Australian Print Workshop awarded the 2013 Australian Print Workshop Collie Print Trust Printmaking Fellowship to Laith McGregor.
Who is Laith McGregor? Self portraits have been a re-occurring feature of his work, offering a range of clues as to what the artist might look like. A beard, shoulder length hair, and a certain gentle wistfulness of expression have all become familiar to those following his practice. And yet these features recur with a twist, sometimes the beard is hugely overscaled, the image may in fact be a portrait of the artist’s father, or it may slip into alternative masculine terrain: rock zombie, cartoon alien or holy man. Laith McGregor looks back at us from a surprising array of masks and alternative postures. Disembodied and dislocated eyeballs accentuate this game of looking, sometimes meeting our gaze unexpectedly, even alarmingly. Equally uncanny is McGregor’s habit of leaving a vacant white gap in the place of an eye.
Storyteller celebrates the first body of prints created by McGregor, recipient of the Australian Print Workshop Collie Print Trust Printmaking Fellowship. In this group of lithographs, and single large scale etching we see McGregor apply drawing and painting techniques to entirely new processes with excitement, ambition and a sense of play.
‘DARK WAS THE NIGHT’ presents yet another bearded figure, a man seated by a lake, Jesus by the Sea of Galilee. As with many of McGregor’s work the title also offers a link to music, the song ‘Dark was the night, cold was the ground’ by gospel blues singer Blind Willie Johnson. This etching is enormous in scale; at 2.4 by 1.8 metres it stretches the technical limits of the etching process. Printed in black the tonal variations describing shadows and highlights are an adaptation of the distinctive sectional ‘cross hatch’ technique developed by McGregor in his drawings. Gently curving arrays of parallel lines mark out the major tones, further apart for lighter areas, more closely spaced for the dark. To achieve such consistency and control when drawing onto such a large scale prepared copper sheet would be a challenge even for a highly experienced printmaker.
Such finely modulated mark-making is offset by the artist’s choice to leave three expansive areas of the copper sheet unmarked, two blank circles in the sky and a long straight line beneath the seated figure. This introduces a sense of framing, as if we are looking through a window, perhaps at a landscape lit by a double moon. It also suggests a motif already familiar in McGregor’s work: two blank eyes and the long flat line of a mouth – not happy, not sad, perhaps just somewhat melancholy. Dark was the night, and solemn the thoughts of the figure on the rock.
McGregor uses emoticon haiku slightly differently in lithographic self portraits such as ‘OHNE TITEL’ (sad) and ‘GREG’ (big smile), a U shape rather than a straight line is playfully worked onto, or into, the surface of the lithograph. Printmaking allows, even encourages, variation and experiment. Just as an actor might adopt certain roles, our storyteller uses the process of printmaking to play with different methods and guises, including blind embossing, monotype, overprinting and chine-collé. Viewing the results of these experiments, we encounter an unexpected array of answers to the question ‘Who is Laith McGregor’. McGregor cuts into and remodels our expectations of surface, gesture and authenticity.
Senior Curator/Collection Manager: Monash University Museum of Art
(Excerpt from: Laith McGregor - 2013 APW Collie Print Trust Printmaking Fellowship exhibition catalogue)
A selection of original limited edition fine art prints by Australian Print Workshop Collie Print Trust Printmaking Fellowship recipients, produced in collaboration with Australian Print Workshop, are available for purchase from the APW Gallery and online through the APW Printstore.