The inaugural Toorak Village Art Affair ran from 19 October until 11 November 2012 and was intended as the little sister to the very successful Toorak Village Sculpture Exhibition that has been held in May each year for the past decade or more. The very walkable Toorak Village is the perfect long gallery in which to showcase more than 150 original graphic prints with over seventy shops and businesses participating.

The Toorak Village Traders Association recruited art historian and publisher of graphic prints, Robert C. Littlewood to curate this exhibition of art on easels. Littlewood’s mantra is ‘Art is for the People’ and this flavours these first offerings at the Toorak Village Art Affair. Mostly original graphic prints by well known Australian artists such as Pro Hart, Kenneth Jack, Lionel Lindsay, David Boyd, Leigh Hobbs, Andrew Sibley et al … together with one ‘guest’ international artist, Richard Spare – an Englishman with a delightful and highly developed talent for creating stunningly attractive hand coloured drypoint etchings.

Original Graphic Prints have a long and fine tradition in Western Art and its fitting that the etchings and wood engravings of Sir Lionel Lindsay featured in this exhibition given that he single handedly popularized both art forms in Australia from 1907 and 1922 respectively. These artworks of museum quality (as the print collections of the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, National Gallery of Victoria and the Australian National Gallery evidence) and they are highly collectable and decorative. Some of Lindsay’s Spanish etchings are reminiscent of an Orientalism that wet our appetite for exotic places that were less accessible in a bigger world.

Two other masters of printmaking are lavishly represented in this exhibition in the work of Kenneth Jack and Andrew Sibley. Jack was creating complex graphic prints of his urban subjects from the 1950s at a time when the rest of the Australian art world had just about forgotten about some of these delightful techniques. His stunning multiple colour images of ‘Old Melbourne Gaol’ (1961), ‘St. James Cathedral’ (1961), ‘The Royal Terrace, Fitzroy’ (1961), ‘Chinese Joss House, Bendigo’ (1962) and his earlier ‘Inland Town’ (1952) would sit very comfortably on the walls of any State or Regional art gallery. Kenneth Jack’s entire approach to his early printmaking was inventive and his mixing mediums subtly feature in his work … its not uncommon to find etching mixed with woodcut or linocut within the same image.

Andrew Sibley has been equally inventive with his employment of a technique known as ‘sugar lift aquatint’. These strong graphic statements of his ‘Music Lovers’ series feature the widest possible use of tone as created in aquatint. His application of the Sugar Lift medium including the stamping of pre-cut lino block textures into the plate to simulate grass or other patterns … an approach unique to this very senior and respected artist. Similarly, his hand coloured linocuts show equal mastery in design.

As a publisher of Original Graphic Prints, art historian Robert C. Littlewood was instrumental in facilitating the development of etchings by Pro Hart and Leigh Hobbs both of whom appeal to a very wide audience and to people who wouldn’t normally frequent ‘White Cube’ art galleries in the high street. Littlewood worked with Pro Hart for the last two years of the artist’s working life helping him create 120 etched images.

It wasn’t until the death of Pro Hart in 2006 that the art officionardos witnessed the warmth with which the common man embraced Pro Hart’s personality and his very accessible art. On exhibition was a very wide range of Hart’s ants, dragonflies and outback characters presented in some extremely finely produced graphic print mediums such as burnished aquatint through to more simple hand coloured line etchings.

Leigh Hobbs is a fine artist who has built a reputation for his storybook characters ‘Old Tom’, ‘Mr. Chicken’, ‘Horrible Harriet’ and ‘Fiona The Pig’ all of whom now strut the world stage being published by Bloomsbury in the United Kingdom and Disney in America. Although not entirely intended for the juvenile audience, Hobbs recent embrace of etching gives us some delightful hand coloured art works that will put a smile of a face of any age.