This article first appeared in The Press on 5 April 2006
One of New Zealand's most significant contemporary printmakers, Jason Greig studied under Barry Cleavin and Denise Copland at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts during the early 1980s and graduated with Honours in Engraving. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s Greig favoured more technically challenging printmaking processes such as etching and lithography as opposed to the less complicated medium of the monoprint. It is the monoprint however that he has worked with almost exclusively over the past thirteen years.
Also known as monotype, the monoprint is perhaps the most humble of printmaking techniques and is sometimes mistaken for painting due to the painterly like effects that can be achieved. Greig largely ignored the monoprint until 1993 when it was included as part of the curriculum for an art course he was then teaching at the Otago Polytechnic in Oamaru. His affinity with the monoprint was immediate, in particular the way in which it allowed him to expand on his excellent technical skills in drawing.
Greig's monoprints combine both a loose approach alongside more tightly controlled mark making and enables him to work with ease and speed. The result is more immediate than other printmaking techniques with the artist working ink directly onto sheets of formica, with cotton buds and rollers, from which a unique, one-off image is printed. The medium has given Greig the opportunity to work on a large scale and also to incorporate more colour into his work.
One of Greig's largest monoprints, Vulcan Paradise is the last image from a series of works based on a vast interior cavernous scene. A river of lava flows down a mountain in the background while the eerie lights of a far away citadel are just visible, perched on a high peak in the background. Vulcan, the Roman God of fire whose forge is located beneath Mt Etna, stands atop a rocky promontory surveying his smouldering domain in a dominant stance. He threatens to leap down and attack an awkward looking explorer, seen bumbling about in the foreground, oblivious to the imminent danger he is in and totally dominated by the landscape. Greig's works are often interpreted as being macabre and sinister but there is often also a wry sense of humour at play in many of his images.
In Vulcan Paradise the classical subject of Vulcan is represented with echoes from the 1959 movie version of ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth'. Greig is influenced by a huge variety of sources and readily mixes up traditional themes with contemporary culture. Respected master printmakers such as Rembrandt, Francisco de Goya and Charles Meryon sit alongside a wide range of classic horror movies including such gems as ‘Hellraiser' and the original ‘Phantom of the Opera'. Other influences, like the music and lyrics from heavy metal bands Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult are just as important as great literature classics like Mary Shelley's ‘Frankenstein', Edgar Allan Poe's ‘The Raven' or Robert Louis Stevenson's ‘Dr. Jekyell and Mr. Hyde'.
Vulcan Paradise shows Greig at his best, a printmaker exploring the range of possibilities offered by the monoprint to create a dramatic and powerful image.
Back in the 1990s, Jason Greig famously said that heavy metal band Black Sabbath was the thing that got him up and going and wanting to draw. It’s a line that’s often been quoted in relation to his work, probably because it seems to be at odds with the refinement and virtuosity of his printmaking technique, or the venerable tradition of artists in which he works—Redon, Goya, Piranesi. Greig said that Black Sabbath’s music was fuel: “the imagery and the weight of it […] I do heavy, laden drawings, dense. When I hear some really loud guitars it gives me the same sort of feeling.”
The images collected here span nearly two decades and reveal a remarkably consistent imagination, forged in Greig’s reading of nineteenth-century gothic novelists such as Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe, and what he describes as the “battle of good and evil” in mid-twentieth century movies. Light falls across blasted volcanic landscapes; isolated figures clutch books or brandish scythes; sinister deals of one sort or another appear to be in the process of playing out. The corners of most of the images are dark, vignetted like an early photograph. For Greig, the past is full of unfinished business. “I guess it’s about wearing your lineage on your sleeve. I reckon that images of last century are catching up with this.”
Greig’s figures are versions of himself, “but I try to disguise it a bit”. They evoke psychological states of alienation and estrangement, and depict life as a long strange journey into the unknown. “My art is about love, lost and found. It’s about dark lonely places, imagined and real. And it’s about the constant naggin’ thought that the end is always nearer. I have dealt with my demons, in life and on pieces of pummelled paper. The road I have travelled has been paved with gold that shines, and with bile that fumes.”
(Your Hotel Brain 13 May 2017 - 8 July 2018)