The women cashiers at Target..., from the series Taking Marketown by strategy
One of the most significant developments in Australian art of the 1970s was the rise of political poster making as a direct result of the increasing politicisation of Australian students in the late 1960s. Poster collectives formed in almost every major city helped by the development of screenprinting, which was both easier and cheaper than more traditional printmaking techniques. Many of the members of these collectives did not consider themselves as artists or, if they had attended art school, had opted out of the usual career path of seeking a commercial gallery to represent them. Motivated more by the concept of collective action, they worked anonymously.
The first major collective, Earthworks Poster Collective (1971–80) began at the University of Sydney’s Tin Sheds arts workshops. It was founded by Colin Little, who had been influenced by the ‘alternative lifestyle’ and psychedelic posters produced in London and San Francisco in the 1960s. He was joined by more radical poster makers such as Chips Mackinolty, a veteran of the anti-Vietnam War movement, and a number of women artists such as Marie McMahon and Toni Robertson, who introduced radical feminist issues into the collective mix.
While the Earthworks posters of the early 1970s reflected the optimism of the ‘alternative culture’ during the Whitlam years, the collective became more overtly political after the sacking of the Whitlam Labor government in 1975. Posters from this time reflected issues such as anti-nuclear protests, Aboriginal land rights, women’s rights, gay liberation as well as the environment and unemployment. Towards the end of the 1970s smaller groups from within the collective branched out to concentrate on specific issues or to spread the concept of collective action to other Australian towns and cities.
Michael Callaghan, one of the artists who drove this collective, moved to Griffith University in 1979 and then a year later to Wollongong to set up Redback Graphix. Including Gregor Cullen, Marie McMahon, Alison Alder and Ruth Waller, the Redback Graphix group continued many of the themes established at Earthworks, as well as worked on posters for trade union groups. Angela Gee, Leonie Lane, Sheona White and others stayed on at the Tin Sheds to form Lucifer Poster Collective, concentrating on posters concerned with women’s issues and gay rights.
Meanwhile, poster collectives had formed in other Australian cities, such as Redletter Co-operative in Melbourne and the Progressive Art Movement’s Visual Group in Adelaide that thrived throughout the 1980s. This important chapter in Australian cultural history, which has been recognised in many important exhibitions both in Australia and overseas, only came to an end with the eventual realisation of the health risks from the chemicals used in screenprinting and the introduction of computer desktop publishing in the 1990s. At the same time the prominence of posters as a form of direct communication has given way to webcasting and blogging, spawning a new generation of activist artists who use the internet as their medium.
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006
Shown in 2 exhibitions
Referenced in 2 publications
Anna Waldmann, Project 39 - Women's Imprint, Sydney, 1982. no catalogue numbers; not paginated
Michael Wardell, Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 'Ideas and actions', pg.60-107, Sydney, 2006, 86, 87 (colour illus.).