Malvern, Victoria, Australia 1903 – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1992
Heidelberg, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: prints, ink; paper linocut, printed in black ink, from one block Support: thin cream wove paper
Edition State: Published state
Edition: edition of 20
Murray Griffin’s early linocut Self-portrait 1932 captures the confident, debonair attitude of the artist through a distinctly modern articulation of classical form and Art Deco stylistic devices. Griffin was an innovative printmaker, painter, teacher and active member of the Melbourne art community for over four decades. He first experimented with different printing techniques in the 1920s and soon focused on the linocut process as it was simpler than woodcut, with the lino easier to use and more obtainable.
In 1932, Griffin produced two self-portraits, the first of which was a forceful direct frontal portrayal. The second, Self-portrait, is a three-quarter profile reminiscent of the glamorous photographic studio portraits of the 1920s and 1930s. The print explores a range of tonal techniques, with the definition of the artist’s cheekbones emerging from the stippled surface of shadow, while delicate cross-hatching is employed to indicate the contours of the face. The artist has picked out sweeps of hair in sinuous curved lines and uses strong hatching on the casually upturned collar. The un-inked background creates a luminous halo effect, hinting at later works that were deeply influenced by his anthroposophical beliefs based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. Griffin was more approving of this second representation, having destroyed all but one impression of the first.
Born in Melbourne on 11 November 1903, Griffin studied drawing from 1919 to 1920 and painting from 1921 to 1922 at the National Gallery School. His first experiments with linocuts were in 1921, but these did not reach fruition until the early 1930s, when he learnt the process of multiple-block colour printing from Napier Waller. It is possible Self-portrait was made under the direction of Waller as studies such as this were often set as student exercises. During this time, Griffin also became familiar with Japanese woodblocks through exhibitions held in Melbourne, the collection of American architect Walter Burley Griffin and the work of Austrian printmaker Norbetine Bresslern-Roth, who had a decisive effect on his later work.
Though Griffin is primarily known for his luminous, glossy-inked colour prints of birds and animals, Self-portrait is an accomplished and engaging work that shows the vitality of line and attention to detail so celebrated in his linocuts.
in artonview, issue 61, autumn 2010