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I have always thought of Pamela Griffith as a combination of dedicated Huntress and basic Earth Mother.
As a huntress I felt that she was given open access to museums of old weapons as well as modern technology. I envisioned her choosing ancient blunderbusses, bows and arrows as well as state of the art missiles. Thus armed she would venture out artistically sometimes firing wildly but usually and often, aiming the arrows with unerring accuracy and piercing the eye of the boar. Meanwhile she also brought down many untargeted objects. She may have used a lot of ammunition but she sure brought home the bacon!
As Earth Mother she has encouraged other people’s talents so they realise their personal best and they, like most children, have never failed to appreciate her and love her for her generosity.
She is an artist who is strong on determination. She is professional, sure of herself, but she also has the humility that reveals her quest for truth both as an artist and as a human being.
Multi talented, possessing enough restlessness to challenge her perceived limitations, she ever moves on but only after establishing a series of rock-solid bases on which she can fall back if ever needed.
I picture her always in Pre-Raphaelite armour with burnished beauty to cherish. As Earth Mother there exists a true compassion which makes you hope. when you first meet her, that she will be a friend for life.
Innately wise, she is free from the burdens of pettiness – she exudes generosity with the force of an erupting volcano – a very natural phenomenon for her but she expects no tit-for-tat in return. Our own responses to Pamela elicit heartfelt gratitude from her.
I also picture her as a primitive clay figure moulded by some unknown hand into the maternal votive object.
I have not written a lot about her art – Pamela is her art and it speaks for itself – but I do know it is dedicated. I know that it is based on very solid foundations. As her dealer for many years I certainly know what genuine pleasure and stimulation her artwork gives to its new owners. Also, I might add, her hard work made my work very easy.
Pamela Griffith is a class act in Australian art and I am proud to be numbered amongst her many admirers.
Barry Stern founded the Barry Stern Gallery in Paddington in 1960, after a career as an art critic. He is a legendary personality in the Australian art world.
Chinoiserie of choice (extract)
Sydney Morning Herald, August 23, 2008
At the same time as the Yin-Yang, in another part of the National Trust building, Pamela Griffith is showing a suite of relief prints called Animals of the Asian Zodiac and a selection of earlier works. A consummate technician, Griffith is quite happy to describe herself as a "conservative" artist, which makes a change from all those witless conformists who think of themselves as radicals. Her Images are straightforward in style but this belies the amount of work that goes into each print. She is an artist who has long followed her own path, acquiring a large, much deserved following.
Griffith's work offers escape into immaculate daydream.
Pamela Griffith, watercolours and prints, Beaver Galleries.
Pamela Griffith's peculiar brand of quaint rural nostalgia has a wide appeal. She is an urban artist whose rural images offer an avenue of escape. Not only is it an escape to the inhabited bush of Noisy Miners, Brush Turkey, and the Cape Barren Geese Grazing, but also an escape into time to the age of sailing ships and pastoral arcadia such as Bougainvillea and Beneath the Range. It is a rejection of the immediate environment of smog, dirt and traffic jams, in favour of a nineteenth century bliss which perhaps never existed, but is so far away that it can be a pleasant day dream.
Even when she is closest to her environment, such as Darling Harbour, it too is presented under a fairy blue skies, devoid of crowds and with a fishing boat in the foreground. What saves Griffith's work from plunging into kitsch is her technical brilliance.In style, technique and composition her Heathland Banksias are deliberately reminiscent of 19th century prints by John Lewin and John Gould. They are crisp, beautifully printed, and exciting in their surfaces.
Griffith offers a relaxing escape from the cerebral, esoteric, expressionist art which dominates so much of the art scene today. She invites us to fall into a daydream which is pretty immaculate and safe, even if a little empty.
The Canberra Times, Monday, Feb 19, 1990
A dangerous art made safe.
During her 30-year old career Pamela Griffith admits she has taken risks. And while taking risks may not be unusual for an artist, in Griffith's case it has endangered her health.
Griffith, who has built up a reputation as a painter and etcher, feels that one of the reasons she developed breast cancer 10 years ago was her exposure to the many dangerous chemicals on which artist's materials are based.
Paint, for instance, is notorious for its lead content. In etching, there are copper and zinc plates and acid solutions into which the etching plates are dunked.
And while the chemical hazards are now more widely acknowledged than 10 years ago, often artists do not take care. They still work in makeshift studios, taking few precautions such as adequate ventilation.
Recently, Griffith has put herself into considerable debt to build a "safe studio". While she is painting her canvasses and preparing her latest solo exhibition at the Barry Stern Gallery, she handles a particular lead based, white paint as if she is handling dynamite.
She wears gloves, doesn't chew the end of her brush and at the end of the day washes her bushes and wipes them with a clean rag. She never eats while she's painting. "The risks that artists took in the past were enormous," says Griffith. "In a way, we are seeing the end of some techniques and processes because of the recent awareness to the health hazards of the materials we use. Probably what we are going to see is the end of etching as we know it. The ultra-safe techniques do affect the appearance of the print. If you take a Norman Lindsay work or Rembrandt's, you'll never see that again if people observe these health practices."
Through her art, Griffith has worked hard to create paintings and etchings with a painterly traditional style which reflects her love of Australia. The subject matter of her still lifes and her landscapes range from a row of boats beached on the Myall River, to a vase of proteas, a copper bowl of pears, or a view of Sydney's new airport runway.
She has been compared to Margaret Preston, who also produced a large number of prints as well as paintings. And, like Preston, she has been described as decorative, a description she passionately denies.
"I hate it when people say I'm a decorative artist. I don't see my work as being decorative at all, I just see it as being a painting. "I sort of feel there is this attitude that women do art for a hobby and men do it for career, or when women do art it is decorative and they are painting something for the home, whereas men take on the real stuff."
During her career Griffith has also taken on special projects. Recently, she has been most involved with the Mary MacKillop museum. Even though she is not a Catholic, she was commissioned to design the Mary MacKillop Commemorative Toile: 31 drawings on fabric depicting MacKillop's life.
This year she collaborated with jazz musician and composer Don Harper to produce a suite of etchings called Images of Australia. The etchings will be produced in book form and accompanied by a compact disc of Harper's latest compositions.
She has even worked on projects which don't easily fit into an artistic category, such as designing an Australian letter box. But she does not care that she may not be viewed as unfashionable.
"This year I've become more stubborn about revealing how I feel. I paint to be true to myself and to the middle class, which is where I came from. And I paint objects which will last, which are humble but true reflections of those objects and the emotional things which come out of them like whose pot it was it, or what mood these objects create. I suppose I've just got older and clearer about what I'm doing."
Griffith says the person who has helped her a great deal to focus on her art is her brother George Gittoes. A former Yellow House artist, he has spent time drawing industrial sites such as BHP in Wollongong, and more recently travelled the world's war zones recording his experiences.
