Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 1 September 2020
Pandemic Art Update 2020 — work in progress
I don’t know how many artists consider the process of their art and their art practice and how many never reflect upon it. When I was involved in science (biology), I was very interested in the process of how science works. Indeed, I was interested in the philosophy of science and science practice.
Most scientists, however, don’t give a hoot about the process or philosophy of science other than learning to conduct their work as a rigorous practice that passes muster under the peer review system. This approach didn’t have any direct negative consequences. Except in biology, I thought occasionally the gung ho approach led to an indifference to statistical processes and sometimes to poor and even wrong analysis.
With reference to art, some artists are interested in the process of how they make art and why, while others just get on with it. I naturally fit in to the former camp and because of this I tend to see some benefits, though not enough to justify any artist from changing their natural inclinations.
The benefits I see are that you are at least aware of the flow of your work and its direction. While you may not pay much attention to your process when the flow is energetic, creative and satisfying. And, you have barely enough time to make the work you are driven to create. When things change, you may be more able to understand.
You may be frustrated that things aren’t the way they used to be, but you also have the tools to analyse why. You can either accept the hiatus; or you can seek out reasons and techniques to cope with change. You are more likely to be experimental and to seek out new directions.
This is not meant to be overly philosophical, but I am interested in my own practice. For ten years, I became what I termed an accidental artist, but I was inspired by what I was doing and powered ahead without thinking more than necessary about the process. The period was creative and immensely satisfying. Then came the hiatus. I basically stopped what I had been doing and for a long time engaged in what I thought of as mucking around, including going to basic courses with my partner Denise.
More recently, I taught myself linocutting and joined a print making cooperative called Megalo in Canberra to learn how to print my works professionally. I still haven’t explored the extent of my potential relationship with Megalo Print Studio.
Also recently, I have done several more courses and joined a Thursday art group hosted by artist Jenny Manning, which I have found both inspiring and stimulating. Because of this group, I have begun to place works in exhibitions and have expanded my repertoire.
Art practice description and biography
In phase 1 of my art making I gained some critical acknowledgement.
Sonia Barron wrote in Australian Art Collector 2003:
Not all artists emerge from art schools, and as artists increasingly cross over into other disciplines, there has been a steady flow in the other direction. Tony Stewart surfaced on the Canberra art scene in 2002 in two modest exhibitions in artist-run spaces.
With a PhD in biological sciences from the Australian National University, and an impressive career in science and technology development, for Stewart to commit to making art was a late-life decision. Always interested in the visual arts, on a trip to Europe in 1975 he visited the Jeu de Paume in Paris and saw the Impressionists for the first time. This he described as an “overwhelming experience” having only seen their art in poor reproductions back in Australia.
Growing up in an air force family Stewart lived a nomadic existence as a child. Throughout his adult life he has continued to travel and take photographs. No tourist, he has spent extended periods living and working in North America, Europe, Asia and South Africa. Now in his early 50’s he has been working fulltime as an artist since 2000.
In his multi-media works, using digital photography, print and collage, Stewart has adopted the format of that ubiquitous plastic use-by tag that is found in every supermarket attached to perishable goods. Stewart relates that the idea of bread tags, “as transitory technological icons of the late twentieth century” came about from seeing a work by Peter Atkins in an exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia in 2000 in which a collection of tags was displayed.
This familiar and commonplace object, readily recognised by us all, becomes a potent metaphor for a discourse that variously addresses technology, the landscape and humanity, manifest in all its cultural diversity. Writing in The Canberra Times on Stewart’s solo exhibition Transit last October, art critic Sasha Grishin remarked: “This is a very rich and rewarding exhibition, where cutting wit is combined with an engaging intellect.”
This has been an impressive beginning. Stewart brings to his art a specialist’s knowledge of computer technology, which he intends to continue to utilise in the formalisation of future art works. A wealth of experience of many cultures and his underlying humanist concerns in our rapidly changing technological and social environment make for a heady combination.
Sasha Grishin wrote in a catalogue essay in 2005:
When did the ubiquitous use-by date plastic tag, employed to fasten plastic bags with perishable produce and found in every supermarket, first appear? I don’t know, but it is a modern invention. Although it is examined closely by most of us on an almost daily basis, it is also taken for granted and it is often overlooked. Like the plastic bags themselves, the tag is accepted as a necessity, even if it adds to global pollution.
