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WRESTLING INNER DEMONS

I’ve you’ve been online here and there and interested in printmaking, you’ve probably seen this 1950 video of Hayter printing in his Atelier 17.

If not: get your carpet covered roller out, make sure your ink is nice and drippy. No gloves or ventilation, and always time for a cigarette. It may take 5 years to master handwiping, engrave your plate like a banking plane, magically get clean hands when pulling those felts nice and taut, there’s always time for another cigarette.

It reminds me a lot of the first shop I learned in, under the well meaning tutelage of Dietmar Hagedorn, whose printshop life was formed and shaped by a line of men like Hayter, nicotine-stained fingers pitch black with ink, a flask of strong liquor in one of the pockets of the coat, true love and passion for the way of the printshop, where things were simple, clear, black and white - the one true way to wipe a plate, the one true way to sharpen a tool, etch, etc.

I fit ill into this world, and yet - the prints were good, and thus one belongs, the unspoken circle, a nod over a shoulder, this kid sure can wipe a drypoint, or whatever.

More than a decade later, I run my own shop (or, to not lie: currently I don’t, the shop is packed up, disassembled, in the midst of restauration, I pace around the rusty presses often, hundreds of boxes still to be sifted through), and what a different world it is: There is patina, surely, but there’s also clean, smooth functionality, nitrile gloves are on the house, great ventilation, emergency acid showers, eye-wash and timers on coffee machine and boiler, no smoking indoors and no one true way. Volatile solvents are banned from the shop, rapeseed oil washout.

Preferences in the way things are done, a lot less struggle. Don’t think I ever saw a student wrestle with an image, less questing, less searching, more “i want it like this how can i do it?”. When I entered printshops for the first time I fell in love with inks, the stink of turpentine, asphaltum, beeswax in the hardground, acids and alchemy. My new shop smelled neat, head and lungs loved it. But can one fall in love, the proper passionate love required for traversing the fledgling years of printmaking, without that infernal alchemy? Frantically I filled the shop with plants, Kozo sprouting everywhere, appealing to other passions, hopefully, perhaps.

(Not saying one is better than the other, just observing.)

I think I’m tired. Tired of the old men and their stories and their fear for the survival of a printmaking world they enshrined themselves in, arbiters for good and bad printing. Tired of the new kids (guess I no longer am one of them?) and their, but then again, my students might be reading this..
The info is all out there, books and videos and dvds in the back of books, and I miss Dietmar and his filterless Gauloises in the shirt’s breast pocket, next to the thread counter I inherited as a parting gift.

I’m thinking about the next shop, the new shop, how should it be? Not talking floor plans, thinking soul, thinking alchemy.

So so tired.

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I live in Johannesburg, and for the past few months the African girls out here have been digging the wax print vibes. There are many reasons why they suddenly chose to adopt the Traditional prints and textures, perhaps Solange Knowles played a little role in their decision, but perhaps not. It almost happened overnight, where girls (apart from the usual, natural-haired/dreadlocked ladies), started wearing turbans made out of wax prints on their heads and ethnic prints on their pants. Personally, I’ve been exposed to this as a little child. Wearing what we call ‘boubous’ and 'pagnes’ are the norm in my country of origin, Democratic Republic of Congo’. 

This trend is not only present here in Jhb, however, the runways of the entire world have adopted it, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Burberry, Prada, Gunya Wantanabe and even Marc Jacobs, all had their turns at interpreting a fabric that is so common, and has been for many for years to women all around Africa. If Solange Knowles checked out my mothers wardrobe, I think she’d just collapse and die, it is an eclectic melange of not only wax prints, but of Vlisco.  For those of you who actually know anything about wax prints, would know that but the creme de la creme of wax prints in the entire world is none other than the Original Dutch Wax print by Vlisco (not to boast or anything but my aunt happens to be the CEO of Vlisco in the DRC , her wardrobe is also something else, ie custom-made dresses by Africa’s best designers).

Here are some photos of their latest collection: The Silent Empire, check out more of their collection on vlisco.com

Wobby special for our hometown Tilburg ❤️: WobTit, made in collaboration with De Titaan. Commissioned by Citymarketing Tilburg as a gift for new residents of Tilburg. So come and live in the rough & raw Tilburg 🏰🏢🏭

Illustration by Jeroen de Leijer @studiodeleijer​.

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Get The Look:

We haven’t had a get the look for a while! Today we’ll take the look from the colourful and mixed-prints masters, the Dutch, with this watercolour from an Italian album in the Bunka Fashion College collection in Japan.

Because, who doesn’t love some mix-and-match? (images from top):

  1. “North Holland”, ca. 1775, from "An album containing 90 fine water color paintings of costumes.“, Bunka Fashion College.
  2. Printed cotton jacket, 1775-1780, Textile Museum of Canada.
  3. White linen cap, 18th century, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
  4. Blue damask petticoat, Zaans Museum.
  5. Plaid blue and white linen apron, ca. 1776, Colonial Williamsburg.
  6. Debbie shoes, 18th century reproduction, Fugawee.com
  7. Black frame knitted mitts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Minerva (2011). Erwin Olaf (Dutch, b.1959). Chromogenic print, from the series: The Siege and Relief of Leiden (2011), commissioned by Museum De Lakenhal and Leiden University. 

For this image, Olaf took the seal and logo of Leiden University as a starting point. However, he made the goddess more lively, by having the young model challenging viewers by looking straight in their eyes.

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March 7th 2016 Spent a rainy morning reading about early modern Dutch prints with an almond milk latte to keep me awake. I plan on looking into the book, Comic Print and Theatre in Early Modern Amsterdam: Gender, Childhood, and the City, when I have more time, but based off of this chapter I would highly recommend it to those interested in the relationship between print culture, gender, and civic identity.