I made my first trip to Australia last month to attend the IMPACT printmaking conference in Melbourne. It was a four day bonanza of print related fun, and there were lots of inspiring people, places, exhibitions and lectures.

It was well attended event with many people from all over the world as well as within Australia itself. There were at least 25 students from Adelaide,  printmakers from the Torres Strait islands, Indonesia, Brazil, Iran, the US, amongst others, and a good handful of UK representatives including Sarah Bodman and John Purcell!

I enjoyed seeing various print studios in Australia, especially the fantastic facilities in VCA (Victoria College of the Arts), whose facilities include an electric albion press that looks like a one armed bandit crossed with a flower press

APW (Australian Print workshop), who have a suspiciously clean workshop, does anyone actually ever spread ink around in there?

Megalo print studio in Canberra where I taught a workshop (felt like home from home, with a friendly vibe and the biggest fabric bed in Eastern Australia)but at the same time the most cute handmade vacuum table I have ever seen too…

The big print study room at the National Gallery Canberra where we spent a happy few hours looking at Rauchenbergs and Stellas up close, courtesy of the Ken Tyler bequest

ANU (Australian National University), with a vast printmaking unit that would fit in the whole of East London Printmakers in one corner of their etching roomwith some terrifying signs on the walls

and some funny signs up on the walls

and a small printmaking studio in Araluen cultural institute in the desert, that even had a steamer and facilities for discharge printing, though everything seemed very unused.

The lectures at IMPACT were a bit patchy to be honest. I was shocked at the poor quality of the skype presentations and the pHD students who mumbled their thesises to themselves with lack of conviction. There were also many talks that really didn’t have much practical content, which was surprising considering the practical nature of the subject, or talks which spent a very long time saying very little (or am I just an untrained sceptic? Too many of the keywords “materiality” or “Derrida” were used for my liking!)

However, I really enjoyed the talk on Mike Parr by John Loane, a long term collaborative printmaker, who was very eloquent on his creative process. Other highlights were lectures on book arts, especially one on how dance may be incorporated into books by Jude Walton (“The proprioception of a book”) and one on book alterations by Inge Hanover (a lady who searches secondhand book stores for books which have been dedicated to others, or marked with tears, coffee and doodles).

There was the usual raft of talks on digital technology (“printmakers are scavengers of technology originally developed for other purposes”) and on Thai and Indonesian printmakers Prawat and Heri Dono.

The exhibitions were also varied. Some names just came up again and again, both in the university shows and in the city wide satellite shows, and I wanted to see more variety. For example, Angela Cavalieri makes large linocuts of text in Italian, carved in a chunky repetitive fashion. They are distinctive prints, but very illustrative. It was impressive that her work was present in 7 different venues but gave me the impression there was a lack of diversity in the choice of artwork.

I enjoyed seeing some of the Australian and Aboriginal artworks, and would have loved to see more local work from the Pacific region as well as south east Asia.

There was a fantastic demonstration of paste printing by Chika Ito who showed how she makes ink with boiled up rice flour and various organic natural dyes including strong tea! With these pastes she makes beautiful translucent silkscreen prints which are colour fast and very natural and non toxic.

In Melbourne itself, Robert Heather showed me around the National Library of Victoria which had a book art show on the first floor, as well as a stunning collection of printed maps and books from their archives, particularly of the natural flora and fauna drawn by European artists when they first colonised the country. We also visited the RMIT satellite shows including a box set exhibition exchange organised by Melanie Yazzie, called Fold, which was fantastic, and a lovely show of prints by Tate Adams, the artist who established the print programme in RMIT in the 60s (?), whose bold black and white prints are dynamic and graphic.

It was nice to meet lots of friendly printmakers from the UK as well as NZ, Canada and the States as well as the local crowd (especially the huge numbers from Adelaide) at the conference. Below from left to right are Glynnis and Jacqueline from Darwin Northern Editions (collaborative printmakers both) and Ann Cunningham from Melbourne who kindly had me stay at her house during the conference

Finally, one of my highlights was the chance to show my latest series of dancing dress prints that are going to make up an animation, and display my artist’s books to the conference attendees. I got a lot of positive feedback and interest, and it made my month!