Tony Stewart is a self-taught artist who over a number of years has developed a fascination with this plastic tag, both as a symbol for globalisation and as a metaphor for a window into art and into different cultures. His initial attraction to its shape, the strange Greek π with a key hole in the middle, led to experiments with seriality. Tags were arranged like postage stamps in an album, where the slightest variation could lead to abrupt changes in the created patterns.
Subsequently he started to digitally scan in the tag shape with its encoded emblems of date and serial number and then through Adobe Photoshop he manipulated its content and the surrounding colour fields. The tag, which was previously a minor still life object, now became a potent presence, a loaded image which operated on many different levels. John Gage’s writings on colour and culture was one point of departure, Stewart’s own travels was another, as well as I suspect his training in biological sciences in which he received a PhD in 1979.
David Chalker wrote in a catalogue essay in 2011 (following on from comments in 2007):
I met Tony Stewart when I became Director of PhotoAccess. Sasha Grishin’s description of the Transit exhibition could also have been a description of Stewart himself, who is a long time PhotoAccess board member, generous supporter and regular contributor to group exhibitions. Tag, in September 2005, was first his solo exhibition in the HUW DAVIES GALLERY.
Moral Ambiguities, Stewart’s second solo exhibition at PhotoAccess, includes work produced over the past three years. Again it is a quite complex show, conceptually and technically, drawing heavily on Tony Stewart’s humanist values and concern for the future of the planet…
In 2017, I began a project under the title Deconstructed Art which were annotated deconstructions of previous artworks shown in my Moral Ambiguities Exhibition in 2011. I completed one work September 2017 and printed a cartoon 48 cm x 35 cm in print size art paper, which hangs on my ideas wall. The final work has a print size of 152 x 112 cm, but as is often the case with digital works may not be printed for years.
This work is too complex to describe in detail here. I envisage another blog article.
2018 & 2019
I began teaching myself linocutting from the Internet and some preliminary experimentation at home. In 2018, Denise spent part of the winter house-sitting at a friend’s at Mon Repos near Bundaberg. Here, I cut my first two satisfactory linocuts. It was coincidental but apposite that John, whose house we stayed, in collected black and white linocuts by well-know Australian artists, including Eric Thake.
Back home, I cut another two linocuts, which combined made my third complete linocut artwork. I learned to print the linocuts I’d made at Megalo Print Studio with some difficulty. The three artworks were first printed onto fine art paper in November 2018. These activities are described in my article Linocut 101 for artists, which continues to be popular. The three images are shown above numbered 1 to 3.
I also conducted some digital manipulation of these linocuts and some other digital experimentation late in 2019. In 2020, as Australia entered its first Covid-19 lockdown I made and exhibited some new works under the influence of Jenny Manning’s Thursday group.
Current Art Making
Following digital scanning colouring and other techniques, I explored a series of images, but only made the following as new artworks.
1 Untitled, March 2019, digital print, 24 x 24 cm print size, on fine art paper, 38 x38 cm. This is an addition of a linocut breadtag over the print for the 33 x 33 cm artist’s exchange portfolio image from 2005. See Artist’s Exchange Portfolios 2003 and 2005.
2 Untitled, March 2019, digital print, 30 x 30 cm print size on fine art paper, 38 x 38 cm, digitally coloured and modified from a black and white linocut. I was very pleased with the result, particularly the marble floor pattern.
Jenny Manning during the Thursday art group alerted us to the Face unframed Exhibition decided that we should do some portraits and that the group should enter some works.
1 FACE Unframed Exhibition at Belco Arts, Canberra, an open exhibition of A3 works on paper on the concept of the face, 3 April to 16 August 2020 (90 works).
Teabag Face — Who Nose? March, 2020, A3 Mixed Media on Paper, #77
Pandemic Print Exchange
2 Pandemic Print Exchange 2020 organised by Elaine Camlin of Wagga. Elaine is a recognised print artist. The PPE 2020 is an artist’s print exchange portfolio featuring two separate groups of 20 artists with small works recognising pandemic lock down conditions of 15 x 10 cm. I haven’t yet received my portfolio of 20 prints but I am looking forward to it! There will also be one or two exhibitions of the works in due course.
