10th November, 2015#

Review “INFLORESCENCE” The Street Theatre, 21st and 22nd March 2015

Those arriving for Inflorescence at The Street Theatre were greeted with a dimmed room full of delicate, hand-crafted paper flowers. Butterflies on the walls formed the words “breathe” and “care”. The attention to detail – each crinkled petal, the lace-like perforations on draped paper – was exquisite. The audience settled in as the room plunged into darkness.
Improvisation musician Reuben Lewis on trumpet, accompanied by double bass, drums and electronic percussion, set the mood but never took over the show. The music smoothly transitioned between warm, playful jazz and a foreboding emptiness, punctuated with Morse-like beeps, insect chirps and the sound of a gentle breeze blowing through a desolate forest. Changes in tempo marked the passage of time, shifting from 1920s-esque jazz to sparse electronic beats (and back again).
Meanwhile, visual artist Dianne Fogwell moved carefully through the “garden”, gently placing small beads of light in the heart of flowers and making shadows of butterflies dance across the floor. A long strip of perforated paper ran through the room while other pieces draped, rockily. On taking a closer look, the pinpricks of light were laid out in patterns representing pollen forms, language (Braille), insects and a musical score. This suggested a concern not just with the literal pollination of flowers but with inspiration as a result of the creative cross-pollination between music, language, art and nature itself.
At the end of the performance, there was a long, expectant silence. Fogwell explained that Inflorescence was a brief sketch designed to make us think about pollination. This was a wise decision and a necessary prompt and reminder. Inflorescence claimed to draw inspiration from “the triangle of pollination: the flower, the pollinator and the pollen” (YAH program) but it was not immediately clear that pollination was the focal point. The dreamy performance washed over the audience and could be enjoyed with minimal effort. It did not necessarily compel one to ponder the significance of pollination. The fact that the flowers and butterflies were but beautiful facsimiles seemed, instead, to question how far we’ve come from nature.
Lewis and Fogwell, equal partners in the development and execution of Inflorescence, drew on one another for inspiration. This speaks to the “pollination of new ideas with old”, mentioned in the program. Fogwell mingled with the audience afterwards and was happy to answer questions. This helped to clarify and strengthen her message.
It is difficult to fault a performance as thoughtfully put together as this one. A joyous yet meditative celebration of life, Inflorescence was both visually and aurally beautiful. Without Fogwell’s closing comments and willingness to engage with the audience however, its messages about pollination risked being lost. It was the type of performance that will go on to inspire others and this, perhaps, was its true aim.

by Shu-Ling Chua

for ScissorsPaperPen

1st September, 2014#

A master printer explores flowers and fertility

Canberra Times
August 29, 2014
Dianne Fogwell: Exhibition ‘Inflorescence’

Beaver Galleries, 81 Denison Street, Deakin. ACT. 2600

Dianne Fogwell has been exhibiting professionally since 1978 and her practice has been characterised through its diversity, vibrancy and passion. She is a hyperactive and multifaceted individual, one who refuses to be easily pinned down or compartmentalised.

She is predominantly a printmaker, but she has also ventured into furniture design, she is a recorded jazz singer, and has worked with installations and in collaborative projects.

As an artist, Dianne Fogwell is a builder and compiler, rather than an inventor of the grand gesture. She will create an exquisitely wrought module which becomes the creative epicentre around which other modules are arranged. Her art involves an endless process of adjusting and arranging until an internal harmony is achieved and then the work is complete.

In her studio she has countless trays of small carved lino blocks which she will move around the arena of her picture space until the desired composition becomes apparent and is resolved. The final appearance of the piece frequently appears as much of a surprise to the artist as it does to her audience.

A recurring theme in the present exhibition is that of pollination and cross-fertilisation, the glue which brings life together and guarantees that future generations will come into being. The show consists of oil paintings and relief prints, the latter serving as the backbone and highlight of the display.

