Monday, 7 December 2015

Axel Sutinen and Colin Little - from Yellow House to Tin Sheds

Axel Sutinen and Colin Little, Chapter III - Summer Show at the Yellow House, screenprint in 4 colours on paper (black, red, blue and yellow), 51.5 x 75.5cm, Earthworks Poster Co., Tin Sheds, Sydney, 1972. 

Text: From 16th Feb. Chapter III. Summer Show at the Yellow House, Experimental Art Gallery. 59 Macleay St. Potts Point Sydney * Terra Australis. With Antoinette's Murmuring Clouds, Sam Bienstock's Worldly Photographs - Spaceship by Marty & Markis. Jewellion's Celestial Circus. Gary's Shop Victoriana - Mirror Room by Rina Houdini - The Cabinet of Dr. Bruce Goold - The Spookieland - Spacetrip - Movies from the Past and Present... Art Classes etc. "What you make it" - Yellowhouse Band. Constructions: Dr. Ellis Fogg and a lot of help from Everyone! Poster by Asko Sutenin the one and only **** Finnish Spaceman 72 * Ph. 3571350 - ph. 357-1350. Plus including Jewellion's Celestial Circus .... Of Course. Phone 3571350.  Tell Everyone! About the incredible Yellow House.... Eternity. Fogglights by Ellis D. Fogg. Eternity Eternity Eternity Eternity Eternity Eternity ...... Earthworks Poster Co - 19c72.

Two significant artist communities developed in Sydney during the 1970s. They were the Yellow House at 57-59 Macleay Street, Potts Point, and the Tin Sheds at the Fine Arts Workshop and Studio, University of Sydney. The first was created in 1970 by artist Martin Sharp and filmmaker Albie Thoms (Thoms 2013), whilst the latter began in 1968-9 and developed under the direction of artists such Bert Flugelman and Guy Warren, along with a coterie of talented students and community members (Kenyon 1995, Allam 2007). Referred to at the time as an "experimental art gallery", the Yellow House shared similarities with the Tin Sheds in that it was an alternate art space which rejected the traditional gallery and art school models and attempted to create a new environment in which artists - young and old - could engage collaboratively and exhibit their works.

Martin Sharp was a leading light of the Sixties counterculture, especially in regards to his work with OZ magazine in both Sydney and London between 1963 and 1973. An artist commune was one of the many cultural alternatives posited during this period of revolutionary thought and action in the West. Sharp had engaged in a small way in such a commune within the centre of London between 1966-8 when he lived at the Pheasantry. This multi-storey apartment building on the King's Road, London, contained a group of young artists, writers, filmmakers and photographers - many Australian - working at their art and generally having a good time. Sharp was also increasingly inspired during the latter part of the Sixties by Vincent van Gogh's dream of an artist community which he attempted to create in a 2-storey building known as the Yellow House at Arles, France. Like the Dutch artist in the 1880s, Martin Sharp put his vision into practice upon returning to Australia at the beginning of 1970.

The two physical environments which emerged in Sydney were very different, and on opposite sides of town - the Yellow House was located in a 3-storey terrace building on the eastern edge of the city centre, amidst densely packed high-rise commercial and residential properties, whilst the Tin Sheds were just that - a series of hot, rather dilapidated sheds on the sprawling outskirts of the University of Sydney precinct, west of the city centre. The Yellow House was initially developed by Sharp and Thoms and involved their growing community of friends and acquaintances in a variety of multimedia forms of expression - from painting and performance through to music and film. The Tin Sheds was based around the lecturers and students enrolled at the University of Sydney art and architecture departments. Its most notable expression was in the area of printmaking and sculpture. The Yellow House closed its doors at the beginning of 1973; the Tin Sheds operated through to the 1980s. On the surface the two were separate and distinct - one academic, but both somewhat anarchic, comprising professional and semi-professional practictioners working across a broad range of artistic endeavours. Yet there were connnections. One of the most significant was Axel Sutinen and Colin Little's Yellow House silkscreened poster of 1972. Sutinen was a young visting Finnish artist then resident in the Yellow House; Little was associated with the Tin Sheds. This piece of ephemeral street art is a link between two communities. Its origin is outlined below in the words of surviving artist and former resident of the Yellow House, Axel (Asko) Sutinen.


Axel Sutinen, in an email dated 7 December 2015, noted the following in regards to the creation of the Yellow House poster:

When I created it with Colin Little, I was 19 yrs old and it was my very first public street-poster in silkscreen. Colin had come to the Yellow House one day and suggested that we design and print a poster together for the the 3rd Chapter exhibition opening of the Yellow House at the beginning 1972. I drew the outlines in black ink onto íllustration board in my room at the Yellow House and asked some other artists for their opinion on it. Rina Cruickshank and Antoinette Starkiewicz were some of the artists that advised me on improving on it. I think that Rina actually drew the falling leaves on the right hand side. I saw it as a collective effort. 

