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.
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.
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!