A number of the titles I found somewhat puzzling, such as Anthomancy, for one of the big oil paintings. I am assuming from its etymology, ‘anthos’ meaning flower in Greek and ‘manteia’ prophecy, that it deals with making pronouncements about the future by looking at flowers, a bit like ripping petals off daisies to determine if she loves you. Are flowers for Fogwell the canaries in the cage that testify to our planet’s health?

Fogwell’s general anthomania (love of flowers) sees the creation of complex bouquets of flowers, where seashells and ocean plants share the space with birds, butterflies and bees. It becomes a cornucopia of fecundity with precisely observed plants, flowers, marine molluscs, seed pods, insects and birds all crammed into the same space. There is a sense of joy in her celebration of this fecundity and an appeal to all the senses – particularly to smell, touch, taste and sight. And a celebration of the choreography and the frozen music that surrounds all of life.

Her linocuts, particularly Aroma, Hover and Fragrant, are the strongest pieces in the show and see the assembly of her cast of characters, in cut-out lino matrixes, brought together in unexpected juxtapositions. Delicate, exquisite in their detailed articulation, and realised in a soft pastel palette, these prints are charming pieces and breathe a distilled maturity. For the purist, the editioned black and white linocuts Protea, Banksia and Waratah are hard to beat with their crisp classical beauty.

Dianne Fogwell has taught for many years and worked for more years as a professional master printer. In these recent works she adopts a more reflexive attitude as she contemplates the beauty and magic of nature. She celebrates a fragile ecology with a wish and a prayer.

Read more: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/entertainment/a-master-printer-explores-flowers-and-fertility-20140828-107b0w.html#ixzz3ByobfMCf

Sasha Grishin

13th September, 2011#

Fogwell’s work refuses to yield secrets

Dr Sasha Grishin, 

Canberra Times review of the Beaver Gallery exhibition.

The Canberra-based artist Dianne Fogwell, is a master craftsman with an exceptional command of printmaking technologies. She is also an artist who is particularly obsessed with the surfaces of her works.

Dianne Fogwell has refused to stand still or lock herself into a particular style or idiom. Today, at age 53, she is reinventing herself as a fantasist – a creator of dream-like realities, but set within a specific Canberra “wonderscape”. Perhaps to say reinventing a slightly misleading, as the fantastic element has always been present in her art, but now it has become the most prominent element. Living in an inner north suburb of Canberra, she observes, samples and collects elements of the natural environment which surround her – leaves, flowers and butterfly wings – and weaves them together into a fantasy-like narrative.

She also dislikes the transparency of means in her art making and enjoys the element of surprise. As the viewer stares into her dense radiating surfaces there is a quality of alchemy about the work – we are never quite certain exactly how it was done. A major piece in the exhibition, “The Musicians (2008)”, has a great complexity in its surface where Fogwell has combined linocut and wood cut designs with oil-painted imagery mounted on gesso on panel. The flowers and butterflies appear suspended in space or drafting on an invisible breeze. Structurally she thinks as a printmaker, with a constant layering of surfaces, and she invites the viewer to dissolve into her compositions.

Other pieces in the exhibition, such as “journey” involve more of a mapping dimension but perhaps less of a physical movement through space and more of a daydream about space. Incidents, comic and ephemeral, diaries and objects, dreams, yearnings and multiple realities all play a part in many of her works in this exhibition.

Having observed and admired Fogwell’s art for more than two decades, I never cease to be amazed by the fecundity of her imagination.

She manages to combine that which is very personal and intimate with an Alice in Wonderland – like innocence and shares that sense of discovery with the beholder.

Refusing to categorised and pigeon-holed within a particular stylistic orientation, Fogwell certainly is what the print media call an “original”. With a distinctive yet constantly changing voice.

13th July, 2008#

The possibility of serendipity

In the process of creating artworks Dianne Fogwell rejects the idea of pre-imagining an image or an idea, preferring to think about something; a tree, wind, drought. From the first drawn or carved line, through to the choice of forms and colour and the building of layers, her images and ideas start to emerge. For the viewer entering the world of the artworks and looking for her intended narrative, then finding another personal meaning of their own, is unexpected and pleasing. These are, for the artist and the viewer, the surprising and beautiful moments of serendipity, the making of desirable but un-sought for discoveries.

