Architectural Printmaking with Lorenzo Nassimbeni

Blogger: Jessie Cohen

10.10.15

On entering the AOM workshop, architect-come-fine-artist Lorenzo Nassimbeni is already in work mode, pacing with a mug and a pen while eyeballing his prints, which are in their early stages. It is Nassimbeni’s third time in the workshop and he is raring to go.

The artist is working on two parallel bodies of prints – three large, six small. “As an architect”, he says, “I am interested in the printmaking process for its similarities and its differences to processes used in architecture. For designing a building in architecture the drafting process is intensive from beginning to end. Producing a print of a selection of buildings follows a similarly layered process, together with concerns around line, tone, methods for bringing areas forward and pushing parts back.”

Nassimbeni begins by speaking about the larger prints, pictured – in progress – below: 

Proofs of two of the prints are pinned to the wall above the drawings that they are based on. The same design can be seen in the prints in reverse. The third print as conceptualised later in the process.

The two proofs (seen at the top of these shots) are pinned to the wall above the drawings that they are based on. The same design as the drawings can be seen in the prints in reverse. The third print was conceptualised later on and will be featured further down the post.

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Each print is made up of two different qualities of line – thick and thin – which are describing the same structures.

These prints are an abstract depiction of a recent journey that the artist took through Hillbrow. He traversed the area by foot, specifically documenting buildings that were built in the 1970s and 1980s on his iPhone.

Back in the studio, Nassimbeni traced his photographs directly from his phone, drafting the structures in an architecturally precise manner.

Nassimbeni demonstrates the tracing process, using a printout of his photographs in place of his phone.

Nassimbeni demonstrates the tracing process, using a print-out of his photographs in place of his phone.

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After that, Nassimbeni scanned the tracings onto his computer and began a digital layering process, which he explains below:

“When tracing the buildings, I drew clean lines to reference the pristine state of these structures and the standards of living in the area in the past. Once scanned into Photoshop, these carefully drafted lines serve as the first layer of my print. I then re-traced the same buildings in free-hand, scanned it in and digitally magnified the lines so they became thick, rough and grainy. After that, I layered the thick lines onto the original crisp ones. This second layer of line is referencing the Hillbrow we see today.”

Nassimbeni zooms in on his free-hand line work to give a sense of the digitally enlarging process that inform the second layer of lines on his prints.

Nassimbeni zooms in on his free-hand line work to give a sense of the digitally enlarging process that informs the second layer of lines on his prints. The artist is drawn to “thick, organic, broken lines to represent wear and tear in the area”.

The artist’s quality of line carries metaphorical meaning relating to the effects of time on a densely populated area. His line work operates on two levels – geometric and socio-economic.

Why Hillbrow?

Nassimbeni: “I want to explore the physical dimensions of Hillbrow as it once was in relation to how it is today. The demographic has changed considerably over a short period of time along with its state of wealth. I targeted buildings that were brand new in the late twentieth century but have become dilapidated.”

Nassimbeni currently lives in Johannesburg, but was born and raised in Cape Town where he developed a fascination with the realities of South Africa’s narrative of social change as it is reflected in dilapidated architectures and geographical spaces.

Of late, he has homed in on Johannesburg in his art. Nassimbeni takes as his visual starting point that the city grew from a small triangular chunk of land called “uitvalgrond”, meaning “surplus ground”. This was land deemed useless for farming and was sectioned off to build a city, which expanded considerably from 1886 when gold was discovered.

Before considering this context in his current prints, Nassimbeni made a sculpture, titled Josie, which is currently on display at Arts on Main.

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In Josie, Nassimbeni sculpts the meeting point between Diagonal Street and Joe Slovo, outlining the original triangular shape of the city. He uses jagged lines to convey the gridded city structure and points out that this “built drawing”, as he calls it, takes on a similar look to a South African mining network. What’s more, the enlarged free hand lines closely resemble mining tools, making this birds-eye view of the original city sculpted by the very implements that are key to its growth and geographical expansion.

For both the sculpture and the prints, processes of tracing, scanning and digitally enlarging lines were undertaken. For the artist, this complex approach to line is necessary in order to give an honest and visceral portrayal of an area like Hillbrow.

Nassimbeni’s current prints are part of a wider project of his, called Falling in… As implied in the title, the series is a visualisation of the artist’s attempt to orientate himself in a new city, “freeing falling”, as it were, into its fraught but fascinating dynamics.

