The Making of Nesos
This month marks the start of the process, set in motion 49 years ago, of making what Walter Battiss (1906 – 1982) considered to be the pinnacle of his artistic expression as a printmaker. The work in question is Nesos (Greek for island) which is comprised of 54 individually printed silkscreens, which took him from February to August 1968 to complete. In this seven-month period Battiss devoted just about all his time to the making of these images, "a most trying effort under the blazing African sun" is how he referred to it in a letter written to his dear friend Dacre Punt. The images were then bound into book form and the completion of the work was first announced in The Pretoria News in September 1968.
After many years of researching Battiss’s life it occurred to me that this work was not only seminal in the artist’s oeuvre but also seminal in the transition he made, in the late sixties and early seventies, to develop an island of his own. In the minds of many art lovers, both here and abroad, it is Fook Island that will be remembered as his most important contribution to global art and culture. This is why I decided to give Nesos such a prominent position in the recent exhibition of Jack Ginsberg’s collection at Wits Art Museum (WAM).
I recently made the exciting discovery of locating two silkscreens conceived and printed by Battiss for Nesos but that, for various reasons, were not included in the final selection of 54 images. These works are both extremely rare and this is the first time I have seen them in the course of nearly 30 years of research. No impressions of these two images by Battiss are included in the Jack Ginsberg Collection of over 700 works recently gifted and housed at WAM. Both images are printed on a larger scale than the images selected for inclusion in Nesos and are both variants of similar images from the artists book. They are also differentiated by the fact that they are in tiny edition sizes of 10 instead of 25, which was the edition size chosen for Nesos. These exceptional prints are also signed by the artist using his full name instead of just Battiss. This indicates that the prints were either regarded by the artist as proofs or more often than not were intended as gifts, which were therefore never made available commercially at the time.