Fogwell’s terrain where serendipity occurs has been formed by her extensive personal artistic practice and teaching, and her expertise as a master printmaker. Although aspects of her practice have changed and evolved there are existing threads which connect and strengthen the new directions. In the 1996 exhibition catalogue “A Matter of Making: CSA Alumni”, Fogwell commented on how she and other artists construct or reinforce their notion of reality. “It is my perception that on the plate, in the book or on the canvas there is a momentary balance of forces: a space where I can be between realities.” This continues to be the place where she explores, questions, summons, embroiders and celebrates.

Unlike other bodies of her work, which have more literal and biographical surroundings, narratives and moods, this, her first exhibition at the Catherine Asquith Gallery, is more concerned with the process of transition. These transitions between realities are temporal, at the intersection of the natural and the manmade, are both personal and universal and have cultural reference. The works are a complex layering of ideas, images, inks and pressure; the combination of which results in unique-state linoleum and wood-relief prints. Fogwell starts with the grounds of stained colour and translucent metallic inks, applying a series of incised and drawn immersive environments, then embosses, stamps, brushes and imprints text and objects to describe the layers of meaning and metaphor.

For the past six years Fogwell has cut into blocks to create what she calls ‘an alphabet of images’. To her “…they have become a personal iconography and when I place these elements in sequences or in layers they allow space to imagine’” An alphabet only makes sense when its letters, characters or elements are combined to form a language of shared meaning. Individually they are only what they appear; a feather, a shoe or a word.

The invention of moveable type was the springboard for the printing of books. It brought ideas to an infinitely wider readership democratising the written word. Fogwell’s moveable alphabet is a myriad of birds, plants, flowers, animals, moths, buttons, shoes and fish. Whereas the English language alphabet may be confined to 26 letters, her growing lexicon of images (now numbering over 400 characters) and its articulation of ideas can be infinite.

The flora and fauna of Fogwell’s iconic alphabet are Australian species. Relying on keen observation and intuition each is drawn directly on the block often from different angles and in different scales, so when they appear together in the same picture plane, movement and relative distances are conveyed.

A residency on the island of Skopelos, Greece in 2002 sharpened Fogwell’s awareness of the natural elements and unobtrusive everyday objects. Her heightened observation and valuing of these is evident in her drawing, imbuing them with meaning and their careful arrangement. Resulting works are simplified and more pared down to allow for an interplay between objects and atmosphere. The distance of geography, history and culture is often the precursor to such shifts in an artist’s practice.

Serendipity 2007 is a large and immersive environment flowing across four paper panels. Spread across the gallery floor it invites the viewer to wander into the carpet of leaves no longer fresh and green, their colour fading and edges curling against approaching winter. This carpet is so deep it is not possible to see the ground; so densely packed, the discarded necktie, an antique iron and moths with their wings spread, must all rest gently on its surface.

In talking about intense personal connection to her works Fogwell gives us insight into the work Confirmation 2008. “…a gush of wind that has disturbed the layer 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.” For the viewer, by the time the eye has travelled down the opposite side of the work to its base, the negative spaces surrounding the flocking birds, have instead become the positive description of their form.

It is a branch and swirl of aerodynamically shaped leaves that bind the two sheeted work Surrender 2008. Blush coloured seed pods holding close the potential of their life tumble in the eddy of a breeze. The sense of movement at a particular point in time is also strong in the works Terrain 1 & Terrain 11 2008. The water, having just retreated, has left flotsam and jetsam. Rivulets have disturbed a smooth surface leaving it grainy. Fish and driftwood forms angled towards the centre of the activity direct the eye in expectation. Bleached shells are suspended in the moment, the lines of their chronology indicating an accumulated texture of life.

