Looking at Art - October

<strong>Franck Gohier</strong><br/>Born 1968, St Nazaire, Brittany, France; Arrived Darwin, Northern Territory, 1975 <br/><br/><i>Missing in Action</i> 2003, edn 4/18<br/>Linocut with hand-coloured ink wash 47 x 66cm [image]<br/>Charles Darwin University Art Collection – CDU1238<br/>Gifted by the artist, February 2005<br/>Image © and courtesy the artist

Franck Gohier

Franck Gohier is a Darwin-based artist of acknowledged accomplishment, whose extensive repertoire as a painter, sculptor and printmaker reflects a genuine response to lived experiences and knowledge of Northern Australia – its people and natural environment, significant political and cultural events, and social history. His art shuns contrived sociological ‘field work’ or imported post-modernist theory in favour of a regionally-inspired visual aesthetic beyond national or provincial claims. Like many artists who have engaged with the north Australian tropics, he is an admirer of Ian Fairweather (1891-1974), whose professional training in the traditions of Western art were fundamentally and profoundly transformed by his experiences of other cultures and places during his extended travels and residencies in Southeast Asia and Northern Australia, including Darwin.  

Gohier graduated with a BA (Fine Arts, Major in Printmaking) from the Northern Territory University in 1991, where he also worked as an Art School technician, lecturer and editioning printer between 1992 and 1996. During this time, Gohier collaborated with Leon Stainer and George Watts in a series of ground-breaking printmaking workshops with Indigenous artists from remote communities throughout the Top End and Desert regions of Northern Australia. The important links forged by this team of printers, between the University and several Indigenous art centres (Ernabella – SA, Tiwi Islands – NT, Gunbalanya – NT and the East Kimberley – WA), led to the founding of the NT University Print Workshop, restructured and renamed Northern Editions Printmaking Workshop (later Studio) in 1997.

In 1996, Gohier was appointed the inaugural art co-ordinator of the ‘Inside Art Out’ pilot project, under the auspices of Correctional Services NT at Berrimah Prison, Darwin – the first concerted and long-term arts program for Indigenous prisoners. Together with Steve Fox, then Director of 24HRArt (the NT Centre for Contemporary Art), Gohier arranged for senior Indigenous men from the Top End to provide tuition in traditional and contemporary painting skills to 47 inmates, culminating in several successful exhibitions ‘on the outside’. By 1998, the venture became an official prison program, later extended to Alice Springs. The program continues to the present day with an annual ‘Inside Art Out’ exhibition held at the heritage-listed Fannie Bay Gaol precinct, Darwin.

In 1997 Gohier co-founded Red Hand Print Studio in Darwin with Shaun Poustie (ex-Red Planet, Melbourne): an ideologically radical and independently spirited venture, continuing his involvement in the tuition of printmaking skills to Indigenous communities in the NT and WA, and the editioning of prints by Indigenous artists. Until 2002, Red Hand also operated as an open-access space for local artists and community organisations, publishing many of the iconic political and social poster prints of the era. Red Hand pioneered the creation and use of non-toxic, water-based and mould-resistant inks, known as the ‘Hemi-Opaques system’, invented by Gohier and Poustie for tropical conditions.

Missing in Action (2003) features a recurring subject in Gohier’s oeuvre and reflects his interest in historic and archival imagery, including graphic images recording events leading up to and during the bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942. Although a considerable body of work was produced in the 1940s by artists and photographers (including Tony Tuckson and Max Dupain) whilst stationed in the Far North, it is not widely known. Gohier’s fighter pilot, perspiring in the tropical heat in his heavy flying gear, ill-equipped and unprepared for the conditions of northern warfare, is a romanticised cartoon-like figure of heroic despair, bewildered by the environment. Framed by tropical beach palms, he could well be mistaken for an American aviator in the Pacific – but for the Tiwi pukumani poles, which indisputably signal his location in the Top End of the NT.

An earlier ‘comic book caricature’ interpretation of Missing in Action was produced by Gohier at the NTU Print Workshop as a multi-plate etching in 1996 – the first of its kind created there. It was also the first work by Gohier acquired for the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT’s Visual Art Collection. A stencilled and hand-painted version of the same subject, in acrylic on hand-rivetted aluminium, won the Brian Lambert Memorial Award in the Katherine Art Prize (acquisitive) in 2003.  It was last seen displayed in the mess hall at the Katherine RAAF Base.

Gohier’s work is held in numerous public and institutional collections in Australia and abroad, including the National Gallery of Australia, Artbank NSW, University of Wollongong Art Collection, Casula Powerhouse Museum (Sydney), Labor Council of NSW Print Collection, Griffith Art Works QCA Collection (Brisbane), Museum and Art Gallery of the NT, Charles Darwin University Art Collection, Supreme Court of the NT Art Collection, NT Parliament House Collection, Katherine Town Council Art Collection and The Centre for the Study of Political Posters, Los Angeles,  as well as private collections in Australia and abroad.  Since 2004, Gohier has gifted more than 100 art works to the CDU Art Collection. Along with the Territory’s other pioneering political print and poster artists Chips Mackinolty and Therese Ritchie, he is the most significant individual donor of art work to the University to date.

This month in Darwin, the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT will hold a major retrospective exhibition of Red Hand Print Studio’s print poster works – 69 of which are also held in the CDU Art Collection and were gifted by Gohier in 2004. Entitled Activate-Cultivate, the exhibition opens 7 October 2011 and runs until 19 February 2012.

Anita Angel, Curator CDU Art Collection & Art Gallery
29 September 2011

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