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Debra Luccio, The Dream and the Dance: Images of the Queensland Ballet
Dr Alana O'Brien
Curator, La Trobe University Museum of Art
The present exhibition The Dream and the Dance: Images of the Queensland Ballet is the result of time that Debra Luccio had with the Queensland Ballet while it was rehearsing and performing Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. This exhibition presents her continued her interest in the expressive possibilities of the human form, and her sustained exploration of monotype technique.
Monotypes are often described as the most painterly of the print mediums. The processes used can vary greatly, and so I will focus only on that used by Debra Luccio. In preparing to create a new image, she rolls printer’s ink onto the flat surface of her copper plate. Various layers and areas of coloured ink are put down with a general composition already in mind. Using a cloth she will ‘draw’ the basic image before progressively removing ink, creating highlights and shadows, gradually revealing the figure in this void. Other details are described using brushes, cotton buds, or fingers to push the ink around the plate. The ink is then transferred using a printing-press to a support such as paper. Like other printing methods, the process requires the ability to imagine the final image in reverse. The white highlights that we see in images such as Blue Dancer are those areas from which all ink has been removed, thus allowing the white of the paper to show through. Shadows, form and drapery are described by layers and areas of coloured inks, which vary from translucent to opaque. The darkness, formed by little or no ink being removed, creates negative space that surrounds and describes the forms of her figures.
Unlike other printing methods, where a permanent design might be scratched, bitten or drawn on to the matrix, enabling multiple identical images to be produced, the monotype, as its name suggests, is always a unique entity. This first impression produces the darkest version of the image. Debra makes subsequent impressions using the ink that remains on the plate. The marbling of the colours surrounding the figures in the ensuing images provide much information about Debra Luccio’s initial application of colours. Despite a certain degree of chance in what colour inks remain on the plate after this first impression, Debra Luccio retains control over the results of the second and third impressions. I would like to draw your attention to Side Barre 1 and Side Barre 2. In the first image, we find calligraphic lines describing the figure with a beautiful lyrical subtlety. In this work we find evidence of Debra Luccio’s use of the finger tip to drag away the ink in the almost vine-like filigree that twists over and around the figure. Thick white highlights – that are suggestive of broad, quick brushstrokes – draw the figure out of the surrounding darkness. In the subsequent image the artist has wiped away more of the ink in the dress, and body, describing the figure more fully. One can appreciate the importance of this manipulation when considering the transformed tones surrounding the figure in Side Barre 2.
The figure is of supreme importance in Debra Luccio’s images; although clothed, the sense of the anatomy, even under the drapery is always apparent. This was also a key interest of Renaissance artists. There is a masterful sense of space occupation, as we see in Blue Dancer but also in Puck (the image in which the character of “that shrewd and knavish sprite” has truly been captured) and Flying Puck. These figures are in absolute command of the space that surrounds them. In these prints we witness the expressive impact that the performative aspects of the ballet have had on Debra’s work. The figures are captured both in moments of extreme action, and in poised stillness. Even those in motionless poses give the sense that in another heartbeat the pose will be abandoned and the dancer will move on.
Despite their physicality, many of the images have an ethereal dream-like quality to them. This is perhaps more apparent in the successive impressions where the colours soften and take on a marbled quality. It is especially evident in Toes 2 and Toes 3. The outline of dancer’s support dancer becomes more evident in these subsequent impressions, but rather than distracting from the main dancer, the figure acquires a sense of movement reminiscent of paintings by the Italian Futurists, where repetitions of a figure were used to convey movement.
Although the title of this exhibition indicates Debra Luccio’s indebtedness to the Queenland Ballet and their performance of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, the prints are not necessarily bound by this interpretation. The faces are for the most loose and sometimes only hinted at. Flying Puck has a mask-like face, and a majestic, powerful body, which seems to transform him into a kingly figure, rather than Shakespeare’s “merry wanderer of the night”. There is a wonderful abstract quality to the images, perhaps more apparent in the ghost images. While we are viewing what are recognisably human figures, this anonymity allows the viewer to develop their own narrative about these figures, a narrative that does not have to remain static. The images might inspire different responses in the viewer depending on what the viewer brings with them – mood or emotions – on any particular day. This flexibility of meaning adds layers that may not be what the artist intended, but remain valid.
In closing, I would like to encourage you all to take some time with the etchings in the far corner. There is both innovation and a wonderfully dynamic use of line in these intimate images that maintain all the freshness of drawing. And they are evidence of Debra’s continued enjoyment in pushing the boundaries of the print medium, and willingness to experiment.
I would like to congratulate Debra Luccio on another successful and beautifully presented exhibition.