Printmaking enthusiasts have an opportunity to view the works of Tate Adams, regarded by many as the godfather of Australian printmaking, at the Sylvia Ditchburn Fine Art Gallery until 17 September 2017.
Born in Ireland, Tate studied at the London Central school with Gertrude Hermes before arriving in Melbourne in 1951. He established the first diploma of printmaking at the RMIT where he taught for 22 years. During this period he also ran Crossley Gallery, a dedicated print gallery and arguably the leader in its time in the promotion of printmaking in Australia. In retirement, Tate focussed on Lyre Bird Press, his artists’ book press, which continues to this day publishing critically appraised books of original prints. Moving to Magnetic Island then to Townsville, Tate had a close involvement with the regional gallery beginning a series of solo exhibitions that precipitated an efflorescence in his own practice. The resulting series of gouaches and prints confirmed his status as a significant Australian artist.
The focal piece of the current exhibition, put together by Tate’s biographer and friend Frances Thomson, is a powerful large-scale black and white gouache print.
According to Frances, Tate had seen those shapes in Mourya – the mother in the Irish play Riders to the Sea.
“Tate had read that play in school at about the same time his own mother had died of tuberculosis – and he put the themes of death and dying together,” said Frances.
“[In the exhibition] You would have seen one of his prints on display of a woman in a burqa – she’s not wearing a burqa at all. It’s Mourya hoisting her petticoat above her head in a mourning the loss of her sons – that’s what Tate’s depicted.
“If you don’t know this, the work can appear quite unsettling. In his 80s, thinking his death was imminent, Tate went back to interrogate Mourya [as a character] and he looks at the death cry… he was an Irish son envoking Irish figures to be at his funeral, which never transpired because, of course, he’s still with us.”
Frances has spent the last five years researching and writing her thesis about Tate’s life.
“I think I have squeezed the lemon dry – there’s no more information to come out. I have re-presented his life to him in a way that he never would have considered. He’s a humble man and I imagine it would be a really lovely thing to have happen at the end of your life; to have someone sit with you and take an interest in every detail and then say “this is what you’ve done” and “this is where you’ve fitted”.
“I’m pleased to have done it and I think it’s a really important thing to do – it’s part of our region’s history. These people are unsung, we don’t sing our proper heroes in regional Australia.
Tate Adams was named a Member (AM) of the Order of Australia for service to publishing and to the arts, particularly through contributions to the development of printmaking in Australia. In 2018 a book on Adams and his art, an adaptation of Frances Thomson’s thesis, is scheduled for publication by Thames and Hudson.
Selected pieces of Tate Adams’ work, and pieces by one of his students, Carolyn Dodds, will be on display at Sylvia Ditchburn Fine Art Gallery, Ogden Street until 17 September 2017.