“Whatever I create is a musing on persona, contemplation about individuality and the notion of modification.”
For three decades, artist Rona Green has continued to explore and reimagine her observations of identity, personality, and transformation in the creation of playful human-animal mutations, which she brings to life in portraits made using a range of printmaking techniques and processes; namely monotype, linocut, lithography, digital printing, etching, and screen printing, as well as drawing, painting, and soft sculpture poppets.
By pairing the human form with domestic and Australian native animals adorned with motifs and symbols inspired by tattoos, costume, Egyptian art, cartoons, and comics, Green has created an anthropomorphic cast of characters that are both unique and relatable individuals. Some invite curiosity, while the gaze or stance of others project familiar traits of people we know or, more
strangely, tug on our own sense of self-reflection.
Art Almanac spoke with Green ahead of the opening of her survey exhibition RONA GREEN: 30 Years of Printmaking, which is on view at Whitehorse Artspace in Melbourne until 30 April. Here’s what she had to say.
Tell us about the ‘figure’ in your artmaking and how it has continued to captivate and inspire your imagination over three decades of practice?
The figure is continually fascinating and a constant challenge to work with. As a subject the animal kingdom is inexhaustible. Early on, my figures were various individual species that became hybridised over time. A formative experience was encountering Egyptian art, specifically representations of theriocephaly – not to mention a childhood love of cartoons and comics centred on anthropomorphic characters having a major impact on my own way of image making. A cornerstone of my practice is conjuring up absurd persons that amuse me, and all going well will engage the viewer and prompt an unspoken dialogue.
What’s involved in bringing your hybrid animals to full blown character?
Initial ideas are pretty much always ignited from observation or reflection on actualities, then imagination plays its part, and a kind of fusion of the real and the fanciful transpires. Many of the subjects in my pictures are persons known to me, others are amalgams of the real and imagined, and some are purely dreamt up. Whatever I create is a musing on persona, contemplation about individuality and the notion of modification. I’m interested in how identity is expressed via the body; physical appearance and the ways it can be altered; the skin and its potential to be the stem point for transformation.
What can you share with us about the processes and techniques you use in your printmaking practice, and what is it about this mode of making that works so well for you?
Printmaking is bewitching. It offers so much as a medium, with an abundance of techniques available to the artist. For the past fifteen years, my area of specialty has been making hand-coloured linocuts. Linocut attracts me due to its unassuming reputation. The process is deceptively simple but to master the technique is another matter. Being a reductive process, linocut is conducive to my inclination of paring things back to what is essential. Linoleum does not take kindly to overworking – there is only so much that can be cut from a block – and the material itself tells you when enough is enough. Once I’ve cut and printed a lino block after drying, I hand-colour the prints with pigmented ink and watercolour.
Where is your studio, what is it like, and how has it helped shape the direction and production of your work?
In 2016 we moved to the Dandenong Ranges, and I have a home studio tailored to suit my practice. The best thing is that my printing press has its own special room! The atmosphere is variable. It can be cluttered or tidy, relaxing, or chaotic depending on what’s happening. It’s very tranquil here, surrounded by a verdant garden, and the visits from local wildlife are delightful. The environment has influenced brightening my colour palette, and the native fauna as well as the ferals that visit, have appeared in my work. It is always somewhere I enjoy being. Plus, I get to hang out with Oomi the Greyhound all day; he is a quality companion.
If you were to make a self-portrait, what animal would you be?
An animal I find enchanting is the Aye-aye, which is a type of lemur. They are solitary, nocturnal, and have enviable specialised digits. Also, Aye-ayes are black, a favourite colour.
Rona Green is represented by Australian Galleries, Melbourne and Sydney, Beaver Galleries, Australian Capital Territory, Penny Contemporary, Tasmania, and Solander Gallery, New Zealand.
Kirsty Francis is a Sydney-based arts writer.