Artist Interview: Marian Crawford (Melbourne, Australia)

How does your role as Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Monash University impact your practice?

The responsibilities of teaching and researching in a large university like Monash University demand my careful consideration of the history of printmaking, and the context of a printed artwork in contemporary art. I’ve been able to think about why I find making prints so important, interesting and enduring, because I need to talk about what a print is to my students who arrive at Monash Art Design and Architecture (MADA) to learn about fine art, and to inspire them. I want them to feel as fascinated by printmaking processes as I am. I also learn from my students as they make their works, when they ask me questions about fine art and the role of the printed image in fine art. It’s a two-way experience and a privilege to work with these young people. I’d encourage you to check out this link to MADA for further information.

How do you think the practice and presence of printmaking in Australia has changed since beginning your career in 1996?

I’ve witnessed an incredible revolution in the awareness of health and safety in the print studios I’ve worked in over the last 20 years. When I studied printmaking at the Victorian College of the Arts, my lecturer told us that the length of time our etching plates should stay in the aquatint box to be covered in rosin dust could be timed if we lit and smoked a cigarette. No one does that anymore – flames and rosin and smoking in the print room!

I think there has also been a greater understanding of and interest in prints as part of contemporary art, and the integration of those works into wider contexts such as the artist’s practice and society at large. In museum surveys now, we see prints alongside every other art form. I love a roomful of just prints and of course some artists specialise in making prints, but I also appreciate seeing prints contextualised as part of that bigger picture; as a commentary on the world.

Circular forms are recurrent in your works. What is the significance behind framing your images with circles?

I’ve always been interested in the idea of looking (that’s what artists mainly do), and have thought that the circle signifies the roundness of the view through a telescope or microscope, the orb that is our eye, and also a sense of planets revolving around a sun and belonging to a universe of stars. I also like how the circular form, when extracted from the whole printed sheet, frames and focuses on a smaller view of something. I admire the work of Yayoi Kusama, and I recently read Nancy Princenthal’s comparisons of Agnes Martin to Kusama in Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art (2015). The similarity Princenthal finds between these two artists is in their fascination with “proliferation, accumulation, repetition and obliteration.” Having a unit like the dot suggests these powerful qualities for me too. I’ve learnt from their greatness.

You refer to strategies of repetition, separation and connection in the series Diffraction. Could you expand more on that?

Repetition is a method at the heart of printed materials – we repeat the image as we edition. There are lots of elements in our lives and our histories that are separate from each other, but we remain connected to our own history in the same way that a print is connected to its history with the plate it was printed from. In the series of works Diffraction, I stitched circle forms onto a page. The threads are taut, not loose, and they connect the separate images in a criss-cross of complications across the surface. I think our histories are a bit like that, multi-layered, crossing over, separate and connected, repeating. These works are inspired by my childhood history with the island Banaba, and Katerina Teaiwa’s insightful use of the term diffraction as she wrote about her family home, Banaba in Consuming Ocean Island: Stories of people and phosphate from Banaba (2015): “Just as the various stories constitute diffraction patterns, so too is the island itself diffracted across time and space. This Banaba could be mined forever, in more ways than one.”

I’ve also recently written an article relating to this, which you can find here.

The series Fake Pearls is concerned with the pervasive nature of fake news. How important do you think it is for art to respond to current social situations?

I have always been interested in the links and relationships between publications that provide information about current events (our newspapers, for example, both digital and physical) and the printed page made by artists in printmaking studios. I came to think of the print made in my studio as a printed page; akin to a page from a book or newspaper. This historical link to the spread of information that the medium of print has always enabled makes printed works even more compelling objects, for me.