Fogwell’s work also refers to the politics of our time: to refugees, drought and the resource of water. Proclamation 2008 is part of a meditation on the ‘unthrown children’ and the 2001 Tampa crisis. Ideas were floated and formed, images purported to be real were discovered to have other less malignant meanings, and the space between the realities was divided by law, cultural prejudice and politics. The work’s silver and gold metallic pages hold two sets of important and tightly written texts running in different directions to each other in echo of Asian, Arabic and early Christian scripts of worship. Within the illegible text there is a challenge to understand, a stirring movement and the evidence of the human hand.

Just as the paper Fogwell chooses to ground her prints is of a robust composition, able tolerate the pushing of its boundaries with multiple press passes, marks and stamps, her approach to her work is explorative, demanding and multi-layered. Like life itself they are part of a continuous movement. Within this fluid nexus of artistic practice and everyday life there is always the possibility of serendipity.

Katherine Wilkinson Melbourne July 2008 1102 words

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.

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.

1st July, 2001#

Dreams and Swords: The Artists Books of Dianne Fogwell

The American poet, Amy Lowell (1874-1925), once noted that “All books are either dreams or swords” and in the case of Dianne Fogwell’s artists books, they are both.1

In Dianne Fogwell’s voluminous and varied oeuvre, artists books occupy a significant position. Although her earliest extant artists book may date from about 1978 or 1979, and consists of eight long strips of Magnani paper stapled together at one end, all of the others, about fifty of them, date from the past twelve years, between 1989 and 2001.

Johanna Drucker, in what has become a landmark publication, argues that the artists book “is the quintessential 20th century art form”. 2 In the art of Dianne Fogwell, the artists book does not slot into some convenient definition. In some of her more accomplished pieces, such as her Voyelles – 24 years, 1988, with the exquisite letterpress printing by Thierry Bouchard, and the lavish Orpheus. Beyond the poem before the memory fades, 1996, one can think of the classic tradition of the livre d’artiste associated with such names as Ambroise Vollard and Daniel-Henry Kahnweiller, but these limited edition, beautifully crafted books are very much the exception in her practice.

The overwhelming majority of Dianne Fogwell’s artists books are one offs, unique creations, frequently assembled from scavenged materials in response to a particular situation. One prominent artist described them as being characterised through their “ragged and improvised informality”. 3 They are diaristic and self-reflexive, at times caught up in outpourings of angst, frustration and anger, on other occasions full of erotic passion or lost within a labyrinth of daydreams. When looking through these highly personal objects, the viewer not only senses a great intimacy, but there is something voyeuristic about the experience. It is not a totally comfortable feeling, I found myself constantly looking over my shoulder as if to ask whether it was alright that I was privy to these intensely cathartic creative moments. It is as if many of these objects were created at moments when the artist felt that she could confide her most passionate dreams only to these silent witnesses.

In one book, Family portrait: ‘Words are in the air’, 2001, she writes “On any day it starts the same. Nothing changes. Nothing changes. Nothing changes, nothing changes. Nothing changes, nothing changes. Nothing changes, nothing changes.” Accompanied by Polaroid colour family snaps, taken by her eleven year old son Reuben, who is a frequent collaborator in her artistic projects, this concertina book evokes a palpable tension as the drama of nothingness unfolds. It is a carefully crafted object of miniature proportions which slips into its own case.

In another of her artists books, The night is crowded, 1993, we are introduced to the intimacy of love making, where erotic gouache and pen and ink drawings are supplemented by a Letraset text with such pillow murmurings as “be gentle” and “even as i dream i can’t hate you”. On occasions we encounter whole journeys of discovery into the territory of penis envy, as in her She wears it, 1991, where the study of penises and of pubic hair is in the form of pen and ink sketches accompanied by collage and cut-outs. This tiny book comes complete with its own brown paper envelop.

Juvenile punk humour erodes any possible seriousness of intent in her It’s my party, 1993, where within a triangular box, neatly screwed into a party hat, is a series of rubber balloons with their cheeky greetings. In another, undated piece, Get the gun and run, the sexually quirky is united with wacky humour, as within a cloth covered box lies a candle, gold ring, and matches together with digitally manipulated images and a Letraset text.

