10.05.18 – 07.07.18
SMAC Gallery is proud to present PROOF, an exhibition of print in South Africa. Printmaking continues to hold a prominent place in South African art discourse as the most accessible and – for many – affordable art form. PROOF seeks to highlight the medium of printmaking and the various ways in which artists have engaged with and expanded upon the medium over the years. Included are prints by young artists – such as Keneilwe Mokoena, Mongezi Ncaphayi, Georgina Gratrix, Bonolo Kavula, and Amber Moir – as well as works by more established printmakers―such as William Kentridge, Maggie Laubser, Walter Battiss, Sue Williamson, and Norman Catherine.
Contemporary printmaking remains an important medium in South Africa, with artists turning to new digital approaches, renewing age-old techniques, and printing on as well as with alternative materials and tools. Today, artists use a myriad of printed formats, from the traditional intimacy of a single sheet of paper to large-scale installation based works.
The nature of traditional methods of printmaking is collaborative, going far beyond the process of mark-making. Due to the immobility of the hardware required (such as presses and acid baths), printmaking often requires artists to come together to produce their work. The inevitable result is the bleeding of concepts and styles between the group. The print studio therefore became, and remains, a melting pot for discussion and the sharing of ideas. Thus, printmaking became the ideal medium for socio-political engagement. This tradition of socio-political commentary continues in works of Anton Kannemeyer and Conrad Botes, both using the medium of print to communicate their own brand of satire.
The medium was among the focus of numerous community skills-development workshops, most notably the Rorke’s Drift Art and Craft Centre in KwaZulu-Natal, the Polly Street Art Centre in Johannesburg, and the Community Art Project (CAP) in Cape Town. The effect of these centres and projects was to empower communities with the skills to communicate through the arts and the medium of print. All three of the aforementioned workshops boast an impressive alumnus of facilitators and artists, including renowned artists such as Peter E. Clarke, Lionel Davis, Patrick Holo, and Garth Erasmus from CAP; Cecil Skotnes, Larry Scully, Fred Schimmel, Ezrom Lagae, and Lucky Sibiya from Polly Street; and Sam Nhlengethwa, Kay Hassan, and Pat Mautloa from the Rorke’s Drift Art and Craft Centre.
In addition to the community and group-based nature of printmaking, the medium was, and continues to be, widely utilised due to the relatively cost-effective and simple production methods – with particular reference to lino and wood cut. These methods are used extensively today, both as a means to produce multiple pieces as a lower cost, but also as a reflection on the idea of mass-production, consumerism, and consumption. With newer technologies, the digital print is almost unavoidable in modern day life. While many view this plethora of imagery and print as excessive and an exhausting symbol of capitalist society, the means to mass-produce imagery allows for an abundance of public art.
For much of their history fine art prints have been a private art form, designed for connoisseurs and collectors, published in limited editions, and hidden away in portfolios. The 20th century saw the development of a more public role for prints, with the adoption of affordable processes and materials. With the digitisation of processes in the 21st century, the idea of the limited edition print has all but fallen to the wayside. While we continue with the tradition of editioned prints, there is little proof that further editions will not be made; as everyone knows, it is near impossible to wipe something once it has been digitally published.
The practice of printmaking over the last decades is no longer considered the poor cousin to painting, sculpting, or photography but is coming out of the shadow as an individual art form with a remarkable range of expressive possibilities. Many accomplished painters – such as Georgina Gratrix or Johann Louw – have found in printmaking a fresh lens through which to filter their subject matter. Artists such as Katlego Tlabela, Sue Williamson, and Bonolo Kavula continue to explore the scope of the medium of traditional print through investigating the potential of scale, surface, and alternative materials.
With the advent of new digital developments, one finds that the medium of print suddenly encompasses a great many artists who would not otherwise have called themselves printmakers. While, at a glance, Asha Zero’s paintings seem to whole-heartedly embody digital print media through collage, on closer inspection it becomes apparent that Zero is using the medium of paint to mimic the medium of print – with exquisitely unusual and meticulous mark making. In PROOF, we see Zero producing a print-of-a-painting-of-a-print, thus parodying the techniques of both print and painting and disputing the territory of both mediums. Zero evidences the contemporary dispute of edition vs. reproduction.
“In recent years printmaking has co-opted painting and sculpture, dress and domestic furnishings, commerce and cyberspace. Dynamic and democratic, the world of printmaking now includes the billboard and the badge, the masterpiece and the multiple, the priceless and the give-away.”1
While the medium of print in South Africa remains deeply connected to the voice of the people – the inheritance of the likes of Polly Street, Rorke’s Drift, and CAP filter through new workshops, schools, and printing houses – it continues to evolve and offers an animated and crucial bond between the individual, the community, the gallery, and the museum.
1: Saunders, G & Miles, R. 2016. Printmaking in the 21st century. V&A Museum Article. Available Online: