THE BARN GALLERY and Residents Gallery at Montsalvat are both currently playing host to a collection of works created by a variety of artists at a remarkable studio nestled in the beautiful St Andrews bush.
The Baldessin Studio was established and built in St Andrews in the 1970s by the artists George Baldessin and his wife, Tess Edwards.
The untimely death of George Baldessin (1939–1978) might have robbed art of one of its creative giants, however Baldessin’s legacy has only intensified.
Following George’s death Tess moved to Paris, in part to run away from her grief, and in part to work as an artist in her own right, without the pressure of the Baldessin name.
“By going overseas, nobody knew the name, and I changed my surname to my maiden name of Edwards,” she told the Diary.”
“I had also wanted to give my kids space, so they did not grow up as tragic figures who had lost their father, because when George died, in the art world it was huge, because he was so well known as an artist and a teacher at RMIT.
“During that time, George’s work, which had been in storage, was really not seen because there was no one was championing his posthumous career.
“I knew I had to come back to do the right thing by George, and so I girded my loins and put my own career on hold, and I came back here and moved into the house,” said Tess.
She returned after 17 years to a studio which was largely left as George had left it.
“It was almost like Miss Havisham’s wedding feast, with the garlands of cobwebs adorning every surface.
“George’s studio had always been somewhere where people dropped in — there was always somethings to do — it was a lot of work but there was always a lot of good will and collegiate spirit,” she said.
So, in 2001 Tess decided to open up the studio and called it Baldessin Press, in George’s memory.
The space is still dominated by his large-scale electric printing press, used with pride by many artists, and by his sculptures in the grounds.
“I didn’t know what form it would take, we started with a few etching workshops and then things went on when Silvi Glattauer came along and she was instrumental in getting it all together,” Tess said.
Since then, the studio has gone from strength to strength and in the last few years they have forged an alliance with the State Library.
“Two of their fellowships are now residencies with the Baldessin Studio, one is sponsored by Rick Amor, and the other is the Tate Adam’s memorial residency — sponsored by Morag Fraser — they are very prestigious,” said Tess.
They have also recently joined with Australian Galleries and Fox Galleries for two further residencies.
“Apart from that, we do workshops in all types of print making and photographic processes,” she said.
This exhibition is an exploration of George Baldessin’s legacy.
“Many people don’t understand what the history is” said Tess, explaining last year’s National Gallery of Victoria exhibition, Baldessin/ Whitely: Parallel Visions, put George’s posthumous career back on the map.
It was a perfect time for the Baldessin Press to delve deeper in to George’s legacy and for the artists following in his footsteps, to show their work.
The exhibition showcases 39 artists who have a connection to the Baldessin Press, including Rick Amor, Michael Leunig, Rob Hails, Lloyd Godman, Chris Ingham and Tess Edwards, and the works are as diverse as the artists who produce them.
Several stories are told via videos screened at the exhibition, one outlines the history of the studio itself, and there is a heart-warming story of five young men who studied at what is now the Monash University’s School of Pharmacy in 1915.
The men gave up their studies to fight in the Great War — and gave their lives in the process.
Curator of the exhibition Christine Johnson worked at the Baldessin Press to produce floral artworks to represent each of the soldiers, which were presented to each of the families of the fallen solders as they were presented with posthumous degrees a century on.
The exhibition is complemented by a selection of George’s own prints and by The Baldessin & Friends Commemorative Folio, which celebrates the 15th anniversary of the Studio’s operation as a not-for-profit organisation.
The folio brings together seven celebrated Australian artists — Rick Amor, GW Bot, Jock Clutterbuck, Michael Leunig, Jan Senbergs, Imants Tillers and John Wolseley — each of whom shares a personal connection to George Baldessin or to the Studio.
Baldessin Studios — The Story is on at Montsalvat, with works in the Residents Gallery on display until August 18 with the remainder of the exhibition on display in the Barn Gallery until September 15.