"George is seven years younger than I and he is so different and people say we are so different. It is challenging to have another artist in the family who is so different. I could easily say: "Well , he is getting a huge amount of publicity and he is getting into a lot of museum spaces, I should start doing industrial landscapes too." I could paint that, but instead I've said to myself: "What is it that is good about you, Pamela? What do you do well? You don't have to feel threatened by a younger brother who is attracting so much attention and who is doing his own thing. You‘ve got something special as well. And it has helped me to consolidate my mind".
"So in recent years I've developed maturity where I'm happy to be me. Also having had cancer you stop caring about wanting to impress everybody else and you want to do things that give you satisfaction"
‘"You look at your whole life and think what is worthwhile? I like producing objects. And when you have had cancer you ask yourself what are the markers that you want to measure your life by? Well, I measure my life by the 300 etchings of mine which are in the National Gallery, Canberra. They are not all good but a lot of them are good, and they bring a lot of joy and they are tangible.
Paintings and etchings by Pamela Griffith will be at the Barry stern Gallery, Paddington from November 12 to 30.
A group Exhibition, Relatively Speaking, featuring Pamela Griffith, her brother, George Gittoes, and other family members, will be at the James Harvey Gallery, Balmain from November 17 to December 4.
Sydney Morning Herald
Exhibitions define and contrast interior worlds
I suppose it's not surprising that the meditative tradition of still life based on flowers has long been associated with women. In time past, women art students were denied the right to study the nude, while flowers were considered ladylike. So the tradition grew.
The link between paintings of flesh and paintings of flowers is most easily seen in the watercolours of Margaret Coen, the most important of Norman Lindsay's pupils. An exhibition of these sensuous but refined works was at Wagner Galleries and they dominate Meg Stewart's study of her mother, Margaret Coen: A Passion for Painting, published by the State Library of NSW.
Coen's work links flowers in vases to the bush landscape of Ku-ring-gai in Sydney's North. Always there is a sense of stroking with paint and wash, absorbing the flesh-like smoothness of petals, relishing the moisture of the loaded brush.
For all their gentle sensuousness, Coen's paintings reveal little of the private life of the artist. Margaret Olley, on the other hand, invites the viewer into her home. When she was young, Olley painted stage scenery and she appears to have retained a sense of theatrical presence in her art.
Surely the secret of her popular success as an artist is the way she dramatises her domestic interiors. Each painting, of flowers, fruit or both together is placed in the context of that warm and cosy Paddington terrace. Here is the Matisse poster, there the folding screen. The French doors open into the garden, offering a vista of bushy green.
Many paintings work on an echo effect, so that the viewer sees flowers and fruit from different angles, some in the background, some tucked around a corner. Sometimes reproductions of famous works intrude into the main subject, changing the echo.
She uses their presence to reinforce her unstated message that she is an artist working in a mainstream tradition of Western art. She asks to be seen in the context of Vermeer, Chardin and Cezanne: artists who knew that the careful placement of flowers, fruit, old china and sideboards could create harmony.
The visitor to an Olley exhibition is almost placed in the position of entering into the actual works, like Alice through the looking-glass. For the artist has yet again placed bowls of fruit and furniture among the paintings to emphasise their warmth. The all enclosing intimacy of the subject matter gives her work a human scale and the repetition makes her artful domesticity so familiar that many viewers soon become buyers.
There is no such sense of familiarity with Pamela Griffith's still life paintings, although they come from the same tradition and also deal with arrangements of fruit and flowers. Bearing in mind that there is very little difference in quality between Griffith's and Olley's art there has to be some reason why Olley is supremely popular with the art market while Griffith remains a lesser known figure.
Griffith keeps her home as a private place, and instead uses her art to explore formal relationships and ideas. In this latest exhibition she is toying with the interconnections between Asian cultures and Western traditions that make up so much of modern Australia.
In Oriental Arrangement with Iris, she places suburban irises and oranges with a blue-and-white Chinese vase, against a background of Indonesian textiles. The tight textured technique of the background painting serves to remind the viewer that Griffith is best known as an etcher, biting acid into metal to play with the surfaces.
The same technical precision that leads to success in her etchings is evident in Griffith's sense of colour, especially in Poppies, with the acid contrast between the orange flowers and the blue silk background.
Other works play on the ambiguity of orchids flamboyant against an embossed orchid wallpaper, and magnolias extravagantly twisting out of their small vase.
Looking again at the Olley exhibition, it is easy to see she shares Griffith's formal concerns. She too understands the need for colour opposites and form and balance. But what entices the visitor to her exhibition is the sentiment.
Margaret Olley, Australian Galleries, Sydney, to November 15. Pamela Griffith, Barry Stern Gallery, to November 14.
The Australian, 1997
Pamela Griffith, Paintings and Prints, Solander Gallery. 10 Schlich Street, Yarralumla, Wednesday - Sunday, August 1999.
Pamela Griffith is undoubtedly best known for her technical virtuosity as a printmaker, in particular for her colour etchings. In this large exhibition of more than 43 works are etchings, lithographs and paintings, both still lifes and landscapes.
More than 30 years ago Griffith established The Griffith Studio and Graphic Workshop. She has been painting increasingly in recent times as well as continuing her activities in print and design. A recent print commission for the Sultan of Brunei involved about two years of painstaking work, recording jungle wildlife and vegetation of Brunei.
She has broadened her activities also into commercial projects: a design for the NSW driver's licence will eventually be carried in every driver's pocket.
As a portrait painter her subjects include the Governor - General, Sir William Deane, whom she has painted twice.
Griffith's versatility and energy are impressive in still-life paintings, which make up the majority of this show. The use of strong studio lighting would seem to have been deliberate, to focus on the interplay of colour and form.
Her arrangement of flowers, fruit and vegetables, together with beautiful objects and textiles, are carefully composed and highly decorative.
On close scrutiny one can appreciate details of surface and texture of her subjects as in the lovely 'Lilly Pilly Fruits and Brass Plate'.
That Pamela Griffith can draw is most apparent in her prints. ‘Barramundi Encounter' is an intricate etching combining a number of etching techniques in which her skill is obvious.
My favourite is ‘The Vineyard at Dusk', a more monochromatic composition.
In such a large, somewhat undiscriminating exhibition there are inevitable highs and lows.
This, however is an artist who sets out to give pleasure to her public and in this respect succeeds.
Canberra Times, 31/7/99
AUSTRALIA: an artist's journey through the landscape by Pamela Griffith International Artist Publishing, Sydney. ISBN 0706050403654321
International Artist Publishing, Sydney. ISBN 0706050403654321
Pamela Griffith is one of the quiet achievers of Australia art. For many years now she has been travelling Australia with her sketch book, drawing the land, its flora, fauna in detail and in context. She explores the well known and the little known landscapes, the picturesque and the stark. Since European settlement artists have travelled, drawing the country, making prints, working up paintings in their studios, so Griffith is working in a long tradition. The significant difference is that her context is not that of the world of art, but the broader Australian society. As she says: "My work is intended to function in the lives of people and to be used."
