INTERVIEW with David Rose, 1978


ANNOUNCER: We present Australian Artists. Part 3 of our Television Series looks at some printmakers working in Australia today. The script is by Harvey Broadbent. Our narrator is Margaret Throsby.

NARRATOR: Australian David Rose found himself a major protagonist of the development of printmaking as a fine art form in Australia after being exposed particularly to the lithographs and etchings of Picasso.

He, perhaps more than anyone else in the Australian Art scene of the 1960s and 70s, has been involved in examining the intrinsic [...] of creating a print block or silk screen stencil from which is produced a work of Fine Art.

To meet David Rose one must travel to Hillside, a delightful little property at Ourimbah, near Gosford, NSW. Here near three majestic pine trees and surrounded by gum and fruit trees, David Rose has his studio, and his home.

From school David went on to study forestry at University, then worked in wood technology in Sydney for three years. However, he decided to give up forestry to become a professional artist, initially assisted by Jenny Rose, who financed the household through her work as a teacher until David could establish himself as an artist.

DAVID ROSE: I started printmaking about a year after I started becoming an artist professionally and I was more or less self taught. I worked for a while in a screen printing factory, but that was only for a short period. I more or less picked up the skills as I went along.

NARRATOR: In 1967 David started teaching at the National Art School in East Sydney where he worked till 1975 when he transferred to the Alexander Mackie College of Advanced Education. He had returned from travel and study in Europe, and particularly Spain, where he had gained experience in the workshop of Señor Sales of Barcelona, a commercial lithographer working in stone.

DAVID ROSE: Working in Sydney from say 1966 to say, what was it, 1975... the first seven years of that time I was doing much more abstract work, and I think it's probably a response to the environment, because I think a city tends to be a somewhat hostile environment which tends to foster abstract work. If you live in the country, you know, you respond more with nature, so I think city art tends to be more abstract.

NARRATOR: In 1969 he began to make screenprints using magnified half tone dots, both by photographic enlargement and, mainly, by hand-drawn screens. His print Moving Woman II is a typical example of this period.

DAVID ROSE: That particular print is based on a photograph by Eadweard Muybridge. It's done in half tone dots and I think my interest at that time was just in seeing what degree of resolution you can get with half tone dots. Half tone dots of course are what they use in newspaper reproduction, because a relief plate either prints ink or it doesn't print ink, so to obtain a graduated tonal effect it either deposits a little spot of ink or a lot of larger spots of ink, and actually Moving Woman II looks like a photographic blow-up, but in fact all those dots are hand drawn.

So what I was doing was looking at a little reproduction of a Muybridge photograph in a magazine, looking through a strong hand lens, and just copied the dots across onto a stencil, just one at a time, and it's quite interesting to see the image build up as I draw each dot.

NARRATOR: He came back to the figure in 1972 as in his Figure VIII (from a Muybridge photograph).

DAVID ROSE: I just had the idea of having the actual series from which the larger part of the picture was taken, which I printed in sepia to look like the old photographs, and I've got those in windows at the top, and one figure with a door cut in the top sheet of paper done in full colour, and that's the figure that's reproduced in grey with the outlined dots below it.

Also I played round with the possibilities of what could be done with two sheets of paper, really – perforations or flaps – just being aware of the paper itself, the thing the print is done on.

NARRATOR: Gradually he abandoned the dot structure and became intrigued with a form based on the circle, as shown by Circle I of 1973.

DAVID ROSE: Yes, it's related to some watercolours I was doing at the time. It's not only related to a circle but also to the simple business of printing where they overlap they make all the secondaries and the tertiary, which is black. So what looks like a black colourgraphic brushstroke around the edges is in fact made up from the direct printing procedure of yellow plus red plus blue.

NARRATOR: During 1973 David and Jenny started to spend a lot of time at a holiday cottage they bought at Bateau Bay, near his present home, and the effect on him was irresistible in artistic terms. The abstract circular works were translated into Bateau Bay form.

DAVID ROSE: I used the format that I was using in the abstract prints of a circle divided by a horizontal line and it corresponded very closely with a possible formal way of looking at Bateau Bay, in the sense that there is a top half of the circle representing a dome of sky and the bottom half, the curve of the beach and the horizon line, the sea. The interest in the circle is that some things could be inside the circle and some things could be outside it. A simple point, but the kind of simple point from which some ideas come.