Untitled, May 2020, Linocut, drawing, digital, 15 x 10 cm
3 The Salon Exhibition at M16 Art Space, Canberra, an online selected exhibition of 50 works for sale, from 28 May
Hovering Christ, 2009 (and 2020), Mixed Media; Digital Print on BFK Rives (and Arches Velin Museum Rag), 44 x 32 cm (152 x 112 cm), Edition of 25 (and 10).
4 On Show Exhibition, Canberra Art Workshop, M16 Art Space Gallery, Canberra 13 August to 30 August, 67 artworks by members. An exhibition profiling the changing world of environment, our built world and our physical and mental health.
Untitled, May 2020, Linocut, drawing, digital, 15 x 10 cm (see Pandemic Print Exchange above).
Created for an artist’s Pandemic Print Exchange 2020 (20 artists) coordinated by Elaine Camlin of Wagga. The work is created using three techniques and is a mix of tongue-in-cheek and serious social comment. I have used the idea of a generic protest poster in previous work.
Future or Void? July 2020 Acrylic on canvas, 46 x 46 cm.
A coastal view inspired by a linocut. Use By culture looms.
Key Words: Tony Stewart, art, linocut, acrylic, digital art, digital manipulation, works on paper, fine art paper, portrait with tea bag labels, hovering christ, mixing the Renaissance with modern life, pandemic art, Covid art, artist’s exchange portfolio, deconstructed art
Nearly all my works above are for sale. Please contact me if you want to purchase something!
General Art Making
I’m surprised that I have done so much in the past in the past two years and particularly during the pandemic. I’m finding my current circumstances are stimulating for art making and hoping I continue.
The National Portrait Gallery gives an idea of Eric Thake’s linocuts with seven portraits.
Defining Your Art Practice
It is important you know to some extent why you do what you do and why it is important to you. And, I think that it is important that you can convey this to others — again to some extent.
I’m not sure whether it’s Kyle or Chrissy from Canada, but I suspect Chrissy. However, I think the description below is a very formidable statement of art practice.
I also didn’t think that my Polavaram Dam protest posters were part of my art practice, but now I think that they and other initially unrelated things are as intrinsic to my art practice as are the obvious art making.
Defining your art practice by SparkBox Studio:
That’s when a shift happened. I started seeing Spark Box as part of my practice – a practice that wasn’t just about painting in a studio but about building a community of artists and working with them to connect to my larger community. Once I recognized this and realized my art practice was maturing and growing, I was able to see collaborations with residents and fellow artists as part of my practice too.
Now I build community-based blanket forts and wild art-mazes with the Crazy Dames, cardboard villages with Small Pond Arts, and annual exhibitions with Blizzmax Gallery.
I still paint.
I still print.
But I no longer define my art through one lens. What drives my practice now is an openness to possibilities, and a willingness to take on new challenges and engage creatively as often and in as many ways as I can.
General Artist Statements
Here are also 8 artist’s general statements from the Art League which are plain and definitive. They tell you exactly what each artist is on about and how they frame their work.
You may note that I haven’t as yet made such a definitive general statement about my art or my art practice. Perhaps, I haven’t quite got there! Certainly, I’ve provided some indications.
The breadtag is important and I haven’t been able to get away from it no matter how hard I’ve tried. The breadtag is a symbol of technology in the late twentieth century and still beyond. A major part of my lifetime. It is an ephemera but in this time of unbelievably accelerating technological change it lingers on. (Perhaps like culture, but that is anew thought.) I am an artist of my time. There is a terrible consistency in what I do.
The Breadtag Project
Since I began using breadtags in my artwork, people have told me of many other artists who have done the same. I came across the Breadtag Project by accident on facebook. I find it inspiring and hope others do to. There is a nice 2019 article by Emma Do in Frankie Magazine about artist and illustrator Shani Nottingham and the Breadtag Project. Coincidentally Shani is based in Cowra, where half of my partner Denise’s family resides. Perhaps one time we might meet up and I’ll provide a fuller description.
Posted in Canberra