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The Journey Begins

Heading off on an adventure to Johannesburg, South Africa where I’ll be spending time at Artist Proof Studio.  I’ll be working in their pro shop on some of my own prints and teaching an etching workshop.  Excited doesn’t begin to describe my feelings.

I am taking this trip because of the support of the Augusta Savage Gallery, UMass, Artist International Residency Program, The Massachusetts Cultural Council’s local Northampton and Amherst Councils, and Zea Mays Printmaking.  I am so grateful to all of these communities for their recognition and financial support.

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I’ll be writing about my experiences along the way.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

South Africa is a long way from Massachusetts. After 2 days of travel and the longest plane ride of my life (11 hrs) I landed in this beautiful place. The flora reminds me of Southern California – palm trees, climbing ivies and jacarandas. It’s very green because they’ve had a rainy spring.

I’m staying at Kim Berman’s (Director of Artist Proof Studio) for the first few days and already I feel at home. Kim and her partner Robyn are wonderful hosts. Kim took me to Artist Proof Studio today to meet Lucas, one of the studio managers and see the place.

APS is located in the old bus factory in the heart of downtown Johannesburg. It’s a vast space and the studio occupies a portion of it. At one time it was a real cultural hub with a theater company in the building and small incubator spaces. But it’s become victim to gentrification and many of the tenants have had to move.

APS itself is very large – with spacious studios where they do etching, litho, relief and drawing. They run an amazing educational program for post high school students. It’s a 3 year course of study in printmaking for selected promising young artists. The students pay nothing and are trained to be able to make a living in printmaking after they complete the program. I look forward to learning much more about it and meeting students. They are currently on summer break, but I think I will get to meet many, and their teachers are all taking my workshop.

Lucas and I went over the supplies I’ll need for the workshop I’m teaching, beginning on Tuesday. My list was a bit of a mystery to him – soy sauce and instant coffee? Candle wax and dish soap? Not the usual printmaking supplies! On Monday the two of us will set up the space for the workshop, mix mordants, make demo plates and fine tune the plans for the workshop.

The Pro-Shop where they do their editioning projects and workshops

Another view of the pro-shop

Tonight I rest with the hope of acclimating to the time difference quickly. I can already tell that there is so much I want to do and see, so many people to meet and so much to learn while I’m here.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Today was the day to get set up for the workshop. I’m told 25 people will be there – staff from APS and representatives from other print shops around the area and faculty from the University of Johannesburg. There seems to be a real hunger for the safer practices I’ll be introducing. We’re moving the workshop into the teaching space because the pro-shop is too small for such a large group.

On the way into the shop I went with Kim Berman to the University of Johannesburg where she teaches. We passed through the security gates where they were being extra cautious because they were anticipating a student demonstration. The general elections are soon and there’s tension around it.

There is security everywhere I’ve been. All of the buildings I’ve been in so far are surrounded by big walls, heavy gates and electric fencing.

I followed Kim around like a little puppy. She has so much energy and is busy with so many responsibilities. She met with a grad student, helped a colleague with her PhD thesis, submitted a budget and gathered up some trays for me to use in the workshop, all before 10 AM! On our way out we stopped at the paper making studio that Kim helped found. Everything Kim is involved in aims to provide education and income earning skills to young Africans.

Kim in the papermaking studio

The Hollander beater

Paper pulp on a screen

We then zipped off to Artist Proof studio, which is in the heart of the old downtown in Johannesburg. It’s an area that at one time was the business center of the city. When Apartheid ended, the white businesses fled the downtown for the suburbs and the area fell into economic neglect. But it’s undergoing gentrification which may threaten APS’s ability to stay in this location.

When we got to the studio a wonderful team of print shop assistants helped me set up for the workshop. We cleaned trays, weighed and measured chemicals, mixed up etching baths and made soapy water bottles, vegetable oil containers and soy sauce bottles in preparation for a lot of plate making tomorrow. We grounded some plates and tried out the new hot plate cover that Lucas welded just for the occasion. Innovation is in full force.

Everyone got involved in making the coffee lift test plate.

By 2 PM were were well on our way to being ready and they all had a staff meeting, so I bid my farewell and got an Uber back to Kim’s.

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The workshop is in full swing

It’s day 2 of the workshop and things are going really well. I’ve been doing demonstrations in the morning for about 25 people and around 15 stay for the afternoon to try their hand at the different techniques. They are a mix of APS teachers, students, printers and other South African printers from Joberg and further afield, and academics from several universities. They include folks who have their own studios, or work at big ones like David Krut studio. There seems to be a real interest in learning safer etching and I am thrilled to be introducing some new methods to a very sophisticated group of printmakers. I’m especially excited that Diane Victor is taking the workshop. I’ve admired her work since I saw it in NY at the print fair years ago. She’s eager to learn safer techniques for her self and for the workshops she teaches occasionally. Today she was telling us about a workshop she did recently on the wild coast (a very rural part of the country) that was held outdoors and how the biggest challenge was keeping the monkeys out of the nitric acid baths! Now that’s a problem I’ve never encountered!

My favorite people by far are the eager students. These young artists are so excited about what they are learning. Yesterday I introduced 4 techniques and asked everyone to choose 1 to try on their own. Of course the young artists attempted to do as many as they could all at once. It’s hard to be disappointed with that kind of enthusiasm.

Even though we are only making test plates and learning technique, the skill level and imagery is so good. It’s really a joy to be in this community. Everyone is so supportive of one another and helps each other when I am busy. Today we had someone helping with the airbrush, someone else at the press, someone else at the ferric bath. I couldn’t cover half as much as I am without this kind of camaraderie and willingness to take care of one another. The studio has a guiding philosophy called Ubuntu, which is about creating a safe and supportive space for self-expression: a space that is respectful, empathetic, and nourishing for the well-being of the community. I really feel it here.

Tomorrow is the last day of the workshop and I imagine it will be a printing frenzy. I can hardly wait!

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The workshop concludes

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Today was the last day of the workshop. I introduced the lovely soy wax/litho ink soft ground in a short demonstration in the morning and we spent the rest of the day working on plates with all of the techniques that the group learned over the last 3 days. I think the pictures will tell the story better than words.

Diane Victor’s soft ground in progress – we had to make some adjustments to the ferric bath after her ground lifted. But we all put our heads together and solved the problem. Always learning!
Heidi, one of the teachers, working on her soft ground drawing
one of the student’s photo transfer etchings
A photo transfer plate (copper) and a combo coffee lift/soft ground (aluminum)
Vincent beginning his soft ground drawing
More plates in progress
Gordon Froud’s work in progress
More soft ground//coffee lift combinations
Ilse’s lovely soft ground etching
Me and the wonderful Kim Berman, founder of Artist Proof Studio
Selfie with Rene, Gildo and Thabogo
Our whole wonderful group on the last day

I’m just so pleased by the way these safer/less toxic techniques have been received here. There’s a real interest in change, which is not always easy. Lucas, the shop manager is committed to the changes and all of the teachers see real opportunities to educate a new generation of artists in safer practices. By including both teachers and students in this initial learning, they are creating leaders within the student body and i can feel their own sense of empowerment as they master new techniques. You can see it in their smiling faces.

It’s challenging to get materials from overseas here (the post office is notoriously slow), import fees are high and money is tight. The fact that Artist Proof Studio has made a commitment to change their toxic practices is so admirable.

Lucas and I will sit down next week and talk about recipes and alternative, locally sourced ingredients that they can use to make acrylic grounds. He’s already sourced an environmentally safe solvent alternative, invested in an airbrush and compressor and welded a hot plate cover for baking grounds. Andrew Baldwin, the inventor of BIG ground has sent 6 tubes to the studio to get them started. They are currently lost in the postal system, but will hopefully make their way to the studio soon. In the meantime, the tubes I brought will carry them through their first tests.

In addition to the APS folks, the message of safer printmaking has been embraced by the other artists, educators and studio representatives at the workshop, including Jill Ross from David Krut Studio; Eloff Pretorius from University KwaZulu Natal and Caversham Press (who has been doing his own research in the field); Vedant Nanackchand, head of Visual Arts at the University of Johannesburg; Diane Victor and Gordon Froud, independent artists; Sharon Sampson and Mandy Conidaris, organizers of the Johannesburg Print Fair. It feels great to see how this is rippling through the printmaking culture of South Africa.

