are surrounded by the ruins and remnants of a once-beautiful civilisation. Everywhere you look you see damage. It is a real invasion into a beautiful, subtle space with an incredible ocean and mirroring sky . . . I wanted to take very tender steps while I was there, I wanted to walk lightly; it made me realise that there are so many things in the past that have been of great value, so many things that are taken for granted . . . I see my images since that residency as a series of film stills, hand-carved woven words, silent music and things.” 11

It was important for Fogwell, when she produced the artist book entitled Things of Science and Wonder (the outcome of this residency), that the text along with the images were hand-carved, “so that all elements, imagery and text, were touched by my hands.” Possibly this is related to her continuing professional editioning work where her skilled hands are applied to other’s artistic intentions.

books have been intrinsic to Fogwell’s practice and act as a biography or personal journal. The books are predominately unique, and are central to any exhibition of her work. The smaller books are at times fragile, and immediate. In describing Fogwell’s artist books from 1980 – 2002,  Professor Sasha Grishin states  “There is a certain urgency about her books, an impatience to be born, combined with a country girl’s gift for improvisation, where an unlikely marriage of materials and techniques frequently gives birth to a fragile innocence which asserts its right to exist.” 12 Grishin has previously commented that Fogwell’s work holds a knowing naivety and at times a punk sensibility. Fogwell’s books are in many cases sketches, ideas taking shape. The urgency and use of improvisation, and collage within the books, I believe, is imbedded in her intuitive practice of creating. The reader of these intimate books is intruding upon the chaos accompanying the birth of ideas.

A small number of her books are grand, exhibition intended, fine press entities such as the book ‘The Gene Pool, 2000”, based on a thirty-six-hour enforced gathering of her five sisters and herself without children or husbands. This immense endeavour culminated in ninety pages of handset type, sixteen etchings and an audio CD of fifteen images was undertaken with a Capital Arts Patrons Organisation, Visual Arts Fellowship from artsACT.

 Fogwell, when pressed about linkages between her diverse artist’s books, could not comment on the look of the works, only what they feel like: “a gush of wind that has disturbed the layers of your skin. You feel warm inside but gradually getting colder towards the outer layer. Like a tree with its leaves being blown off; there is a moment when the leaves are not on the tree, but they are still in the air, together.” 13 These words suggest an intense personal connection to her works. A connection to the natural is also present, and possibly hinting at the cathartic process of discarding the thoughts, and feelings through the distribution of the books and their life away from the artist.

Dianne Fogwell has been an exhibiting artist since 1979. She is in the midst of a successful career as a master printmaker, having already produced over 200 editions for prominent Australian artists since 1982 including Jason Benjamin, Margaret Olley, and Robin Wallace-Crabbe. Through her long association with the ANU School of Art and her other endeavours, Fogwell is one of the most respected printmakers and artists book practitioners in the country. Fogwell first attended the Canberra School of Art as a student in 1980, and progressed to studio assistant 1981–82, lecturer in the Printmaking Department, Foundation Studies and the Graphic Investigation Workshop 1981–96,  and lastly the Lecturer in Charge and artistic director of the Edition + Artists Book Studio, ANU School of Art, 1996–2005. She was the co-founder of the successful Studio One print workshop with Meg Buchanan, and Founder/Director of the Criterion Press and Fine Art Gallery. An invited artist to international biennials for print and the artist book in Poland, Belgium, Belgrade, France, London and most recently Korea. Her work is represented in national and international collections. In 2005 she was an invited Juror for the Bharat Bhavan International Print Biennial, Roopankar Museum of Fine Arts, Bhopal, India. Her involvement in print collaboration with visual artists, musicians and writers spans two decades and curator/co-curator for major exhibitions in the field of print and book. Dianne is represented by Beaver Galleries, Canberra; Arthouse Gallery, Queensland; Catherine Asquith Gallery, Melbourne and Booklyn Alliance, New York.

Thomas A. Middlemost

Art Curator,
Charles Sturt University Art Collection

February 2008.

1 This can be found at http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/programs/exhibitions/kmg/2007/artist_book/audio_tour/audio_tour.html, last accessed 25/2/08/

2 Fogwell, Dianne, email between the artist and author 3 February 2008 12:05.

3 Correspondence from Prof. C.D. Blake to Mr John Baily 1 March 1978. CSU Regional Archives Central Records Box CSU 2268/51 File Exhibitions and General use of the Centre for the Arts

4 Correspondence from Mr John Baily to Prof. C.D. Blake 7 February 1978. CSU Regional Archives Central Records Box CSU 2268/51 File Exhibitions and General use of the Centre for the Arts. [Baily continues that, “country colleges have a closer cultural affinity with the craftsman,” and that craft not art should be their purview. It is not certain how Baily would view printmaking, as craft or art.]

5 Fogwell, Dianne, email between the artist and author 3 February 2008 12:05.

6 Fogwell, Dianne, email between the artist and author 3 February 2008 12:05.

7 Forrest, Shane, email between the artist and author 5 August 2005 11:35PM.

8 CSU Regional Archives Central Records Box CSU 2268/51 File Exhibitions and General use of the Centre for the Arts. (lockable cupboards for silver smithing and exhaust systems for acid baths in printmaking are two of the complaints.)

9 Fogwell, Dianne, email between the artist and author 3 February 2008 12:05.

10 Fogwell, Dianne, Autobiography: Mackay Artist Book Forum No.4, artspace Mackay, February 2008.

11 Fogwell, Dianne, Autobiography: Mackay Artist Book Forum No.4, artspace Mackay, February 2008.

12 Grishin, Professor, Sasha, Dreams and Swords the artists books of Dianne Fogwell, July 2001.

13 Fogwell, Dianne, Autobiography: Mackay Artist Book Forum No.4, Artspace Mackay, February 2008.

If you have a direct question that is not related to this page please contact me.

Leave a Comment