In a number of her other artists books the erotic daydream gives way to the avenging sword of frustration and feminist anger. In the beautifully presented The price of service, 1999, the book adopts the form of a box a cutlery. Inside the box a text announces: “She glances up …”, while on each of the cardboard knives, the inscription reads “and so she cuts”. The play on words, games with concepts and expectations, are all characteristic of this artist’s work. If in her prints, which now run to about 268 limited editions, there is a whimsicality in which a Chagallian fantasy world collides with other realities, in her artists books dreams and swords combine to form a mirror of the intimate workings of the soul.

As with a number of artists who make artists books, Dianne Fogwell is quick to assert that rumours concerning the book’s death have been greatly exaggerated. What is less predictable is the shape of her books. In her work, ‘books’ which appear suspended within a plastic compact disk cover easily outnumber those composed of sheets of paper which obediently live between hard covers. Wonderful tactile handmade papers by Katharine Nix or pieces of rag and cloth bound together by the subversive stitch, not to mention rubber balloons, bra wire, butterfly wings, flower petals and recycled plastics, all take precedence over the more conventional art papers. Finger prints, Letraset, rubber stamps, spilt wax, inks and dyes are some of the preferred mediums of expression. Covers for these books include a recycled ‘Metho burner’, a snake skin, stitched cloth sleeves, plastic containers and boxes of all shapes, sorts and sizes. 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.

Betsy Davids and Jim Petrillo in a famous essay on the artists book as a culinary delight, have a wonderful passage dealing with the book as desert. “As we enter the post-modern, post-literate, post-humanistic, post-avant-garde, post-mechanical age of electronic technologies, the book as we have known it may become archaic and anachronistic – a dinosaur, so to speak. Executives of corporate communication companies know that if their book division continues to be losers they will be disposed of or reformed. Yet, to its lovers, a book is a wonderful thing. An embodiment of spirit, it is a totemic object that requires a personal, intimate involvement to unlock its mysteries and reveal its pleasures. Is it possible that this visual, literary, intellectual memory device, this commodity of the soul, this mojo of Western civilisation is facing the scrap heap of history? Is this a bad dream or an opera? Enter the artist as tenor. It’s the last scene of the final act and he has just stepped off the top of the citadel. On his way down, he sings his concluding aria: ‘There are more producers of artists books than there are consumers. It’s true democracy and bad business.’ Stage left, one can make out the shadowy figure of the Muse, who points an enigmatic finger at the words projected on the scrim over the badly painted sunrise: ‘The book as it will be is yet to be discovered.’” 4

Dianne Fogwell in her artists books is hinting at some of these possible future forms, while at the same time leaving behind in a beautiful, articulate and audible voice a trace of phantoms and passions which have now vanished like a dream.

Dr Sasha Grishin
Canberra, July 2001

1 It has become a general convention to write artists books without the apostrophe, see Stefan Klima, Artists books: A critical survey of the literature, New York, Granary Books 1998.
2 Johanna Drucker, The century of artists’ books, New York, Granary Books 1995, p 1.
3 Robin Wallace-Crabbe, introductory essay in Artist’s books, Criterion Fine Art Gallery, Braidwood 1997.
4 Betsy Davids and Jim Petrillo, “The artist as book printer: Four short courses”, in Joan Lyons (ed.) Artists’ books: A critical anthology and sourcebook, New York, Peregrine Smith Books 1987, p 164.

1st January, 2001#

Signature Songs

Sisters. Friends or not, like other family relationships, our lives are entwined for a lifetime. Those lives are punctuated by ritual, we gather at birthdays, Christmas, funerals. These sisters were invited to a different ritual, a creative project by the youngest. They began to narrate their own lives. Conversation was recorded, photography and video captured the moment, and these have formed the basis for Dianne’s story of herself, her mother and her sisters. A portrait in a sense, of women who have each played a part in the lives of the others.

