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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