NARRATOR: David spent almost every weekend at Bateau Bay and through his observations of things around him he began to move towards a more realistic style. His 1975 print Rain – Bateau Bay shows this move to realism.

DAVID ROSE: Some people have said that this print reminds them of Japanese wood block prints by Hiroshige and I can't really deny this, because I was in Bateau Bay on a wet weekend, and I read a book on Hiroshima and it rained all weekend, and so my interpretation was coloured by this. But I was interested there, standing on the beach... As the rain came in over the ocean it obliterated the horizon and it was just a very interesting thing. I don't think I really quite got it in the print, the way it was.

I don't think, though that's a print that some people like, I don't think it's the perfect resolution of the problem as it was. But it works out quite well aesthetically because rain, whenever you see rain, always looks light rather than dark. They shouldn't be dark streaks. They should be transparent white streaks, which I used in a subsequent print of a gum tree in the rain, where I printed the rain more or less as it is; and in this sense you see it as white streaks.

NARRATOR: He was now trying the various printing mediums – etchings and lithographs as well as screenprints. A closer look at the immediate environment of Bateau Bay resulted in some simple still life prints, a set of three lithographs. Hibiscus 3 O'Clock, Hibiscus 4 O'Clock, and Hibiscus Next Morning present fine examples of what the artist sees as his strong urge towards austerity, and the importance he places on regarding the entire sheet of paper as the field of action.

DAVID ROSE: I just did a quick drawing on a plate, in tusche ink, of a hibiscus and I wasn't quite sure how well it would turn out. So an hour later I decided to do another one. And I noticed that in this time the hibiscus had closed up a bit. But I did that one anyway, and next morning when I came back I found that it had changed again and the hibiscus had folded up its petals completely and the top part had grown. So I thought, well, I might as well make a time series of it.

Eucalypt I , 1975

Eucalypt I, 1975

NARRATOR: Since 1973 this austerity, or rather simplicity, tends to be the common factor in Rose's work. In Eucalypt I of 1975, the artist's desire to make a descriptive statement whilst displaying a continued feel for the abstract is evident.

DAVD ROSE: Well, it was the first print I did that involved the gum tree. I'd previously done a few paintings of gum trees and they're all disasters, but I think I resolved the problem better with this one because it was much simpler, and much more to my taste being simpler.

I think what caught my eye was this dead branch arching over into the open space. Because I think, in a way, I might have been seeing it as a graph of the forces that act on a tree as it grows; and I suppose it's just that particular tree, the creaminess of the bark after it shed the previous year's bark, and the residual greys of the previous year's bark, and the scribbles. It's quite a nice tree.

NARRATOR: Since Christmas 1976 David, Jenny and the family have lived permanently at Hillside, Ourimbah. This rural environment has led to a strong sense of identification with the surroundings, and has replaced the earlier identification with the human figure. His work at Ourimbah amidst the different kinds of trees now centres on a deep response to nature.

Palms at Ourimbah,  1977

Palms at Ourimbah, 1977

Eucalypt in Rain of 1977 was taken from a gum tree in David's own yard. It is interesting in another way in that it seems to be a marrying of things done in the past, that is, a response to the gum tree in itself, and the attempt at producing a rain effect, although the artist himself claims they came from quite separate inspirations.

The simplicity of Palms at Ourimbah of 1977, modified from a. drawing, underlines more than ever the now open simplicity of Rose's style; a simplicity the artist relates directly to his surroundings in the bush.

He is drawing directly from these surroundings and has developed an almost conservationist's enthusiasm and appreciation for the Australian countryside.

Rose in 1978

Rose in 1978

Moving Woman II , 1967

Moving Woman II, 1967

Figure VIII , 1972

Figure VIII, 1972

Circle 1 , 1973

Circle 1, 1973

Rain – Bateau Bay , 1975

Rain – Bateau Bay, 1975

Eucalypt – Bateau Bay I , 1976

Eucalypt – Bateau Bay I, 1976

Eucalypt in Rain , 1977

Eucalypt in Rain, 1977

Ourimbah profile – late afternoon , 1979

Ourimbah profile – late afternoon, 1979