This book, ‘Australia - an artist's journey through the landscape', is furthering her objective. As everything Griffith does, it has multiple functions. First, it is an introduction to the breadth and scope of her work. Pamela Griffith's etchings are widely known and loved by collectors of Australian art. Technically these are some of the finest etchings made in this country, and she has continued to make magic out of metal and acid for many decades. The Griffith Workshop, in the unlikely Sydney suburb of Bardwell Park, is valued by many other artists, who commission her (and her ever perfectionist assistant Trevor Riach) and to supervise their own printmaking endeavours as they turn their art into etchings.
All the favourites are there. Sparrows in the Berry Bush reminds the viewer that many of our urban Australian plants and birds were English imports. Sparrows seem to have been evicted from inner Sydney by Noisy Miners and Magpies, so there is a sense of nostalgia about this one. Then there is her series of small marine prints, which I hadn't realised are based on drawings made at Lord Howe Island. These are aquatints, made using two plates, sometimes with a circular shape. There is an intimacy about these works that reminds this reader that Griffith's art is indeed made for the home. But just over the page from these prints of fish and shells there is a series of bird life that reminds the viewer that Griffith is indeed a virtuoso printmaker. The big print of Masked Boobies is made using two plates, separated in the printing so that the paper is embossed, echoing the points of the birds' beaks. The brown ground of the standing birds, is countered by the blue, supporting the birds as they soar through the aquatinted sky. On the opposite page a lithograph and two etchings show how the composition was developed after many studies of birds - clumsy at rest, elegant in flight.
Griffith is aware of the traditions of etching in Australia, and pays elegant tribute in her series of prints based on the architecture of Colonial Sydney. Lionel Lindsay, Sydney Long and Julian Ashton all made their mark in etchings of old Sydney and through their art ensured that 20th century Australia came to appreciate its past. Griffith's etchings echo both the tonality and the composition of these old masters of etching.
As signalled in its title, Australia: an artist's journey has a second purpose. It serves as a guide to the well-known and little-known aspects of the Australian landscape and as such is a great gift for international visitors. As well as the wilderness, the interior and the coast, she celebrates the planted landscape. There are orchards in Bowral, and fields of dahlias, grown for market gardeners, street stalls at Toorak and the bush home of bowerbirds, decorated in blue. This is her country and she loves every part of it, from the rhythm of street scenes to the spectacular beauty of the vistas of the far north. She looks in detail at the life found in flowers and fruit and native birds, drawn next to their favourite food.
Pamela Griffith is an instinctive teacher. - she taught etching to generations of high school art teachers in New South Wales. She carries her need to educate in the text of this beautifully organised book, so that all who read it come to an appreciation both of this country and the art of making.
Professor Joanna Mendelssohn, COFA, UNSW
A celebration of the noble beauty of endangered species.
The Canberra Times, Wednesday Nov.6, 1991
Pamela Griffith Paintings, etchings and hand tinted lithographs, Beaver Galleries, 81 Denison St, Deakin.
Pamela Griffith has been involved in environmental imagery long before it became fashionable. She is interested in creating works which can be gradually decoded, where one image is used to add to a comment implied in another statement. Implied in this method of work is the idea that in the environment no aspect can be taken in isolation and that each bit affects something else and by destroying a particular type of tree or plant you may be unwittingly destroying the habitat of some creature.
Many of Pamela Griffith's prints focus on endangered species, both celebrating their quiet noble beauty, as well as offering surrounding images which explain the fragile eco system within which these creatures survive. The etchings Lone Red Cedar and Spectacled Flying Fox and White Faced Heron can be taken as samples of such work.
The problem with animal art in general and Pamela Griffith's work in particular, is that it is very difficult to escape from the connotation of sentimentalising kitsch, part of the heritage of Victorian sentimental animal painters. Pamela Griffith in her work is very conscious of this threat but treats it as a challenge and looks to the styles of the scientific observers with their virtues of botanical and zoological accuracy. Frequently there is something clinical in her work with very crisp, tight lines without a trace of romanticism and nostalgia. Her finest prints have this clarity and austerity, slightly understating the appealing beauty of her subject.
For me, the most interesting print at the show is her ‘Alice in Australia'. Once the Belgian painter, James Ensor, painted the great work of Christ entering Brussels with the event shown as causing as much of a shock to the locals as to the Saviour. Pamela Griffith's Alice appears equally surprised in her Antipodean abode as all the nationalities of Australia gather to examine her. I know that it is a personal bias but for me, Pamela Griffith is strongest in prints like Alice and two simply lovely etchings Summit of Mt Canobolas and Trees on Mt Canobolas rather than when she is the didactic greenie.
After The Beagle: Pamela Griffith in the Galapagos
Pamela Griffith's paintings and etchings of the Galapagos Islands are works that at first glance seem to be simple tributes to natural history - images of exotic birds and animals in a strange but beautiful landscape. However her relationship to these islands and the work she has made to honour them is part of a multi-layered personal narrative. Griffith came to the Galapagos to paint as the combined result of her long-held passionate interest in natural history and scientific inquiry, but the act of creating these paintings and prints is coloured by a personal tale.
Griffith is from that generation of Australian women artists who came to maturity in the early 1960s, in the bad years just before the feminist revolution of the 1970s. When she was a student at Sydney's National Art School and Alexander Mackie Teachers' College she saw painting and drawing lecturers happy to award girls top marks until the final assessments, when magically, the glittering prizes and exhibition opportunities went to men. When questioned, the head of the school told her that the function of women in art schools was to provide wives for artists and architects. Not all teachers were so discriminatory. It was the intellectual generosity of David Strachan and Strom Gould, as well as their love of printmaking, that encouraged her towards what Lionel Lindsay called the ‘black art' of etching. Even in her student years Griffith was passionately interested in how the different technologies of art evolved and these two opened their studios to students to see and to admire. Immersing herself in etching gave her a sense of the strength of the traditions of western art, something that was otherwise missing from her formal art education.
Personal geography is one of the keys to understanding Pamela Griffith's creative trajectory. She spent her childhood at Rockdale, not too far from Sydney's Botany Bay. The stories of Captain Cook and Joseph Banks' expedition to Australia and the discovery of unknown plants and animals therefore formed an easy association with her visual and tactile memory. It was however strange for her to read that her own every day experience of banksias, bottlebrushes and kookaburras were exotic to the European explorers who came from the north. From a very early age Griffith had a keen interest in the natural sciences. Her reading of natural history and biodiversity naturally led her to Charles Darwin's Origin of Species. Her well-thumbed copy of the book is inscribed with the year she purchased it, 1967. Darwin fitted with her natural skepticism and interest in empirical observation. The very words of introduction were an invitation to adventure:
When on board the H.M.S. ‘Beagle' as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the organic beings inhabiting South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts ... seemed to throw some light on the origin of species - that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers. [i]
So she learnt that Australia was not the only remote land bursting with natural mysteries. After reading Origin of Species Pamela Griffith knew, with the certainty of the young, that she wanted to see the islands of the Galapagos where, despite every creature being related to that of the South American mainland, each island had its own distinctive species. She wanted to see for herself the place that had led to the greatest discovery of nineteenth century empirical science. However the dream was soon put to one side as she settled for the realities of suburbia.
