Arts

Painters sell affordable art that's fit to print

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Thom Ogonga's Double Entrendre/The Bluetooth device on MDF board and process ink, at One Off Gallery on April 2, 2022. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Prints present limitless possibilities to both their creators and the public.

For one, they are easily re-printed, making them more affordable than an artist’s original work. So, if someone wants an artwork by a particular artist but cannot afford it, one can acquire a print instead.

There is a versatility to print-making that is not necessarily available in a painting. Just look at American artist and film director Andy Warhol’s prints of Marilyn Monroe or his Campbell Soup cans. Warhol repeated each of these images over and again in a single work.

Yet each image is slightly different for various reasons. On one hand, it could be due to the actual print-making process in which each printed image was produced by hand.

But it could also be intentional on the part of the artist who may add different colours to the same etching or woodcut print as James Mweu does at One Off Gallery’s current print show.

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James Mweu’s Relief print on paper at One Off Gallery on April 2, 2022. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

“One reason I like print-making is that there is always that element of surprise,” says Peterson Kamwathi, one of the nine Kenyan printmakers currently exhibiting at One Off Gallery in a show curated by fellow print-maker Thom Ogonga.

Peterson said between the time the artist puts his or her ink on the plate and the moment when they see the outcome of the printing process, one never knows what exactly their print will look like. That for him is a thrill, even if he is only working in black and white as are his works at One Off Gallery.

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Peterson Kamwathi’s Community II etching/aquatint on paper, at One Off Gallery in Nairobi, April 2, 2022. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

It has to be very different for an artist like Dennis Muraguri who prints with multiple colours, each one of which must be applied and printed separately and precisely. There is so much labour required to achieve the effect of work like Ecko UNLTD, Ongata Line Trans artworks.

That magnificent print serves as a sort of centerpiece for the whole print show, given that it’s the largest, most colourful, and has the pride of placement at the entrance into OneOff’s Stables gallery.

Muraguri’s Ongata Line Trans may be a print, but it is unlikely that there will be many editions of it, given there is so much labour and detailed precision involved in creating such a print masterpiece.

Yet every print is different. You will see etchings and aquatints (by Kamwathi), etching and collage (Mandy Bonnell), silkscreen prints, (Wanjohi Maina), relief prints (James Mweu), collagraphs (Patrick Karanja), and woodcuts carved on MDF board (Thom Ogonga, Mari Endo, Dennis Muraguri, and Abdul Kipruto) which is slightly different in effect from an actual woodcut.

The quality of paper and the kind of ink involved in the process also make a difference to a print’s look. For instance, Muraguri and Ogonga both used processed ink to prepare their prints while Mari Endo used Japanese ink.

As for paper, Wanjohi Maina worked with embossed paper while Mari with Mulberry paper. Meanwhile, Abdul Kipruto used neither paper nor ink since what he has brought for the exhibition was his carved MDF board, a woodcut plate entitled ‘Bow 1’.

Abdul is not the only artist who is displaying more than just prints. Several others, including Muraguri, Ogongo, and James Mweu are also selling the plates they carved to create the prints that are for sale.

The plates are like incised sculptures, each one is precious and practical to keep. By selling the plates, all the prints produced before a plate was sold will be more valuable.

Otherwise, prints are tricky. As long as an artist holds on to his/her plates, they can sell more prints, making what the buyer once thought was a limited edition become a common image splashed all over the internet.