Berlin, Germany born 1934
Hawthorn, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: prints, ink; paper drypoint, printed in black ink with plate-tone, from one zinc plate Support: medium-weight smooth off-white wove Rives BFK paper
Manufacturer's Mark: watermark lower left, 'BFK RIVES / FRANCE [infinity symbol]'.
Edition State: published state
Edition: edition of 3
The prints of German-Australian artist Hertha Kluge-Pott have the intensity of Bea Maddock, the technical skill of George Baldessin and Fred Williams’s focus on the landscape. Like these artists Kluge-Pott was a key figure in the Melbourne printmaking scene from the early 1960s onwards. Unlike her contemporaries, Kluge-Pott’s career has largely avoided mainstream recognition. A recent major gift from the artist’s collection will help to rectify this oversight. Dating from 1955 to 2012, this gift bears witness to one of the most important movements in Australian art history: the printmaking revival of the 1960s and 70s. Kluge-Pott’s work adds depth to our knowledge about this vibrant time.
The gift begins with rare prints from the artist’s early life in post Second World War Berlin, and goes on to represent her 55 years in Australia. As a student in Berlin in the early 1950s Kluge-Pott focussed on searching self-portraits and images of loved-ones, typically etched in thick, tough lines. Influenced by Käthe Kollwitz, the early self-portraits show the artist aged and furrowed—although in reality she was in her early 20s. Looking toward Australia, her future home, she completed lithographic studies of kangaroos housed in Berlin’s famous Zoologischer Garten.
On 31 March 1958, while on route to Melbourne, Kluge-Pott’s ship, the MS Skaubryn, caught fire just outside of the Gulf of Aden. While all on board were evacuated to lifeboats, the ship was damaged and later sunk. The works now in the Gallery’s collection are some of the few prints to survive this disastrous incident, sent over by family and friends in Germany once Kluge-Pott had finally arrived in Australia, late in 1958.
Although already a trained printmaker when she arrived, without a printing press Kluge-Pott was obliged to enrol in RMIT in order to avail herself of their equipment. In Melbourne she took to the figurative style fashionable in local contemporary printmaking, particularly citing her instructor Tate Adams as a key influence. An assignment completed in 1963 for Adams’s RMIT course features characters strongly reminiscent of the dark, lumbering people in Maddock’s early Melbourne work.
From the mid 1960s onward, her work featured subterranean and tropospheric environments. In these prints Kluge-Pott captures the density of the ground below, or the airlessness of the high atmospheres. It is an approach to landscape that is unsentimental and unrepresentative. Made up of layers representing rock, dirt, ozone and hydrogen these works have names like The scourge, No man’s land and Planet militant. These are worlds in which humans have no place.
A shift occurred in the artist’s work in the late 1970s, after she began visiting Cape Bridgewater, in western Victoria. Kluge-Pott developed an ‘intimate affinity’ with this windy outcrop into the Indian Ocean. As it turns out, this landscape would change her art forever. She increasingly relied on the printmaking technique of drypoint, as the severe wind meant that she did not wish to ‘mess around with acid’ used in etching. Gradually in the early 1980s, features of the actual landscape would reappear in her work. Hills and tides returned, as did trees, the garden and then, finally, insect creatures. In work from the 2000s, Kluge-Pott responds to the delicacy of crawling lives, while appreciating the roots and tips of hardy plants like melaleuka, kelp, euphobia and lavender.
Kluge-Pott’s connection to the environment is of an intense, personal nature. If a figure does appear in her recent work, small and camouflaged, it is the gardener. Sometimes tending, but sometimes being blown around the landscape, this winsome figure is, of course, none other than Kluge-Pott herself. While she is at the mercy of the wind, she appears to us as an environmental superhero.
The National Gallery of Australia is thrilled to be able to represent the life’s work of this significant printmaker. Although she is an elusive figure in the history books, you can find her here, among this major gift.
Victoria Perin Gordon Darling Intern, Australian Prints and Drawings
in artonview, issue 78, Winter 2014