Looking at Art - November

<strong>Wayne Eager</strong><br/>Born 1957, Melbourne <br/>Resides Alice Springs, Northern Territory<br/><br/><i>Build Up</i> 2007 <br/>Lithograph with chine collé [Workshop Proof, edn of 25]<br/>50 x 36cm [image]; 66 x 50.2cm [paper]<br/>Collaborator: Sarah Dudley<br/>Printers: Sarah Dudley/Ulrich Küehle <br/>Gifted by the artist & Northern Editions, 2007 <br/>Charles Darwin University Art Collection – CDU1557 <br/>Image © the artist

Wayne Eager

Wayne Lawrence Eager majored in painting and Fine Arts at the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne between 1976 and 1979. During the early 1980s, he was a founding member of the Roar Studios, Fitzroy group of Neo-Expressionist painters whose work eclipsed the Melbourne art scene during that decade, gaining national acclaim in ensuing years.

Between 1992 and 1997, together with artist Marina Strocchi, Eager lived and worked at Haasts’ Bluff in Central Australia, managing the Ikuntji Art Centre. He was a Field Officer for Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd – the founders of the Western Desert acrylic painting movement – between 1996 and 2000.

Whilst Eager has excelled as an arts worker and assistant to some of the major Aboriginal Desert painters since the early 1990s, he has consistently maintained his own practice as an artist of independent standing. He is known for his gestural and whimsical abstract paintings, reminiscent of the CoBrA Group, and his painterly landscape works inspired by the topography of Central Australia. Except for a short hiatus in the mid-1990s, he has held a solo exhibition every year since 1989 at major Australian commercial galleries in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Canberra and Darwin, and at the Araluen Art Centre in Alice Springs in 2001.

Eager’s earliest trip to Northern Australia took place in 1990, and included an extended stay at Kapalga Research Station in Kakadu National Park. His first Top End works were created during this time. In 2006, he and his partner Marina Strocchi were artists-in-residence at Northern Editions Printmaking Studio, where they undertook intensive two-week training in etching and lithography, working with University printmakers Dian Darmansjah, Leon Stainer, Trent Walter and Sarah Dudley, assisted by Jacinta Numina-Waugh and Ulrich Küehle. It was their first concerted foray into printmaking. Twenty-five prints created by the artists and editioned by Northern Editions Printmaking Studio were co-gifted to the CDU Art Collection in 2007.

Build Up 2007 is a direct response to Eager’s experience of the tropics: the heat, humidity and midday torpor. “I let the heat go through my veins”, he explained and “come straight out of my finger tips, flowing straight through” onto the lithographic plate. It was his first major lithograph and his largest to date.

On the whole, Eager preferred the experience of lithography to etching: its “sensuous immediacy” and inky brush-work was “just like drawing”, bearing a close affinity to his calligraphic paintings. “You start with one little line somewhere”, he explained, “then you cross it out and keep going”. The artist’s choice of a deep brown colour for this work rather than black, thinned by washes, refers to the soft, steamy warmth of the earth and heavy rain clouds that blanketed the Top End during his visit to Darwin.

Working “on the flat” on a lithographic plate echoed Eager’s own practice of painting with gouache on paper, a medium in which he has excelled for his lightness of touch and milky washes, daubs and layers of pigment. In observing the ways in which water can make a support buckle and move, renders the paper a thing in itself. To his way of thinking, it is not just about painting a landscape, but making “a landscape out of paper”.

The complex process of lithography tested Eager’s ability to adapt to a new medium: the mechanised pressure of the press and the reversal of an image inked, washed or drawn on a plate could lead, inevitably, to unforeseen results. “The unexpected aspect to prints makes you want to do more – you can play and work with it. Working between etching and lithography was like jumping into one swimming pool and then another.”

The many hands and minds involved in producing a finished print – those of the artist, the printer-collaborator and the editioning printer – reminded Eager of playing in a band. In his words, “you’re only part of a total sound in the print workshop ... you’ve got to listen to the overall sound and fit into this to play music that means something”.

Wayne Eager is represented in major Australian public and private collections including: the National Gallery of Australia, the MCA Sydney, Artbank, Ballarat Regional Gallery, Shepparton Art Gallery, the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT, the Araluen Art Centre, the Myer Roar Collection, the Smorgon Collection, the Coventry Collection, as well as the Charles Darwin University Art Collection. His first painting acquired for the CDU Art Collection – a gouache on paper entitled Ulumbarru 1994 – was purchased by the University in 1994.

Build Up 2007, along with other examples of Eager’s graphic work, will be included in the CDU Art Collection’s forthcoming exhibition, In Print, opening 4 November 2010 at the CDU Art Gallery.

Anita Angel
Curator, Charles Darwin University Art Collection and Art Gallery
26 October 2010

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