The idea came to me as a mythological Goddess being born out of the sea in front of a rising sun. Much like the Statue of Liberty by Frederic Bartholdi in New York (hence the reference to a ray-like crown), she was guiding the way to a new creative, prosperous and peaceful open culture. But my version [presented] her being born naked from the water (as the goddess Aphrodite who was born from the foam of the waves), and surrounded by UFOs and a floating Egyptian Great Pyramid. She is holding the trident of Neptune with a waving flag of victory in her right hand. So it was like a rebirth of a new culture into a more universal state of being. The exhibition's titles and names of the artists were half hidden texts in the cyclical waves. As usual it didn´t occur to me that it could be offensive in any way, though I did receive some judgement about it. 

The black ink colour was printed using a red photosensitive emulsion stencil we had exposed laying a sheet of positive film of the ink drawing, placed on top of the photo emulsion sheet and then placed in the sun in the backyard of the Tin Shed studios, in City Road next to the Sydney University refectory building. The stencil was left exposed in the sun for a half a day to expose the red emulsion to make a negative image. That was then applied to a silkscreen after developing. All the other stencils for the other colours I hand cut with a surgical blade from a green stencil emulsion sheet and later applied to silkscreens.

Colin and I printed the poster in four colours at the Tin Shed printing studio and while working on it we invented the name "Earthworks Collective" together and came up with the eye in the pyramid logo. We had thought of it as an idea of a democratic group of artists that can do things i.e. design and print alternative cultural posters and flyers together and with total freedom of expression outside the boundaries of conventional media rules.

We did many colour variations of the poster including with UV-inks...Maybe about a hundred or so copies. It was the very first of many posters that "the Earthworks Collective" produced, after that the number of artists started to increase. Later on I designed and printed with Colin many other posters as also did Colin, Sam Bienstock and Tim Burns among other artists. In the early 80s when I returned from my travels in Europe, I sadly heard that Colin had passed away after spending time studying printing-techinques in Japan. He had developed leukemia from breathing in the deadly printing ink fumes for many years.

Colin Little (1952-1982) has been cited as the founder of the Earthworks Poster Collective in 1971 (Butler 2002; Mackinolty 2012). He produced a significant group of posters between 1972 and his death just over a decade later, often collaborating with artists and assisting in the silkscreen printing process. For example, in 1976 he worked with Yellow House founder Martin Sharp on a poster for the Australian film Jeremy and Teapot. Little was a master printmaker amongst the young group of Tin Shed artists.

Martin Sharp and Colin Little, Jeremy and Teapot, Earthworks Poster Collective and Tin Sheds Workshop, Sydney, silkscreen print in two colours, Sydney, 1976.

Axel Sutinen was born in Kuusaankoski, Finland in 1952. He was known as Asko Sutinen whilst resident at the Yellow House and produced a number of posters in Sydney during the period 1972-3 prior to leaving Australia for Europe. He returned to study and between 1980-8 completed a Bachelor of Arts in painting and a post-graduate diploma in Profession Art Studies at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales. Between 1984-8 he exhibited in numerous personal and collective exhibitions in Sydney, Melbourne and Bryon Bay, and since 1990 has participated in similar events in Finland and Portugal, along with the 1986 Sydney Biennale. Apart from these Australian experiences he has also been an active participant in the European modern art scene. Since 1982 he has produced numerous multimedia installations, scenographies, wall-paintings, frescoes and commissions in Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy and Germany. Since 1993 he has also received numerous grants, including one from the Finnish Cultural Foundation in 2001. In 2000 he studied Italian fresco techniques at the Monumental Arts Workshop, Royal College of Fine Arts, Stockholm, and during that year represented Helsinki at the European Cultural Capital in Bologna, Italy for the Muro Dipinto Biennale. In 2003 he participated in the Return of Mir Iskussttva exhibition in St. Petersburg, Russia. Axel's work is represented in various collections in Australia, the United Kingdom, Finland, the United States and elsewhere. He Lives and works in Helsinki, Finland and in Portugal.

The Yellow House poster and its variants

Sutinen's Yellow House poster is a complex work reflecting the "collective effort" noted in his description of its creation. The primary collaborator was Colin Little, though he also sought advice on the work from artists such as Rina Cruickshank, Antoinette Starkiewicz and Roger Foley. As an advertisement for an group of shows at the Yellow House, the poster is full of information and motifs. The 4-colour printing in deep red, blue, yellow and black gives rise to a richly textured poster, with additional green, orange and brown highlights. One interesting aspect to the poster is the dual referenece to lightshow creator Roger Foley, alias Ellis D. Fogg. Within Sutinen's text on the bottom of the poster are the words: Constructions: Dr. Ellis Fogg, and along the lower right edge is additional text in the hand of Foley: Fogglights by Ellis D. Fogg. Eternity Eternity Eternity Eternity Eternity Eternity ..... According to Foley, this came about as follows:

