An Exhibition of Colour Xerography


Ron Brownson, Peter Hannken, Paul Hartigan, Chris Hignett, Megan Jenkinson, Cathryn Shine, Nicholas Spill & Denys Watkins

The first exhibited fine arts use of the new Xerox Colour process in this country was in Merilyn Wills's four semi-abstract and acid flower images in the Photographic Widows show at Real Pictures early in April. They were a genuine innovation in expressive photography here.

Xerox Colour makes images on its own special, paper or transparency material, 13 by 8 1/2 inches. A few kinds of other papers can be fed into the machine: but usually with difficulties which the Xerox folk like to avoid because of mechanical problems. It gives a one-to-one reproduction of anything placed on the glass: with about half an inch of depth of field above. Enlarged images from normal 35mm transparencies are another standard service. It tends to produce a slightly simplified, more contrasty colour image, with a definite shiny resinous surface in the dark areas, while retaining absolute fidelity of shapes. It imposes a more assertive, often coarser, effect, the lines strengthened by heavy drawing. Subtleties of tone and colour are usually lost in the general 'posterisation'. Over-all contrast can be controlled somewhat. The three basic pigment colours - cyan, magenta and yellow - can be varied independently in saturation. Only one colour need be used, or any combination.

National Park I 1980
colour Xerox, 883 x 190 mm.
(Real Pictures Gallery)

Kolorplaten, the recent show of colour xerography at Real Pictures, was a fresh, welcome validation of local visual arts energy - a new medium offered, absorbed and enjoyed. Personal styles have been imposed on the constraints of the new machine-bound technique, in the use of a process which widens the links between photography and printmaking media.

Both Denys Watkins and Ron Brownson leaped right over the main constraint of uniform image size. Sydney, Anzac Day 1979 - Tapuaehururu by Ron Brownson was a rectangle of sixty-four sheets of images, laid out on the floor, covering about two metres by three (eight sheets wide, eight sheets long). All images were of grass or lawn plants in a nursery or park, each showing a patch just in front of the photographer's feet. Some showed camera shake, some blurred focus as if made on' a cheap camera. Most had neat plastic botanic labels stuck into the ground, like so many small 'crosses of remembrance' bearing names of soldiers killed long ago - a vestige of suffering buried under neat cemetery lawns until it sprouts, touching but forlorn, on Anzac Day.

Irregular repetitions of about one third of the images, decreasing from top to bottom, and odd patterns of colour variations from assertive green, to bluish, pinkish and a few yellowish patches, formed design relationships which gave the whole assembly unity. Sometimes it looked like an old airfield with a mass of World War One planes. Sometimes dry leaves from trees and odd slashes of litter brought out a gritty repellent quality which was enhanced by the artist deliberately shattering a large sheet of glass placed for a week at the top of the assembly. This seemingly quickly improvised work made me glad to get out and walk on real grass and earth: glad that art is not nature, and that negative feelings from some colour Xerox sheets could be so perversely positive.

Two-way Feeling 1980
colour Xerox, 295 x 210 mm.
(Real Pictures Gallery)

National Park, by Denys Watkins was for me the most audacious work. It consisted of four panels about three and a half feet long, each of four or five connecting images of successive parts of large, deeply weathered, richly grooved hardwood slabs. Here the actual process was apparent - lifting heavy slabs of wood on to the glass and sliding them along to get connected images. Three vertical panels each had a drawn picture-card at the bottom: first, a wolf baying against a blue Arctic sky; second, a palm tree; third, a large skinny hare, alert against a yellow sky. Each panel also had simple geometrical symbols toward the top - first, a circle in two colours; second, a rectangle divided into two colours; third a diamond shape in two colours. Each slab was surmounted by the same image of a glans-shaped piece of roofing slate, the first one bearing a grinning skull; the second a stag against a cold sky with a yellow moon; the third a simple wooden ladder. I thought the cards were Spanish, but he said 'Mexican' - which is the same difference. I thought the symbols were drawn in wax: he said 'chalk'. I thought the panels looked phallic: he said 'hadn't noticed until others mentioned it' - but maybe it's because he's kidding me or he hasn't seen one that big. The total presence was complex, somehow threatening, surreal, contradictory. There were warm, subdued, faded paint areas and tough brittle details: a tension from trompe l'oeil copper wire. Over-all, it was sensuous but disturbing; logical but dreamlike; witty but gutsy, 'image' but 'real'.

Some truly subtle tonalities in very restricted colour ranges show that Megan Jenkinson has gone right against the inherent nature of the process - and succeeded masterfully. There are images of people: herself, parts of a figure, understated, and complex with different planes of tones, delicate fringes of unexpected colour. Most images make up a traditionally self-contained 'picture': but each is allusive with personal, tender, sometimes wistful though affectionate regard. Reflection II has a young man looking through a soft plane of reflection which bears a dark cross-like object (a door handle?) resting like a dark purple stigma on his neck, or plunging like a dagger into his heart. The over-all green, in soft graduations, comes from an overhanging grape vine - and softest pink shimmers in suggested space beyond. Megan Jenkinson has brought quite unexpected delicacy of feeling, subduing the machine to personal poetry.

Repetition 1980
colour Xerox, 190 x 192 mm.
(Real Pictures Gallery)

At the other end (of the most brash, direct, boldly witty) Paul Hartigan's four pairs of 'rude' verbal jokes take Xerox Colour at its full face value. Common objects and throw-away junk dance around in glorious ribaldry in the face of the respectable and sexually up-tight. Anglo-Saxon words are celebrated in repeatable, throw-away, but rich, machine-colour rhyme.

The possibility of manually 'dodging' and masking the scanning light has been used by Cathryn Shine to get irregular flame-like or dappled effects of colour on images of human figures; or small wooden lattices which themselves have been bound up with both negative, positive and hand-drawn images of the same originals. The assemblages are sandwiched between sheets of transparent perspex, taking an essentially printmaking approach in a sculptural direction, so that depth, opacity and transparency combine in works to be viewed from both sides.