Friday, 20 April 2012

Days 380 - 384: Wanaka Autumn Arts School

In case you've come here looking for information about Wanaka Autumn Arts School, welcome to my travel blog!  I'm putting the information you need first, followed by some information about the printmaking tutor I had there, Rew Hanks. 

Wanaka Autumn Arts School

1) You should go to Wanaka Autumn Arts School because:
  •  As far as I could see all the courses were excellent.  The printmaking course certainly was.
  • The tutors give talks about their work in the evening, and some of them do quite spectacularly good stuff.  Also, the wine and beer for talk attendees was inexpensive!
  • It's lots of fun and everyone is really nice.
  • Wanaka is lovely in the autumn.
2) You should sign up really early or you won't get a place.

Rew Hanks

Rew does lino prints, sometimes very big ones, sometimes hand coloured (and probably a bunch of other things I don't know about). Since I really just signed up for something I thought would be fun, I got lucky by liking his work a lot.  It's full of the kinds of historical references that are right up my street, except unfortunately, I came from a different street, and don't know what most of his stories are about.  They really inspired me to find out more about certain aspects of Australian history: Did Ned Kelly have a heart? Did Kerry Packer have a brain? Should we clone dodos and introduce them into New Zealand? (Okay, I'm ad libbing a bit here, but that sort of thing.)

The gallery that sells Rew's work is Watters Gallery in Sydney.  And here are a bunch of other websites where you can see some of what he does.
OK, that's it, no need to read any further...  Especially if you're from Australia or New Zealand.  Move along now, there's nothing to see that you didn't already know!

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I realised at quite an early stage of the proceedings that I had walked in on something, namely the intimate relationship between Aussies and Kiwis. As usual in this type of situation, it was a bit hard at first to figure out which parts belonged to whom, and when it was figured out perhaps it would have been best to draw a veil over the proceedings.  But that rather defeats the purpose of having a travel blog.  Essentially, the relationship goes like this:  the Aussies, conscious that they have a handful of cities in which it's possible to get lost, believe themselves to be sophisticated, especially more sophisticated than the Kiwis.  The Kiwis, conscious that they have a landscape in which you're glad to be lost, are in a position to treat this slight in the manner it deserves, namely by humouring the other party whilst not giving a feijoa. With two Brits in the class, it seemed obvious that we might not be allowed to sit on the sidelines and watch, and there were in fact a few attempts to get us to play.  Possibly conscious of how the Asians, Belgians, Carribeans, Danes, French, Germans, Hungarians, Irish, Jersey Islanders, etc, would react if we started any of this back home, we weren't sure if we were up to it. It's sort of shame, because a few days ago I decided to Google that name they call us down here to find out what it actually means.  It turns out they don't know either, but what I find absolutely just... precious... is the fact that the Australian and New Zealand governments have passed laws decreeing that they don't find it offensive if their citizens refer to the English as Poms.  I so wish I had known this earlier, because it seems to hold possibilities for having a little fun at their expense.  As you can see, I'm 100% not offended either, and ready to participate in local customs, but I missed my chance.

Actually, both the Kiwis and the Aussies are sophisticated. They're also talented, pleasant, nice, straightforward, and lots of other good things.  They're so nice in fact, that it made me feel quite humbled and shy.  When I reached my next destination, Springfield, it turned out that the owner's son was a fan of contemporary British humorous novels.  While I was reading these (and laughing), I kept looking around guiltily to see if the rank cynicism that emanated from them was causing the wallpaper to sag. I am really going to have a lot to get used to when I get back.  After the workshop got settled down, the Kiwis fell into the sort of friendly chitchat that gives the outsider the impression that everybody in New Zealand knows everybody else.  The impression was confirmed at the dinner evening when a man from the far south of South Island told me quite a lot about the family history of one of my classmates from the far north of South Island, based only on her family name.

The other, perhaps more pertinent thing that emerged quite early on was the wide range of previous printmaking experience in the group.  I was among the rank beginners, whereas there were a few people who were already selling their prints.  There was a certain look on Rew's face as he discovered this, but I don't know why because he rose to the occasion without apparent difficulty.  I suppose it helped that we were all quite an autonomous, independent lot.  For example, when I need someone to show we which way round to use an inking roller, I just go and ask them.  And when they tell me that I'm trying to do something difficult, I just do it anyway, thus absolving them of any responsibility.  In this way, I learned a lot about printmaking for just five days.  Rew's main intervention in my education, apart from showing me how to do just about everything, came on day 4.  I was trying to drink a cup of coffee in front of the 20 prints I had just made, and wondering whether I was too lazy to do anything about the fact that I needed 15 and had 8 that were just about acceptable.  Rew informed me in an offhand, do-what-you-want-with-this-information manner, that it was his standard teaching practice to make the student keep the worst print.  My worst print looked as though someone had upturned a plate of spaghetti bolognaise on the paper, and I had secretly intended to keep the best one.  So, I did a second edition, and have to admit they came out better than the first, on average.

Really, I had a lot of fun with everything, the printmaking, the talks, the dinner, ... and went away with a load of inspiration for the messes I'm going to make when I get back to London and find myself some kind of community printmaking studio to hang around in.

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