For many people, enjoying art means attending gallery openings and shows but never actually buying anything. Artworks are often perceived as extravagantly indulgent objects that only the wealthy purchase for investment. But this is not the case. Most people, given the desire, can own original contemporary art pieces. Savvy art enthusiasts can build rich, extensive collections simply by knowing what kinds of artworks to buy. Fine art prints offer the most affordable entry into the art market for young or new buyers, as well as a way to acquire works by established artists at a fraction of the cost of other mediums like painting, drawing or mixed-media.
Black River Studio is a professional artist screen printing studio in Cape Town run by Wim and Jeanne Legrand. The studio offers a production space, facilities and expertise for artists and other creatives to experiment with the potential of hand-pulled screen printing, as well as produces editioned fine art screen prints for artists. The 50ty/50ty project developed as an extension of the studio work to provide artists a platform to sell their screen print works, and for new or young buyers to access expert quality fine art prints.
We spoke to Jeanne and Wim to find out more about the process of screen printing, the concept behind 50ty/50ty and what they love about what they do.
What did you each do before starting Black River Studio?
Wim was master printmaker and studio manager at the Frans Masereel Centre, an artist-in-residency programme for printmaking in Belgium, for eight years. Jeanne worked at various artist-in-residency programmes in Finland and the Netherlands.
How and when did you start working together and what lead you to start Black River Studio?
Ten years ago we worked together briefly at the Frans Masereel Centre in Belgium, where Wim was the studio manager at the time. A year later we chanced upon each other again at a printmaking conference in Tallinn, Estonia. Soon after that, we were married and living in Belgium. A while later, we came to South Africa for a six month sabbatical. That was two years ago – we ended up staying!
While living in Cape Town we realised that there was nowhere where artists, designers and other creatives could make high quality fin art screen prints. And then one morning, Jeanne came across a second-hand screen printing table on Gumtree. That random buy was the start of this new venture.
For those who don’t know, what does the screen printing process entail?
Imagine screen printing as an advanced kind of stencil printing: An image is separated into different stencils for each of its colours, and these separated colour ‘stencils’ are then printed precisely on top of each other to produce a composite image. A fine-meshed screen (in ancient times made of silk) is used, with negative spaces masked off. Ink is then pushed through the screen, producing colour at unmasked points of the design.
‘Hand-pulled’ screen printing means that each layer is hand printed by a human being, and not by machines common in commercial print runs. Because each screen print is executed individually, each print is unique and may contain tiny variations.
How did the idea for 50ty/50ty come about?
We started a fine art screen printing studio – Black River Studio – almost two years ago now. The idea was to offer artists a production space where they could access workspace, facilities and technical expertise in order to produce high quality, small edition screen prints. At our workshops, we met many artists and designers who wanted to create screen prints as an extension of their main body of work, but the issue that kept arising was the lack of a marketing platform to sell these extra-disciplinary adventures. So, we decided to provide the platform.
Please can you tell us about the concept behind this project?
In collaborating with artists at the studio we recognised the absence of a platform for marketing editioned work. At the same time, we met loads of young people with a keen interest in contemporary South African art, but without the funds to make large investments just yet. 50ty/50ty marries these needs: It allows for artists to experiment and produce original work in a space that provides the necessary technical support; whilst giving young collectors access to artwork via an online platform.
The name 50ty/50ty refers to the collaborative process between artist and printmaker in the creation of an original screen print. The name also references the number to which each print edition is limited. This slightly higher edition of 50, as well as the fact that work is sold exclusively online, is what makes the artworks affordable – with original prints ranging between R2000 and R5000 in price.
Alexia Vogel painting a positive for a one colour layer. Above: finished work, ‘Swelter’.
How do you select the artists that you collaborate with?
So far we have mostly worked on an invitation basis, but we are open to artists contacting us. We tend to invite up-and-coming and established artists whose work will translate well into the medium of screen printing.
How does the collaboration work?
It is very much a visual conversation. We start with a two-day ‘play date’ of sorts to try out various options. When we start the process it is important that there is no pressure. We begin with the artist’s typical studio process, and then engage technical possibilities that flow most naturally with their specific process. This way we’re able to produce original editioned work that relates very closely to each artist’s body of work.
We actually made this lovely little video that documents the process of 50ty/50ty’s first artist, Mia Chaplin. It was her first venture into screen printing, so there was a lot of discussion and exploration of possibilities.
Is there an element of buyer education involved in the 50ty/50ty concept?
The best way of collecting contemporary art is to buy what you love. By making a limited amount of work available to aspiring collectors we hope to create a new generation of enthusiasts who follow and support local artists’ careers in the long run.
By consistently producing work with great local talent, we aim to create credibility in our collection and earn the trust of our clients, so that first time buyers can feel assured that whatever they buy on the 50ty/50ty platform is a work worth owning.
What do you both love about what you do?
We both love the fact the everyday is different. Every artist has a different way of working, and we have to adapt to each person’s creative process. It is extremely rewarding to see artwork being created and a privilege to be part of that process.
Julia Rosa Clark process and finished work, ‘A Storm Was Blowing from Paradise’
Are there any projects or collaborations that stand out? Why?
Every project has a story for us, because we work so intensively with each artist. What stands out on the whole is the pleasure we take in being immersed in someone else’s creative process and how the conversations we have along the way influences the final product.
What can we look forward to next from Black River Studios & 50ty/50ty?
Black River Studio is launching an international artist-in-residency programme in 2017. With this we hope to set up a scenario where local artists can meet, collaborate and set up informal networks with international colleagues.
50ty/50ty has so far only collaborated with artists based in Cape Town. We’re working towards being able to bring artists from elsewhere in South Africa to Cape Town to collaborate with us. This will be closely tied to the artist-in-residency programme.
Brett Murray, ‘After Party’
In studio with Siwa Mgoboza
Olivié Keck process and finished work, ‘A Good Show in Paradiso’