Sepa Seule / Mataso Island, Vanuatu b.1983 / Popo (from ‘Bebellic’ portfolio) 2007 / Screenprint on magnani paper ed. 1/45 / 56 x 76cm / Purchased 2008. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Sepa Seule

Sepa Seule
Popo (from ‘Bebellic’ portfolio) 2007

On Display: Regional Touring Exhibition

As a medium, printmaking, in particular screenprinting, is often a technique of choice for collective workshops. The ability to generate multiple prints of substantial scale marks it as a cost- and time-effective means to explore creative solutions in a group context.

The Mataso Printmakers, of which Sepa Seule is one, used transparent acetate sheets as the ‘original’ support for their designs rather than working directly onto the screens. Freely drawn, these designs also functioned as stencils when transferred with light-sensitive emulsions to the screen mesh. Each colour was printed using a separate acetate sheet design to build the matrix of up to four colours in the final print. The acetate designs were produced by the artists, while the specific technical and mechanical preparation of the screens (requiring a darkroom facility) was managed in Australia for the majority by master printer Theo Tremblay.

With a combination of painterly, hand-drawn imagery and the layering of bold colours and textural effects, the Mataso Printmakers have produced a body of work that is refreshing, expressive and rooted in their particular locale. Imagery used and adapted by the artists includes fish, butterflies, fruit, turtles and hybrid creatures. Other sources, such as packaging, tourist imagery and advertising, have provided initial impetus for the designs.

When Australian artist Newell Harry, in collaboration with Carl Amneus and Jack Siviu Martau, established a series of workshops with the Mataso community in Ohlen village, Port Vila, Vanuatu, he recognised that a fluid and flexible model was necessary to achieve creative outcomes.

Workshops and creative initiatives in such communities are successful when relationships and partnerships — based on respect and trust — are formed between artists and teachers, communities and participants. The Mataso community consists of permanent residents on the island of Mataso and Ohlen village on the main island of Efate. Movement between the two locations is frequent and relatively easy.

Younger members have inevitably spent more time on the larger island, where television, reggae and soul music and other influences from popular culture have merged with traditional beliefs and lifestyles. This post-independence (July 1980) generation constituted the majority of the artists involved in the workshops.