South African Impressions

Dan Rakgoathe, Cosmic Trinity (1974), linocut, 36.5 x 36.5 cm. Johannesburg Art Gallery, PELMAMA Permanent Art Collection. Image courtesy of The Haenggi Foundation.

What began as a vacation to South Africa last summer swiftly, and probably inevitably, morphed into an opportunity to learn about the country’s robust printmaking culture. I am by no means a specialist in South African art and this survey is simply an introduction to the print activity I encountered there. William Kentridge is, by a large margin, the most internationally famous South African artist working in prints, but a great deal else is going on, much of it hardly known outside the country. Two publications give a vital overview of its breadth and depth: the important early survey by Philippa Hobbs and Elizabeth Ranking, Printmaking in a Transforming South Africa (1997),1 and the small but excellent catalogue by Judy Hecker for the 2011 exhibition at MoMA, Impressions from South Africa: 1965 to Now [Art in Print July-Aug 2011].2

I was struck by the South Africans’ widespread enthusiasm for printmaking. At a reception following a reading by an Italian poet, one woman lit up when I mentioned my interest in learning about prints in her country: “I love prints!” Several artists told me they use printmaking to work out ideas in ways that influence what they produce in other media. I felt as though my 15-hour plane ride had transported me to an alternate universe, one where printmaking is considered on a par with painting and sculpture.

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  1. David Phillips Publishers, Cape Town. []
  2. In addition to the books mentioned above, I am grateful to those who provided me with information and contacts related to printmaking in South Africa; they include Shannin Antonopolou, Natasha Becker, Conrad Botes, Andrew Da Conceicao, Tony East, Alisa LaGamma, Andrea Lewis, Phil Sanders, Steven Sack, Amé Snyman, Brownwyn Law-Viljoen and Ernestine White. []