Artist Profile - - CONTENTS - by Brid­get Macleod

Franck Gohier is a painter, sculp­tor and print­maker based in Dar­win. His punchy, im­me­di­ate style, util­is­ing bright colours, text and pop­u­lar im­agery be­lies his works’ deeper mes­sages, drawn from a keen in­ter­est in pol­i­tics and so­cial jus­tice in­stilled since child­hood. His Top End lo­ca­tion plays a ma­jor role in his prac­tice, with its history, events and peo­ple in­spir­ing many of his works. ARTIST PRO­FILE spoke to Gohier as he pre­pared for his cu­rated ex­hi­bi­tion at the Mu­seum and Art Gallery of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory.

YOU ARE WORK­ING TO­WARDS AN EX­HI­BI­TION AT THE Mu­seum and Art Gallery of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory (MAGNT); how is the plan­ning go­ing? What can we ex­pect from this ex­hi­bi­tion?

The sur­vey ex­hi­bi­tion, A thou­sand miles from ev­ery­where, is be­ing cu­rated by Glenn Barkley and or­gan­ised by the ex­cel­lent team at MAGNT. Ev­ery­thing is go­ing to plan and it has been great fun re­vis­it­ing the past in or­der to eval­u­ate the fu­ture. The show spans al­most 30 years of prac­tice en­com­pass­ing print­mak­ing, paint­ing and sculp­ture and will be ac­com­pa­nied by a com­pre­hen­sive pub­li­ca­tion.

Your lo­ca­tion has had a big im­pact on your work. What is it about the North­ern Ter­ri­tory that most in­ter­ests you?

Peo­ple in­ter­est me the most. Their cul­tural back­grounds, views on life, mo­tives, fears, as­pi­ra­tions and so on. And also how these ele­ments nec­es­sar­ily help shape history and events. I of­ten fea­ture ele­ments of the Ter­ri­tory to speak about the vi­tal­ity of my own ex­pe­ri­ences liv­ing here and how this part of Aus­tralia is sim­ply a mi­cro­cosm that re­flects all of hu­man­ity. “Same but dif­fer­ent” as we say in the North.

You are an en­thu­si­as­tic sup­porter of the Ter­ri­tory’s art scene. What do you see as the ma­jor ben­e­fits for artists work­ing here?

Liv­ing in rel­a­tive iso­la­tion is def­i­nitely a bonus. It al­lows you to find your own voice, unwind and con­cen­trate on your prac­tice. A smaller pop­u­lace also cre­ates a more in­ti­mate and sup­port­ive com­mu­nity.

It also poses chal­lenges; what ad­just­ments have you made?

With the ex­treme hu­mid­ity of the wet sea­son fol­lowed by the dry sea­son you def­i­nitely have to ad­just your ma­te­ri­als and prac­tice. Mould can be a prob­lem when work­ing with ink, paint and pa­per and it’s good to have some pre-emp­tive con­ser­va­tion skills. You also have to ad­just your cloth­ing. In the peak of the wet sea­son there is no need for shirts or shoes in the stu­dio.

Your in­ter­est in so­cial jus­tice orig­i­nated from your French par­ents?

Dur­ing the May 1968 Paris riots my mother was a uni stu­dent and preg­nant with me, and my fa­ther was a union del­e­gate. They em­i­grated to Aus­tralia be­cause of their po­lit­i­cal be­liefs, to a coun­try which they deemed more pro­gres­sive than France at the time. My fa­ther’s ter­tiary qual­i­fi­ca­tions were never recog­nised here and so he ended up be­ing a man­ual labourer for most of his life. In Dar­win dur­ing the 1970s, my mother, as a wel­fare of­fi­cer, helped nu­mer­ous French-speak­ing Viet­namese refugees re­lo­cate, fol­lowed by the next wave of Por­tuguese-speak­ing Ti­morese. Pol­i­tics, re­li­gion and phi­los­o­phy were al­ways din­ner ta­ble topics.

Your works of­ten present se­ri­ous mat­ters in a hu­mor­ous man­ner, is this a way of en­gag­ing a wider au­di­ence?

That is partly the rea­son. When deal­ing with se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal is­sues I find that hu­mour mit­i­gates against be­ing overtly moral. It’s a spoon­ful of sugar to help the medicine go down. A sense of hu­mour also goes a long way to sur­vive in an of­ten harsh, out­post, fron­tier town like Dar­win.

His­toric and archival ob­jects, im­ages and ephemera in­form your work. Is there a large amount of re­search that goes into each work or have you ac­cu­mu­lated a col­lec­tion of sources to draw from?

My work is a form of ur­ban ar­chae­ol­ogy. I of­ten go to lawn sales, op shops, the tip shop, lo­cal his­tor­i­cal sites, sift­ing through to find the de­tri­tus of North­ern Ter­ri­tory history – scraps and ob­jects im­bued

Peo­ple in­ter­est me the most. Their cul­tural back­grounds, views on life, mo­tives, fears, as­pi­ra­tions and so on. And also how these ele­ments help shape history and events.

with a story that I can use in my art­work. I of­ten find ob­jects on eBay or in an­tique stores when I travel. Friends who know what a mad col­lec­tor I am also bring me trea­sures oc­ca­sion­ally. I have an ex­ten­sive li­brary of his­tor­i­cal and art pub­li­ca­tions to re­search from and the lo­cal archive is only a 15-minute walk from my stu­dio.