It’s been very hot and every afternoon the sky opens up with a fierce thunderstorm. Kim and I drove home through rushing rivers of water in the streets!

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A Few of The Artists of Artist Proof Studio

Friday, January 25, 2019

I spent the morning looking at prints to bring back for exhibitions at the Augusta Savage Gallery at UMass, Amherst and Zea Mays Printmaking. I want to share the incredible work and stories of the people who make up Artist Proof studio: the students who found their voice in printmaking and are using it to lift themselves up and make profound changes in their lives; the teachers who have dedicated themselves to giving them the tools to do so (many of whom are former students); the staff who keep this place running with the spirit of Ubuntu.

Bird’s eye view of the gallery

Here is a little preview of some of the work I’ll be bringing back with me to exhibit (and hopefully sell for these artists) and the voices of the artists telling me about it in their own words.

Gildo Soares

Click on the image to hear the artist talk about the work

Mamorena Malakoane

Click on the image to hear the artist talk about the work

Vincent Mafisa

Click on the image to hear the artist talk about the work

Reneilwe Mathibe

Click on the image to hear the artist talk about the work

 

 

Methembe Hlelo Molepe

Click on the image to hear the artist talk about the work

 

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Studio Visits

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Today I visited the studio of Gordon Froud, artist and sculpture professor at the University of Johannesburg. He’s a colleague and friend of Kim’s and Diane Victor’s husband. His studio is a series of wunderkamers of art he’s collected and made, pieces of detritus he’s assembled to make art, a book collection, record collection, movie collection, living space, entertainment space and more. It’s a magical, visually overwhelming environment. There are three floors of chock-a-block spaces, all built from found materials – a floor dedicated to prints, one to drawings, a space for his own creations. Gordon is an amazingly generous artist and teacher. Much of the work in his studio he bought from his studentsfirst exhibitions. He offers his space to his students for their exhibitions. He hosts an occasional “lunch for 16 interesting people” where he invites 16 people (that’s how many fit around his table) to speak for 1 minute about an interesting thing they are working on and then he cooks them all lunch. He opens his space for weekly movie nights. His collection includes work by well known South African and international artists as well as students. It’s a treasure trove. Here’s a taste of the wonder…

After this incredible visit I went to Maboneng, an arts district in the heart of Joberg to visit David Krut Studio. Jill Ross is the master printer and project manager and she was in my workshop last week. David Krut studio is one of the main printers for William Kentridge. Jill showed me a large multi-plate woodblock print they have been editioning for Kentridge for four years. It’s an intricate puzzle of blocks and paper pieces, put together with an exacting map that Jill devised. We talked about how much she loves pushing the boundaries of printmaking and working experimentally. I am so pleased that she is interested in incorporating some of the safer processes I introduced during the workshop into their practice at David Krut.

The press made in South Africa
Jill Ross
Kentridge woodcut above the tables
Template for the woodcut with proof
Kentridge’s instructions
View into the bookshop
The archive
Jill’s intricate instructions for the Kentridge woodcut

After the studio visits I wandered around Maboneng – the street full of vendors selling local crafts and food; musicians playing and lots of visitors enjoying the gorgeous weather. There are so many neighborhoods where I was told not to go. It was so delightful to feel at ease and to enjoy being outside among people.

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William Kentridge

Monday, January 28, 2019

Today my plan was to go into Artist Proof Studio to start my residency part of the trip. I’m working in the pro-shop making plates and printing. I expected to spend the entire day there among the printers and get a few state proofs under my belt.

The day started wonderfully – with the studio filling with students, teachers and printers. I feel so at home there already. I settled into a corner of a table in the pro-shop while the master printers worked on several projects all around me. They speak to each other in Zulu, so I didn’t understand their words, but their actions told me they were talking about paper and ink and getting presses ready, pulling proofs, getting coffee. There is a lot of laughter in the studio and a sense of camaraderie. The music is playing and I felt right at home in the bosom of a printmaking community.

Proofing a large linocut for a visiting artist

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My plates ready to work on

Thandi and Cromwell in the foreground, Nathi in the background – the master printers

All the while that I was working, people came up to talk to me about my work, asking about my “concept”. They are all so comfortable talking about ideas and visual manifestations of ideas. I chatted with interns and printers about art and philosophy, aesthetics, and politics.

