James Whitington Print Making History
In 1977 I worked as a technical assistant with Diana Davidson at Miller Street Print Workshop and in 1978 we established Whaling Road Studios in North Sydney under the umbrella of Port Jackson Press. John Coburn was the first artist we made etchings with, completing “Constellations I and II”.
Our early projects were done in a primitive workshop using improvised equipment. I worked an aquatint box made from a large cardboard carton, swinging it in the air above my head to shake the aquatint resin up for the plate. Then I’d melt the resin onto the plate using a recycled hamburger grill. In 1978, I was preparing plates for John Firth-Smith, Brett Whiteley and Keith Looby and took on the major role as plate maker for the studio.
In those early days I experimented with etching techniques and exhibited my early work. In 1979 at the Cell Block East Sydney Technical College, now The National Art School with an etching “Forest Apple” which was acquired by Leonard Mackovitch for the college collection. In 1981 Port Jackson Press published “Calligraphic Passage” acquired by Artbank, but to survive I needed to work as a printmaker.
In Sydney in the 1980’s printmaking was beginning a revival encouraged largely by Miller Street Workshop and Port Jackson Press. Few artists had made print making an important part of their work. Fred Williams had in Melbourne, he’d been making etchings in his own studios, but few other artists were doing their own printmaking. The master printmaker became the bridge and the guide.
It was also a time of great experimentation in painting and some artists looked to printmaking, not only as an important art form in itself, but as a way of discovering new directions in painting. Others like Brett Whitley saw it as a new vehicle to express their draughtsmanship. I was surprised at how little artists in general knew about the printmaking process. Brett Whiteley was surprised that each print had to be inked and wiped separately.
Work from Port Jackson Press had become intermittent while it was making its move to Melbourne so I invited Charles Blackman to work at Whaling Road Studios if he would allow us to publish the editions.
We embarked on “A Book of Imaginary Butterflies” inspired by his trips to the Queensland rainforest. Charles had an inexhaustible wit, stories to tell and a constant supply of imagery to go with them and by allowing us to publish his work he kept Whaling Road Studios alive.
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 three series of work “Kirribilli”, “Reflections” and “Miragescape” which is shown at the Mary Place Gallery exhibition.
The fashion of the time was for artists to make large artworks and I procured a roller that could be used on large benches to make large monoprints.
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. Macquarie Galleries commissioned artists to work with us. John Beard made large monoprints in an improvised studio owned by the Maritime Services Board and Charles Blackman, Ann Thomson and Vic Mazner worked with us in a new studio I had created in East Sydney called Crown Street Press.
By 1988 Diana Davidson and I began to work independently. I embarked on a series of 80 large monoprints with John Peart that was exhibited at Macquarie Galleries in Sydney and Powell Street Galleries in Melbourne.
I focused on preparing an exhibition of paintings and monoprints for my first one-man show at Blaxland Gallery in 1989. Earlier that year Whaling Road Studios was dissolved and Diana became Sydney Print Workshop while we both continued to publish work done together at Whaling Road Studios.
Several years later Diana re-adopted the name Whaling Road Studios and asked me to collaborate as printmaker for other artists. Charles Blackman bought us together again for a series of 10 etchings in 1990.
In 1993 we made 3 etchings with Brett Whiteley just before he died. In the same year we prepared plates and printed separately 23 editions of etchings of Arthur Boyd’s for the Art Gallery of NSW. Again in 1998 I prepared bona tirer’s for a series of works for Charles Blackman’s 70th birthday but apart from these projects we have worked separately.
The partnership with Diana had been a prodigious effort. From 1979-93 we had collaborated on at least 220 editions by 32 artists producing 12,500 fine art prints.
Since the separation from Whaling Road Studios I focused on developing my own language as an artist and continued to work as a printmaker and published work for Judy Cassab, Charles Cooper, Amanda Upton and David Boyd.
From 1997 to 2005, Victoria Tuson printed many of the editions from proofs created by myself working with other artists.
Since 2004 Crown Street Press has been transported to Paxton in the fresh air of the Hunter Valley.