Most women of Griffith's generation married young, and she was no exception. She and her husband, the UNSW academic Ross Griffith, built a house at nearby Bardwell Park, overlooking where the European landscape of the golf course joins the remnant wilderness of Bexley Gully and Wolli Creek. It is a good site for observing natural life as birds, possums and flying foxes venture out of the bush for easy pickings. The Griffiths taught their two children a love of natural history, and the family became quiet activists, stripping back wayward lantana and replanting the edge of the golf course with appropriate native vegetation. Here she created the Griffith Studio and Graphic Workshop, working with her engineer husband to design her first etching press. In the early years most of Griffith's etchings slipped beneath the critical and curatorial radar, but her work was always popular with private collectors. They appreciated her eye for precise anatomical detail, the way she placed natural forms in appropriate but picturesque landscape, her strong sense of colonial history.
In 1984 Pamela Griffith was diagnosed with breast cancer. The children were still young, and one of her fears was that she would not live to see them grow to maturity. She felt she could not let them know the full extent of her anxiety, so she told them that she could not die, as she had not seen the Galapagos. With great bravado, ten-year-old Saul told his mother that when he grew up he would take her the Galapagos Islands and together they would see the finches, the lizards and the great tortoises.
The Griffith children had been introduced to Darwin via Alan Moorehead's Darwin and the Beagle, a highly coloured narrative of Charles Darwin's adventure. Saul especially had thrilled at the notion of the scientist as an adventurer, sailing into the distance to discover the very nature of life on earth through rigorous exploration and empirical observation. There was an Australian connection, as the Beagle had come to Sydney, but at the very heart of the voyage there were the Galapagos Islands. Moorehead's narrative stresses adventure rather than science with the duelling personalities of Darwin and FitzRoy. His chapter on the Galapagos is disconcertingly slim, bearing in mind the importance of the islands to Darwin's conclusions.[ii] However Moorehead's description of the islands as ‘infinitely strange' reflected the words of his source, Charles Darwin's own account, The Voyage of the Beagle, first publishedin 1839.[iii]
The Beagle had reached the Galapagos group of islands on September 15, 1835. Darwin noted the islands volcanic formation, the ‘immense size' of the craters that rise to three or four thousand feet, the temperate climate caused by the ocean current, and the low lying clouds that enabled the lush vegetation of the higher peaks. His precise descriptions are not confined to scientific language. He evokes the mood of the lower reaches of Chatham Island with his description of its ‘wretched-looking little weeds', and noted the ‘excellent soup' made from the tortoises on James Island. These descriptions had long intrigued Griffith, and especially Darwin's controlled language as he began to describe the nature of his scientific observation:
The natural history of these islands is eminently curious, and well deserves attention. Most of the organic productions are aboriginal creations, found nowhere else; there is even a difference between the inhabitants of the different islands; yet all show a marked relationship with those of America, though separated from that continent by an open space of ocean, between 500 and 600 miles in width. The archipelago is a little world within itself, or rather a satellite attached to America, whence it has derived a few stray colonists, and has received the general character of its indigenous productions. Considering the small size of the islands, we feel the more astonished at the number of their aboriginal beings, and at their confined range. Seeing every height crowned with its crater, and the boundaries of most of the lava- streams still distinct, we are led to believe that within a period geologically recent the unbroken ocean was here spread out. Hence, both in space and time, we seem to be brought somewhat near to that great fact - that mystery of mysteries - the first appearance of new beings on this earth.[iv]
It was of course the different varieties of finches that provided the most specific evidence for the theory of evolution in The Origin of Species, but it was Darwin's wonder at all he saw that seized Griffith's imagination. The discoveries of Darwin had become the subjects of watercolour paintings and drawings by artists who travelled with him on The Beagle. She had always felt a special connection to the Enlightenment tradition of natural history illustration, so the works by these artists ‘spoke' to her. The idea of an artist as an essential accompaniment to exploration, roaming the world with the effective slogan of ‘have brush, will travel' was enticing to a young mother making art in a suburban wilderness.
In the 1980s Pamela Griffith survived two separate encounters with cancer. Each time she returned to making art with renewed energy. She developed more complex explorations into traditional etching techniques using refined forms of aquatint and coloured inks, working with superb technical precision. She turned to painting, again working within the academic tradition of natural history painting. She travelled widely within Australia and recorded the many different moods of local flora and fauna. Her interest in archaic printing techniques attracted some attention. She was commissioned to design Royal Australian Historical Society's engraved fabric toile for the Australian Bicentenary in 1988 and in 1994 she made the commemorative toile for Mary McKillop. The eighteenth century technique appealed to her aesthetic sensibility. The children prospered, excelling in their formal education. Saul graduated with honours in Materials Science at University of NSW, before proceeding on a scholarship to the Media Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he completed his PhD in 2004. He never forgot his childhood promise to his mother and when his parents came to the USA for his graduation, he took them both on a cruise to the Galapagos Islands.
The circumstances of the journey, her previous connection to the narrative of Darwin's voyage, made this voyage one of the most intense experiences of Pamela Griffith's life. When they boarded the little boat at Santa Cruz, she realised that she was living both her girlhood dream of seeing art as exploration, and her son's childish ambition of conjuring a cure for his mother's cancer by promising her the Galapagos. On some occasions it seemed that she had suddenly been catapulted in time, as though it was still 1984 and she was ill, thinking of what might happen if all her dreams came true. It is this sensibility of moments captured in time that gives these paintings an almost dreamlike quality.
Griffith's paintings of the Galapagos show the contrast between the teeming exotic life on the islands, and the harsh qualities of the land that nurtures it. The fierce volcanic peaks, the way they rise without compromise from the sea make the Galapagos islands appear an unlikely laboratory for conducting experiments on the changing nature of life on earth. But the whalers came, these islands had avoided people throughout their entire history, they provided a series of quarantined laboratories, where life would be modified according to circumstance. Griffith was interested in the well-known narrative of Darwin and the finches, but she soon departed from his single-minded vision of detailed observation of differences in animal life. Instead her Galapagos paintings celebrate those larger sea birds whose long-term flight created connections between the islands and the mainland, and the sea lions who swim the peaceful seas and beach themselves on the volcanic shores.