I sprayed an acrylic aquatint on my plates with their new airbrush and compressor and began the etching process. After etching a couple of plates I thought I better proof them to see how the etch worked and started inking and wiping etchings. My hands were loaded with ink when Kim flew into the studio and told the printers to pack up the proofs of the Kentridge print they had been working on, he was back from a trip and could sign them today.

Pontsho and Nathi looking at a Kentridge print on the press

Kim told me to drop what I was doing, grab a blank copper plate and the instant coffee and come with her. She wanted me to show William Kentridge the coffee lift etching process. He loves the sugar lift technique and Kim thought he would really like to try this new way of making painterly marks. I left my inked plates on the table for the printers to proof and clean for me and hurriedly packed up my stuff.

Off we drove to William Kentridge’s home in Johannesburg. He lives in the house he was born in (his father was the lawyer who represented Nelson Mandela) on a large piece of land on the top of a hill. You enter through a gate and drive up a winding driveway to a beautiful garden. Perched at the back is his studio.

We walked into a bustling office, with at least four people working away on computers. Through the office is his studio where two of his assistants were working on a new piece for a performance in Rome. One woman was digitally photographing painted book pages, while another was editing a video. In the middle of the room was a 3-D model of the stage set. The walls were covered with drawings. William was seated in a side room talking to another assistant. Kim laid out the proofs and i wandered in awe, looking at his charcoal sticks, notes, book pages, cd collection. You could feel the industriousness in the studio with so many projects going on at once. Occasionally William would wander into the studio, move some things around on the stage set, make comments and go back to his meeting. While we waited we wandered through his garden with a delicious cup of Rooibos tea.

Finally it was Kim’s turn to have a moment with him and she instructed me to set up a little table with the instant coffee and copper plate that I had brought while he signed the proofs. Then she introduced me and told him that I was in South Africa to teach about non-toxic printmaking. She mentioned that I had just taught a workshop at Artist Proof and that we used coffee as a lift ground. His ears perked up and he looked at me with curiosity. Kim asked him if he wanted to try it and guided him over to the table I had set up.

He was enchanted with the fluidity of the coffee, commenting on how thin the marks could be. He asked lots of questions about the process and seemed truly intrigued. We talked about degreasing with soy sauce and the alternative aquatints and soft grounds we use at Zea Mays. I showed him prints I had brought as examples for the workshop and about fell over when I realized that he was holding one of my prints in his hands and commenting on the beauty of the aquatint. We had to rush off, but before we left Kim asked him if he would like to make his next prints using this technique! So tomorrow she’s bringing new plates over for him to draw on with the coffee. If he finishes before I leave Joberg on Friday I will have the honor of processing his plates for him.

It’s not often you get to meet the people you admire from afar and hold in such great esteem. I have such great admiration for this artist – for his work and how he keeps so many South African studios afloat with his prolific practice. I left the studio walking on air!

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A Day in the Studio

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Today was a studio day for me to work on my own prints. The pro shop was in full swing when I arrived. Nathi, Thandi, Cromwell and Pontsho were all busy with different projects.

Thandi and Cromwell printing background for Cromwell’s linocut
Bokang trimming prints

I found a table corner to work on the plates I started during the workshop and settled down to scrape and burnish.

There was a mellow vibe around the studio. The students start a new session next week, so the place was relatively quiet. I took a few minutes to take photos of the spaces I’m coming to know so well.

The pro-shop in action
Outside the pro-shop where we’ve been aquatinting

View into the teaching studio
A wall in the gallery

Kids are kids everywhere (on their phones)

At the end of the day, Kim and I packed up four beautiful, degreased copper plates to take to William Kentridge. He’s going to do some coffee lift drawing on them. So exciting!

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The William Kentridge experience continues

Friday, February 1, 2019

Since my last post I’ve been spending long days in the pro shop working on plates for William Kentridge. Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would end up processing plates for an artist I hold in such great esteem. What began as a demonstration of coffee lift with BIG ground for Mr. Kentridge evolved into two, possibly three new prints he decided to undertake. I was happy to put my own work aside to have the opportunity to collaborate on a William Kentridge project!

William’s coffee lift drawing on copper

He has really taken a liking to the fluidity of the coffee as a drawing medium. A bit challenged by the closeness in hue of the coffee and the copper, nevertheless he persisted! (Side note: new research project for Zea Mays research interns – can we add coloring?)