Types, fonts and let­ter­ing are also im­por­tant to your works. What im­pact do such choices have on the mes­sage you are de­pict­ing?

Ty­pog­ra­phy is in­dis­pens­able for good graphic de­sign. You need to able to get your mes­sage across quickly and sim­ply. Cer­tain fonts are evoca­tive of his­tor­i­cal epochs or move­ments and we can use these to great ef­fect when they are al­ready part of the col­lec­tive, pop­u­lar con­science. At this point you are sim­ply build­ing on tra­di­tion ... or you can have some fun by to­tally de­bunk­ing that the­ory!

You have fa­cil­i­tated a num­ber of print­mak­ing work­shops in re­mote com­mu­ni­ties. What led you to this?

In 1994 I joined Leon Stainer and Ge­orge Watts at North­ern Ter­ri­tory Uni­ver­sity to help out with a few Indige­nous print­mak­ing work­shops for In­jalak, Tiwi De­signs and Ern­abella. I had been a part-time print­mak­ing lec­turer and tech­ni­cian for a few years prior. Over the next two years the three of us con­vened many work­shops and gained a na­tional rep­u­ta­tion. These work­shops later be­came North­ern Edi­tions at the newly named Charles Dar­win Uni­ver­sity and I went on to start of my own ven­ture, Red Hand Prints.

The tra­di­tional prac­tices of dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties in­flu­enced the tech­niques you taught them.

An im­por­tant as­pect of col­lab­o­ra­tive print­mak­ing is un­der­stand­ing how to get the artist’s vi­sion from idea to re­al­i­sa­tion. Tiwi artists have a strong tra­di­tion of wood­carv­ing and so lino-cut and wood-cut prints are an ob­vi­ous start­ing point. Artists from In­jalak Arts have an im­me­di­ate lin­eage to paint­ing in rock shel­ters and so stone lithog­ra­phy comes to mind. Rover Thomas liked paint­ing di­rectly onto etch­ing plates and so I would mix up batches of sugar lift in his favourite earth colours from pig­ments in the ce­ram­ics stu­dio.

Has work­ing with Indige­nous artists in­flu­enced your prac­tice in any way?

Ab­so­lutely. When I was a kid I saw some Tiwi artists carv­ing a log and to this day I can see the in­flu­ence in my sculptures. Carv­ing dif­fi­cult, dense tim­bers like iron wood, you re­alise that the ma­te­rial dic­tates the form, and the artist has only a bit of a say in the mat­ter. The mark-mak­ing and over­lay­ing of colours I em­ploy in my own paint­ing prac­tice has also been in­flu­enced by Indige­nous artists.

You es­tab­lished Red Hand Prints in 1996; what ben­e­fits did this have for the com­mu­nity and your per­sonal prac­tice?

Ul­ti­mately we wanted to cre­ate a vi­brant, thriv­ing arts com­mu­nity in an en­vi­ron­ment which, at the time, had ab­so­lutely no sup­port from the var­i­ous tax-funded organisations and in­sti­tu­tions es­tab­lished specif­i­cally to sup­port lo­cal arts. We also wanted to cre­ate a voice for our so­cio/po­lit­i­cal con­cerns that was not fil­tered or tam­pered with by the usual pre­scribed chan­nels for com­men­tary. For our own prac­tice that meant to­tal free­dom. For the com­mu­nity? I think they had fun com­ing along for the ride.

What do you like best about print­mak­ing?

I like the fact that it is rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive to pro­duce mul­ti­ples and there­fore af­ford­able to make and col­lect. Ideas can be im­me­di­ately trans­mit­ted within a short time span. I also love the aes­thet­ics that are par­tic­u­lar and unique to all the print­mak­ing medi­ums.

Do you ap­proach your prints dif­fer­ently to your paint­ings and sculptures in terms of plan­ning and pro­duc­tion?

Not re­ally, al­though the phys­i­cal mak­ing of the ob­ject is dif­fer­ent in the pro­duc­tion phase, the plan­ning stage is quiet fluid and in­tu­itive across medi­ums. It’s dif­fi­cult to ar­tic­u­late but I guess af­ter 30 years of prac­tice I don’t re­ally think about it any­more. It just hap­pens.


A Thou­sand Miles from Ev­ery­where, Franck Gohier 3 Fe­bru­ary – 1 July, 2018 Mu­seum and Art Gallery of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory, Dar­win

Franck Gohier is rep­re­sented by Mitchell Fine Art franck­go­ @franck­go­hier

Lost, 2012, screen­print, MAGNT Col­lec­tion, © Franck Gohier

Atomic, 2006, acrylic on board, hand painted Per­spex, vin­tage Pin­ball Parts and found ob­jects, 63.5 x 94cm

The tracker, 2014, wood­carv­ing, syn­thetic poly­mer paint and found ob­jects, 71 x 34.5 x 35.5cm © Franck Gohier

Self Por­trait as a Croc Hunter, 2017, pen and ink on cot­ton rag pa­per, 121 x 80cm

Cour­tesy the artist, MAGNT and Mitchell Fine Art

Self Por­trait in Kakadu, 2017, pen and ink on pa­per, 44 x 32cm

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