Weathered trees, scattered across stark, wintery landscapes, are a central motif in Kyla Cresswell’s work. Standing alone or huddled together they act as totems residing over the peaceful silence evoked in each piece. The appearance of these forms can be traced back to the time Cresswell spent travelling regularly between her hometown, Invercargill, and Dunedin where she attended art school. During her journey certain land formations and trees provided familiar markers along the way, taking on an anthropomorphic quality, becoming part of a ritual of recognition and acknowledgement. Often drawn from memory or a feeling of a place she wants to create, her landscapes also reference time spent living in Japan, Canada and the UK.
Cresswell’s interest in printmaking was sparked at high school where she was fortunate to have an art teacher with a great enthusiasm for printmaking, giving her the opportunity and freedom to explore a range of traditional printmaking techniques, including etching with acid. Her and her classmates were given the keys to the studio so they could work on their portfolio outside of school hours and were encouraged to apply to the Otago School of Art in Dunedin, which she got accepted into along with two of her classmates. She recalls there being a large number of students passing through the print department at the time, with several tutors who were extremely passionate about print media, including Marilynn Webb. Upon graduating, Cresswell had access to a print studio in Dunedin established a few years earlier by Inge Doesburg and Jo Ogier, before buying her own press with the prize money awarded from an art competition which enabled her to start her own studio at home.
Cresswell muses at the irony of having such a huge press, when many of her prints are created from tiny plates and substrates, preferring the intimacy of smaller prints. Most notable of these are her mezzotints, with the plates fitting in the palm of your hand. When travelling, this proved a convenient way to keep working without regular access to a press. She would carry a collection of tiny pre-rocked plates with her that could be scraped, burnished and ready to print when she finally arrived at a studio. Her love of mezzotint is partly to do with the reflective quality of the copper and the inherent luminosity that can be achieved alongside rich velvety black tones on a single plate. She also enjoys the meditative process of mezzotint, requiring her to slow down and surrender to the time the process requires.
Exploring wood based techniques is also central to Cresswell’s practice which she credits to her experience learning mokuhanga while living in Japan. Six months before leaving, she met Takehiko Sato, a retired ships engineer and printmaker who generously offered to teach her during her weekends off. His teaching style was strikingly different to what she was used to. As the master, he would guide her by demonstrating as well as taking and carving her block throughout the process until it was finished, highlighting the fact that every block was a tool for learning, rather than exclusively belonging to the student. Although she doesn’t directly follow mokuhunga approaches in her work the influence is apparent in her application of softly graduated pigments, similar in effect to the water based inks used in mokuhunga. Recently she attended a mokulito workshop with the Print Council of New Zealand, a process that brings out the grain of the plywood, an effect which often features in her work. A few years ago she started experimenting with printing the end grains of different types of wood, requiring an elusive process of drying and scorching to stabilise the wood and open the grain, admittedly setting a few on fire in the process. Once the wood grain has stabilised, they are carved and printed using both intaglio and relief techniques.
After several years abroad, Cresswell returned to New Zealand and founded Solander Gallery inspired by the print studios she had worked in overseas which often combined a gallery and workshop in a single space. Representing approximately twenty emerging and establish artists from across New Zealand the gallery provided a survey of what was happening in contemporary printmaking at the time. Regular exhibitions, some featuring international artists she had met during her travels, provided an opportunity for artists to connect with each other and engage with a different facet of the print world. Having her studio attached to the gallery meant Cresswell had the opportunity to show visitors what an etching press was, and the time and steps involved in producing an etching, therefore deepening their understanding and appreciation for the art form. With the rise of printed reproductions marketed as limited edition fine art prints, members of the public who had not had any previous experience of handmade prints were often confused about the difference, and the gallery was a place where these misconceptions could be dispelled.
After four years running the gallery single handedly, she realized she needed to either expand or downsize to allow more time to focus on her arts practice and young family and was only too happy when fellow printmakers Paulette Robinson and Vincent Drane approached her with an offer to manage the gallery, which is currently located in central Wellington. Still wanting to share her love of printmaking with the wider community she sourced a tiny Kughler press to provide workshops and demos, something she has dabbled in over the years. She enjoys seeing people discovering a technique that really suits them and having a lot of fun at the same time and has noticed that many people have come out of lockdown wanting to learn new skills. Although people may be aware of what a print is, they may have never had the opportunity to learn. Looking ahead, she anticipates doing more workshops though Little Prints Printmaking in the new year.
little Prints Printmaking
Print Council of New Zealand