Wayne Singleton – Renaissance man
By Susan Prior
'The world would be happier if men had the same capacity to be silent that they have to speak.' Baruch Spinoza
Wayne Singleton reaches across to the wall of his studio and tweaks the angle of a couple of his prints, which are hanging there in a row. He turns back to me and continues talking. ‘We should remember that we are all just dust; we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously’ he says. Then he scrutinises the row of prints again and remarks that now the other ones seem to be askew. A few more minor adjustments and all’s well. I empathise completely. I need my pictures to be all perfectly square, too.
Wayne is a relief printmaker and is responsible for the print of Graceville Croquet Club on an earlier article in Secret Brisbane. And at the time of writing he had just finished a gig as the feature artist at Brisbane Grammar School’s Art Show. Originally trained as a stereo cutter, or block maker, Wayne avoids technology as much as possible in his art, preferring to go back to basics: old-fashioned pen nib and ink, lino and cutting tools. Back 45 years ago, technology was very different. Fonts, for example, had to be adjusted manually. ‘We had to condense the fonts in our heads,’ says Wayne.
In those days, if someone wanted a Franklin Bold, 48-point typeface, he could draw it from memory. Garamond, 12-point, italic? No problem. ‘You invested hours in drawing the type, and if the client didn’t like it—’ He tails off. The implications of a dissatisfied client were not lost on me. In today’s world we take two clicks of a mouse to achieve the same thing, and the client can be quickly appeased.
The process of making a print is not complicated, but it is utterly painstaking. Before Wayne even takes a photograph, lifts a pen, or cuts a linoleum block, he will sit quietly and meditatively contemplating his subject. He says, ‘When I draw, I draw myself into a relationship with a place or with the people of that place. I am capturing not just a visual representation, but the essence.’
Showing me a block he is working on of a river scene, he says that by the time he begins work, ‘I’ve sat by the river and interrogated it. I have done all my thinking. It takes a long time to clear your mind and not impose what you know on what is there.’
When he begins work he will take photographs. Printed in black and white, these are used as the basis of his drawings. ‘I move and push things around a bit. I am looking at the structure.’
As we chat, we are accompanied by the smoothly satisfying whoosh in and out of the mapping drawer runners as he extracts examples of various stages of artwork to show me.
Once he is happy with his drawing, he transfers the composition onto the lino block, in reverse, by pen and ink, before beginning the process of cutting the block ever-so minutely by hand. This process can take as long as 60 hours.
This softly spoken and thoughtful artist is a polymath if ever there was one. While he is cutting he will have a head full of thoughts, which he jots down on his sketch pad. ‘I am really interested in philosophy and theology. People like Spinoza are like heroes to me.’ (Baruch Spinoza was a Dutch philosopher of Sephardi Portuguese origin.) He shows me his sketch book inscribed with copious notes: ‘As I am working, I am reflecting the whole time. These are just mental journeys.’
With our decreasing attention spans, and our impatience to achieve instant gratification, Wayne’s level of detailed craftsmanship is becoming a rare commodity. I ask him from whom he inherited his skills. He believes it came from his mother who, he says, was a highly skilled artisan—and a perfectionist. She was a cornelli machinist and pattern maker – cornelli work is a type of intricate embroidery. As a young man, Wayne studied at night – four nights a week in the early years – for 12 years. ‘I was determined to get off the factory floor. I was the first one to finish high school in my family – ever.’
He was born and brought up in Melbourne, where he worked as a tram conductor for a few months before going to work with Australian Consolidated Industries. It was this company that sent him to ‘tech’ at night, in the days before workers were regarded as being merely a company resource. ‘Back then,’ he says, ‘there was patronage’. Wayne clearly holds the craftsmen who trained him at ACI in high esteem; his distinctive block-maker’s mark (bottom right of his artworks) is a nod to them and is reflected in the angle of the letters.
Wayne was a teacher at a secondary Anglican girls’ school for 28 years, before becoming a full-time print maker in 2014. He taught first in art and more recently in graphic design technology; but, as he also has qualifications in theology, he taught religious studies as well.
He intimated that the computer classes were not his favourite. ‘All I want to do is draw. I draw with fundamental tools. The less technology I have between me and the paper the better I like it, which is why I like relief blocking. Cutting blocks is to me as natural as breathing.’
‘The less technology I have between me and the paper the better I like it.’
He seems to be a man very much at peace with himself. Perhaps that comes with creating things. ‘And,’ he agrees, ‘by remembering that we are all dust. If you take yourself too seriously you take yourself to be immortal, and you’re not. How important can you be? You are dust. But while you are here, it is what you do with that dust.’
Wayne has kindly allowed us to reproduce some of his artworks on this page. You can find out more about Wayne and view more of his artwork on his website, here.