To read more about the project, please click: http://www.designindaba.com/articles/creative-work/lorenzo-nassimbenis-drawings-capture-essence-cities

The process: Aquatinting the larger plates

For making the prints, the printing team work across a number of plates.

Nassimbeni’s large prints are made up of a number of plates in order to layer the line work and achieve a variation in colour.

Master printer, Jill Ross, immerses one of the plates in warm water to dislodge areas where the artist applied condensed milk to mark out his design. She gently agitates the surface of the plate to assist the process. As the condensed milk dissolves, the water becomes cloudy and the lines left on the plate become shiny and distinct. It is necessary to use a number of different plates for producing Nassimbeni’s large prints in order to clearly layer the line work and achieve variations in colour.

Then the plate goes in an aquatint box where it is layered in rosin. Following this, printer Kim-Lee Loggenberg burns the rosin onto the plate before putting it in acid.

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Kim-Lee holds the fire below the plate to burn the rosin into its fibres.

Kim-Lee holds the fire below the plate to melt the rosin into its fibres. She stresses the importance of this part of the process for creating tone, suggesting that one sees the rosin resist as “effectively pixilating the area to secure variations in tone”.

Later on, Kim-Lee degreases the plate:

First, Kim-Lee scrubs the plate clean.

First, she rubs magnesium carbonate onto the plate’s surface before dipping it in the steel facing tank.

Then it goes into the steel-facing tank for ten minutes.

The plate goes into the steel facing tank for 10 minutes.

Kim-Lee removes the plate from the tank and washes it one last time before returning it to the tank for a first blast of steel.

After removing the plate from the tank, Kim-Lee washes it again before returning it to the tank for a final blast of steel.

The team print the plate onto Chine-collé to test the results. Different marks from the plate will be used across the two prints.

The team print the plate onto Chine-collé to test the results. The different marks on the plate will be used across the two prints.

Meanwhile, Nassimbeni makes a third plate:

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Nassimbeni applies condensed milk to a third plate to mark out his design.

Jill uses two separate plates (seen above) to proof the third large print:

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Nassimbeni’s parallel project is a series of six very small (10 x 7.5cm) prints in which he pays homage to the printing process itself, specifically in relation to the larger prints. He has diligently documented the process with his phone.

“Printmaking is a new medium for me”, Nassimbeni explains, adding that “it was Jill’s suggestion to make a series of small prints, which I am treating as studies for the larger ones.” Here, he discusses his ideas with printers Kim-Lee Loggenberg and Jill Ross.

“Printmaking is a new medium for me”, Nassimbeni explains, adding that “it was Jill’s suggestion to make a series of small prints, which I am treating as studies for the larger ones.” Here, he discusses his ideas with printers Kim-Lee Loggenberg and Jill Ross.

The copper plates are polished and ready to be etched.

The copper plates are polished and ready to be etched.

Nassimbeni begins the sugarlift process. His lines are informed by a drawing from his phone of one of the larger prints in progress.

Nassimbeni begins the sugar lift process. His lines are informed by a drawing traced from his phone of one of the larger prints in progress.

The sugar lift process is complete. The next step is adding hardground to the plates.

The first part of the sugar lift process is complete. Next step: adding hardground.

Nassimbeni reiterates that these mini plates are “process-driven, ex-ray-lake studies that map the process of the bigger works.”

Nassimbeni: “As I’ve never done sugar lift before, I am paying homage to the technique by documenting each stage of the process and using my photographs as context for more drawing. I guess you could call these conceptual sketches. My approach is somewhat architectural insofar as I am doing concept sketches of buildings, but with the final outcome being a print rather than a physical structure”.

A collaborative process: Nassimbeni discusses the proofs of his mini-prints with Jill and Kim-Lee.

A collaborative process: Nassimbeni discusses the proofs of his mini prints with Jill and Kim-Lee.

Here is a sneak peek one of the six proofs:

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As always in the workshop, it has been an overall collaborative effort. After each proofing, Nassimbeni discusses methods for activating areas and shapes by bringing parts forward and making particular line correlations recede into the background.

The team gather round to celebrate the final proofs for two of the large prints:

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To read more about Lorenzo Nassimbeni and to see more examples of his work, please refer to our profiling page: http://davidkrutprojects.com/artists/lorenzo-nassimbeni