Creative Cauldron - Margaret Preston

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Artist inspiration and artist influences. No biographies, dates or scholarly research here - this is a personal response to the work of Margaret Preston by Australian artist Fiona Morgan.

Margaret Preston painting

I would like to introduce you to one of my all time favourite artists, the Australian modernist Margaret Preston who produced fabulous and much loved art pieces from the 1920's to the 1950's. She is one of Australia's greatest artists, but because she had the curse of being female she has basically been ignored. It was only in 2005 that a full retrospective exhibition of her work was mounted. I think it's almost criminal that it took so long for her to be fully recognised.

Margaret Preston painting

I am quite sure that her incredible and apparently renowned self-belief, apart from her obvious talent, is to thank for us knowing about her at all. Without her vocal self promotion, she would have been just another talented unknown female artist hidden within a patriarchal society. There is a lesson here to take away, for every artist, and her self promotion and individual opinions are part of my admiration for her.

Margaret Preston painting

Another strong belief she held and championed that I am partial to, was the importance of developing an Australian artistic identity. While I lived overseas I came to see just how different and unique Australian culture is. We have a tendency to look overseas and believe that what's out there in Europe and America is somehow better than what we have here. I disagree. What we have, if we nurtured it, would be just as admirable and great. What we actually have now is stuck in a bit of a 70's time warp and overlaid with a growing Americanisation. Which is a shame.

Margaret Preston painting

But back to Margaret Preston. She was well ahead of her time with her ideas, being early to see the value of Aboriginal art. She appreciated it so much that she took the unusual step for the time of becoming a self taught student of Aboriginal artforms.

Margaret Preston painting

Today she is best known for her woodcut prints. In keeping with her strong beliefs on forming an Australian identity, most of these are designs of Australian native flowers, seeds and leaves or Australian landscapes. The two landscape prints here are both views around Sydney, where she lived for many years and the two floral pictures are typical examples of her many, many flora woodcuts.

Margaret Preston painting

If you can detect a Japanese influence in these woodcuts then you are absolutely right. Her style developed into a graphic based harmony of pattern and asymmetry, both often mentioned of her work, but also, I think, she had the knack of making icons. She would take everyday items and turn them into pictures that everybody already 'knew'. That's quite a gift for seeing. I have a strong admiration for all of these elements in her work.

In the 50's she began producing monotype stencil paintings in a woodcut style. These make me swoon. The colours, the painterliness, the pattern. The first and last pictures here are examples of this very mature style.

More Margaret Preston links

Official site:

About the Creative Cauldron series of posts

Creative Cauldron - artistic influences & inspiration for Australian artist Fiona MorganThe Creative Cauldron series of posts explores and showcases the visual styles, techniques, attitudes, ideas, artists and paintings that have had the most impact on me. 

The rest of the series is accessible via the Creative Cauldron page. Have a meander if you please, and remember to check out my artworks on Flickr, and have an insider peek at life as an artist on Facebook.

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