Her Magnificent Frigate Birds sweep across the tranquil dawn in a landscape so extreme that it seems to quote either late nineteenth century medieval fantasies, or perhaps the modern digital illusions of Myst. The grey pyramid of Kicker Rock rises straight from the sea, contrasting with the almost too sweet tonality of pink and blue dawn. Griffith writes ‘water was still and it was early in the morning when the reflection went on forever' on the day she saw the island, so that she confidently painted it as vertical stripes, breaking the tranquil surface in its subtle tonality.[v] By contrast the flight of the birds are sharply defined points of activity, as they make a low swoop, so that the viewer catches the strength of their flight and their precise detailed anatomy. The birds on the left are the Great Frigate Birds, well known ocean wanderers. But the viewer's eye is captured by the crimson pouch of the Magnificent Frigate Bird, that appears balloon-like from beneath its beak. All the Magnificent Frigate birds have these pouches, but by emphasising it on only one, she creates a focus point of intense red, and so draws the viewers' eye into the picture and the contrast between this intensity and the more muted tones of this magical landscape of dawn and life.
The nature of the islands, the way they are effectively protected from the worst of human behaviour meant that Griffith was able to closely observe the nesting habits of all the great sea birds. On Punto Suarez she saw Waved Albatrosses in their nesting grounds, and wrote in her diary of the way that ‘some were crossing their beaks in a sort of duel as part of the mating selection'. She also relished the way that the albatrosses used the slope of the island as a runway to launch themselves into the warm air currents that carry them high over the oceans. These vignettes appear as small narratives in her painting, Albatross Nesting Ground. Evolution had enabled these birds to span continents with their giant wings and the Galapagos was an essential part of their success. For tens of thousands of years they had safely nested on the lonely islands, safe from human harm. The pleasure therefore of looking at these paintings is both seeing of the artist as naturalist and also realising that the subject of her work is part of a tradition of migration and exploration that predated the ascent of man.
Other nesting birds that intrigued her included the Blue-Footed Boobies. Her painting of their intense coloured feet adds a sense of absurdity to the red of the lava rocks. There is almost an archaic grace in the way she has drawn the rhythm of their necks and beaks; Griffith is in part quoting the visions of older artists. She takes a special pleasure in painting boobies; in another work she shows them as avian surfers, skimming across the water; celebrating their mastery of air, land and sea.
Charles Darwin did not describe the islands' sea lions, he was concerned with animals that were unique and these creatures roam around the enitre Ecuador coastal region. But Griffith was fascinated with the visual contrast of their glossy black bodies, as they lay on the red lava shore. She also admired their territorial social order. Her diary notes that:
Females watched young at play in a nursery situation. Lactating females lay on beaches. Aggressive males stood guard and looking for a fight. Males without harems played off shore and even used iguanas as toys as they tossed them around in the surf.
The strangest large animals Darwin saw, animals that reinforced the evidence provided by the finches, were the different species of giant tortoises. By the time Darwin reached the Galapagos their excellent properties as food, as well as their poor hearing, was well known:
The inhabitants believe that these animals are absolutely deaf; certainly they do not overhear a person walking close behind them. I was always amused when overtaking one of these great monsters, as it was quietly pacing along, to see how suddenly, the instant I passed, it would draw in its head and legs, and uttering a deep hiss fall to the ground with a heavy sound, as if struck dead. I frequently got on their backs, and then giving a few raps on the hinder part of their shells, they would rise up and walk away; -- but I found it very difficult to keep my balance. The flesh of this animal is largely employed, both fresh and salted; and a beautifully clear oil is prepared from the fat. When a tortoise is caught, the man makes a slit in the skin near its tail, so as to see inside its body, whether the fat under the dorsal plate is thick. If it is not, the animal is liberated and it is said to recover soon from this strange operation. In order to secure the tortoise, it is not sufficient to turn them like turtle, for they are often able to get on their legs again.[vi]
Once their culinary properties were appreciated by visiting sailors the population of Galapagos tortoises rapidly diminished. When Pamela Griffith saw them, they were confined to the Darwin Research Station. Here she drew ‘Lonely George', the last of his species who is the subject of a mating program with tortoises from similar species. Many years earlier, Griffith had used photographs of him when she designed the cover for a CD for the jazz group, Galapagos Duck. She found the shapes of one of the female tortoises more aesthetically pleasing, and this appears as a small plate in her etching ‘The Wondrous Isles of the Galapagos', next to a Sally Lightfoot crab, and a marine iguana.
Memories of the Galapagos continue to echo through Griffith's work. The clear defining light of the islands adds to the sense of history that surrounds her response to this place. She keeps on thinking of artists in another time, who could work with a great scientist on a little sailing boat, travelling around the world to uncover the story of how humanity came to rule the animals.
Professor Joanna Mendelssohn
Bibliography (note: all these books are in the collection of the artist)
Darwin, Charles Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Various Countries Visited During the Voyage Round the World of H.M.S. ‘Beagle' Under the Command of Captain Fitz Roy, R.N., facsimile edMarshall Cavendish, London, 1989
Darwin, Charles, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, Collier Books, New York, 1962
Moorehead, Alan, Darwin and the Beagle, Harper & Row, New York 1969
[i] Darwin, Origin of Species, p 25.
[ii] Moorehead, pp 187-210.
[iii] Ibid. p 187.
[iv] Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle, p 362.
[v] Email from the artist, 10 September 2008.
[vi]Voyage of the Beagle, p 368.
Decorative but skin-deep nationalism is rather tiring.
Pamela Griffith etchings, Beaver Galleries
Pamela Griffith is a successful Sydney printmaker and decorator specialising in colour etchings featuring Australian mofifs.
Whilst her work is not particularly adventurous conceptually or in its imagery, it is outstanding in its technical virtuosity. She and her workshop have mastered the craft of printmaking and produce clean and competent editions.
She works with a wide range of ornamental motifs largely drawn from her home environment at Bardwell Park or at the seaside home of her brother. She includes in her work native flowers, ferns seashells and Australian native animals. In her print Blue Mountains Sketches, she manages to incorporate everything from possum to waratah.
All of this is strangely reminiscent of the nationalist aesthetic advocated by Lucien Henry about a century ago when he argued that a national art could be created by the appropriation of Australian motifs on to Australian applied arts. Somehow this decorative nationalism is barely skin deep and while charming in certain aspects of trendy interior design, is rather tiring and monotonous.
Pamela Griffith's Home of the Eastern Grey Kangaroos, Garland of Wattle, and Black Backed Magpie in Poinsettia approach something of a tea towel prettiness. Indeed her designs have been transferred on to fabric and are presently being released as the Royal Australian Historical Society's Bicentennial and Macquarie Toile, in other words, a commemorative furnishing fabric.
The most interesting print at the exhibition is her Kangarooataurs in Arcadia, loosely based on the mythological imagery of the Renaissance painter Piero di Cosimo, it represents an antipodean mythoglogical scene with kangaroo-like centaurs set in an Australian outback. It is a print that sparkles with wit and one that suggests that there may be more to Pamela Griffith's prints than an immaculate technique.
