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Source: University of Canterbury

25 August 2020

The University of Canterbury’s (UC) School of Fine Arts (SoFA) welcomed back printmaking artist Barry Cleavin with an exhibition in the Ilam Campus Gallery and an artist talk. UC students, staff and members of the local arts community heard anecdotes about Cleavin’s practice and life experience, from developing his skills in the SoFA from 1963 to 1966 to his life as a practising artist.

Renowned printmaking artist, UC graduate and former lecturer, Barry Cleavin (right) returned to UC for the opening of his exhibition at the Ilam Campus Gallery and an artist talk with UC Head of Fine Arts Aaron Kreisler (left).

The exhibition, ‘Mitigating Factors and the Oncology Suites’, which runs until 25 September, is a synopsis of a life lived between 1939 and 2020, featuring works from an artist who is internationally recognised and regarded by many as New Zealand’s most influential printmaker.

Cleavin uses labour-intensive, age-old techniques as well as, more recently, digital techniques to produce artworks of extraordinary precision.

“If these things flutter off the press, what are they doing, what are they all about?” Cleavin asks. “Most of them are about the links between words and images and the madness about the way that some things are simply fanciful.

“So the works become comments, some of them are low ebbs, end-of-the-line jokes, but sometimes they are not jokes. So people have to work out what is a joke – and then, at a certain age, does it matter?”

Cleavin won an Arts Council scholarship in 1972 to study with Gabor Peterdi, Professor of Printmaking at Yale University, and James Koga, Master Printer at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

He then returned to UC to lecture in Printmaking from 1978–1990, and maintained close ties with the SoFA.

“The arts school is still a living entity with the people who have been through here; the connections give students the chance to link up with their own history,” UC Head of Fine Arts Aaron Kreisler says.

“The example is there that you can have an incredible life being an artist and it doesn’t have to be over sold because the work tells you that and the person tells you that. It’s not to demystify it, it’s to say that these people are real, they are tangible and it is something that our current students can attain as well.”

Housed in the School of Fine Arts, the Ilam Campus Gallery has fewer restrictions than bigger galleries and can focus on making a variety of artworks accessible to students.

“This is work that the students should see; a gallery at an art school is a fantastic thing; you can have the artist here, you can have the work here, students can look at the practice or they can walk out of their studio and just get out of their own head,” Kreisler says.

Cleavin held various artist in residence positions between 1972 and 1982, and in 1983 won a Fulbright fellowship to work at the Tamarind Institute at the University of New Mexico. He was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) in 2000 and received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from UC in 2005.

Barry Cleavin: ‘Mitigating Factors and the Oncology Suites’ exhibition runs until 25 September at the Ilam Campus Gallery, Block 2, School of Fine Arts, University of Canterbury, Ilam, Christchurch.