Stephen Hobbs: The Attraction of Sites Under Construction

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When approaching the David Krut Print Workshop (DKW) in 2009, the initial intention was to embark on a new making process, with the simplistic objective of realising multiples or editioned works. Despite the pleasure of producing Fool’s Gold shown at David Krut Projects in 2010 and some small print projects in 2011/12, this exhibition is perhaps most representative of the challenge that a committed body of print works represents to its makers.

Since the beginning of this collaboration there has been a desire to three-dimensionalise plates once the printing was over, treating them as construction sites with a vision for new appendages or armatures emerging from or cladding them. I was less aware, however, of the formal interconnectedness of the stages involved in the production of a final print, or perhaps I’d just forgotten (it’s nearly 20 years since the late Colin Richards taught me etching and woodblock printing at Wits).

My primary place of comfort, as it has been for many years now, is my laptop screen where most ‘drawing’ gets done by scanning from note books and transforming the images in Photoshop. Going into the workshop at Arts on Main is like going back to art school, where one actually makes things. It’s terrifying, you make a mark, you print that mark, which brings the proofing process into sharp focus. These printed surfaces hold intermediary logics which allow for ‘unique’ once off manipulations, thus becoming final works or, more obviously, serving as prompts for the next round of cutting and proofing

Given the understanding of my plate-to-sculpture intentions, Talya Lubinsky (the DKW printer with whom I worked on the project) and I decided upfront that we would work in wood and lino, lending both the right material surface for the image-making in mind and enough maliability for repurposing as an object later on.

The unexpected part of all of this is the action experienced on this construction site, so to speak. For a while – many months in fact – production floats and then anchors and then floats again. This is the best description for now to translate the movement between the printing press in the workshop, work on drawing and cutting boards in my studio, digital manipulations of intermediary stages of an image – to make personal sense of the direction a work is taking, as much as to keep the workshop production team in the loop. And then things really heat up: it’s the generative nature of collaboration over the press and all the elements described here combined, where the basis of a body of work starts interrelating and a visual language begins to communicate the conceptual aspects of images, until there is relative balance between unique works, BATs for editioning, paper objects and collages, and deconstructed wood blocks and lino plates.

While the title for this exhibition was generated quite serendipitously, as Kate Arthur explains, it is most apt for my work in general and for the radius of the workshop – a ‘positive-danger-zone’, in that starting something there requires a lot of commitment, energy and focus. These are clichés indeed in that there are so many artists I admire precisely for these qualities, qualities I feel I have had to re-engage for a new making reality.

The interest in reflecting on this body of work here is about a concern that the workshop is an often misunderstood space, at first glance beaming with productive properties but equally puzzling, not unlike Johannesburg, which for me since the early nineties has felt like a construction site, a work in progress. For my own contradictory interests I wish it to remain ambiguous and unresolved, as this keeps me focused and interested in the place and others like it.

With this body of work it is intended, therefore, that the viewer is sensitised to visual shifts between works, evidence of decision making ‘in the working radius’ where the landscape presented is self-referential and seemingly incomplete.

– Stephen Hobbs, April 2013