Sunday Times - - LITERARY AWARDS -

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)

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