A Writer’s encounter with Artists in residence.
ONE of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve ever done involved a journey to Hill End, hub of the NSW Gold Rush, to meet a pair of artists who’d taken on an unwanted printing press and set up their own print floor.
Bill and Genevieve are a creative powerhouse, artists each in their own right and in collaboration. Their responses to the textures, cultural heritage and ‘feel’ of Hill End rank amongst the finest in the Hill End Artists in Residence program, because they not only ‘do’ art in Hill End, they live it.
Their devotion to an old printing press, furthering the distribution of the written word, makes these two honorary writers in my book.
This article was published in Blue Mountains Life magazine in October-November 2010.
Bill Moseley and Genevieve Carroll on the ‘unlimited addition’ to their Hill End studio.
On the day Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female Prime Minister, I drove to Hill End, catching radio reports on the leadership change at various high points across the ranges, further from the reach of mass media with every bend in the road. It struck me that I might have an old-fashioned ‘scoop’ on my hands for Hill End.
I was indeed the one to break the news to Genevieve Carroll and Bill Moseley of Hill End Press, an arts destination which very recently acquired that vintage tool of the print media – a letterpress printer.
Art and artists have been the staple industry in Hill End for long enough to rival the town’s first boom: gold.
Bill and Genevieve have lived and worked here for the past six years, exploring a variety of media, which, as is the case with many artists, is hard to define. It’s obvious after only minutes that their art extends from photography and textiles through to making great coffee and cakes in a building which is at once a studio and a cafe.
Genevieve is a mixed-media practitioner whose work in textiles, painting, drawing and sculpture touch on the theatrical at every turn. Hers is an exploration of how texture, design and form dominate the fabric and tools of our entire lives.
She generously shows me a large textile work (in preparation for a Bathurst Regional Art Gallery Exhibition in 2011) laying like a map of fields on her work bench, golds and yellows achieved through her own dyeing process. “This will just keep growing until it’s as large as the wall behind me,” she says.
Bill’s black and white photographs grace the entire wall of another work room – surreal, often comic studies whose subjects range from unsettling horror to mesmerising beauty. Many are created using a pinhole camera, a time-consuming process requiring exposures of 45-minutes instead of a split second, a medium which will be employed in his own 2011 show at BRAG. In addition, he’s a shipwright, a training-ground which, “equipped me for life,” Bill says.
“Bill’s also our master printer,” Genevieve adds, leading us into the printing room inside a classic Hill End shopfront which once belonged to Bernard Holtermann, the man who discovered the world’s largest gold nugget nearby in 1872.
The room has an immediate feeling of industry – shelves of ink and trays of movable type dominate a work bench surrounded by a variety of printing presses.
Genevieve and Bill are largely self-taught printers. “We’re very low tech,” Genevieve confirms. “You can’t learn to use a letterpress anymore, even at TAFE, mainly due to OHS concerns,” Bill adds, “but we’ve learnt a lot from other letterpress printers online.”
In the corner by the door is Bill and Genevieve’s Gordon Platen Press. Like a larger-than-life treadle sewing-machine it has the mechanical brilliance of an era long-gone, the kind of machinery transported in pieces to remote areas during the industrial revolution.
When no-one else wanted it, Bill and Genevieve were given this press by an auction house in Waterloo and transported it to Hill End in a box trailer. “It once belonged to Clement Meadmore,” Genevieve says. When I suggest the artist known for his large-scale metal work owned a printing press because it had a sculptural quality regardless of its use, Genevieve says: “that’s why we thought we’d accept it. We had no idea we’d eventually know how to use it,” she says, laughing.
“There would have been one of these presses in every town. In the old papers you see plenty of advertisements for ‘letter press feeders’,” Bill explains.
“They’d have to be someone very quick with their hands,” Genevieve adds. “My job is to stand in the background when Bill’s printing and say: ‘hand out, hand out’ at the right time. There’s an old saying about printers ‘coming-a-cropper’ which was to do with getting their hands caught in the presses.”
We choose some brightly coloured rubber ink and set about printing Hill End Press business cards. Bill uses a spatula to scrape a line of ink onto the large circular plate, and pumps the pedal to get the rollers spreading it evenly. The sound is a well-oiled melody akin to the pistons of a steam train. En masse on an old printing floor it must have been deafening.
Beautiful Italian ‘Fabriano’ stock made from 100 percent cotton is loaded and pressed against the inked ‘platen’. After only a moment Bill retrieves our first print, saying, “Gutenberg would have known how to use this,” of the man who invented the printing press in the 15th Century.
The impression on the paper is firm and sharp, and the satisfactory first sample is left on broad wire drying racks to the side. Achieved with little more speed than placing an original on a photocopier and pressing a button, the finished product has a three-dimensional quality which no photocopier seems capable of producing. “You can do a print run of 100 in a pretty quick time,” Bill adds.
“There were pieces missing when we got it which you can’t buy anymore,” Bill outlines, “and certain tools which we needed to either make or have made, like the roller gauge which you use to ensure the rollers are at the right type-height. Without that you get furry or streaky print quality”.
“We had help from skilled friends to complete the press, but we also had to be quite self-sufficient, to persist and find ways to make it work. It took about 8 or 9 months to get it to print,” Bill adds.
Graduates of the National Art School, “we had an art-school romance”, Genevieve says of the life partnership which was a result of their meeting. Their individual art practices are startlingly different, but what they now have in common is the press.
“We’re inspired by Leonard and Virginia Woolf,” Genevieve relates. “They set up their own publishing house – Hogarth Press – and would have had a very similar press to ours. It gave them the ability to print and publish their own work, and that of others, and that’s what we want to do,” she explains.
Hill End Press’ first venture into publishing has seen them create a range of gift cards which are available from Bathurst Regional Gallery and a number of Sydney outlets.
The cafe is open “whenever we’re here” Genevieve laughs. It’s the opposite of a cafe with art on the walls – the walls are art, and every inch is filled with expression.
Genevieve’s suspended papier-mâché creations get mistaken for gold nuggets, “they are wattle” she explains of the ‘clouds’.
When Holtermann got rich from his gold nugget, he poured his time and money into a unique photographic record of the goldfields of his day. That a building associated with him continues to thrive as a destination replete with art, photography and now printmaking seems quite apt.
And the Hill End Press symbol of the rabbit above the door? “That’s easy to answer” Bill says, smiling, “they’re like us and our press – all about mass reproduction.”
© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.