With open access community print shops being few and far between in Aotearoa I was curious to learn more about Te Kowhai Print Trust (TKPT) Studio in Whangarei which appears to be a thriving print hub with regular workshops, annual residencies, community programs, print events and a steadily growing membership. Offering such a wide range of activities keeps manager Hamish Oakley-Browne on his toes, having to balance his time between grant writing, tutoring and his own art practice and free-lance arts facilitation. Last month I had the pleasure of chatting with him about the challenges of running a print studio and his vision for the future of TKPT.
Originally from Auckland, Oakley-Browne completed a Bachelor of Applied Arts at North Tech in Whangarei in 2014. Inspired by renegade print studios in the US, such as Cannonball Press and Evil Prints, which have a very democratic, collaborative and hands-on approach to printmaking, Oakley-Browne quickly gravitated towards print media to explore a rich creative style in the manner of mythopoetics – the making of new myths. Favouring woodcut to depict real and imaginary creatures in a pop surrealist style, his work has a strong graphic quality referencing comic book culture.
Left: Poster for the inaugural Printapalooza event in 2015, Right: Hamish Oakley-Browne holding a print from Printapalooza 2020.
While volunteering at TKPT, Oakley-Browne and fellow print artist Martinus Sarangapany came up with the idea to hold a steamroller printing event, similar to those in the US, reasoning – if they can do it – why can’t we? And so, in 2015 Printapalooza was born. With the support of TKPT and tutors at North Tec, the team printed an impressive 17 wood blocks, each one over 2 metres high, one for the artist and the other for the trust to fundraise for the following year. Now an annual event, Printapalooza is very modestly promoted as the biggest print event in Northland, although on second glance it appears to be the biggest in the whole country. For Oakley-Browne the event is not only a successful fundraiser but a great way for the print community to come together on a collaborative project and promote printmaking to wider audiences. He attributes such events as being one of the key factors for the recent influx of members, and for the upcoming Whangarei Fringe Festival in October TKTP has planned another collaborative event where participants can co-create a comic book printed in various media.
The increase in membership is also partly due to regular introductory courses where a range of different printmaking techniques can be explored. The studio is well-equipped with several presses for lithography, wood block, etching, letterpress as well as a screen-printing. In fact, they seem to be running out of space as more presses get donated on a regular basis. Maintaining, upgrading and finding a space for all the equipment is an ongoing concern for Oakley-Browne, who hopes to reoccupy the adjacent building to allow for a much-needed specialised screen-printing studio. More space would also enable increased access for community, such as visits by school groups and mentoring for at-risk youth. In the future he would also like to see their collection of antique presses transformed into a print museum which would also house their large print archive going back to the early 1980s when the studio was first established. Although TKTP is in the process of digitising their archive, they would like to share it globally on an open access digital platform.
Left: Hamish Oakley-Browne in front of TKPT Studio with his woodblock. Right: Community outreach screen-printing workshop.
What would seem like a daunting task for most, Oakley-Browne is taking the management of TKPT in his stride. His optimism is fuelled in part by seeing the positive impact it is having on the community especially in such critical times where people are struggling to connect. Having a supportive printmaking community and a large, well-established creative sector in Northland is also encouraging for Oakley-Browne. He is grateful for the many opportunities there are to exhibit and promote his work locally.
With an eye on the future, Oakley-Browne would also like to see TKPT embrace some of the technological innovations in contemporary printmaking like digital prints, lazer-cutting and 3D printing. In saying that, he also thinks it’s important to keep traditional printmaking techniques alive and ensures there is always sufficient training and upskilling in more complex processes such as lithography. When asked what his dream print residency would be, among others he mentioned the Kariuzawa Mokuhanga residency in Japan as there are few Mokuhanga practitioners in NZ and this technique closely aligns with TKPT’s eco-friendly values, already using locally manufactured non-toxic screenprint ink donated by Live to Print.
Despite the social and economic pressures of the present time, print studios such as TKPT will need to continue to take risks and innovate in order to stay relevant to local communities in a rapidly changing world.
Te Kowhai Print Trust Studio
North Tec Polytech
Whangarei fringe festival
Karuizawa Mokuhanga Residency
Live to Print