Canberra Times, November, 1987
Craft Arts International, Issue 41, October 1997.
By Gavin Fry.
Pamela Griffith is an artist whose work follows a great tradition, the tradition of craftsmanship and technical excellence which she applies to her decidedly contemporary work. In painting, drawing, printmaking and design she strives for work which is both artistically satisfying and technically masterful. In recent years she has become one of Sydney's more successful artists. Not a household name perhaps, but a painter and printmaker with a large and loyal following, She has worked professionally in the arts for more than three decades, producing a vast body of work which has found its way into public and private collections in many parts of the world. Pamela Griffith also supports one of the best equipped print workshops any artist could hope to find, working with a full time printmaker to produce her many editions of finely crafted etchings.
Born into a creative family, Pamela inherited both her mother's passion and talent for art and her father's practicality and strong work ethic. She still lives in the comfortable, southern Sydney suburb where she grew up and attended the local schools. Her mother Joyce was a ceramic artist, highly proficient in an art form which relies very much on good technique as well as creativity to be successful. Like many of her generation, Pamela found secondary teaching the best road to a career in art, studying first at the National Art School and then at Sydney Teachers College. While some see teachers as somehow less "serious" than those who work full-time at their art, both the training and the work is good preparation for an artistic career. The discipline, emphasis on technique and personal confidence building are excellent grounding for a young artist. Pamela Griffith made a considerable success of her teaching career, serving on Departmental curriculum committees and professional associations. She always worked hard to advance her profession and to ensure that every child in the state received some education in art.
Graduating from College in 1964, Pamela Griffith was eager to develop her own work and acquired her first etching press the following year. Printmaking had not been part of her original training and she enrolled for further study after school hours. She worked hard and within a few years was exhibiting in group shows around Sydney. In the early seventies the demands of a new family and a year of overseas travel limited her work to some degree, but by 1975 she was able to install a second improved etching press, as well as a new lithographic press to expand her printmaking horizons. Pamela had married Ross Griffith, a textile engineer who was able to bring his expertise to bear on many of the design issues involved with printing presses. As well as the pleasure involved in working through the problems together, their collaboration has provided her with some of the best designed and constructed printmaking machinery in this country. More than any other art form, printmaking is a marriage of creativity and craftsmanship and access to efficient technology is a major challenge which Pamela Griffith has been able to overcome.
Creating and editioning her own prints has been a satisfying challenge, but Pamela sought to take her involvement beyond her own personal output. Access to good technology, and knowledge of the best techniques, is always a problem for artists, especially the young who are not in a position to have their own presses and workshops. She responded to a community need by setting up her workshop on a commercial basis, printing editions for a number of Sydney's best known artists. The work allowed her to provide employment for a number of young artists who were able to develop their own skills while working on challenging projects. The work was hard and the profits slim, but the studio placed her right in the middle of the printmaking community and she exhibited her work in countless group and individual exhibitions. Eventually the proliferation of publicly funded print workshops and government support programs made the workshop unviable, but its operation was of immense satisfaction and assistance in her career as a printmaker. As the years passed and resources became available, Pamela always reinvested the earnings back into her work. A larger studio, extensions to the workshop and ever better equipment were the rewards for hard work and perseverance. Evidence of her success and capacity to generate highly popular and saleable work is best seen perhaps in her continued employment of a full-time printmaker to work with her in the studio. The production of large scale etchings is demanding both of time and physical endurance. Much has been learned in recent years about the health risks of printmaking which stem from exposure to harsh chemicals. Less well known are the stresses working on the body, caused by straining at a heavy press, lifting awkward sized papers and plates and sitting for long hours at the drawing board hand-colouring the editions. All too aware of the frailty of the human body, Pamela has put great effort and considerable investment into making her workshop a model of ergonomic efficiency and workplace safety. The final touch to an ideal working environment is the custom designed furniture in which her prints, materials and plates are stored.
Technical excellence and a pride in the maintenance of craft traditions can carry an artist a long way, but in themselves they are only part of the artistís story. The creative vision is just as important and Pamela Griffith has travelled to many parts of the country in search of inspiration. Images of the natural world contrast to scenes of domesticity. The traditional challenge of the still life composition, seemingly simple but capable of a million interpretations, forms the staple subject for her paintings. In recent times she has chosen her subjects to reflect many layers of interest. For example, instead of an arbitrary choice of pottery, selected perhaps for the charm of its colour or form, she has sought out pieces which have their own histories. Unusual Wedgwood jugs, or the art pottery of Clarice Cliff, are contrasted with intricate Indonesian textiles, tribal masks and oriental rugs. She pays homage to the craftsmanship and creativity of artists of the past with their inclusion in her own works.
Pamela Griffith is not alone in her preoccupation with still life. Painters such as Margaret Olley have devoted a lifetime to its study without exhausting its possibilities. Pamela's compositions carefully work through colour harmonies and the juxtaposition of complimentaries, skilfully constructed essays which steer clear of the obvious. Often she takes the still life arrangement out of doors, providing context and special meaning for her works. As a complete contrast to her elegant still life paintings are the industrial landscapes she produces for some of the nationís largest construction companies. She is fascinated by change in the landscape - the building of new projects and the destruction of the old.
Her striving for a sense of place has come to the fore in her most recent etchings. She places vignettes and frames within the larger compositions of her bird and botanical subjects, playing off the detailed with the overall, the microscopic and the majestic. Pamela has used the form of the 18th century naturalist's illustration, weaving a composition from many disparate parts. Giant mangrove trees contrast with the insects and birds which live in them and tiny butterflies from an impenetrable mass of jungle. The etchings can stand both distant and intimate viewing. The fineness of their working makes them ideal in the confines of a narrow corridor, while their strong overall composition also allows them to work from across a large room. They are works which can find a home in many environments, the domestic, the commercial and the institutional.
A recent commission perhaps best illustrates Pamela Griffith's approach to her work and her place in the art world. For the past two years she has been working on a suite of etchings destined for Brunei. The commission was organised by Art Incorporate and involves the detailed illustration of the natural environment of the Borneo jungles including the wildlife which abounds within it. Insects and birds are faithfully recorded with the detail of an Audubon or Gould, but are placed into bold contemporary compositions. The images, layered and juxtaposed, are technically accurate, yet are far more than scientific illustrations. There is an elegance and fineness both in the detail and in overall effect, a sophistication which will complement the luxurious guest hotel they are designed to enhance. The challenge for the artist and her commitment to a high standard of production is tested by the fact that the client did not purchase individual prints, but the complete editions of many images. The commission has taken some two years to plan and execute, a task which would tax the most efficient of practitioners.
