Gretchen Albrecht interview
In July, 2000, during a week Gretchen Albrecht spent in Christchurch to work on a series of lithographs at PaperGraphica Print Studio, Marian Maguire asked about the relationship between her paintings and prints. Albrecht’s exhibition ‘Crossing the Divide: a painter makes prints’ was touring at that time.
GA. The exhibition looks at how one feeds into the other, how ideas in paintings get transformed into print and how some of that transmutes into new ideas purely because I’m using a different medium. These can then re-influence the paintings. I’ve found all this really useful and didn’t realise it was going to happen when I embarked on printmaking.
MM. Your early prints used a linear form of drawing which you are not using now. Why is that?
GA. I have discovered I can treat each stone like a page of watercolour paper and maybe the linear aspect comes through in the use of the geometries that sit over and in these washes.
MM. You were saying that different ideas emerge through your large canvasses and the lithographs. I wondered if you see less difference between the prints and gouaches?
GA. I see them as being quite different. With printmaking I go through a number of steps to accommodate the process and the mechanical aspect has a major part to play. I am not in control totally of the medium, and am surprised, sometimes, at the ability of the stone to speak back.
I also find it very satisfying to work on these big slabs of stone and the way that the stone reveals itself with the wash flowing on to it – that is a minor miracle.
There are a lot of things that are brought to bear in the making of a print that are not there in a work on paper and I am finding that I am enjoying working on paper through my printmaking more than gouache at the moment.
MM. It’s more of a challenge, maybe, dealing with all those thinking steps to get to a final image.
GA. Yes, I like the challenge. It opens me up.
MM. Sometimes I have a concern that when artists make prints at the studio they have moved away from the very . intimate .experience they have making paintings. They are working in an environment with other people present, where the stone is taken away from them for processing and printing. They then have to deal with the results of the proofing in a less immediate way than in painting. I wondered if you found the break in intimacy a problem?
GA. Well I find the reverse. I find the working on the stone a very intimate process. It is small in its scale and brings things down to a level in which I am very close to the work. The stone is just eighteen inches away and my vision and gesture are brought in, in a very involving way.
In my own studio the paintings start on the floor requiring large gestures, body oriented with lots of physical activity, in which I am moving around the large stretcher, sometimes straddling, sometimes bending over it. All of these actions are on a big scale, less intimate than working on a stone in somebody else’s workshop.
The private nature of painting occurs in my head and I travel with that. I am located and draw my sustenance from living and working in New Zealand and in coming down to Christchurch from Auckland I am bringing with me a suitcase of ideas.
MM. Your work is abstract and expresses itself in gesture and colour. You are often called a ‘colourist’ and have a very personal colour sense. How do you choose the colours you use?
GA. Colour is important obviously, but it isn’t so much that I actively choose colours it is more that they arrive when the need is there. For instance the “Nocturne” paintings that carried over to that first set of prints we made together. All the paintings of that time had a deep base created through an outer ring of dark which emotionally connected ideas about space, the cosmos, the night sky, the unknown, the dead, often triggered by imagery that comes out of poetry that I am reading at the time, or in the natural world a comet, a shooting star, the experience of going out at night and looking up, moonlit sky, the milky way or star dust.
At the moment I seem to working through this very cool, quiet palette of greys, whites and black and maybe the lithographs are going to express that. The prints we did last year, ‘Black’ and ‘White Piha’ have to do with the death of my father. We have a beachhouse at Piha and having walked one night and observed a moon over the sand and the patterns that are made by water having been over the black sand an image formed in my mind for ‘Night Beach – Piha’.
MM. Yes, well that’s what’s interesting. Other people look at artwork as the physical object they see but there is this whole other impulse behind the work. Their imagination might take them to what they want to see and there is a level of illusion that allows that, but on another level the images operate simply as abstract art.
GA. The colour, form, gesture and idea are all mixed together somehow. The strength of all of this brew plus my conviction, now if it reaches out and engages the viewer and draws them into the work then good. What they experience and what I have put in might be two different things. This doesn’t matter to me, what is important is if the work has some power to engage.
So it is not let’s use red or let’s use blue. All these threads demand that that colour be used. And it’s the strength of content the painting is expressing that is important.