Contrasts Within the Charles Sturt University Art Collection
4 February – 20 March 2005
Wagga Wagga Art Gallery

Let us begin by contrasting Margaret (Rose) Preston’s (1875-1963) hand coloured woodblock print Australian Flowers, 1927, and Rona Green's (1972-) hand coloured linocut Bluey, 2004; seventy-seven years separate the work of these two prize-winning and innovative female printmakers. CSU commissioned Bluey in a run of fifty for this publication and exhibition it was required to connect in some way with the imagery and size of the Preston work, otherwise the commission was entirely non-prescriptive. The Preston was inserted into the December 1927 Art in Australia 3rd series, number 22, in a limited run of thirty-two, twenty-five for sale.

Hand-colouring is employed by lesser artists because colour printing is beyond their technical ability or to jazz up a dull print. In Australian Flowers and Bluey this is not the case. The watercolour colouring in both prints add to the meaning of the work and the colour juxtapositions are delicately balanced for best effect. The forefronted strong red of the CSU appropriate Sturt Desert Pea in the earlier work centres the composition, and balances the black vase and negative space/white table. Yellow is delicately interspersed with; pinks, blues, greens and the negative space/white of everlasting paper flowers on a horizon like blue contrasting a symphony of colour with the monochrome, boldly (possibly even roughly) carved printed block.

The subject matter of the Green as with the Preston relates to Australian identity portraying a tattooed red kangaroo (an animal frequently appearing in Preston’s images and stereotypically Australian) named Bluey. The name is a reference to the wry colloquial habit of calling individuals with red hair ‘blue’. Green states that the work not only examines national stereotypes, but also sexual ones for the tough male animal is tattooed with delicate flowers appropriated from the Preston flower piece. To complicate matters Bluey also sports a tattooed tear drop running down his cheek a symbol of masculinity, which links to an amateur, possibly prison inmate inspired, tattoo history and a rough naivety also present in the Preston image.

The works not only physically frame this catalogue, (Australian Flowers forming the cover and Bluey leafed in the back) they also expand the curatorial premise of the exhibition: within this exhibition the Green represents images relating to the body; the nudes, self-portraits, mind-scapes and figures and the Preston is the standard bearer for non-body related landscapes, still life’s and abstracts. By roughly breaking the exhibition in two one can readily identify its contrasting groupings and sub-groupings.

Thomas A. Middlemost
Art Curator, Charles Sturt University
November 2004

extract from ‘Contrasts Within the Charles Sturt University Art Collection’ exhibition catalogue essay (page 4) by Thomas A. Middlemost, published by the Marketing Communications Office, Charles Sturt University

2004, hand-coloured screenprint from linocut, 10.9 x 10.9 cm, edition 50
printed by Rebecca Mayo, Miller Street Studio, Melbourne
Commissioned by Charles Sturt University 2004