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12TH - 31ST OCTOBER 2019

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Tara McLeod Biography 

Recognised as New Zealand’s leading letterpress printer and described by art critic Dr Peter Simpson as “one of NZ’s truly unique artists being highly accomplished over a whole range of artistic print activities” McLeod’s work is held in major museums, art galleries, libraries and private collections throughout the world.

Tara McLeod grew up in Mt Eden, Auckland in a family where he was exposed to fine arts, his father being a collector and patron of contemporary NZ artists, notably Lois White.  He left school in the 1960s, served his apprenticeship as a printing compositor, then worked as a typographer for a major advertising company where his interest in graphic design took form.  Over time Tara worked for several advertising agencies and design groups as a specialist art finisher: airbrushing, photo retouching and hand lettering.  

In his spare time at his rural home in Huapai, Tara started to explore and create with word carving and sculpture with found farm objects.  Here too his interest in letterpress typography was rekindled when he acquired the 1832 cast iron, flatbed, Albion handpress, able to print a 16” x 31” impression - which he housed in the old milking shed alongside the Massey Harris tractor.   The garden of his next home, an old villa in Mt Albert, included a brick dairy shed under a prolific pear tree.  The Albion was installed in the shed and here Tara launched The Pear Tree Pressin 1985.  Here, fully aware that computer graphics was replacing commercial art as he had known it, Tara committed to take his interest to the level of an artform.  

Shifting to Waitoki in 2004, Tara added the Littlejohn cylinder press, a large collection of metal and wooden type styles and many other accumulated treasures.  In 2010 Christine and Tara moved to their present home in Orewa with its agreeable spaces to house the presses, trays of type, tools, collected items, and his expanding library. However, they discovered the ceiling was too low for the Albion press, so Tara cut a hole to accommodate it.  Most paper works in this exhibition have been created here.

Between 2001- 2013 Tara was University of Auckland’s Holloway Press designer printer producing 21 books and other smaller pieces.  He has also enjoyed being the Printer in Residence Otakau Press, Otago University, Dunedin.  He continues to create and produce from The Peartree Press every available day.

Tara McLeod Artist Statement

As the commercial art and printing world transitioned from manual to computer technologies, I chose not to join in.  Rather, this revolution enabled me to make a conscious decision to move on from what had been, until this point, my hobby.  I chose to venture into new and higher places with letterpress typography, pushing its boundaries.  This quote from Alan Loney became my mantra:

One chooses either to simply muck about in the shed with an old printing press, or to acquire at considerable cost and some risk to one’s emotional stability, standards of excellence comparable with the finest anywhere in the world.

My fascination and experimentation are twofold: the technology of the old presses and potential and capacity for design. The physical intimacy of handling the type and equipment with its 500 plus years of history invites a knowledge of the development of typestyles, typographic trends, making the images and so on.  I like to study the wider design principles, taking them into consideration to bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary design. 

I enjoy that the old Albion printing press performs exactly the same today as it did in 1832, just like other printing machines centuries before it.  I enjoy the immediacy, the tactile nature of type, the equipment and experimenting with what can be achieved.  

Experimentation has included trials in printing long continuous sheets.  The Albion press, open and both ends of the bed and platen, allows a long length to be fed through, printing in numerous sections, which are registered to maintain an unbroken flow of text.  I created a sheet length of 2.55 metres x 38 cm set in mostly wood type.  The sheet was concertinaed and bound into a book. 

I have also experimented with multicolour prints using a reverse process, laying the paper on the press bed, and dropping the inked type, mainly large size, into position by hand.   

I take my creative inspiration from writers whose texts appeal to me.When a writer or poet’s words resonate, my challenge is to visually and typograph-ically create something new yet convey the inherent feeling and intent of the writer, retaining the integrity of their message.  I like to think my printed work is ‘harmonising with the writer’s’ words.

Tara McLeod - Typography in the Third Dimension

Tara describes his three-dimensional pieces as a logical extension to his 2-dimensional practice on paper.  Inventively using timber and other found objects to create three-dimensional graphic assemblages he invites his viewers to look into the text rather than simply at it.   He is influenced by Marshall McLuhan (1964) who coined the expression The Medium is the Message- the medium through which a message is experienced shapes the recipient’s perception of the message. 

Designing then cutting the letters on a bandsaw, usually from Macrocarpa timber, provides Tara a sense of freedom, of reduced rigidity than when working in letterset type. Design elements he considers are the depth of the letter in relation to letter size, balance and weight, angles of viewing, lighting and surface finishes.  

The application of three-dimensional letterforms that are visually and typographically right for a given message is the challenge.  With his interpretation of a poet/writer’s work is the responsibility to retain its integrity, flow, line breaks, and to convey the feeling inherent in the work. 

Today a laser cutter could be used to make these letters, but so doing would eliminate the visible hand of the maker. 

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