Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.
-Louisa May Alcott
If you are passionate about your work – in love with what you are creating – you will be driven, naturally, to complete it in its best possible form.Your belief in your conception will supersede any fear you might have of failure creeping in as you strive to realize its potential. That curiosity about what your work might become, will spur you on to spend all the hours, days, months and even years, necessary to hone your skills, refine what you are doing, and finally, bring your vision to completion. It’s all about the love of what you do and importantly, it is about relentless practice.
The Passion of a Master Printmaker
In February 2017, I interviewed South African-born Master Printmaker, Professor Maurice Kahn, in his Jerusalem studio. Kahn has received wide acclaim for his work internationally as an artist, a printmaker, an expert on both traditional and innovative printing techniques. He continues to devote his life to painting, drawing and printmaking.
Ellen: You mastered so many forms of art, Maurice, yet printmaking became increasingly your passion and your domain. What drew you to printmaking?
Maurice: I was born with printing in my blood. I cannot for the life of me remember English, arithmetic or history lessons at primary school but art classes, yes. Cutting a potato in half, then printing an irregular, oval shape over and over again was sheer heaven, even more so when I applied a second color and over-stamped it upon the first. I discovered that a yellow potato oval printed half upon a blue one, resulted in a green shape, a blue and yellow one.
Ellen: How old were you when you first experimented with printmaking?
Maurice: I was hooked at the age of five or six. I cannot remember any gift I received during the first decade of my life except for a box of rubber letters that had to be inserted into a frame of sorts then pressed onto an ink pad and in turn printed on paper. My name, mirror image Leonardo da Vinci style, printed MAURICE KAHN. I think I printed my name so often that the letters eventually wore out.
Ellen: And that printed image continues to be part of your life. Why the longevity of the form for you?
Maurice: This love of the printed image has been part of my life forever. I could not understand why the Fine Arts Department of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg had a dusty old etching press half hidden in a dusty storeroom, a dusty antique bottle of concentrated nitric acid on an adjacent, equally dusty shelf but no one to teach etching, not even a dusty old professor.
Ellen: So you taught yourself the technique of printmaking – how did you undertake that?
Maurice: In 1961, I was a first student raring to go. There was no Google then, only Encyclopaedia Brittanica. I read that an etching is printed from a copper plate. This plate is coated with wax, drawn into and then immersed in acid to incise or bite lines into the metal. These acid-bitten lines hold etching ink which is printed under pressure onto damp paper.
Ellen: Did mastering printing seem foreboding to you at first?
Maurice: Easy as falling off a log, or so I thought. I bought a ten-inch square copper plate, covered one side only with a thick layer of candle wax, scratched a beautiful drawing through the wax exposing the copper below, then gently immersed this into a bath of nitric acid – concentrated nitric acid. No gloves even – burnt fingers to start.
Ellen: Did it work?
Maurice: It worked – for about two seconds. The lines turned blue as they were being bitten as was explained in Britannica. Then catastrophe! The acid attacked the unprotected underside of the plate. The acid became boiling hot causing the wax to melt and all of a sudden, the studio was engulfed in brown toxic fumes, so much so that the fire department had to be called.
Ellen: But that did not deter you from further experimentation – your own self-education?
Maurice: In the years that followed, I taught myself all there is to know about hard ground and soft ground etching and aquatint, engraving, viscosity printing, dry-point, mezzotint, screen printing and stone lithography. I went on to teach at Forest High School, then in quick succession, was seconded to the prestigious Parktown Boys High School and then following the Johannesburg College of Art, I accepted an appointment as a senior lecturer at the University of Durban-Westville, moved to Durban, taught part-time at the University of Natal’s Fine Arts and Architecture Departments. (CONVERSATIONS INTERVIEW OF PROFESSOR MAURICE KAHN)
Height is Not the Measure
Maurice Kahn always aims high as he strives to reach the soul of his visions:
“Always aim high, but remember: height is not the measure of height. AIM is. So aim more. Soar more. Never be aimless. Nor more-or-less. Be more than before. Much more.” That is the kind of advice from which we can all benefit. That is the advice Farfetch gave to Spunktaneous in THE WORLD OF GLIMPSE.
When you finally reach that flash-of-recognition moment that tells you, that’s it – that feels just right! you know, intuitively, that you have completed what you set out to do in the best possible way – which happens to be your way. That sudden, unbidden flash of inner knowing you experienced – what James Joyce called, “its soul, its whatness” – reinforces for you that your work is now perfectly complete, even though it might really be wonderfully imperfectly perfect. There is nothing perfunctory about perfection or some imperfection. A great deal of practice and professionalism has gone into creating your way.
According to Farfetch in THE WORLD OF GLIMPSE: “Perfunctory perfection…a deception, Spunktaneous. Do you practice relentlessly? Assiduously? Like me? Why at any ungiven opportunity, I…
Practice my verse and impromptu rhymery,
Theatrix and slap bang one-linary,
Stretchlimbulate…an extennnnsive desiry,
I resulate on inimitable aspiry.”