Making Art in Johannesburg

by | Apr 12, 2016 | Arts and Culture, Johannesburg, Johannesburg City Centre | 11 comments

Johannesburg is a great city for making art.

I’ve heard artists/art enthusiasts complain that Johannesburg is less art-friendly than Cape Town. But I can only speak from my own experience. From the moment I arrived in Joburg I was struck by the creativity that oozes from every corner and crack in the city: the guys making and selling bead art on the street, the avant-garde clothing that people wear, the profusion of art workshops and studios, and the explosion of exhibitions and gallery openings that flood my Facebook feed. I was never particularly interested in art before I came to Joburg; here, I got inspired. I became an art lover and an artist.

My friend Fiver, who has been an artist all her life, agrees. For as long as I’ve lived in Joburg, Fiver and her husband have come and gone — dividing their time between Europe and South Africa. Every time Fiver is here, she raves about how conducive Johannesburg is to her creative process.

Fiver looks at her linocut.Fiver working on her art at the Prints on Paper studio in Joburg.

I’ve written about Fiver on countless occasions. She accompanies me on many of my Joburg adventures and she also designed the header image at the top of my blog. Recently Fiver published a book, which I’ve mentioned a few times.

Now, Fiver has created some amazing visual art that she’ll be exhibiting in a solo show this weekend.

Fiver’s current project involves a variety of artistic techniques, including screen-printing and linocutting, and revolves around the themes of migration, especially forced migration in the context of the current refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe. (Wow, that’s the most artsy-sounding sentence I’ve ever written.)

The Art of Linocutting and Screen-Printing

Up until recently I didn’t understand what linocutting and screen-printing were. But a couple of weeks ago Fiver invited me to come take pictures of her prints being made, at a studio called Prints on Paper in Newtown, and it all started to make sense. Here are some of the photos I took.

Sanele applies ink to the linocut.Artist and print-maker Sanele Jali, who Fiver partnered with on this project, rolls ink onto one of Fiver’s lino plates. I should mention that before reaching this point, Fiver spent weeks developing concepts, sketching, painting, thinking, and painstakingly cutting pieces of linoleum to create plates like the one you see above.

Sanele applies ink to the linocutA better look at the inked lino plate, with assistant printer/artist Sthembiso Zwane looking on.

Sanele places the linocut on the pressSanele sets the plate down on the printing machine. The section at the bottom, which looks like tree roots, doesn’t have ink on it because that section of the image will be embossed, rather than printed, onto the paper. Once Sanele positions the plate onto the machine, he and Sthembiso carefully lay the paper on top and then roll that heavy roller over the whole thing to create the print. 

Printing the linocutAfter the rolling is finished, Sthembiso carefully peals the paper off the plate and voila: We have art.

Cleaning ink from the screen print After the linocutting, the next step is screen-printing. As with the lino plates, Fiver spent lots of time beforehand developing concepts for the screen-printed section of the picture and getting the colors of the ink just right. In this picture, Sanele is cleaning the screen after printing the first layer of gold ink.

Correcting the screen printWorking on the screen.

Sanele screen printingAdding gray ink.

Final printsThe almost finished product — there are several prints in each edition.

Final printSanele seems happy with the results.

Final print
This is just one in a series of different prints to be shown in the exhibition.

Unless you’re an experienced artist, this process might seem confusing (at least it did to me). But fear not: If you live in Joburg you can come to THAT Space in Newtown at 4:00 p.m. this Saturday to see the art, meet the artists, and get the full low-down on how the prints are made and what they mean. All the details are here: (My apologies for adding yet another art exhibition to your Facebook feed, but this one is worth it.)

Come see some art in Joburg.


  1. Gail Scott Wilson

    So sorry I’m missing this. Feel that I have already befriend Fiver, (even though I have never met her) through your posts and following her on instagram, that I should be there. Wishing her a successful exhibition.

    • 2summers

      Wow, I can’t believe you guys haven’t met! We need to fix that soon.

    • 2summers

      True dat.

  2. Jaina

    This is awesome. Even if you don’t think you’re a particularly creative or artsy person, it’s great to be surrounded by people and places that are. It’ll help spark off whatever your creativity is!

    Did a very brief course in t-shirt screen printing at a summer camp when I was a kid – I was a lot messier than these guys!

    • 2summers

      Hahaha. I can see how that process could get very messy, very quickly.

  3. autumnashbough

    Wow, no simple drawing here! That seems incredibly complicated, but what an amazing finished product. Are the not-quite-words at the bottom of the print specifically different in each print?

    • 2summers

      I also found the process really complicated, and it really didn’t make sense to me until I saw it happening. (And even then I needed some clarification on things.) No, the words are the same for each print although I think the actual printing and the way the ink looks varies a little bit on each one.

  4. Lani

    Another great ‘behind the scenes’ look – thanks for keeping us entertained and in the loop 🙂

    • 2summers

      Thanks, Lani 🙂


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