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

Senior Curator

Australian Prints and Drawings

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra







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