It’s Friday night and the peak hour traffic is crawling slowly along Moorabool St. A sudden torrential downpour sends pedestrians scampering for cover. Midway up the hill, wedged between a sex novelty shop and a vacant store front, an old wooden door is open, revealing a flight of stairs. A colourful string of felt pompoms wrapped around the tarnished antique door handle is the only sign that something special is going on. It might be wet outside but not even the rain can dampen the enthusiasm of Geelong’s art lovers who have ventured out for the opening of the new artist run space in Geelong, ETCH Studios and Gallery.
ETCH is the brainchild of Robyn Mackay, a graduate of Deakin’s Bachelor of Creative Arts, who along with fellow students Bianca Brant and Shelley Jardine, wanted to make sure they didn’t lose artistic momentum after finishing the course. Their primary focus was to create a studio space for artists so that they and others can continue to do what they love.
“It was Robyn’s initiative and we all climbed on board,” Bianca says. “About a year ago, she showed me this space and I thought, wow, this is amazing! It has a wonderful feel that people will understand when they visit us.”
ETCH is located upstairs in one of Geelong’s many heritage listed 19th century buildings (circa 1867). Old original floorboards, 10ft high ceilings and high arched windows give the building a warm ambience. Once the Oddfellows building, more recently it held yoga classes and meditations. Now artistic integrity can be added to the building’s rich history of humanitarian endeavour.
Bianca Brant stands next to a couple of her paintings (left) and Shelley Jardine holds one of her paintings from the Yellow Triangle series. Paintings on the right wall by Helen Lyth.
The art studios are located at the back of the building, in a large room with natural light flooding in from clerestory windows. The room has been compartmentalised so that the eleven artists who have moved in can have their own space to work. The women have tried to set up the studios to be as environmentally friendly as possible: no turps is allowed and all the solvents used for printing are non-petrochemical.
In a smaller room Robyn’s large Hill Dav etching press stands proudly ready for action, complete with a luxurious set of three woollen blankets from Germany. It was too large to get up the stairs in one piece so it was dismantled it into three parts and then reassembled in situ by an engineer. The press is available for the studio artists but other artists can book it for a small fee.
Sketches by Jennifer McElwee which she drew with a reed in the method of Van Gogh, inspired during a study tour to France last year.
To the front of the building with windows facing onto Moorabool St, the exhibition area comprises two rooms which is currently filled with work from the inaugural ‘Off the Wall’ show. While the work in the opening exhibition is mainly painting and printmaking, Bianca says they have plans to exhibit work in more unusual mediums as well.
“We really want this to be a contemporary space: installations, performance, sound art, dance, lots of collaboration. We want to bring artists with an established name to collaborate with students.”
They have already enlisted the support of artist, writer and academic, Dr Eiichi Tosaki who will be working in partnership with one of the honours students, Jennifer McElwee, in an installation next March.
And with life drawing classes on a Sunday and plans for master classes in various printmaking techniques ETCH looks set to become an artistic hub. Regular artist talks will become a fixture on the exhibition calendar. In fact, the women have not wasted any time and have already engaged Steve Singline to give a floor talk this Friday 29 November at 11am about his installation of atmospheric landscapes which are hanging in the stairway.
Installation of evocative paintings by Steve Singline, A Glimpse Beyond Series 2011–2013. Available to purchase individually.
The women are also keen to present artists working in their studios. Once a month the studios will be open to the public so that people can see and talk to artists.
“We want ETCH to be a place for people in Geelong to see art and to see it as a legitimate pathway to employment.” Bianca says. “We want people to encourage their kids to do art. If you study year 12 art in Geelong, you can go on to the Gordon and Deakin. You don’t have to go to RMIT or VCA with all the expense and time on the train.”
As to be expected in a group show, opening night was crowded and quite a few works sold. The exhibition runs until 20 December but as the work is immediately taken by the buyer, the walls are constantly updated with new artwork.
“Our philosophy at ETCH Gallery is that everyone deserves to own a piece of original artwork,” Bianca says enthusiastically. “There’s an expressive quality to art that’s meaningful even if you don’t know the meaning of the work. Like eating something delicious, you don’t need to understand it. You just need to enjoy it. For the price of a designer scatter cushion, you can buy yourself a work of art. A gift for yourself or your a friend to be cherished for a lifetime.”
Geelong is beginning to develop a reputation for printmaking. There is the prestigious Geelong acquisitive print awards at Geelong Gallery, Metropolis Gallery specialises in works on paper and prints, and there is an active printmaking community many of whom started in the wonderful print room at The Gordon. ETCH stands to contribute to this fine printmaking tradition.
(Note: I have not photographed any of the prints in the exhibition because they are wrapped in reflective celophane or behind glass, making it impossible to photograph without distracting reflections. But there are plenty of prints so check it out!)
Inaugural Off the Wall exhibition
22 November – 20 December 2013
ETCH Gallery and Studios
215 Moorabool St, Geelong.
Open Wednesday to Saturday, 10am – 3pm
Call for artists
Artists who are interested in exhibiting are welcome to email Shelley or Bianca for an artist brief: firstname.lastname@example.org. It costs $15 to enter and all mediums will be considered.
Artist Floor Talk – Steve Singline
Friday 29 November, 11am
• The Space Between – Deakin Graduates Art Exhibition