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SA printmaker, Jillian Ross featured with William Kentridge at Remai Modern, Canada

Translations stemming from process: Jillian Ross Print at Remai Modern

- by David Mann

Jillian Ross Print, opening preview


Collaborative printmaking emerges out of centuries of developing traditions and techniques, and a uniquely productive rapport between artist and printmaker.

From its earliest expressions, through to contemporary practices, printmaking has largely been a process of creative collaboration in the studio. Done right, the printmaking studio becomes a space for incidental discovery, problem solving and generative experimentation, as artists work with printmakers to develop an artistic idea into a printed edition.

In the Canadian city of Saskatoon, an exhibition with Jillian Ross Print (JRP) has been showcasing this printmaking tradition to the public by transforming the Remai Modern’s Connect Gallery into a working print studio from April – August 2024

Live Editions: Complex Photogravures and Collaborative Making

Titled Live Editions: Jillian Ross Print, the exhibition focuses on Master Printer Jillian Ross’ longstanding collaboration with renowned South African artist William Kentridge, and allows visitors to see how artists and printmakers produce prints together, from the “first pull” to the “final state”.

Though JRP was officially founded in 2021, Ross has been working with Kentridge since 2006 at David Krut Workshop. For Live Editions, she shows a complex photogravure series consisting of over 30 plates that were developed between Canada and South Africa with the University of Alberta and David Krut Workshop. The series, with its visual roots in the dense, jungle-like garden that surrounds Kentridge’s Houghton studio, emerges from the artist’s upcoming theatre project, The Great Yes, The Great No.

Set on a 1941 historical sea voyage from Marseille to Martinique, The Great Yes, The Great No merges surrealist imagery with real-life events, South African choral music, dance, poetic vignettes, and the dissolution of language and image. It’s a complex production, with equally complex imagery.

This imagery has been unpacked in four new prints published by JRP: How To Explain Who I Was and Citizens, What Have They Done With All The Air I, II and III. All four prints occupy the walls of the Connect Gallery and stem from Kentridge’s practice of producing large drawings. Unpacking the process, Ross explains that small collages were made from iPhone photographs which were enlarged and projected onto paper as the starting point for these recent works. The new print series sees the collage grow to life-size, now the same scale as the drawing. 

“It’s unusual because this print is a collage of iPhone photos taken from William’s garden and a drawing made from the projected photographs. Both, collage and drawing, were photographed and each made into 12 photogravure plates (forming a grid) that were printed, torn up and collaged again into one large print. The print, How To Explain Who I Was, was then overlaid with photographic images, pieces of text and hand painted elements,” explains Brendan Copestake, co-founder of Jillian Ross Print. 

Jillian Ross in studio

Citizens, What Have They Done With All The Air I, II and III are three enlarged collages printed in varying shades of green which are found in Kentridge’s garden and in the green screen backdrops of The Great Yes, The Great No.

“They are translations stemming from process,” Ross continues. “We’ve been exploring photogravure and its possibilities for three years with the technicians at the University of Alberta and have collaborated with William and David Krut Workshop in South Africa to bring them to life. Now we’re really immersed in its possibilities. We understand the techniques we’re working with and the style, and William still manages to bring exciting challenges in the way that he pushes the work. That’s what collaborative printmaking is. You never know where the work’s going to go until it does. We let the work lead us.”  

These prints will be editioned by JRP at Remai Modern’s Connect Gallery, all the while welcoming audiences into the gallery to view and engage with the process. Here, JRP is working with a team of printmakers from across the country, as well as interns from various universities. These prints also carry a pre-existing history of collaboration with South African printmakers from David Krut Workshop in Johannesburg.

While collaborative printmaking isn’t unique to South Africa, collaboration has long been central to the South African arts ecosystem. For Ross, who arrived in Johannesburg from Saskatoon in 2003, it was a natural fit.

“As students, we were taught to work collaboratively, but my time in South Africa at David Krut Workshop really helped me realise that I was able to work as a collaborative printmaker,” says Ross. “It’s about being open and available and not closing a door due to the technical challenges of printmaking, but instead keeping it open to experimenting and learning. Whereas the technical component of printmaking is really about controlling something… it's figuring out what you're controlling all while enabling the artist the freedom of making.”

Central to the curatorial process was a visit by curators Michelle Jacques and Bevin Bradley to Johannesburg in 2023. Jacques and Bradley spent two weeks in the city to gain a fuller understanding of its printmakers and ways of working, from Kentridge’s studio and the David Krut Workshop, to the Latitudes Arts Fair.

Ross explains that witnessing the process first-hand helped cement the idea of their decision to open up the printmaking process to a live audience. “They understood the power of this transparency for a new audience,” says Ross. “We have been working on this exhibition format for the last two years and they have embraced us and the work fully.” 

Also part of Live Editions is Ross’ collaboration with Saskatoon-born interdisciplinary artist Wally Dion. From 17 to 28 July, Ross and Dion will engage in an intensive two-week residency in the gallery. Dion’s practice, which spans painting, sculpture, drawing and textiles, will continue the public demonstration of the experimental and technical aspects of developing a work together.

In this way, there is a layered curatorial focus on JRP’s work, showcased through a focus on Kentridge’s Studio Life Gravures series, a film by Kentridge and Joanna Dudley, and Dion’s Prairie Braids, as well as the open format studio, all part of the educational ecosystem that encompasses the exhibition, Live Editions. 

Life in Print: Embracing Uncertainty and Pushing the Possibility of Printmaking

The second exhibition at Remai Modern is Life in Print: William Kentridge and Pablo Picasso, which runs from 10 May in the museum’s Picasso Gallery.

Remai Modern houses the most comprehensive collection of linocuts by Picasso. Selections of these linocuts will be exhibited alongside works from Kentridge’s the Universal Archive. Having started as small ink drawings, the Universal Archive works were carved in linocut by a team led by Jillian Ross at David Krut Workshop from 2011 to 2015. Fittingly, these works by Kentridge speak to a refusal of certainty in the studio. It’s this same ability to embrace uncertainty that makes the relationship between Ross and Kentridge such a productive one.

Similarly, showing Kentridge’s works alongside Picasso’s puts forward a unique presentation of the collaboration between both artists and their master printers. As Remai Modern puts it on their website: “All of Picasso’s linocuts were produced in a 17-year period between 1951 and 1968, with his master printer, Hidalgo Arnera (1922-2007). With Arnera’s expertise and support, the artist worked hands-on to understand, and push, the limits and possibilities of printmaking, much like the printer / artist collaboration between Ross and Kentridge.”

Altogether, the exhibitions provide both a record of collaboration between Jillian Ross and Kentridge and that of the University of Alberta and David Krut Workshop –  and of collaborative printmaking more broadly – and a uniquely edifying presentation around the practical processes of the craft.

Live Editions is on view from April 5 to August 11.

Life in Print - William Kentridge and Pablo Picasso opens on 10 May until 29 December. 

-   David Mann is a writer, editor and arts journalist based in Johannesburg, South Africa. His debut collection of short stories, Once Removed (2024) is published by Botsotso Publishing.

-   Live Editions and Life in Print is curated by Chief Curator Michelle Jacques and Assistant Curator Bevin Bradley at Remai Modern.

-   This project would not have been possible without Jillian Ross Print’s project partners, the Kentridge Studio, the University of Alberta, Department of Art and Design, the David Krut Workshop and Remai Modern.

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