While Pamela has pursued her art with singlemindedness over many years, she has never held an elitist or precious view of its place in the world. She has extended into graphic art and industrial design, with her work appearing in the most unexpected places. Her work will soon appear in the pockets and wallets of nearly every adult in the state of New South Wales. The Roads and Traffic Authority required a strong but simple symbol for its new computer generated drivers' licences and Pamela has provided a design. The symbol had to work clearly on a small scale with such diverse elements as the bearerís photograph, essential text and an overprinted security hologram. Her most widely disseminated design came with a commission from the giant paper manufacturer Kimberly-Clark for a special range of Kleenex boxes. While some artists might shrink from seeing their work in supermarkets and on the bathroom shelves of half the nation, for Pamela it was a design challenge and the chance to provide capital to further upgrade her studio. She sees art as a fundamentally democratic process, to be shared and understood by as many people as possible.
A further highly specialised project came with her fabric designs for the production of traditional toiles. In this case it was her ability to draw and interpret historic reference material in a style reminiscent of the illustrative engravings which decorated the first machine printed fabrics. Conceived as a celebration of the Bicentenary in 1988, the commission required a series of finely detailed figure and landscape drawings depicting the first years of European settlement. While the fabrics were printed from silkscreens rather than traditional engraved rollers, the final productions were a great success and led to a further toile project to depict the life of the recently beatified Mary McKillop. The McKillop designs were exhibited at the Powerhouse Museum and received high praise from the Pope on his visit to Australia. It was a satisfying outcome from an exercise which added much to the artistís skill base as well as her reputation.
While best known for her landscape and still life work, Pamela has also taken to portrait painting with enthusiasm. She has twice painted the Governor General, Sir William Deane, perhaps the most respected and valued person in current Australian public life. One of the paintings hangs at his old school, St Joseph's College in Sydney, while the second graces Yarralumla, the Governor General's official residence in Canberra.
Pamela Griffith has succeeded in her career through talent and sheer hard work. Many artists are blessed with natural ability, but that in itself is no guarantee of commercial or critical success. Great ideas and inspired visions must be carried through to completion. And the work must go on year in, year out, building a market and a following. A good dealer is an important ally and Pamela has worked closely with Barry Stern Gallery in Sydney to keep her work in the public eye. She has not however relied on one outlet, showing her work in group and individual exhibitions in galleries in every state as well as overseas. Managing the business side of her career is as important as artistic production, a vital discipline for an artist who chooses not to rely on public art support mechanisms. With her children launched in their own careers, she can now concentrate even more intently on her work. Having developed, and overcome, a life-threatening illness she is acutely aware of the preciousness of the working time she has before her. Rather than rest easy on her considerable body of work, the coming years will see Pamela Griffith reach new heights with both her painting and printmaking.
Gavin Fry, Sydney Australia, 1997
Prints from the Griffith Studio showcases more than 70 prints by 29 exhibiting artists, produced in the Griffith Studio and Graphic Workshop over the last 33 years. The print studio’s phenomenal output in production includes lithographs, etchings and relief prints produced under the guidance of master printers. It has also been a training facility for numerous master printers.
The story of The Griffith Studio and Graphic Workshop is one of determination, ingenuity and artistic partnerships. Established in 1976, the studio is the longest continuously operating print workshop in Australia. Its establishment came about due to Pamela Griffith’s own homegrown studio enterprise, a lack of available printmaking facilities for local artists, and her commitment to reviving printmaking.
Griffith has been at the forefront in revitalizing the dying art form of etching. She is one of the chief instigators of what is now The Southern Printmakers Association, helped reintroduce printmaking to colleges and art schools, was the first to teach etching at Gymea Technical College and led the way in developing a local etching press while resourcing materials not locally available.
Starting in a poorly lit studio with a converted mangle and a small antique press, Griffith built a larger studio, commissioning a new press from Hilldav Industries in Sydney, the specialist pottery kiln makers. Ross Griffith, Pamela’s husband, worked with Charles Hills of Hilldav Industries on the design of the new press. When ready for delivery, the new Griffith studio was incomplete, enabling the press to be lowered by crane through the open roof of the studio. Also lowered into position was a 150 year-old lithography press, acquired from Frank Gould, a former employee of Robert Burton and Sons, Printers.
The manufacture of the Australian-made press by Hilldav overcame the problem of lack of specialist equipment and cost due to importing. Many artists and recent art school graduates were attracted to the workshop facility, enabling them to develop their skills in printmaking, work as technicians or to produce limited edition prints for other artists. Among artists already experienced in printmaking were Tony Coleing, Chris Gentle, John Winch, Blake Twigden and Salvatore Zofrea, while some were graduates with majors in printmaking and are now Master Printers: Trevor Riach, Michael Kempson and Rew Hanks.
Visiting the Griffith Studio and Graphic Workshop to select for this exhibition has been an exciting and insightful experience. With a background in print making and experience as a tertiary printmaking teacher, there has been much to see. Prints from the Griffith Studio celebrates the output of the Griffith Studio and Graphic Workshop, which has produced more than 700 limited edition prints, with over 400 of these editions by Pamela Griffith. The output demonstrates a range of skills and virtuosity in technique, including etchings, lithographs, relief prints and collagraphs.
Amongst the exhibiting artists, the early works of Pixie O’Harris and her nephew Rolf Harris are charming curiosity pieces, while Blake Twigden’s delicate and decorative bird etchings include some of the works from his “Birds from a Woollahra Garden” series and the beautiful Cry to the Moon, a reflection on love lost. These works are juxtaposed against the largely landscape based works selected for this exhibition.
Exhibition highlights include Salvatore Zofrea’s Australian landscapes and the “Lord Howe Island Series” which sparkles with the vitality and distinct individuality of the eight artists. This series is the first suite of prints privately commissioned in Australia by the French entrepreneur Dr Michel Lefebvre, proving Australians can produce world-class prints.
Pamela Griffith demonstrates her expertise as a printmaker across etching, relief printing and lithography. La Perouse Museum print was one of three editions also commissioned by Lefebvre as a gift of etchings to the La Perouse Society to raise money for a museum on the site where La Perouse arrived in Australia, just 5 days after Governor Phillip. The etching Sheep Station, Australia was commissioned by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet for the APEC Conference of 2007 as a gift to the 21 Heads of Nations attending. Griffith’s relief prints “Animals of the Asian Zodiac” were first exhibited at the National Trust Headquarters, Sydney, and produced to coincide with the Beijing Olympics, 2008.
From the mid 1980s to 2000 there is an obvious decline of output of other artists’ work evident in Prints from the Griffith Studio, 1978 to 2011. This is due to the availability of Government funding giving artists other opportunities to pursue, while Griffith responded to the demand for her own work. She received many private commissions, included amongst them Comalco Ltd, Qantas Ltd, Letraset Bainbridge, Bridge Street Gallery, Painter’s Gallery, Stadia Graphics Gallery, Avenue Art Gallery, NSW Roads and Traffic Authority, and Kimberly Clark Pty. Ltd. Her decision was to pursue her own painting and printmaking career. She was receiving recognition for her inventive ways of introducing colour to etching, which she had pursued and perfected from the earliest days. By 2000 the Graphic Studio was again facilitating the production of other artists’ works.