You might ask why is my scribble on the side of the poster? I was in and out of the Yellow House often and had two environments going as well as helping the new younger artists keep it running. Albie Thoms was very positive about their involvement. Martin had gone back to London a bit disillusioned about the anger between some of the older residents mentioned in Albie’s book [My Generation, 2013]. I was offered - but rejected - the title “manager” and was happy just being a contributing artist. One day Axel showed me a poster full of information and asked me if I would like to be included and add some text. I said I would think of some words to add and as there was not much space available I just wrote on the side thinking that the poster designers would somehow fit it in with their design, perhaps on the side of the pyramid or somewhere. I was quite amused when I later saw the finished result, as they had printed it just as I had written it - on the side. Sometimes the borders and my script are cropped off the poster and sometimes not. As an aside I might mention that years later in 2005 at the wake for Linda Thoms in Balmoral Bathers Pavilion, Albie said he had met Linda at the Yellow House and Martin in his eulogy said he did not know that, but that thankfully “some good came out of it.”

Another of the Yellow House artist gets dual mention on the poster - Jewellion's Celestial Circus - both within the body of the artwork, and on the lower edge almost as an afterthought. As noted in Axel Sutinen's outline on the origin and production of the Yellow House poster, there were a number of variants produced during the silkscreening process. Some are listed below.

Variant with black, yellow and blue inks.

Variant with black and red inks.

Variant with black, yellow, red and brown inks.

 Variant with ?flourescent red and yellow inks.

The origin of Earthworks

An interesting Facebook discussion took place on 11 December 2015 around the origin of the name Earthworks, stimulated by a question from Joe Davis. An answer was provided by Axel Sutinen, who was there at the time of its creation. Roger Foley also added to the discussion.

Joe Davis: Any memories of why the name "Earthworks" was chosen?

Michael Organ: We would have to ask Axel Sutinen that, as Colin Little died in the early 1980s.

Axel Sutinen: Earthworks Collective was chosen because it had allusions to an holistic planetary awareness, ancient monumental structures like the Great Pyramid & Stonehenge, and in modern art works like The Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson that was made in 1970.

 Robert Smithson, The Spiral Jetty, Great Salt Lake, Utah, April 1970.

Roger Foley-Fogg: And incidentally and synchronously it was at about that time - the 60s and 70s - that the younger generation became aware of the planet, the Earth, being one living system, a feeling and realisation which drove the whole Counter Culture .. Probably inspired by India and Vasudeva Kutumbakam and the zeitgeist, the gestalt of the times - because the times were changing.

Axel Sutinen: Also there was at the Tin Sheds a strong alternative-architectual awareness. Next door was "Autonomous House", designed with sustainable technology to be completely "Off the grid". 

Autonomous House, University of Sydney, built 1974. Sources: Larry Speck blog. and Chain Reaction article 1976.

And soon the Nimbin Aquarius Festival 1973 came about, so a strong "Grass Roots" movement was being born at the time. I then became part of The White Company performance troupe, started by John Allen (head of the Australian Union of University students) to promote the Festival and a lot of the posters involved with all that were produced at the Tin Sheds. Many artists designed, photographed, hand cut stencils & then printing in the workshop. And Colin Little did most of the printing. Many all-nighter printing sessions went on... 

P.s. Roger - who is Vasudeva Kutumbakam?

Roger Foley-Fogg: It is a Hindi phrase and means "the world is one" .. I think a lot of 60s inspiration came from India and her colourful Gods and from Ghandi who banned big corporations like Coca Cola from operating there. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (From "vasudhā", the earth; "ēva" = indeed is; and "kutumbakam", family;) is a Sanskrit phrase which means "the world is one family".

Axel Sutinen: Okay! and Gandhi´s philosophy of non-violent revolution... :-) The architects Col James & Bill Lucas were most likely involved with the autonomous house project, as they were later with the Nimbin Aquarius Festival 1973.

Roger Foley: Bill pops up in this movie as well as others you will know:

Roger Foley-Fogg, Aquarius Festival, Nimbin, 1973 - the first culture / lifestyle festival in OZ. Duration: 22 minutes. Source: Youtube.


Allam, Lorena, The Hothouse: art and politics at the Tin Sheds, ABC Radio, 2007,

Butler, Roger, Political Clout: Australian Posters, Eye magazine, 12(46), 2002.

Kenyon, Therese, Under a Hot Tin Roof: art, passion and politices at the Tin Sheds workshop, State Library of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 1995, 152p.

Mackinolty, Chips, This is not a history ..... but something along the lines of some uncomfortable memories of the Earthworks Poster Collective, Volume 1: MCA Collection, Museaum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2012, 100-103.

Thoms, Albie, My Generation, Sydney, 2013.

Compiled by Michael Organ, Axel Sutinen and Roger Foley
Last updated: 14 December 2015