Dianne, like others in her generation, have been driven to explore this relationship. The last decade has seen several anthologies on the theme published. Feminism has shown the relationship between sisters to have been an overlooked, perhaps threatening relationship ‘ [which] like that between mothers and daughters, comes to us shrouded in silence and ignorance.’ 1 In the great novels of Jane Austen, for example, marriage-brokerage has been considered the primary narrative dynamic, but equally the novel is one about the bonds between sisters. It almost provides a case study to the claim that ‘…siblings go out of their way to be different because it is in their Darwinian interests to do so. Diversity reduces competition for scarce resources.’ 2 Despite the shared gene pool, (designer-baby dealers beware!) each sister demonstrates different feminine attributes. Competition, and collusion, is enacted in every scene and each has her own kind of victory.

But what happens when ‘real sisters’ become a story?

Soundtrack for real life

Being with our sisters there is permission to revert to childhood patterns – some comforting, some confounding. In the snippets of family storytelling the past surfaces in the shared laughter and the rehearsed punch line of a favourite anecdote. However, memory, if often triggered by, is not like a photograph.

Memory is tricky. Memory changes. First there is the incident, the snapshot, the feelings at the time. Add the extra flesh that comes with superimposed retellings. Scrap the details that don’t support your recall in the now. Memory is a paradox because, although false from the moment of inception, it does have an essential truth at its centre. 3

Dianne searches amongst the images and words for the essential truth. But this will not be singular, as in the literature of the past. It is a composite. It is as much the small objects remembered by the youngest in an all-female household, as the song which now conjures her sister for her. It is this sister’s characteristic expression, as much as the formal photograph of her, the projected self-image of the elusive present. Time shifts, we change, our sisters remember.

Our sisters remember the childhood pages where we rehearsed a signature that would reflect our emerging character. They remember our fumbling teenage trials at casting ourselves in the movie of our choice: that dress, those shoes, the hairspray. We remember the tyranny of hand-me-downs, the times we were told how much we were alike. There will always be a residue of that time, but the grand innocence of it will be lost to all but our siblings.

Dianne’s sisters are the daughters of the transistor radio. Musical taste, like hairstyle, is part of how we construct our persona. Dianne draws from blues to rock to cabaret, and sings each song. The songs then form another, more poetic text, in which submerged messages appear. As we gaze at the faces, pondering on the mundane attributes, we hear each sister, hear her soundtrack.

Same song, different tempo

I went to visit my four sisters, carrying a tape recorder and my imagined map of the family. It was unsettling to learn that each sister has her own quite individual map of that territory: the mountains and the rivers are in different places, the borders are differently constituted and guarded, the history and politics and justice system of the country are different according to who’s talking. 4

The Gene Pool takes a gentler metaphor than the hard terrain of landscape. Water by its nature accommodates difference. Each sister may slip into the pool, and her shape will be embraced. Certainly, the rest of the pool will be altered, as we are by our sisters. There may even be turbulence, but the politics are of negotiation. Dianne went to visit her sisters with a tape recorder. She also carried her printing tools, and her recording studio. It is she who speaks of her sisters, and it would be a different story if told by another. Like one-point perspective, the image will change, but we’re looking at the same thing.

Love is like blood.

Merryn Gates, 2001

1 The Sister Bond: a Feminist View of a Timeless Connection, ed. Toni A.H. McNaron (UK: Pergamon Press, 1985), p. 5.
2 ‘Born to Rebel’ by Frank Sulloway in Brothers & Sisters: Intimate Portraits of Sibling Relationships, Joan Sauers, (Random House, 1997).
3 ‘Rene’, Cherries on a Plate: New Zealand Writers Talk About Their Sisters, ed. Marilyn Duckworth (NZ: Random House, 1996), p. 251.
4 Helen Garner, “A Scrapbook, An Album’, ed. Drusilla Modjeska, Sisters, quoted in Sauers.