We took the plates back to Artist Proof studio to ground with red BIG ground, bake and cure before lifting the coffee drawing. Master Printer Nathi Ndlandla shadowed me as I lifted the first drawing, and I stood by his side as he lifted the second. The tension was high. For me, I was implementing a technique I know well but in a studio I do not, and for Nathi he was learning a whole new process. All on a Kentridge plate! Plus we were under the gun to get a proof done by the end of the day to take to William for the next layer of drawing.

Nathi lifting the coffee

The two plates with the coffee drawing lifted

Aquatinting a plate with the Zea Mays Printmaking acrylic aquatint spray

Aquatinting the plates with an airbrush I had only recently gotten used to was a bit nerve racking. The studio didn’t have a hot box to cure the aquatint, so the printers came up with a system to dry the acrylic.

Drying the acrylic aquatint with the improvised drying system!

Nathi proofing the first etch

We decided that Nathi should do the proofing since I would be gone when the editioning happened. Each of us has a different way of wiping and Nathi has printed so many Kentridge prints. He has the Kentridge wipe down!

The first proofs

William reviewing the first proofs

William was satisfied with the first layer, so we left the plates for him to work on overnight. We came back in the morning and picked up one plate with a new layer of coffee drawing and a new plate with a new coffee drawing. He wasn’t happy with his drawing on the second plate, so we left it for the time being.

Second layer of coffee drawing with new BIG ground ready to bake.

Nathi and I were working under intense pressure to complete the plate processing and proofing in a single day. While the ground was curing and resting I did some aquatint tests. I was so concerned about layering aquatints made with a different airbrush and getting the etch times right. The test plate proofs also provided William with a sampler of values to work with.

Test plate with William’s first coffee marks

Next, we step etched the second layer of coffee drawing. Nathi and I quadruple checked our math to get it right!

Using the Zea Mays acrylic stop out to stage bite the second layer of coffee lift

The inked up plate

The new coffee lift plate

3 layers of coffee drawing plus some drypoint. It’s getting close to finished

We continued this process of taking plates and proofs to William, leaving them for him to draw on in the evening and picking them up in the morning to process. By the 3rd day I had been to his studio 3 times. While waiting for him to come out of a meeting, I marveled at the stage set model for his new performance, chatted with his video editor, looked at ink drawings on book pages being made as a backdrop for the new piece, viewed his cd collection and admired fantastic drawings hung high on the walls.

After 3 days, my time working on these images was coming to an end. The completion of the project would be in the hands of Nathi and his great team in the pro-shop, Pontsho, Cromwell, Thandi and Bokang. My last visit to Kentridge’s studio was in the pouring rain. I carried the plate he was unsatisfied with wrapped in plastic on my head. We had put a soy wax soft ground on it so he could try yet another new technique. His willingness to venture into new printmaking terrain under my guidance has been a highlight of my life. And as I wrote to him in my thank you note, his embracing of these new techniques are a gesture that will ripple through the print world and give validation to all of our attempts to make printmaking safer for artists and the environment.

Reviewing the proofs

William trying the soy wax soft ground

The other great joy of this experience was working so closely with the printers at Artist Proof. I am so grateful that they accepted me as part of the team. On the last day I pulled out a box of maple sugar candy I had brought to celebrate our time together. I feel like I have made friends for life.

The pro-shop team
Saying goodbye to Nathi
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When not in the studio

My first outing outside the studio was to Lillieslief – a farm in Johannesburg where Mandela and other senior leaders of the liberation movement hid out and planned resistance actions. The early ANC was affiliated with the Communist Party and they are the ones who purchased the farm and set up a white family in the main house to act as a cover for the rebels hiding out in the outbuildings. Eventually their cover was blown and they were captured and jailed. The Rivonia trials spared them a death sentence, but inflicted life imprisonment sentences on Mandela and many others. The farm in recognized as a national heritage site.

My sister, Marge arrived a week into my stay. During the times when the plates I was working on for William Kentridge were resting, I dashed out of the studio to take in a little of the sights of Johannesburg.

