Conversation III

Or, talking creativity with printmaker, Seraphina Martin.

A hand etched print with a tree, a tiger and flowers, and a woman's hand
Ench by Seraphina Martin

Seraphina Martin has dedicated her life to her art. Growing up in a creative family certainly lit the spark – both of Seraphina’s parents were established artists who lived in Europe, India and Australia. Seraphina has built on this upbringing and has gone on to carve a unique creative pathway for herself.

You can follow Seraphina on Instagram at @seraphina.print

I hope you enjoy reading my conversation with Seraphina. Join me for more creative conversations in the coming weeks.

Much love, Lyndall


Printmaker, Seraphina Martin

Hi Seraphina. Thanks for joining me on the blog! Have you always been a printmaker, or have you dabbled in other mediums too?

I am predominantly a printmaker. I majored in printmaking at the National Art School in Paris during the early 70s. I do paint on paper, but it is not my main interest. I chose to hand colour my prints with watercolour to create a body of work.

Both my parents were established painters and I have been brought up in a charged artistic environment. As a young adult, I found the need to establish my own artistic pursuits. I felt like I had a natural ability with the many challenges printmaking had to offer in both technical precision and discipline which suited my methodical nature. For me, printmaking was also a means to break away from my parents’ choice of medium, which was paint and collage. The concept of printmaking never appealed to them.

What drew you to printmaking in the beginning, and what do you continue to love about it today?

Growing up in India from the age of eight to 15 years, I was exposed to many arts and crafts, particularly woodblock printing onto textiles. When living in Sydney I was introduced to woodblock and linocuts at the Willoughby Art Centre. There I became passionate about printmaking.

I flourished during my Art School years at the Ecole Nationale Des Beaux Arts in Paris from 1974–78, where I majored in Printmaking. During that time, I received thorough training in all aspects of printmaking with careful attention to detail which I continue to practice.

In 1987, I was offered an Artist in Residence at the Cite des Arts in Paris where I worked at Atelier 17 producing a body of work that I exhibited.

A print featuring a bear climbing a tree, a human hand, conch shells, a bird and flowers
Bur by Seraphina Martin

You have developed your own technique called Solar Plate etching. Can you please explain this technique and the kind of results that you get?

Once I returned to Sydney from my residency in Paris, I was expecting my first child. From then on, I decided to stop using toxic acids and solvents.

Many non-toxic printmaking techniques were being developed in the mid-80s in America, particularly Solar Plate Etching. I have been applying this technique in my own practice ever since.

The NSW Department of Education invited me as an advisor on their board to include Solar Plate Etching in the high school syllabus as a non-toxic means of printmaking. Many high schools have invited me to offer training to teachers in this technique so that they can teach it to Year 10 and 11 students.

The process involves a photopolymer-coated metal plate that is exposed with a drawing or photograph in the sun for two minutes. It is then washed in water and printed on the etching press to create a fine art print on state-of-the-art papers.

How would you describe your creative practice? What is involved in creating a new piece?

My creative process is based on my experience growing up in India being exposed to ornamental aesthetics as well as their mythology involving animals and a wide range of deities in all forms. Symbolism forms part of Indian art within nature and storytelling. I have also found inspiration in the intricate detail in Medieval art and culture, particularly illuminations depicting capital letters of the alphabet. I have refashioned these into a whole new world of meaning. My images have multi-layered symbolism.

For example, in my recent work, I have incorporated the fairy tales of Beauty and the Beast and Little Red Riding Hood. I have focused on the underlying suppression and violence towards women, and revealed the deep unconscious vulnerability faced by women and young girls in our society. Therefore, symbolism plays a significant part in my personal language as a metaphor for our fears and desires. Flora and fauna act as allegorical creatures for whimsical human conditions. The female figure in my work is a self-portrait, a witness to such manifestations.

A woman lies at the base of the painting, tigers, bears, flowers and trees feature in the work.
Idyllic landscape by Seraphina Martin

Sydney reviewer Catherine Skipper wrote of my work:

“While the delicacy and charm of Seraphina Martin’s drypoint etchings is undeniable, her work takes a hard look at our excessive desire to consume and dominate the natural world.”

You teach people printmaking – can you please tell us what that process is like? What can people expect when they join one of your classes?

I have been teaching printmaking since I left Art School in Paris to start my life in Australia as an adult in 1989. My first teaching position was at the University of Sydney, where I set up the printmaking department at the Art Workshop as an elective for Fine Art and Architecture students. I remained in the position for 20 years.

I now teach all forms of printmaking at Community Art Centres in Sydney and rural NSW. I aim to adapt to all community needs in imparting a creative approach to the art of printmaking. My main aim is to inspire and develop printmaking skills but mainly to create exciting prints with the use of colour. I predominantly focus on touching upon each student's individual creative ability. Many of my students have become established artists in the art community exhibiting and selling their work as professional artists. Many of my former university students often contact me to express their love of printmaking and how it has assisted them in their professional life.

Seraphina Martin in the studio.
Seraphina Martin in the studio.

Please tell us about any exhibitions you have on or coming soon.

I have just completed a print portfolio as a project organised in India. It is a print exchange of 40 international artists including myself. I was very proud to be representing Australia.

The 40 works are exhibited at Meadowbank TAFE Gallery in Sydney and curated by me, as an educational exercise for the printmaking students attending Meadowbank TAFE campus.

I am currently preparing a solo show of my work at The Shop Gallery in Sydney from 25–31 August 2022. The title of the exhibition is ‘Mindscapes.’ It will feature a collection of works both past and present which will be for sale. I look forward to celebrating and sharing it with my long-time followers.

Details of Seraphina's exhibition at The Shop Gallery in Glebe, 25-31 August.
Details of Seraphina's exhibition at The Shop Gallery in Glebe, 25-31 August.