How master lithographer Peter Lancaster makes it matter
How do you give it mouth?
Printmaking is a method for artists to redirect their thinking into different processes and forms. The artists I mainly work with are painters and sculptors who (I think) enjoy working in a completely different headspace. And so, while I don’t do my own work, I help open up ideas within the work of other artists…whatever the subject matter may be.
Natives – Robert Hague.
Yeah, that’s right. Artists can often be very private people so coming into a new studio, opening up their ideas and trying new processes is often a bigger challenge for them than I realise.
But when they break through that and they start getting some results, they’re more at ease with the challenge.
Just touching on that issue of form, do you think it’s vital for artists to think not only about what they say but also how they’re saying it
When you’re looking in the printmaking realm there are many different ways of producing a print. For instance screen printing allows you to use a lot more colour at a rapid rate, so artists with more of a political slant would maybe choose screen printing. My process tends towards more traditional methods of putting down the information.
And because it’s such a collaborative enterprise a lot of it has to do with the matching up of personalities. Not every artist can work with every printmaker. They might clash or are just not free flowing with the ideas.
You have to be able to bring out their ideas, and they are quite personal at times. So you have to feel comfortable with each other.
And artists are very critical of their own work, so they have to be nurtured to get to a result they’re happy with.
It seems like you’re almost like a translator of the artist’s thoughts and ideas and feelings…
Yeah, that’s a fair interpretation.
Someone else I know also described the role of the printmaker as that of the conductor. You’re keeping an eye on all the various aspects of producing the print and you’re pre-empting possible disasters and keeping things smooth running.
Do you have any tricks or advice for making a collaborator feel comfortable?
It’s always useful to have them bring in their own work. It breaks the ice and lets us discuss what they do in their own discipline. And then I might show them examples of other prints.
And all that eventually leads to them putting down a few marks on a test plate or stone … you know you almost have to trick them into it sometimes. Once they start making the marks, it’s exciting to see them get completely hooked and they can’t get enough.
Have you had any particular moments when that’s happened for you with a specific artist?
Oh yes definitely and there are artists who I definitely admire and have been wanting to work with for years. And then they finally come around and their personality works with you … it’s not easy to tick off all the boxes but when you can it’s incredible.
The Field – Lou Tomlinson.
There’s a well-known Melbourne artist called Rick Amor. It was an absolute buzz when he approached me. Because when you work with a great artist like him you know that whatever they put down is going to work.
Tell me about working with the well-known artist Mirka Mora.
She was very eccentric. So that can be tricky when you’re trying to explain the technical side of putting information down. You have to kind of let her go and do her thing. But that spontaneity actually comes through in the work, which is great. It’s funny, you can get artists like Mirka Mora and others like Rick Amor – who’s very regimented – but both are well known and live by their art, so they arrive at the same point in that way.
It also seems printmaking is a really slow-cooked process. How does that reconcile with that economic need to produce output?
People think because there are only a couple of us who do what we do in Australia, there’d be more demand. But it’s difficult to sell artwork, let alone prints, then let alone a lithograph. So it’s an expensive outlay for an artists to spend money on getting me to hand-print an edition. For this reason, you try to keep the editions very small.
The preparation is slow but once you start printing, though it’s hand done, it will only take a few weeks to complete a small edition. And the print is erased once the edition is complete, so it can never be done again. That’s probably the most important point between the difference between an original print and a reproduction to educate people on.
Do you get to keep one for yourself?
Yes I do. It’s called a printer’s proof and comes from a long tradition that started in Europe where the process was invented. The printer’s proof is signed by the artist. But the nice thing about it being hand done is that not every print is exactly the same.
Probably because it’s a specialised process, not to get visions of grandeur in terms of expanding. It’s better to have an intimate feel so the artists are comfortable.
And what about keeping it clean and organised and those pragmatic aspects?
Yeah you constantly have to be putting things away. Because it’s process driven – it’s a lot like cooking actually. If you don’t put stuff away when you’re cooking something it just gets into a mess.
It sounds like you’re walking that fine line between bringing out their creativity but also making sure the technical processes are there. How do you balance that, it must be tricky.
You don’t want to bog them down too much. I’ll often show various ways of putting down information on a test stone, and look at other prints other artists have down. But you have to slowly merge them along the way. And then when they start to see results they get confident.
So it’s a matter of guidance in the beginning but then as they grow more confident knowing when to step back and let them go. And make them feel special I guess in the studio.
So, you’re as much a psychologist as an artist?
*laughs* Yeah. It’s a bit like that at times.