San Biagio di Callalta, Italy 1939 – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1978
A recurring day in the life of M.M. II
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: prints, ink; paper etching and aquatint, printed in black ink, from one plate Support: thick off-white wove paper
Manufacturer's Mark: no manufacturer's mark
Edition State: published state
Edition: edition of 10
The prints and artists books in the Fred and Lyn Williams gift capture the milieu of the Melbourne art scene, with important examples from well-known printmakers including Tate Adams, Jan Senbergs, Franz Kempf, Noel Counihan and John Brack. There are also prints by significant artists not generally recognised for their printmaking, including a wonderful group of early screenprints by Leonard French and experimental works by Asher Bilu.
One of Australia’s most significant painters and printmakers, Fred Williams played a pivotal role in the development of contemporary art in Australia. Williams lived in London from 1952 to 1956, undertaking study at the Chelsea Art School and the Central School of Arts and Crafts. It was during this period that he learnt the technique of etching, with works populated by the vivid characters of music halls and London streets.
Following his return to Melbourne, Williams began developing new works, while editioning his London prints at the print workshop at Melbourne Technical College, renamed the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in 1960. From 1961 to 1963, Williams used the workshop on Fridays in the company of Gil Jamieson, Don Laycock, Tate Adams and Leonard French. He also established links with a number of RMIT students, including Guy Stuart, Robert Jacks, Paul Partos and George Baldessin.
Baldessin studied painting at RMIT, adding sculpture and printmaking in his third and fourth years. The printmaking course at the college was revolutionised by Tate Adams, who took over evening classes and established the first Diploma of Printmaking in Australia in 1960. The print workshop at RMIT had been opened up to interested artists in the late 1950s by Adams’s predecessor, Roy Bisley. It brought students together with painters and sculptors who wished to experiment with the printed medium.
Williams developed a firm friendship with the much younger Baldessin, and a strong connection emerged between the two artists in terms of both subject matter and technique. Baldessin’s early work was influenced by the images of music halls and trapeze artists that Williams had created in London. In particular, Baldessin was intrigued by the suspended figure and Williams’s ability to capture the isolation of performance. Such links are clearly seen in the etchings by Baldessin that form part of the Fred and Lyn Williams gift.
A recurring day in the life of MM II 1966 is from Baldessin’s seminal circus narrative series, with the top-hatted observer of life as protagonist. In this work, as in Walkers II 1966, Baldessin negotiates his developing iconography focused around the detached figure.
Baldessin learnt the process for aquatint from Williams, using it as an atmospheric device to create texture across the plate. In Walkers II, the silhouetted figures drift across a velvety black stretch of barren landscape, an empty backdrop reminiscent of Williams’s 1950s music-hall etchings. Influenced by the uninhibited line that Williams also often employed, Baldessin adopts a loose, edgy drypoint style to articulate form.
Before his premature death in 1978, at the age of 39, Baldessin created a significant body of prints marked by his distinctive use of line and shadow, sexual ambiguity, theatricality and mystery. The recent exhibition showcasing George Baldessin’s paintings, drawings, etchings and sculptures at TarraWarra Museum of Art in Victoria provided an opportunity to view rarely seen works from public galleries, private collections and the artist’s estate. To celebrate the success of this exhibition a selection of prints and drawings is currently being shown in the National Gallery of Australia’s Australian art display, including four etchings from the Fred and Lyn Williams gift.
Assistant Curator, Australian Prints and Drawings
in artonview, issue 62, winter 2010
in artonview, issue 62, winter 2010