Just as the ink dries on the first edition of screen prints, let us introduce 50ty/50ty, a new art initiative that gives you the chance to buy original artworks from some of South Africa’s top artists, illustrators and designers at an affordable price. A real game changer. DECO contributor, Hendrik L. Coetzee, gained in-depth insight to this brilliant art initiative.
The platform finds fine art screen printers Black River Studio joining forces with top local artists. The 50 also refers to the fifty prints per edition. With this slightly higher number, and the fact that work is sold exclusively online, the artworks are affordable, ranging between R2 000 and R5 000 each. We met Belgium born printmaker extraordinaire Wim Legrand and co-owner (a.k.a. wing-woman, the Robin of the team) Jeanne Legrand, in action at the studio…
- Wim and Jeanne, who are you and where did you two come from?
Ten years ago we worked together at a Belgian artist-in-residency programme. A year later we met again at a printmaking conference in Tallinn, Estonia. Soon after that, we were married! After a six month sabbatical in South Africa two years ago, we decided to stay. While living in Cape Town, we realised that there was nowhere where artists, designers and other creatives could make high quality screen prints.
We came across a secondhand screen printing table on Gumtree and I just couldn’t resist. A random buy was the start of a new venture.
- How were the ideas around 50ty/50ty developed? Surely the model was not on the, pardon the pun, screen printing table back then when you bought it.
We started the screen printing studio Black River Studio about a year ago, to offer artists a production space where they could access the facilities and technical expertise; in order to produce high quality, small edition screen prints. At our workshops, we met loads of artists and designers who wanted to create screen prints as an extension of their main body of work, so we decided to provide them with this platform.
- Ah so artists do venture down the rabbit hole…
That is exactly what this collaboration facilitates. A venture into another medium affords a break from the usual studio routine. In turn, stepping out of one’s comfort zone leads to new ideas that feed back into the artist’s studio work. This is not just a fun sideline.
- Can you elaborate on the collaboration between yourselves and the artist.
It is very much a visual conversation. With each artist, we start with a two-day ‘play date’ of sorts. During this time, we play with their idea and explore different options, in terms of colour and technical elements. We actually made a video that documents the process of 50ty/50ty’s first artist, Mia Chaplin. It was her first venture into a screen printing, so there was a lot of discussion and exploration of possibilities.
- Haha play date, that sounds like fun! You provide the toys, and are still very active in the making process.
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. It’s imperative that the technical aspects don’t inhibit the image.
- Your byline for 50ty/50ty is ‘A Perfect Edition to your Home’. You make it sound as if buying an artwork is choosing a scatter cushion, far from a serious commitment that you nail to your wall. Buying art can be quite intimidating, especially for first time buyers, no?
We want to keep young collectors interested in the local art world and give them the opportunity to start collecting work of the artists they admire – early on. Buying a 50ty/50ty print could indicate the start of a bigger commitment, because one could build up a beautiful collection over time – it doesn’t have to stop at just one print. Alternatively, you could buy just one treasured work to take the pride of place in your home or office.
- So 50ty/50ty is also stimulating and to an extent nurturing a younger generation of art collectors and buyers. How important it is to have affordable original artworks out there?
There is this insinuation that prints are somehow inferior to other art mediums. But historically, the whole point of producing a multiple (editioning) was to get your message out, to make your work available to more people – think Toulouse-Lautrec, Andy Warhol, William Kentridge.
Studio co-founder Jeanne Legrand explains:
In collaborating with artists at the studio we recognised the absence of a platform for marketing editioned work. There are loads of young people with a keen interest in contemporary South African art, but without the funds to make large investments.
- Our digital age raises the question of quality, is this why hand printed prints like screen prints are becoming ever more popular?
Yes! There is a huge culture of print collecting in Europe and the US – we’re hoping to encourage the spread of this trend here. The digital marketplace needs to be harnessed for its accessibility and ease of use; not avoided. There is no reason that quality should be compromised. In fact, one could argue that digital platforms are more subject to accountability because of the power of social media and peer reviews.
The platform is a confluence of digital and manual – the digital ‘shop window’ is a mere snapshot of the labour-intensive, handmade process behind the scenes.
- That brings us to the all important question, drum roll please! You have so far worked with the likes of Michael Taylor and Mia Chaplin, who is up next?
We’re very excited to have Norman O’Flynn and Elsabé Milandri up next. Soon after, we’ll be exploring the captivating worlds of Jean de Wet and Marna Hattingh. And then we have some of the best graphic design and illustration talent waiting in the wings – watch this space!
Images: Black River Studio
Want to know more?
50ty/50ty will release a collection of fifty limited edition screen prints by a new artist every month. There will be a limit of 24 works available on the site at any given time. Any single work will only be available for one year. So the collection online will grow but won’t gather dust, and although 50 might sound like a large number we’ll advise you to go and find your edition to your home here (www.fiftyfifty.co.za)
Hendrik describes himself as a hands-on man in a designer suit…with his tool belt underneath his jacket. He lives and works between The Netherlands and South Africa – conceptualising, styling, sourcing and making things by hand for photo and film shoots as well as special events. He loves adding humour and a bit of cheekiness to what he does. Find him on Facebook: HENDRIK WORKS, Twitter @HL_Coetzee and IG @hendriklcoetzee