What is significant is the change in style of these more recent prints from the Griffith Studio and Graphic Workshop, reflecting the demand for large, colourful works. This has required new skills and the embracing of the collagraph technique. Fine Art publishers Art Equity have commissioned some of these works, including Yannima Tommy Watson’s astounding prints with their vibrantly saturated hues and richly embossed surfaces. Master Printer Trevor Riach has developed a relief plate that imitates Watson’s heavily textured dot technique. Also commissioned by Art Equity and printed by Trevor Riach, Adam Cullen’s collagraph prints are suitable inventions of this artist’s bold, dripping technique. David Boyd had previously printed in England and Europe and has produced large, colourful renditions of childhood, published by Berkeley Editions, in the Griffith Studio. The latest print is by Wendy Sharpe and uses a sugar lift with aquatint technique that, although black and white, replicates Sharpe’s painterly style with her usual punch.
All prints in this exhibition have been privately funded, without subsidy, the Griffith Studio and Graphic Workshop surviving on the reputation for quality of the works produced.
Curator, Prints from the Griffith Studio 1978 to 2011
From vision to edition: Prints from the Griffith Studio, 1978 to 2011
In 1961 eighteen year old art student Pamela Griffith approached the principal of East Sydney Technical College, requesting that the old etching press stored in pieces under the stairwell be reassembled, and that printmaking be added to the art school syllabus. This was the beginning of Pamela’s great love of printmaking, which has subsequently consumed her life for over forty years.
At this time Sydney was a microcosm of the Western world’s renewed interest in printmaking. The Painter-Etcher movement, which was established in the second half of the nineteenth century, had culminated in the 1920s. Prints were highly collected and expensive. There were many specialist print suppliers, print workshops, master printers and specialist print galleries and publishers. By the beginning of the Second World War, both overseas and within Australia, the bubble had burst and most of this infrastructure began to dissipate. The Australian Painter-Etchers Society held its last exhibition in 1938.
After the Second World War there was an emphasis on rebuilding the Australian economy, and the teaching of the arts was directed towards utilitarian purposes. Printmaking, if it was taught at all, was offered as part of the commercial art course and aligned with illustration. However by the mid 1950s, printmaking was once more making its presence felt in Australia and internationally.
European artists who migrated to Australia in the 1950s such as Henry Salkauskas, Eva Kubbos and Udo Sellbach had expertise in the graphic arts and began to pass on their knowledge. They were joined by Australian artists who had studied printmaking in London and Paris – Murray Walker and Earle Backen became teachers, and Fred Williams became a major advocate for printmaking.
Artists such as Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan and Colin Lanceley worked overseas in new print workshops, while contemporary prints from America, England and Europe began to be exhibited in Australia. Australian artists also began exhibiting in the newly established international print exhibitions. The first was held in Ljubljana in 1955 and this Biennial served as a model for the annual exhibitions in Tokyo, Japan (1957), Grenchen, Germany (1958), Krakow, Poland (1966), Florence, Italy (1968), Bradford, UK (1970).
All this activity spurred on a new wave of interest in printmaking in Australia. In 1960 the Contemporary Art Society held the first Australia-wide Graphic Arts exhibition, and in 1963 the Australian Print Survey, curated by the Art Gallery of New South Wales curator Daniel Thomas, toured the states.
As new works were exhibited, groupings of printmakers began to be formed. Studio One Printmakers (Melbourne), Sydney Printmakers and the South Australian Graphic Arts Society were all formed in 1961, and the Print Council of Australia in 1966. Workshops were also being established, including Gallery A Melbourne in 1962, and a decade later Zero print workshop in Sydney.
Around the same time as Pamela Griffith was having the etching press at East Sydney Technical College re-assembled, artists such as Rod Ewins in Hobart and Bea Maddock in Launceston were doing the same at their local institutions. In Melbourne, Tate Adams was rescuing lithographic stones for use by artists in what would become the printmaking facilities at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. In 1960 courses specialising in printmaking were established at art schools in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne.
All of this activity made printmaking one of the most vital areas of art during the 1960s. The mood was infectious. It is little wonder that as a student Pamela was drawn to study and master the techniques of printmaking. But her commitment went further than many. In 1965, the year after her graduation, she set up her own printmaking studio. She also became an actively involved advocate for printmaking. She was Foundation President of the Southern Creative Printmakers Group (now Southern Printmakers Association) and taught printmaking at tertiary colleges and trained future teachers as part of their Diploma of Education.
Even though by 1960 printmaking courses were available, printmaking supplies were hard to come by. As always, Pamela rose to this challenge and sourced the finest materials from around the world, including inks from France, paper from England, and resin from China.
Pamela had used a converted washing mangle and a traditional table press when she first set up her studio, but was only able to produce small etchings. When a bigger press was needed, one could have easily been ordered from overseas, but Pamela realised that if printmaking was to flourish locally, local equipment had to be available. With this in mind, she set about designing a new press, helped in her endeavours by her husband Ross, a textile engineer, and Charles Hills of Hilldav Industries. The press they designed was well suited to both professional artists and education institutions and is still in production today.
In 1975 Pamela began work on a purpose built studio, the Griffith Studio and Graphic Workshop, at Bardwell Park, New South Wales. The studio was equipped with one of the new Hilldav presses as well as a large 19th century lithographic press.
Pamela’s vision was to create a professional printmaking studio in Sydney, where she could facilitate the production of prints of the highest technical standards for professional artists. Griffith Studio and Graphic Workshop was not to be financed by government grants, nor was it to be a print seller, or attached to a commercial gallery. The focus was on providing artists (many who had not produced prints) with the technical support they needed to create a printing matrix, and then to supply the services of skilled printers to produce the editions.
To facilitate these goals she invited many young printmakers to work as print technicians and printers with her in the studio, passing on to them the finer points of the profession. This has led to a wider pool of skilled practitioners and the recognition of the complexities of exacting print production. The range of artists that have come to work at the Studio is legendary. There is an un-nerving diversity – artists from the likes of Tony Coleing and Salvatore Zofrea to Adam Cullen and Chris Gentle, Pamela’s own work and that of her brother, George Gittoes. All artists, regardless of their particular aesthetics or views, are given the same opportunity to produce prints which are in accord with their distinctive ideas. To this end the Workshop has experimented with techniques both old and new to secure the desired image.
During the last three decades, the Griffith Studio and Graphic Workshop has produced over 700 editions for some 50 artists. During these years printmaking has become an integral part of the Australian art world – this has in part been secured by Pamela’s vision for the Griffith Studio and Graphic Workshop.
Roger Butler AM
Australian Prints and Drawings
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Pamela Griffith is delighted to be sponsored by
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