Cicada Press is a research group at UNSW Art & Design dedicated to aligning student engagement with the ideas and production skills that are integral to professional fine art printmaking practice. Established in 2004 by its director Michael Kempson, Cicada Press invites well-known and respected artists from around the world to make prints with the technical support of UNSW staff and students. The creative community established at Cicada Press fosters connections between artists and students so that the print room becomes a space for social, political and artistic exchange.
Cicada Press makes use of printing techniques like woodcut, lithography, serigraphy and digital processes, but the majority of images are made using intaglio methods. Printmaking – harnessing the handwork and the engineering involving the capture and transfer of ink, a coming together of metal, pigmented fluid, paper and cloth under pressure to realize an editioned image – can be difficult. The demanding procedural work routines are shared in a studio environment that is conceived with the intent of supporting artists as they realize their ideas. To date Cicada Press has produced about 1700 editions in collaboration with 198 artists.
Cicada Press develops projects with artists with varied working approaches and styles and this diversity is of great instructional value. Conceptual artists, traditional painters, ceramicists and sculptors often join cartoonists, designers, novelists, curators, and even puppeteers like the late Norman Hetherington aka Mr Squiggle or the UK’s Roger Law of Spitting Image.
A major component of the work Cicada Press does is with the support of UNSW Art & Design’s Director of Indigenous Programs, Tess Allas. Cicada invites artists to specific residencies or to the annual Aboriginal Print Workshops held in February (featured in Lorena Allam’s Erasing the Rowley Line on ABC Radio National Earshot program broadcast in 2015).
Invitations to contribute to major international printmaking forums highlight the significance of the educational achievements of Cicada Press. This started with a paper titled ‘Cicada as a teaching process ‘ for the 6th Australian Print Symposium at the National Gallery of Australia in 2007 to an invitation in 2012 for Michael Kempson to curate an Australian component representing UNSW Art & Design and Cicada Press for the 11th Annual Printmaking Exhibition and Conference for Chinese Academies and Colleges at Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art in China. This was the first time an international art school was invited to attend this prestigious annual event.
Balancing these projects, Cicada Press also pursues diverse international cultural engagements including workshops, exchange exhibitions and print collaborations, which have resulted in 36 exhibitions in the Asia/Pacific region. These include: SILK + SAND: Chinese and Australian Prints (2008), Ivan Dougherty Gallery, UNSW and the Central Academy of Fine Art, Beijing China; Aboriginal Dreams – Paintings, Etchings, Linocuts – Indigenous Art from Papunya Tjupi (2010) at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi; Personal Space: Contemporary Chinese and Australian Prints (2011) at Manly Art Gallery and Museum which toured Australian and Chinese galleries in 2012/13 and most recently Black Prints from Cicada Press (2013), curated by Tess Allas and New Narratives: Papunya Tjupi Prints with Cicada Press (2015), curated by Vivien Johnson and Michael Kempson at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia USA. In 2015 Interchange: a printmaking dialogue between Australia and Thailand was shown at Silpakorn University, Bangkok, the Australian National University, Canberra and Mosman Art Gallery in Sydney along with Seoul-Sydney: Contemporary Korean and Australian Prints, at Galleries UNSW and Gallery C21 at Chugye University for the Arts, Seoul, Korea.