Traversing Gardens part II | William Kentridge in the Workshop

Before reading this blog, consider reviewing our Glossary of Printmaking Terms – click here! 

Written by Roxy Kaczmarek

In October 2023, David Krut Projects welcomed Master Printer Jillian Ross and Brendan Copestake from Jillian Ross Print (Saskatoon, Canada), to the Workshop for an exciting collaboration with William Kentridge.

During the first few weeks of Jill’s visit, William soon completed the first of the garden variations: My Father is a Tree in a Forest of Fathers I. The print is made up of a combination of 2 photogravure plates: a photographed collage made up of digital photographs and a photograph of a drawing.

In Wiliam’s first iteration of the image he tore up prints and pinned them together to combine the drawing and photographic imagery into one composit.

The team then went into the testing phase to figure out how best to achieve exact reproduction to create an edition of prints. Test prints were pulled on thin, delicate paper for collage and chine colle and additional copper shapes were included to give embossed edges.

Once the team got the go ahead from William they could begin the editioning process; Roxy Kaczmarek prints the first layer of the photogravure onto a full sheet of Hahnemuhle. The paper then has to soak for a good length of time and the press’s pressure must be tight for optimal transfer. 

Two areas of the inked up plate are blocked out as these areas will later have collage pieces adhered to the paper. This allows for a clear, blank space for the next step; collaging pieces later on without the image beneath showing through. The print is left to dry for at least a week.

While Roxy prints the base layer, Sbongiseni Khulu prints the ten pieces needed to complete the collaged image. These are printed on a range of papers: Kitakata, Hosho, Tosa Washi and Hahnemuhle.  

The smaller printed pieces then have a methyl cellulose glue applied to the back of the sheets of paper. This is similar to  a stamp and when wet the glue is activated and it can stick onto a base sheet. Sbongiseni and Roxy then carefully tear down or cut the pieces into their shapes using acetate templates.

The printed base prints are then put back into the water bath to soak. They are blotted and then, with the help of assistant printer Jesse Shepstone, Roxy uses the press to run the print through a second time to adhere one of the larger pieces to the print. An additional piece of copper is used to create an embossed shape to enhance the shape of the adhered sheet of paper.

After this, the print is stapled to a board in order for it to dry taut and flat. Using an acetate template as a guide, the pieces that Sbongiseni printed can be collaged onto the print. He then crops the prints after which the prints are ready for the final touches.

William signs the bottom right pieces and then they are positioned and collaged onto the final print.

The prints produced are based on Kentridge’s new performance in development: “The Great YES, the Great NO“, co-produced by William Kentridge and The Centre for the Less Good Idea, which will be presented in July, 2024, in Aix-en Provence, France. The production follows a boat trip from Marseille to Martinique – a small island that was an important site for many well-known figures including Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, André Breton and Josephine Baker. Using the potential of the boat as a metaphor for power, trade, migration and more, the production will draw on many of the processes and methodologies that have become central to both Kentridge and The Centre’s ways of working.”

The performance centres around a historical escape from Vichy France by, among others, the surrealist André Breton, the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the Cuban artist Wifredo Lam, the communist novelist Victor Serge, and the author Anna Seghers. The performance fictionalises this journey by including these figures such as Aimé Césaire, the Nardal sisters (co-founders with Césaire of the anti-colonial Négritude movement in Paris), Frantz Fanon, Josephine Bonaparte, Josephine Baker, Trotsky, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and more.

“Kentridge has been working closely with Jillian Ross since February 2023 to develop a new print series in response to this stage production.  The prints are jungle-like scenes, which began as ink-drawings and collages from one of the many backdrops of The Great Yes, The Great No, and are layered with insightful texts that relate to many of the production’s themes.” (Jillian Ross Print)

The image is based on a drawing by Kentridge titled There Were No Books, 2023 (Paint, Indian ink, Charcoal, Coloured pencil and Collage on paper, size: 152 x 178 cm). The drawing will be shown at his upcoming exhibition What Have They Done with All the Air?, 2023, an exhibition of new drawings and sculptures by William Kentridge, at the Goodman Gallery, Cape Town.

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