In the gallery space, artist books are often overlooked, presented in a way with no context or indication of how the public should interact with them. Artful Narratives is a collection of artist books created by Auckland based artist Toni Hartill between 2016 and 2021 that demonstrate the conceptual complexity and exquisite materiality that Hartill has achieved in this medium. This is her first solo show, pulling together several series that form a larger body of work telling a story of the importance of taking notice of and protecting our natural environment. Until now, many of the pieces have either been hidden away or travelling in group shows, so this is the first time they can be seen alongside one another.
The idea for the exhibition was inspired by Out of the Cupboard, a group show of artist books at the Angela Morton Room in 2020, which Hartill co-curated with Toni Mosley to shine a light on this exciting area of printmaking. Hartill started exploring artist books in 2016 after attending workshop with Australian master printer Dianne Fogwell. The transition from creating two-dimensional to three-dimensional work came naturally to Hartill whose background involved a degree in art and design that included furniture design and model making. She enjoys working with her hands and is always experimenting with new things; leatherwork, knitting, crochet. Problem solving has always been part of her creative process. As a child she remembers designing and building a dolls house from scratch, including creating all the furniture and fittings for it.
When developing an idea, Hartill moves intuitively between different media, usually starting with the concept and what she wants to say. First, she explores ideas through drawing which then informs the chosen printmaking technique. Once she starts the print process she works spontaneously, allowing ideas to build on unexpected results, sparking new ideas and following new tangents as they arise. Unlike traditional printmaking which embraces the multiplicity of print to produce editions, Hartill sees the multiple as a means of creating that allows her to be more experimental and playful. Unlike a painting, a printed surface can be cut, layered, and folded, adding to the narrative of the work. One example of this is her book Remanent, which came about when she was deinstalling a series of flat, square format prints, which she piled up into a stack. She was enthralled by the way they looked together, prompting her to recreate a similar stack, embellishing pages with fabric, stitching, and cut-out windows to entice the viewers to rummage through and spark their imagination.
Hartill has always been drawn to the rich mark-making potential of printmaking. She had her first opportunity to fully explore this during her first teaching job where she had to teach three-colour reduction woodblock print to a class of over thirty Year 11 high school students. Having to be one step ahead to be able to explain this complex brain teaser of creating an image backwards and in reverse while progressively destroying the plate as you go was an exciting challenge that kept her on her toes. There was another teacher in the department who was also keen on learning printmaking so they would experiment on the press between classes and after school, creating a resource folder about what was possible and what to avoid.
When she left teaching to focus on her arts practice, her first goal was to create community by meeting other printmakers. She enrolled in a beginners’ printmaking course at Corban Estate Arts Centre and from that was invited to join the local Waitakere Printers Ink group where she had the opportunity to exhibit in group shows. She then started attending events run by the Print Council Aotearoa NZ (PCANZ), which she joined and subsequently became their Auckland Regional Rep. This role provided an invaluable experience not only for developing her knowledge of printmaking but for meeting inspiring, likeminded printmakers who have become close friends she can share ideas with. She discovered the importance of community to her creative practice.
Having stepped down as regional rep earlier this year, Hartill now has more time to focus on her arts practice. The 2021 lockdown resulted in Artful Narratives being postponed after months of planning. During this time, she lacked inspiration to create, felt empty and contemplated packing it all in. Now that her show is finally up, it has cleared space in her head to think about new directions, colour palettes, and pursue opportunities that have presented themselves including another solo show, live interviews, an artist residency, and a few collaborative projects.
Artful Narratives will be on show until 2 June at Angela Morton Room, Level 1 Takapuna Library. You’ll have the chance to hear he talk in more depth about each narrative on Thursday 7 April & Friday 22 April at 11am.
Angela Morton Room, Te Pataka Toi, Takapuna Library @angelamorton.room
Out of the Cupboard NZ @outofthecupboardnz
Dianne Fogwell @dianne_fogwell https://www.diannefogwell.com.au
Waitakere Printers Ink @waitakereprintersink
Corban Estate Arts Centre @corban
Print Council of Aotearoa/NZ @printcouncilnz