School of Arts

Fine Arts study explores innovative non-toxic etching practices

Mr Eloff Pretorius received a Master of Fine Arts for his innovations in non-toxic materials for intaglio etching. His ground-breaking research found that metal salt etchants are a safe alternative to strong acid etchants. It also proposed that cleaning solvents be replaced by vegetable oil, and that acrylic mediums be used instead of rosin dust and bitumen.
Mr Eloff Pretorius with his Master of Fine Arts certificate
Mr Eloff Pretorius with his Master of Fine Arts certificate

Pretorius’s study was motivated by the need to address the long-term health risks that confront artists as well as promote environmental sustainability. Although artists worldwide have been gradually introducing safer methods and materials, many risks persist, partly due to a lack of local knowledge of the real hazards and alternative processes.

The study investigated developments in non-toxic etching at the Academy for Visual Arts in Ghent, Belgium. Pretorius spent three months in Ghent working with Professor Marnix Everaert and learning about the non-toxic processes that he developed and implemented at the printmaking school where he teaches. ‘Everaert generously gave of his time and expertise to help me become more mindful of the materials that I work with so that I can create safer working spaces and produce less chemical waste output in my practice,’ he said.

A major technical challenge was the differences between the commercial products used by printmakers in Europe and those in South Africa. On his return to South Africa, much testing was required to identify equivalent products that deliver effective and safe solutions.

‘Another challenge was that my wife Jeanette and I had only been married for six months before I went to Belgium. We had done some long distance before, but this was truly challenging and really required a lot of trust and open communication to get through. It was hard to keep my mind on my research when my heart was still with her,’ said Pretorius.

His wife said, ‘I’m so proud of Eloff for completing his Master’s and diving deep into his art and a topic that truly matters to him. His passion for the topic and the risks he took in his art demonstrates his courage and creativity.’

‘Not many local studios have taken the steps to totally transform their practices in this way, in fact, none that we know of, and this study will have lasting benefits for us,’ said supervisor Dr Kathy Arbuckle. The principles of safe practice learnt during this study and tested at UKZN’s Centre for Visual Arts will be fully implemented this year.

Pretorius is working with Professor Malcolm Christian, who received an Honorary Doctoral Degree from UKZN, at the Caversham Press in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, where he is introducing non-toxic methods in the printmaking studio. He hopes to collaborate with a variety of artists and printmakers interested in working with etching and other printmaking mediums.

‘I will be facilitating printmaking workshops for artists, students and the general public, while also continuing to produce my own art. My hope is to build on the legacy of the Caversham Press and its founder Malcolm Christian to work with people through the medium of printmaking to produce images and art works that uplift and empower,’ he said.

His advice to other students is to set many small, but ambitious, deadlines early on in the degree programme in order to work at a continuous and steady pace. He added that he is thankful for the support he received from his family, friends and supervisor and is excited about the future.

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