The history of artistic collaboration is long and illustrious and the current partnership between the Australian printmakers Ian Westacott and Raymond Arnold proves that the tradition continues to thrive. Both artists trained in Melbourne in the 1970s and have remained friends and collaborators since.
The pair employ the medium of etching, and whereas Westacott’s work includes meticulous studies of buildings, trees and townscapes, Arnold has over the past few years focused on ornamental French armoury in a series of work he has labelled Armours à l’épreuve. Both are consummate artists, in thrall to their methods and materials and confessing to a deep fascination with the often complex technical processes involved in producing detailed etchings.
Westacott is currently based in Dornoch, where he runs an open print studio, Studio 19 Cataibh, with his wife, artist Sue Jane Taylor. For a number of years Arnold has visited Westacott at his home. Objects, buildings and landscape in the Highland locale, in addition to places as far flung as Paris and Tasmania, form the subject matter of the Australians’ intense and continuing collaborative efforts.
Largely through a process of trial and error, Westcott and Arnold have established a modus operandi which suits their respective characters and artistic goals. These ground rules—which include agreeing on a defined subject and viewing it from a particular distance and perspective—allows both artists to focus on making work which results in a unique outcome.
In ‘Ardross Novar Estate Guardians’, 1998, the artists’ attention has alighted on two ornamental stone mastiffs atop the entrance pillars to a large estate. Westacott’s view is taken from the front while Arnold’s is from the rear; the resulting plates have been printed by overlaying the two images. The end product is visually intriguing, and takes time to decode. The skill and attention to craft is palpable, but so is the ability to co-ordinate efforts so that each distinct image is almost identical in scale and drawing style. It is as if the two artists have merged their separate identities to make a new creative force.
The technique has been employed again in the similarly intricate ‘Victorian Fountain, Dornoch’, 1997, the only difference being that the perspectival stance employed by both is the same. The result is a work which is not only beautifully conceived and visually enchanting but which appears to have been made by one artist, not two. The combining of images has created a subtle ‘ghost’ effect, such is the accuracy of the artists’ scale and etching technique.
Double Vision is a beautifully presented show full of arresting images, not least ‘Mt Field Snow Gums’, 2003, the only collaborative work completed ‘remotely’ via photographs. The exhibition tours to Victoria in Australia, where it will surely find an equally appreciative audience.
Giles Sutherland is an arts writer