This poster celebrates the first birthday event of Bitumen River Gallery. Converted from a derelict shelter-shed canteen, the Bitumen River Gallery opened in 1981 in Manuka by a small group from the School of Art alumnus and Jobless Action, with close connections to Megalo Print Studio and Acme Ink.
Bitumen River Gallery was created partly in response to the then-attitude that screen printing was not considered a ‘legitimate artform’.
Change began after James Mollison (the inaugural Director at NGA) endorsed Bitumen River Gallery by attending openings and collecting the NGA’s Poster Collection in 1982. Alison Alder recalled that Mollison fondly referred to them as: “Those punks in Manuka”.
All the while, Mandy Martin and Rosalie Gascoigne showed their support by regularly dropping into the gallery. Martin’s support was a motivating force for its establishment, as Alder recalls: ‘Mandy was incredibly enthusiastic about us setting up the gallery, she showed her support saying – yes do it!’
Interview with Alison Alder (29 July 2021).
Printed at Megalo International Screenprint Collective (Ainslie, ACT)
This work forms part of Mandy Martin’s poster collection that she gifted to Canberra Museum and Gallery in 1998. In her role as Lecturer in the Printmaking Department at the Canberra School of Art, Mandy Martin brought both practical knowledge and an infectious, fearless spirit for making screen-prints to a generation of artists only a few years younger than herself. Battling against a perception that it was a commercial process with application only in community arts, Martin struck initial resistance to the idea that screen-printing was a valid medium to be taught at art school.
With limited employment pathways out of art school, Martin helped facilitate the establishment of ACME Ink through the shifting of her print table to Gorman House in Braddon in 1981. In the cramped conditions of the heritage building Julia Church, Mark Denton, Kath Walters and Alison Alder spent a frenetic few years making posters and prints for causes and events as well as their own creative endeavours. These posters were unleashed on Canberra’s unsuspecting community with its’ carefully planned streets, generating instant attention for a small art community eager to gain visibility and activate change. As commercial galleries were initially reluctant to show their work, this circle of artists contributed to the establishment of Bitumen River Gallery in a car park at the Manuka shops, which continues today as a venue for Canberra Contemporary Art Space. Martin’s print table remains in use at Megalo Print Studio in Kingston.
ACME Ink. had its genesis in the relocation in 1981 of my screenprinting equipment to a separate studio at Gorman House, Braddon ACT. An informal screenprinting cooperative developed; many of its members were graduated students or staff from the Canberra School of Art. The prints they produced addressed social issues and events associated with Canberra…I formed this archive as a personal reference collection.
- Mandy Martin, Donation Statement 1998
760 x 505 mm (sheet)
Canberra Museum and Gallery, donated through Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program by Mandy Martin 1998