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Nick prints his mark on the art world

When Nick Brandon first signed up for printmaking classes, he never imagined his work would eventually be published alongside artists he had admired for years.

Brandon, from Masterton, is one of more than 150 New Zealand creatives to feature in Proof: Two Decades of Printmaking – a coffee-table book by Massey University Press.

Proof, compiled by the Print Council Aotearoa New Zealand [PCANZ] to mark its 20th anniversary, showcases 166 works by upcoming and established printmakers from around the country – many of whom have exhibited overseas or won multiple awards.

The book has several Wairarapa connections – also featuring work from Greytown printmakers Annie Doornebosch and the internationally-renowned Gary Tricker [who died last year], and Aratoi patron and regional art trailblazer Dame Robin White.

Former Aratoi director Susanna Shadbolt also wrote the book’s foreword.

PCNZ, which has about 250 members nationwide, is dedicated to promoting printmaking via exhibitions, workshops, and international exchanges – and fostering an appreciation of the sometimes underappreciated art form.

PCNZ member Brandon first dabbled in printmaking in 2013 while living in Auckland – and is now a frequent exhibitor with the Masterton Art Club, and teaches printmaking at the club on Friday mornings.

Though he is mostly inspired by “the natural world”, he decided to go in a different direction for Proof – submitting “Purple Haze”, an abstract monoprint inspired by Jimi Hendrix.

Brandon said it was “fantastic” to be published alongside some of his artistic heroes – including distinguished printmakers Rodney Fumpston and Barry Cleavin – so early in his career.

Not bad, he said, considering he started his journey with little understanding of what printmaking involved.

“I thought it was just creating prints of other people’s works,” he said.

“But the more I got to know, the more fascinated I became. There’s so much to printmaking – it takes time, patience, and real craftsmanship to produce original works. The artist’s hand is evident in the whole process.

“It deserves to be seen by more people and, hopefully, the book will help with that.

“It feels great, and very flattering, to be published among so many talented New Zealand artists – and such a wide variety of works and methods.”

Brandon has been interested in art since his youth but, apart from “a couple of night classes”, had no formal training.

He spent most of his career as a corporate property consultant, but had to leave the workforce in 2011 due to ill health – and, loath to “sit around feeling miserable”, enrolled with the Browne School of Art in Grey Lynn.

Encouraged by founder Michael Browne, Brandon took classes with seasoned printmaker and contemporary Maori artist Alexis Neal – and fell in love with the process.

“It brings together two different artistic expressions – drawing and sculpting.

“You draw something on paper, then you transfer it to the wood, and carve out a sculpture with a three-dimensional surface. Then you apply the ink, and transfer it back onto paper.

“It’s very meditative as well. Once you start carving, time flies by.”

On relocating to Wairarapa, Brandon joined Masterton Art Club – and, supported by Masterton District Council’s Creative Communities Scheme, helped the organisation secure its own press.

Over the years, he has experimented with different techniques: Lino and woodcuts, etching [with plastic and metal surfaces], and mono printing using plastic sheets and Japanese plywood.

He is currently honing his skills in the “extremely time-consuming” mezzotinting – engraving the entire surface of a copper plate with small holes to create tonal variation.

Brandon is an active contributor to PCANZ and regularly attends its annual summer schools, held around the country.

He said printmaking has been hugely beneficial for his health — and believes it has helped slow the cognitive decline associated with his illness.

“It stimulates my brain, keeps me active, and allows me to throw myself into new challenges.”

Proof is available in Wairarapa at Hedley’s Booksellers in Masterton and Almo’s Books in Carterton.

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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