Unique Work From South Africa’s Fine Art Engine Room

Phillemon Hlungwani, Matimba ya nwanseti male ndzeni ka mbilu, Drypoint with Handcolouring, 99 x135cm – 2018

Jozi’s iconic printmaking studio is selling a range of investment art in an initiative that will allow it to maintain its place as one of the engine rooms of the booming South African fine art scene… When Limpopo born and Jozi based artist Nelson Makamo hit the cover of Time Magazine in 2019 his achievement was celebrated by nearly every creative in the city. Makamo’s Time cover wasn’t only a personal triumph, it also encapsulated the journey travelled by a generation of young artists drawn to Johannesburg from across the country, and bound together by the shared experience of making it on the toughest streets of all.

Bambo Sibiya, A Lamant On Misrepresentation, Linocut, 119,5 x 197cm – 2019

Twenty years ago, the Jozi fine art scene was as starkly racially delineated as life across the rest of the country and featured only a small handful of stalwart black artists: figures such as Dr. David Koloane, Patrick Kagiso Mautloa and Sam Nhlengethwa. Today, the same scene features a litany of fast rising names who have collectively developed a unique, and globally compelling, aesthetic and culture.
The likes of Nelson Makamo, Phillemon Hlungwani, Nicholas Hlobo, Bambo Sibiya, Blessing Ngobeni, Mongezi Ncaphayi and many others already represent South Africa powerfully on international stages, and following behind them is a new set of rising stars, including Themba Khumalo, Sizwe Khoza, Lebohang Motaung, Jan Tshikhuthula and Lindo Zwane, to name just few.

Printing of Kentridge, Skeletal She-wolf 2


Lebohang Motaung


Themba Khumalo


Sizwe Khoza

But while the story of Jozi’s 21st century fine art boom is increasingly well documented – locally and internationally – less recognised is the role played by Artist Proof Studio (APS), the Newtown-based printmaking studio and educational centre that many of the city’s most compelling new names have in common.
‘We’re proud of what our alumni are achieving. It’s incredible to see the power of their art, the impact they’re making on the world and the standard they’re setting as artists and people, ’says Nathi Simelane, APS Project and Marketing Manager. ‘Even more exciting is the fact that there’s another equally powerful generation of talent rising up right now. Our challenge is to make sure that we can continue to give these emerging artists access to opportunities and resources. That’s what our July Sale is all about. Making sure APS continues to do what it does, even as COVID-19 threatens our existence.’

Founded in 1991, APS offers a three year printmaking course to applicants who meet qualifying criteria, including artistic ability. For many years the APS course was offered completely free of charge, but today the studio actively fundraises to meet the cost of educating each student without access to financial resources. APS ’rich creative legacy means its own art collection – which features work from a wide range of established and emerging artists – has proved to be an important revenue stream at art fairs and fundraising events. In addition, major names like William Kentridge have been active APS supporters for many years. Kentridge works with the APS  professional print studio on some of his own projects, and supports some of the young artists as his assistants, giving them experience of professional art at the highest level.

Themba Khumalo, Crossing Roads, Drypoint Monotype, 82 x 124,5cm, 2019

Ultimately, APS is most notable for its unique mix of primary skills development and professional career guidance and opportunity. This kind of offering is so rare in the South African arts world that most APS students have travelled vast distances – literally and metaphorically – to access the studio and its community.
Philemon Hlungwane and Nelson Makamo, for example, both made their way to APS from Limpopo as aspirant young artists with clear visions about their future. Similarly, Jan Tshikhuthula arrived in Johannesburg from Tzaneen in 2009 with little more than a bag on his shoulder and a dream of professional art. And, many APS artists born and raised in Gauteng have fought just as hard as those from outlying areas to be accepted into the studio, a space where the people you meet and the social, cultural and political experiences you have are just as impactful as the education you receive.

‘Generational depth is something we try and nurture as much as possible’, says Simelane. ‘When someone moves from APS into a successful career they have a huge impact in their community as role models. Youngsters can see that it is possible to establish a career as a creative professional, no matter where you come from, or what you’ve experienced. This is why it’s so important that APS stays strong and active – we need this generational depth to grow, not diminish. ’

In the COVID-19 era APS faces the same crushing financial pressure as most NGOs. Its professional print studio is operating, but its public classes are currently closed and a significant portion of its student education has to happen remotely. Ensuring Internet access for students is complex and expensive, and because the country’s schedule of exhibitions has been paused neither the artists nor the studio are able to generate revenue through sales.

APS partnered to establish The Lockdown Collection with two of its founders (Carl Bates and Lauren Woolf) at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to address this challenge. The collection included donated work from the country’s most prominent artists and raised more than R2 million, which was split between the contributing artists, the President’s Solidarity Fund and a newly established Vulnerable Artists Fund. 335 grants comprising over R1 million have already been paid out to vulnerable artists, many of whom are students affiliated to the studio with no access to alternative income.

‘The Lockdown Collection was very successful, but it also illustrated the extent of the challenge we’re facing now, and are likely to have to address for the extent of the pandemic’, says Simelane. ‘Which is why we’re launching the July sale, which includes incredible work from some of the country’s best artists, young and old. We’re confident, given the studio’s history and quality of work on offer, that the initiative will get the support it deserves.’

The APS Sale includes work from:
William Kentridge
Mongezi Ncaphayi
Phillemon Hlungwani
Bambo Sibiya
Sizwe Khoza
Themba Khumalo
Lebohang Motaung

Sizwe Khoza – Ahitsakeni Vananga, Monotype ,99x99cm – 2019 –