Our first stop was the Apartheid Museum. This museum tells the story of the state sanctioned system based on racial discrimination, the awful history of racial segregation and oppression and the struggle of the majority to overthrow this system of tyranny. One experiences the history through images, words, film, and expertly made reconstructions and displays. It was a very visceral experience. I had been very aware of the horrors of apartheid since a college student. (I was arrested for protesting the UC regents investments in South Africa during the apartheid era.) But it was always an abstraction to me. Being further educated about it in this country deepened my understanding.

One of the things that amazes me the most is that reconciliation was even possible. Mandela’s commitment to forgiveness and reconciliation avoided a civil war and made the new South Africa possible. The reverence for Nelson Mandela is deep and wide. From the museum guides, to the Uber drivers, they all credit this one man for forging the path forward in this severely wounded country. There is even a name for anyone born after Mandela’s release from prison. They are called the free born.

I also paid a visit to the David Krut Projects printmaking studio in the neighborhood of Maboneng. It’s a couple block long arts district that holds a street market on Sundays.

Master printer Jill Ross was in my workshop at Artist Proof and invited me to the studio where she prints for many artists including William Kentridge, Diane Victor and Aida Muluneh, to name just a few. Jill was so welcoming, and very interested in implementing the processes she learned in the workshop into the practice at David Krut. She took me out for a fantastic Ethiopian lunch.

On another outing Marge and I went to the Mai Mai market. It’s the traditional healers’ market in the heart of the city. Marge is an herbalist and was interested in seeing the herbal medicines of South Africa. We were accompanied on this visit by two of the students from Artist Proof to be our interpreters, body guards and tour guides. The market was incredible! Hundreds of vendors with mats full of plants, roots, animal body parts, potions and more. We spoke to a few healers but were quickly apprehended and questioned about our motives. They are fiercely protective of their indigenous knowledge, and rightly so. We guaranteed the we weren’t there to abscond with secrets and bought some items to get permission to wander and look. But we were told we couldn’t ask more questions or take any more pictures.

Herbs and potions
Animal skins and bones

Our wonderful guides, Mosa and Tobago

We wanted to buy the young men lunch, so went to the “food court” section of the market – they wanted a speciality – cow’s head and pap (corn meal). The food was cooked on an open fire on the pavement and served on reclaimed slabs of wood. Because we had to catch our ride back to the studio, Tobago and Mosa took their food to go and we missed out on sampling. The whole experience was amazing.

Our last outing before leaving Johannesburg was to the Cradle of Humankind. The Cradle of Humankind, one of eight World Heritage Sites in South Africa, is renowned as the place where humankind originated. It is here that the first hominid, Australopithecus, was found in 1924. We toured the museum and went to to the caves where the fossils were found.

This country is an amazing place. Full of stark contrasts and warm hearted people.

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Goodbye Joberg

Today we leave Johannesburg and head to Mark Attwood’s studio in Mpumalanga, The Artist’s’s Press.

I say goodbye to Johannesburg with immense gratitude to Kim Berman for the invitation and her overwhelming hospitality and graciousness. We are now printmaking sisters! She and her partner Robyn have shown us such warmth and friendship.

I am looking forward to leaving the city. It’s a harsh place to be. Fast drivers, economic extremes, gated properties, city energy. I’m looking forward to experiencing a new, more rural part of South Africa.

Johannesburg will forever remain etched in my mind. It’s a very special place. I hope, one day, to return.

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Leaving Johannesburg – The Artists’ Press

Sunday, February 3, 2019

I left Joberg with a full heart and happy memories and took a 4 hour bus ride north to White River to visit The Artist Press, a wonderful lithography studio run by Mark Attwood and Tamar Mason.  Their studio is situated on their farm property, in the midst of macadamia and avocado groves.  Besides running a professional print shop, they have a sustainable household and incredible garden and edible forest.  My sister and I had two extremely relaxing days at their place and benefitted from their warm hospitality.

The Artists’ Press has a fantastic reputation as a professional lithography studio and they invite artists from all over South Africa to print with them.  The work they publish can be seen on their website.  You can also see the incredible steps they have taken towards creating a sustainable lifestyle here.

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Entrance to the studio
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the wonderful Tamar and Mark
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Mark sharing prints he editioned
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part of the print shop
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more of the print shop
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a selection of prints from the artists’ they have worked with
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the pond on the property
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Mark showing us an amazing garden spade