Poster, 'Dead God Dance', screen print on paper, designed by Marie McMahon, printed by Earthworks Poster Collective, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1978
Poster art has evolved significantly from the early posters first produced in Australia in the early 19th century that only featured text, to the posters in the Di Holdway Collection that are characterised by bold designs and effective use of photographic and graphic screen print techniques. The Di Holdway Collection is an important poster archive that shows the emerging political voice of Australia's youth culture through poster art. The collection shows how the poster was used as a political tool during the 1970s and 1980s to actively communicate information to a mass audience. It also reveals how the decorative style has effectively been engaged to highlight social issues.
From an historical perspective, the Di Holdway Collection is particularly significant as many of the posters in the collection reflect the social concerns of Australian youth during the 1970s. The Di Holdway Collection is an important collection that reflects the emerging politicisation of a generation. The use of posters for social and political intent, helped politicise a generation and illustrate the belief that art could influence social action and make political comment.
The resurgence of printmaking in Australia in the 1970s emerged as a consequence of Gough Whitlam's Labor government abolishing tertiary education fees and introducing Advanced Colleges of Education. This resulted in more opportunities for artists in training from different socio-economic backgrounds, bringing a different perspective to art. Included in the collection are posters by renowned Australian print makers Jan McKay, Chips Mackinolty, Michael Callaghan, Marie McMahon and indigenous designed posters and posters from innovative print workshops, Earthworks Poster Collective and Redback Graphix. Many of the posters are rare and now viewed as a highly collectable art commodity.
Marie McMahon completed art school at East Sydney Technical College in 1974 and began making posters at the Tin Sheds (Earthworks Poster Collective) in 1976 or 1977. Being formatively influenced by the feminist art movement of the 1970s, McMahon was preoccupied with these and other social concerns of the time. During the years she was at Earthworks, the collective became increasingly and stridently political and one of the major issues of the time was the Women's Movement (1975 was International Women's Year). Some of her posters, explore issues of women's independence in the workplace and the home.
McMahon was art-trained and very professional in attitude. Chips Mackinolty remembers Marie McMahon as a really precise printer, 'one of the most exacting in terms of wanting it just right'. Ashe was also one of the first of the new wave of artists bringing a new aesthetic, new colours and new ways of approaching printmaking to poster production at the time, probably in response to her art training and her work experience in the printing industry.
The Earthworks Poster Cooperative, established in 1971 by Colin Little evolved into the Earthworks Poster Collective in 1972. Earthworks Poster Collective was the most widely known and influential group working in the 1970's from the Tin Sheds, a cluster of World War 11 pre-fabricated buildings at the University of Sydney. The workshop was community based and community funded with collaborative management and production of artwork and open access for the community to use the facilities. The Di Holdway Collection includes a number of posters printed for the Settlement at Chippendale that exemplify the community open access policy of the Collective.
Original members of the Earthworks Poster Collective included, Mitch Johnson, Tim Burns and Mostyn Brambley-Moore. The style of the posters was originally influenced by the 'decadent' graphics of the English counter culture and the psychedelic posters most commonly associated with San Francisco. The Collective expanded and changed direction in 1974 when Toni Robertson, Chips Mackinolty and Mark Arbuz became members. In 1977 Michael Callagahan, Marie McMahon and Jan McKay joined and in 1978 Ray Young and Jan Fields became members.
The Earthworks Poster Collective became more political focusing on promoting specific issues such as Aboriginal land rights, gay and lesbian rights, the women's movement, anti-nuclear environment and unemployment issues.
The Earthworks Poster Collective disbanded in 1979 after failing to attract funding from the Visual Arts Board of the Australia council. Members dispersed establishing new workshops across Australia. Screen printing, including public access, continued at Tin Sheds under the Lucifoil Collective (1980-1983) and since 1984 by Tin Sheds Posters. Today, the Tin Sheds Gallery and Art Workshops are part of the Faculty of Architecture, University of Sydney.
Posters from Earthworks Poster Collective are now regarded as an art commodity and highly collectable and are held in the collection of the State Library of New South Wales, National Gallery of Australia, Queensland Art Gallery, the Powerhouse Museum and the University of Sydney.
This poster is from the Di Holdway collection of posters accumulated over 20 years in Sydney, Alice Springs and Darwin and largely focuses on the work of print makers who first worked with the Earthworks Poster Collective at the Tin Sheds, University of Sydney. Di's involvement with the Tin Sheds began in 1974 when she was working at the Students Representative Council--initially as a secretary and later as its CEO.
Dianne Margaret Holdway (died 2001) was close to a number of 'Earthworkers', and during 1974-76, volunteered as a printer and 'racker'.
After finishing work at the Students Representative Council, Di worked at the South Sydney Women's Centre and worked closely with the Sydney University Settlement, both located in Chippendale.
In the 1980s, Di worked for Aboriginal organisations in the Northern Territory. Throughout this period, Di kept in touch in particular with Michael Callaghan of Redback Graphix, originally from Earthworks Poster Collective, who was at that stage commissioned to produce posters for a number of Central Australian Aboriginal organisations.
The posters in the Di Holdway Collection reflect their times, of course, but also represent Di's wide political and social interests over a period of two decades from the 1970s to 1990s. They very much represent her friends and work mates from the period.
Some of the posters are represented in public collections such as the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Australia.
(Extract from notes provided by Chips Mackinolty, Darwin, September 2005)