HE character of the printmaker March Halberg is loosely based on an artist whose life and work I became aware of through a series of coincidences. The artist was little known in commercial art circles, though he does get a single line in Esmé Berman’s Art and Artists of South Africa (1969), one image in FL Alexander’s South African Graphic Art and its Techniques (1974) and a mention in the list of printmakers in the back of Philippa Hobbs and Elizabeth Rankin’s book, Printmaking in a Transforming South Africa (1997).
I did not know the artist, and had not encountered his work before the moment in which this “story” begins. My desire to create a character roughly based on him was also not out of any sense of obligation to his memory or because I wanted to assess his place in South African art history (this question was singularly unimportant to me), though I did feel an odd burden of responsibility towards the work, if only because of its insistent (and, to me, moving) presence in the world.
What engaged me most, however, was the possibility of understanding, through the writing of the novel, some part of the process of making art. More specifically, I was curious about the making of art in a particular moment in South African history.
But more than these quite lofty questions, the real heart of the story had to do with a semi-reclusive artist who simply felt compelled to make images — thousands of them, and for many years, with apparently little need of recognition.
I was interested in this compulsion and also in the repetitive technical processes of printmaking that would have dominated the life of such a person. I thought that by getting inside the head of the character March I would solve some of the riddles of his life.
All of the other characters were created to help me do this and so the novel developed as a series of reports, anecdotes, reflections on the life of the printmaker at the centre of the story. — Bronwyn Law-Viljoen
The Printmaker Bronwyn Law-Viljoen (Umuzi)