Making marks on paper in the tropics

Sonja Anderson

22 June 2016

It’s an inescapable drive, the one that compels artists to make marks on paper. And apparently Cairns printmakers feel and succumb to that urge, readily, passionately and often. They invite the world to be involved too, through their biennial celebration—InkFest.

For the founding members of InkMasters Cairns Inc, the creative instinct was strong and urgent back in 2009, when Margaret Genever, Laurel McKenzie and Sasi Victoire decided that it was time tropical northern artists made their presence known. The trio joined under the moniker, Troppo Prints, initiating a portfolio of 24 works entitled Impress: body to body, to present at the Impact 7 International Printmaking Conference in 2011, at Monash University, along with a paper delivered by Victoire.

Paul Bong and Genever receiving prize

Paul Bong and Genever receiving prize

Genever, currently the group’s president, as well as talented artist and compelling advocate, says the initiative’s purpose was to showcase the depth of talent of the region’s printmaking artists.

“Printmaking groups typically form due to the need to share space and expensive equipment, and so art becomes a collegial activity, with printmakers sharing technical expertise and creating joint projects”, Genever says.

“Printmaking is often seen as the poor cousin to painting, its techniques not well understood, and consequently those who specialise in it have to work hard to promote their works to curators, collector and the viewing public.

“Our Cairns-based group entered into Impact 7 to achieve recognition and to generate opportunity”, she says.

According to Genever, despite its remoteness, the region had already attained a reputation through two local printmaking hubs, Editions Tremblay and Djumbunji Press. She says the InkMasters’ intention included fostering innovative projects, jointly involving indigenous and non-indigenous artists, thus expressing the culture of tropical North Queensland.

Arone Meeks, Navigation by the Stars

Arone Meeks, Navigation by the Stars

A member of the InkMasters Cairns group since its institution, and renowned Aboriginal artist Arone Meeks, says he is passionate about being involved with the workshops organised by the group.

“I consider myself a mid-career professional artist, a painter, and it is important to up-skill constantly as there is never just one way to look the work,” Meeks says.

“Adding the perspective of printmaker to my approach to painting, gives me new ideas.”

Meeks was born and raised in Tully, a small town just south of Cairns, and declares the combination of lush tropical environment, the convergence of reef and rainforest, the cycle of wet and dry seasons and the regional co-habitation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities makes for a rich backdrop that undeniably affects art produced.

“I identify as an Aboriginal saltwater man, carrying the story of my heritage no matter where I go, yet here is where my artistry began; place has an organic and undeniable effect,” he says.

Meeks teaches art in Cape York Indigenous communities, sharing his considerable skills with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have a range of capability, from beginner to the accomplished.

“Any skills I have gained, I share with my students so they may gain tools to express the culture of the country they live on.”

Elizabeth Hunter is an InkMaster printmaker—a Cairns resident who migrated to the languid north from Sydney six years ago. She concurs with Meeks in that her creative inspiration is drawn from place, the rich diverse natural world of humid forests and coral cays.

“The reef and rain forest, flora, birds and animals of the far north are the elements I have woven into the fabric of my main artistic theme of death; the circle of life and decay; the importance of spirituality, and the rituals creating the bridge from this life to the next,” Hunter says.

She declares her forte and passion as the technique of etching and her continuing membership with the InkMasters group as most important.

“An artist is a sponge, taking in their surroundings, reacting to the stimulus of those around them,” she says

“One new technique shared with a group creates multiple outcomes, not just the one that an isolated practitioner might find; in a group benefits come from many experimenting on the same technique or idea.”

InkMasters members practice printmaking techniques that range from ancient to brand new: intaglio, mezzotint, linocut, etching, silk-screen, and these days those that are generated digitally and computerized. Given that the InkMasters Cairns Inc vision is to ensure the practice of myriad methods continues and expands, the group holds a biennial festival, the InkMasters Cairns InkFest.

InkFest 2016 presents an exuberant celebration of printmakers and their art, 26 March -21 August. The third InkFest, this year’s event offers a multifaceted opportunity for artists and the public to be involved; seven workshops teaching printmaking methods, the InkMasters Print Exhibition that includes more than 75 national and international entries, and the quirky, community-based event, The BIG PRINT.

Kei Kalak (Glen Mackie), The coming of Sigai, 2016, hand coloured linocut, 100x200 cm

Kei Kalak (Glen Mackie), The coming of Sigai, 2016, hand coloured linocut, 100×200 cm

Accomplished printmaker-led workshops began in April and will continue through to mid-July with the final session hosted by renowned Indigenous printmaker Glen Mackie (Kei Kalak) at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, as part of the CIAF 2016 public workshop program. Techniques taught include Japanese woodblock, intaglio, mezzotint, silk-screening and lino cut. The second-to-last workshop in July sees master printmaker Theo Tremblay open the doors of his professional studio, Editions Tremblay, to the public, in an evening of printmaking demonstrations.

The InkMaster Print Exhibition 2016, advertised nationally and internationally, has attracted more than 75 nominated works from Argentina, Bulgaria, Canada, Guam, Ireland, India, Italy, USA and five Australian states. Curating and judging for the final exhibition by a panel of accomplished judges, will see prize money totaling $7000 awarded 29 July at the official opening, hosted by renowned printmaker GW Bot.

When talking about the standout InkFest event, The BIG PRINT, founding InkMaster member, Laurel McKenzie can’t help smiling.

“It’s a project that depends on community collaboration and is unusual and fun, with school children who have been working on creating large lino cut blocks with Theo Tremblay and Hannah Parker in school-based art classes bringing their resultant works to a Saturday morning printmaking session at the Tanks Arts Centre.”

“Along with contributions from some of our members, we lay all the print blocks end to end on the level cement floor of the Tank 5, and this year plan to use a road roller as a huge press to create one of the longest print runs ever to be created in the tropical north,” McKenzie says.

Two years ago The BIG PRINT process was facilitated by a team of Rugby Union footballers pushing their scrum machine over the line of prints to create the spectacular resulting artwork.

The inescapable urge to make marks and create prints is thriving in Cairns and the results will be on display until the end of August.

For more information on InkMasters Cairns Inc. and InkFest 2016 visit:


10947190_10206101327075642_3154017522968479638_nSonja Anderson is a journalist and communication specialist with strong backgrounds in science and the arts, based in Cairns. She is dedicated to storytelling that reveals the incomparable cultures and environments of far north Queensland to audiences across the globe. Sonja uses a mix of off and online mediums to give voice to the many peoples of the north and to express the wonders of the diverse landscapes in which they live.

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