Wednesday, 6 May 2020

"Necessity is the mother of invention"

Alison Pickmere, 1968

"Necessity is the mother of invention" is perhaps the catch-cry of many printmakers the world over, particularity here in NZ and one I adhere to in all areas of my life. I think it is part of my DNA.

My mum recently gave me this old newspaper cutting about the NZ artist, and cousin, Alison Pickmere. (Click on the image to enlarge it on your screen.)

Check out that home-made roller she is holding!

I grew up with some of Alison's artworks on the walls of my parents' house. She painted but was also well-known for her printmaking. Having a "real-life artist" in the family was always an inspiration to me but it was the enticing mystery of her prints that helped lure me into wanting to experiment with printmaking myself.

Alison Pickmere, 1966 Photo credit: JWatkins.

The article describes  how Alison was commissioned to create 150 (!) prints for the new Intercontinental Hotel in Auckland, due to open in March, 1968. Most of her works were "semi-abstract and inspired by the artist's love of the New Zealand bush, scenery and coastline."

The article goes on to describe how she went to Paris in 1963 where she studied viscosity printing with the printmaker S.W. Hayter at Atelier 17. Just imagine!

When she returned to NZ "Alison found that it was impossible to obtain the proper equipment and materials for this type of printmaking. In her case, the old saying "necessity is the mother of invention" proved true, and with the help of friends in the engineering, carpentry and printing trades* she gathered enough ideas and materials to make her own rollers, hot plate and etching equipment, all essential to perfect print-making."

* Alison worked as a secretary for an engineering firm for 10 years and she was married to Terry Bond, a publisher, who had studied typography and bookbinding. 

Alison's resourcefulness would certainly have been impressive in 1960s NZ, far from the bright lights of Europe, but it is also completely relatable today (particularly in light of the current global Covid-19 Pandemic. Many people are in "lock-down", away from their studios and/or without access to any art supplies.) Although printmaking equipment and supplies are normally available in NZ, quality or specialist items can still be elusive to track down and are most definitely expensive as compared to in other parts of the world (as I've discovered on my recent trips to Spain, Portugal and Australia. I travel with a wish-list and return with a heavy suitcase.)

Alison exhibited with other well-known NZ artists and some of her works can been found when searching through archives of the country's galleries such as the Auckland Art Gallery.

For an interesting bio about Alison Pickmere please visit:

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of NZ

For a fascinating webpage about Atelier 17 please visit:

One of Alison's works that is most cherished in our family is a page of sketches of my older brother. The story goes that my brother was given paints and a stack of paper to create his own artworks as a means to try to keep him still long enough for Alison to sketch him. Apparently he took his job seriously and frantically worked his way through the entire stash, as can be seen by the sheets of paper surrounding him on the floor. I don't imagine he was a very stationary model.

by Alison Pickmere, 1966

As mentioned, Alison's status as an artist in the family was an inspiration to me in my own artistic endeavours. That and the acquisition of Alison's old laundry mangle, an example of her search for alternative printmaking equipment. The mangle and her old pastel box with well-worn pastels was passed on to me years ago. This coveted mangle lived under our family's pool table for many years awaiting the day that I might finally get around to learning to print.

Initially in my printmaking journey I would lug the mangle upstairs to my kitchen table and was able to block-print small images using a "sandwich" fed through the mangle. It was not an easy task, ideally requiring more hands than I have, but it was effective. The poor old mangle is, and was, in a sorry state and is crying out for a make-over. Meanwhile, I have progressed on to using a more sophisticated mangle conversion and a larger etching press. This mangle no longer gets a look in with my printmaking but it is never-the-less treasured and stored safely away with vague aspirations of restoring it... one day perhaps. 

I wonder how Alison used it?

Vintage art supplies

Alison Pickmere's mangle

Thanks for visiting!