Gothic Friendship in KP & WM: The Makers Behind the Artists
The day I write this, it’s snowing. In Tony de Lautour’s Vessel (2008), the woman at the altar cries. ‘Il neige, on pleure.’ The black background is stark, final. The white forms, hovering in the darkness, are virginal snow mounds themselves. Outside, somewhere, a raven rests on the steeple.
KP & WM: The Makers Behind the Artists, at CoCA Gallery, traces the production and legacy of two printmakers, Peter Vangioni and Kate Unger, who run Kowhai Press and Watermark Printworkshop respectively. This is an exhibition which makes visible two people who have worked closely with a number of well-recognised Canterbury artists, and shows how their printing workshops have been sites of community, synergy, and continuity for Christchurch.
The exhibition is comprised of three elements: artists’ prints, ephemera, the printing press and more meticulous tools used in the printing process. On the room sheet, the titles and artists’ names of each work are listed. This simple gesture makes a point, in a show that chronicles the work of two individuals, neither of their names appears. This is the idea at the heart of KP & WM, a testimony to a persistent commitment to facilitating the work that others do. There is something subversive about the anonymity of Unger and Vangioni. In a field which usually prioritises singular artists, it is beautiful to see a celebration of community instead.
The synergy between printmaker and artist has resulted in a printing oeuvre that is coherent but not homogenous. The dictates of the artist do not obscure the labour of preparing the plate or operating the press. A series of works on the gallery wall show de Lautour’s Vessel from beginning to end, a trajectory from cancelled plate, to the proof iterations, and then the final framed etching. The intervals from one image to the next are pregnant with suspended conversations and experimentation. Watermark Printworkshop’s initial shiny plate is an art object in itself. This hanging in particular, strikes me as articulating printmaking as a medium that slips between the industrial and the social. No artist creates in isolation, and in fact, the most productive moments emerge out of collaboration and friendship.
In Christchurch, the built environment has been irrevocably altered since Unger and Vangioni began their workshops. Out of necessity, history has been replaced by glass facades and the reassurance of undisguised structural integrity. The way that Christchurch looks is not the same as the Christchurch that inhabits most people’s memories. This context makes the consistency of Kowhai Press and Watermark Printworkshop’s aesthetic significant. The ephemera, clustered on one wall of the exhibition reveals a distinct Christchurch style of design and printing. Thick card, heavy typeface, engraved lettering, a slight sarcasm resting between the spacing of the words. These pamphlets and flyers, for events, concerts, and holidays, have preserved the visual identity of the city in some capacity.
Unger and Vangioni are quiet caretakers of the art scene and of an idea of what it means to be in Christchurch. They are figures who have kept the mechanics of a city firing. KP & WM is at once sentimental, haunted, and ironic, an appreciation of the quiet, guiding hands of craftspeople who have given a lot to the city.
KP & WM: The Makers Behind the Artists
CoCA Toi Moroki
66 Gloucester St
5 July – 18 August 2019
- Tony de Lautour, Vessel, 2008, etching ib progressive stages, (CoCA Toi Moroki)