Artist Interview: Tumelo Mtimkhulu – Printing In Paris, Or Unburdened Through Art

July 18, 2022


Tumelo Mtimkhulu (born 29 May 2001) is a South African writer, poet and visual artist born in Germiston, Johannesburg. He is part of the 2022 TAF Unearthed programme.


What sort of training have you received and how important do you think it is to seek training (in terms of learning first principles and refining technique)?

I am currently completing my final year as a BA Visual Art undergraduate at the University of Johannesburg. As I didn’t study art in any professional capacity prior to pursuing this degree, this is the only training I have received and I have thus far seen the importance of refining the conceptual underpinning of my work as well as my technical abilities. I think it is extremely important to seek training, as one has to first learn the basics of making in order for one to carve out their own distinct way of making and visual vocabulary.


What is your principal medium, and why did you choose it?

I move between drawing and printmaking (etching) on plaster of Paris. I like how closely related yet somewhat dissimilar these disciplines are, because drawing is like thinking in that the drawing changes the more you work on it, as thoughts are wont to do. However, printmaking is more of a meditative process, from how I prepare the etching plate to how I eventually etch each layer. I draw on plaster of Paris bandages and print with/on plaster of Paris. I am particularly drawn to plaster because of how malleable it is as a material, be it drawing, printmaking or sculpture.


Describe the techniques you use most? How complicated are your methods, and why is each step necessary?

For drawing, I have to cut and place each layer of the plaster bandages individually and leave them to dry overnight. If I start drawing on them while they’re wet, the drawing will simply look like a blob of grey dirt. For printmaking, I have to ensure that I mix a perfect plaster mix because if there is an imbalance in the plaster to water ratio, the plaster will take longer than needed to cure. I think it would be safe to say that my use of plaster is an exercise on patience.


What technological tools do you use in your work?

I am quite traditional in what I use to make art – usually drawing ink and charcoal on plaster of Paris.


Who is the single other artist whose style you most admire, and why?

I draw a lot from other forms of art, so picking one artist seems unfair to the host of other artists who I am drawn to, but I would say that the films of Andrei Tarkovsky hold a special place in my heart. His artistic expression showed me the importance of honestly expressing oneself, which is why I still champion the somewhat romantic idea that honest art can help dissolve all kinds of borders that exist between human beings. Neo Muyanga once said that: “Art cannot clobber a government into submission”, and I do agree. However, art does hold something within it that can speak honestly about the outside world and the world inside oneself.


Galleries and other traditional means are only one way of marketing art. What do you believe are the most important other routes, and what is the most important insight you have gained in that area in your career?

I think social media is a good way of putting yourself and your art out there as an artist, I say this because I found out about the TAF Unearthed programme through Instagram!


Why do you create? What are your stated goals in producing art?

I would be lying if I said that I fully know why I make art as it is an extremely spiritual process, but I do know that I make art to unburden myself and hopefully arrive at more profound regions of the self. It is a way of presenting myself honestly in a world that constantly seduces  and encourages you not to.