Redback’s posters – their majestic scale, luscious surfaces, lolly-like brightness – belong to a historically specific moment. It may have been brief in duration but wow was it volcanic in force.
Redback Graphix germinated in Brisbane in 1979 whilst Michael Callaghan was artist in residence at Griffith University, Queensland with a brief to set up a screen printing workshop.
Creating posters and being paid a regular wage to do so was an appealing novelty at the time. The posters produced under the Redback Graphix banner were informed by Michael’s earlier work with the Earthworks Collective operating out of the Tin Sheds at Sydney University in the 1970s but now with a commercial twist - ‘I just thought we should actually do something...about setting up a kind of workshop that did the same sort of stuff politically that was going on at The Sheds, but instituted a different culture, where you actually got paid’ Residency over Michael moved back to his home town Wollongong, NSW – a multicultural industrial town with a strong union backbone.
Callaghan initially teamed up with Gregor Cullen and started in earnest this advertising agency for the left creating posters within a commercial framework for a politically active client base from trade unions through to community action groups to cultural organisations and of course including exuberant dance posters which epitomised the times.
Redback Graphix re-located to Sydney in the 1980s and in partnership with Alison Alder and Leonie Lane and with a myriad of artists joining for specific projects consolidated the iconic style and expanded the client base to include government departments working on health and aboriginal affairs projects amongst others. Redback Graphix was timely and perfectly positioned to ride the wave of this unique period in Australian culture where community arts and art and working life projects were actively supported by both the government arts funding bodies such as the Australia Council and progressive public servants looking at new ways to communicate with their clients.
Always with a clear political and social consciousness lightened with a heavy dose of irreverence and humour these posters were very much a product of their time – vibrant, fluorescent with a pop graphic sensibility and a heavy reliance on graphic imagery to convey the message. The budgets were healthy and supported the production of high quality, large scale posters with up to five colours.
The work of Redback Graphix was influenced by the collective experiences of the artists who produced them – American comic and Japanese manga influences, re-purposing found images, Mexican imagery which was to find its way into Michael’s solo work, the experience of artists like Marie McMahon, Ray Young and others who had worked in the Northern territory with aboriginal communities and the punk sensibilities of the time.