What do Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Philippe Le Miere share in common? Despite being hundreds of years and kilometres apart, these artists are all exponents of an almost forgotten medium – the pochoir (posh-waar). A kind of stencilling technique, the pochoir sees an artist layer and hand colour each component of their image. Laborious and time consuming as this may be, the pochoir is also responsible for some of the sumptuous images printmaking has to offer.
In his latest series, Le Miere revives this nineteenth-century technique. Instead of flapper dresses and Art Deco designs however, his pochoirs stare into the bright lights of Hollywood. So roll up - the show is about to begin.
A Quick History of the Pochoir
It was 1890 and Paris was in the midst of a creative resurgence. Art Nouveau and Deco fashion journals were booming and the glistening Jazz age was rounding the corner. The appetite for pochoirs was ripe.
The appeal of the pochoir lay in its luxuriousness. Able to replicate an image not only faithfully but with an aura of opulence, artists, designers and high-end publishers employed the medium in catalogues, fashion journals, advertising and fine art. At its height, France boasted as many as thirty pochoir studios, each employing up to six-hundred workers.
Left - one of Pablo Picasso's first Pochoirs. Right - Picassa and Olga in front of the costume design.
By the 1930s however, the pochoir was withering, superseded by more efficient, mechanised printing techniques. What made it so beloved – its devotion to the artisan – was also its demise.
A New Life in Melbourne
Le Miere happened upon the pochoir by accident. He was experimenting with painterly printing techniques when, unbeknownst to him, he produced a pochoir. The experiment was then taxonified by artist and art critic Jeffrey Makin, who “in a light bulb moment” recognised it as a pochoir. A hundred-years apart, the pochoir and Le Miere met on new ground.
For Le Miere, this spark of discovery is integral to the medium’s draw. He describes “a process of discovery” where each accident spurs a new solution;
“The 'creativity' lived not just in the final image, but also within a creativity we might often associate with problem solving.”
This problem solving, he says, is part of art’s magic. It can reawaken our capacity for innovation.
When the Pochoir came to Hollywood
An artist’s choice of medium is not incidental. Instead, whether a sculpture, watercolour or pochoir, the medium through which an idea is communicated can be just as meaningful as the subject itself. In its heyday, the pochoir’s popularity was inextricable from the culture that bore it. Lavish, glitzy and built to impress, it was the ‘Roaring Twenties’ of printing techniques.
In our (not so) ‘Roaring Twenties’ however, the pochoir takes on a new resonance. For Le Miere, that the technique has a pixel-esque quality suits his subject matter – mainstream cinema. From another perspective however, the contrast between the rush of contemporary life and painstaking pochoir is vital. Le Miere reflects;
“I wanted to create something that spoke of our 21st century in subject matter, but was made by hand. The effect of looking upon something handmade is contemplative for the viewer. Allowing us to stop and reflect upon our fast paced contemporary lives.”
Like his practice at large, Le Miere’s rediscovery of the pochoir was a stroke of unfettered thinking. It unites a lost form of artistry with classic cinema, allowing viewers to “participate in the stories of their time”. This is the goal of artists, says Le Miere. Whether turn of century Paris or life today, the pochoir offers a bright, beautiful and graspable way to explore this, telling its own story along the way.
Discover the full collection here.