Ben Laycock talks to Marte Newcombe

Ben Laycock, painter talks to Marte Newcombe, printer/sculptor about her background, her studio and her time working for NASA.

BEN LAYCOCK – Could you tell us something about your background? Where you grew up? marte-newcombe

MARTE NEWCOMBE – I was born in Switzerland and our family immigrated to Australia when I was two. I grew up in a small country town north of Hobart in Tasmania. I always wanted to make art from a very young age and I remember some of the kids in my primary school classes exchanging lollies for my drawings. We moved to Hobart when I was ten and for the rest of my school years, my plan was to become an artist. However the plans were waylaid when I decided to go to university first, then I got married and had children. Once the kids were in school I followed up on my artistic plans by starting a fine arts degree at the Canberra School of Art. I had the privilege of working with Ron Robertson-Swann as my lecturer and his teaching still influences me.

BL – How did you end up in the United States?

MN – After completing my first year at CSA, my husband got a job in Washington DC.

BL – What did you do there?

MN – I continued my fine arts degree at the Corcoran College of Art and Design and graduated in 1985. I majored in sculpture and printmaking and got a job at the Corcoran as the printmaking lab technician. One year later I was offered a teaching position there in screenprinting. I continued my own personal development by taking courses in printmaking and by the early nineties I began to learn how to use the computer as a tool for making art. One of the conditions of my job was to keep exhibiting my work so I participated in exhibitions throughout the US and Russia, where I taught summer printmaking classes for the Corcoran.

After a few years of teaching at the Corcoran, I was approached by Georgetown University and George Washington University to teach printmaking there. I had pioneered a course which combined screenprinting with computers and the local universities were keen to offer these classes.

BL – I’ve heard that you worked with NASA., what can you say about art and science?

MN – Around 1997 I broke my foot in an accident and was immobile for some weeks. I channel surfed a lot before I came upon the NASA channel which was live feed 24/7 from the International Space Station as well as any other spacecraft that happened to be up there. It was so beautiful and relaxing watching earth from the orbits in space. I decided to apply for a summer fellowship at NASA as a graphic artist. I was accepted and worked for two summers with the incredibly talented and brilliant people at the Scientific Visualisation Studio at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland. After the second summer they offered me a permanent part-time job. At this stage I was working four part-time jobs so life was pretty hectic.

The satellite imagery we worked with was very inspiring and beautiful. I teamed up with a computer scientist who was interested in art. We collaborated for many years, along with 2 colleagues from the Corcoran and our work was exhibited at quite a few shows in the US as well as a solo show of our collaborations called “Art from Science” at NASA.

BL – How is it different, art-wise, to here?

MN – The US, with its much larger population and great diversity of culture, provides much greater opportunities for artists than what I have experienced so far in Australia.

BL – What brought you back to Australia and why Castlemaine, of all places?

MN – My children both went to university in Australia after completing high school in the US and they went on to settle in Australia. Originally the plan was to stay in the US for 3-5 years but it soon became 24 years and at that point I decided that I really did want to come back as originally planned, to be closer to my family. It was a very difficult choice after so many years away and with so many good things happening in my career and of course having to leave behind many wonderful friendships.

I first moved back to Melbourne and lived there for 5 years. My father and sister had moved to Castlemaine many years ago and I had became quite familiar with the area and really loved it. In many ways it reminded me of my childhood in the Tasmanian countryside. I finally decided two and a half years ago that Melbourne metropolitan madness was not for me and even though I work there part-time, I have the best of both worlds by calling Castlemaine home.

BL – What are you working on now?

MN – I have just recently built a studio under my house which is primarily a screenprinting workshop. Everything is water-based so the toxicity of the medium in past times is no longer a problem. I am working on some unfinished prints I started a few years ago. I have also been doing some plein-air painting of the local area.

BL – What is your next project?

MN – I am working towards an exhibition of screenprints in Melbourne in October this year.

Both Marte Newcombe and Ben Laycock are participating in Arts Open. See their profiles:

Marte Newcombe

Ben Laycock