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Imprint Magazine Review

IMPRINT MAGAZINE: April 20 2006 

by Thomas A. Middlemost, Art Curator, Charles Sturt University

James Whitington: Crown Street Press a Printmakers Collection 

Mary Place Gallery, Paddington from
June 20 to July 2


This exhibition is of special interest because Whitington had a considerable impact on monotypes/monoprints in Sydney in the late ‘80's. Here one can view the artist's monoprints and attempt to determine his influence on many of the artists who worked with him over the years.

The Printmakers Collection , showcases twenty-eight years of collaborative and master printmaking. The exhibition is similar to last years Bon á Tirer, Diana Davidson and the Whaling Road Print Studio, 1978 - 2005 , held at Mosman Regional Art Gallery (1) . Initially Whitington worked as a technical assistant to Davidson. 

Then as partners they collaboratively opened Whaling Road Studios in ‘78, ten years later their partnership was disbanded. Whitington continued printing at Crown Street Press and since ‘97 he has been assisted by Victoria Tuson. The Mary Place exhibition includes works on paper by Charles Blackman, Russell Drysdale, Donald Friend, Arthur Boyd, Judy Cassab, David Rankin, John Firth-Smith, Keith Looby, Ann Thompson and John Peart printed by Whitington and Davidson. 


The excellent Peart monoprints originally exhibited at Macquarie Galleries in Sydney , and Powell Street in Melbourne in ‘88 (2) . Their display is timely and enlightening. Peart has recently completed two solo shows of paintings and collage at Watters Gallery in July ‘05 and February '06. A major touring retrospective that focuses on his painting practice is currently showing and is being toured by the Campbelltown Art Gallery . Peart will exhibit in Melbourne at Charles Nodrum Gallery, opening May 18.


The works Brown Ground and Formation XXX, 149 x 74cm. at Mary Place were some of the first works that Whitington produced at Crown Street Press within a series of eighty large monoprints. However, these were not Whitington's first monoprints, he reports that:


“In 1985 the artist John Bloomfield introduced Diana and I to the technique of monoprinting and we invited other artists to work with us making monoprints. John Peart was the first producing a series of work ‘Kirribilli', ‘Reflections', and ‘Miragescape'…”(3)


Victor Majzner, Ian Gentle, Bill Brown and John Beard were commissioned by Macquarie Galleries to produce monotypes. John Beard's 174 x 94cm. monotypes, from the mid to late 1980's were produced, “in an improvised studio owned by the maritime services board” (4) . Whitington states the great size of the works was possible with the procurement of large rollers:


“John Fairfax occasionally replaced their newspaper rollers; I procured one eight feet long. This opened the way for artists to work on a large scale as the weight of the roller provided sufficient pressure for monoprinting without using a press.” (5)


The galleries second floor holds eight monochrome, and ten colour monoprints by Whitington. The artist states: “I am empowered by the unpredictability of my line and the surprises I create for myself”. “It demands a quick commitment and the ability to be flexible and spontaneous” (6) Words like surprise, unpredictability, quick, flexible and spontaneous are commonly used when describing monoprints or monotypes. This is because of the chance involved in producing a finished balanced image when pulling the paper from the inked plate, and the timing demands and restraints of the medium.


Matisse's monotypes are similar in their decorative nature (7) to that of Whitington and Peart and a discussion of their differences is a key to the work. Matisse's daughter, Maguerite, who assisted, in the production of his monotypes describes the procedure as follows:


"The monotypes were realized in three stages: the delicate application of ink onto copper; the spontaneous drawing which could not be altered; the risks of destroying the work during printing. At the end of these three steps, a great moment of emotion when one discovered the imprint on the sheet of paper." (8)

Whitington rolls ink into the edges of Perspex plates - not copper - and the designs are mainly created by swift, gestural subtractions from that field of colour.


Additive elements are also found, in some of the colour works, however, they seem more for balance, or decoration rather than to enhance the main compositional forms. Whitington's multi plate monoprints are generally built from overprinting numerous negative field or subtractive monprints from darkest to light, blocking out the colour below. This makes the images much more complex than Matisse's images that are complete when taken from the press.


Whitington's prints have the aesthetic of the screenprint. His monoprint style does not derive from the printmakers wiping of plates or from an additive painting practice. He produces a flat layering of paint, at times with a slight rolled uneven texture. His monochrome monoprints - like Matisse - are formed from thin subtractions, swiftly excised from this uneven ground, on printing one can detect these gestural swipes on the paper.


The works imagery is an extension of the artists ‘Chair' series. They were produced for his first one-man show at Blaxland Gallery in 1989. He describes his work as within the Chinese tradition of ‘hou chuo' or refined clumsiness with form coming from the inner-self. In the best of the works stylised symbols dance and play. They are abstract, however, they also have a fluctuating anthropomorphic form. A chair, person, animal, face or eye fade in and out of focus. Within ‘Monoprint 10', a birds face springs jauntily from the left of the composition of a turning feminine torso. Human faces, and eyes scan the viewer, as the black within the work creeps through. 

In Peart's work the layering reminds one of a stalagmite or anthill obscured by a dense, seemingly chaotic forest. In contrast Whitington's monotypes obtain a preciseness of line, like that of a John Coburn screen-print. The quality of light and colour is reminiscent of numerous partially selected, coloured theatrical gels pulsing as defined strong hues.


In 1979 the master printers work was purchased by the East Sydney Technical College Collection, now the National Art School . In 1981 a work was acquired by Artbank. Other works have been acquired by the National Bank and the Australian Film Archives. 

(1)See: Middlemost, Thomas , IMPRINT , Spring 2005, Volume 40, Number 3, p.14.

(2)Macquarie Galleries/Powel Street Gallery, JOHN PEART MONOTYPES 1988 , Crown Street Press, Sydney 1988. (Exhibition Catalogue includes image of a very similar work to Formation XXX, within the current exhibition - Formation XXVII, lists of the work exhibited, short CV of artist and printmaker, and a conversation between Peart and Whitington.)

(3)Whitington, James, James Whitington: Crown Street Press a Printmakers Collection at Mary Place Gallery, Paddington JAMES WHITINGTON: MONOPRINTS, exhibition catalogue, Sydney , 2006.

(4)Whitington, James, James Whitington: Crown Street Press a Printmakers Collection at Mary Place Gallery, Paddington JAMES WHITINGTON: MONOPRINTS, text panel, Sydney , 2006

(5)Whitington, James, op.cit . text panel.

(6)Whitington, James, op.cit . exhibition catalogue.

(7)Macquarie Galleries/Powel Street Gallery, JOHN PERAT MONOTYPES 1988 , Crown Street Press, Sydney 1988. (Exhibition Catalogue discussion between Peart and Whitington describes non-trivial decoration in relation to Matisse's primal mark, or impulse operating with, ‘harmony and clarity' within a refined sensibility.)

(8)Mme Maguerite G. Duthuit to Riva Castleman, March 7 1878 , quoted in John Elderfeld, Matisse in the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art (New York Museum of Modern Art, 1978), p. 103. in The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York , The Painterly Print Monotypes from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century, 1980, p. 40.


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