Collaboration etched in the desert

Nicolas Rothwell; 25/3/10

How to track the rhythmic dotting of a desert artist, hand poised close above the canvas? How to convey the smooth, floating line of an East Kimberley master or the fine, cross-hatched brushstrokes of a bark painter from north Arnhem Land? Such questions, intriguing points of theory for art curators and collectors, loom with fierce immediacy in the work of Darwin printmaker Basil Hall, one of the more unsung alchemists involved in Aboriginal art’s unfolding renaissance. Hall, now in his early 50s, came north 1 1/2 decades ago after years of teaching and working in Canberra, where he learned his craft at the hands of German master printmaker Joerg Schmeisser. At first he was based at the Northern Territory University campus and helped set up the Northern Editions print studio before striking out on his own.Soon he realised traditional indigenous artists do their best work on their own ground and he and his printmaking collaborators began travelling out to the remote bush. They set a punishing pace: Turkey Creek, Yirrkala, Elcho Island, the desert communities, east and west. By now, Hall has conducted more than 100 print workshops in the bush, and he still averages 10 or 12 a year.