USask graduate Jillian Ross (left) and South African artist William Kentridge have produced more than 190 works together. (Photo provided by Brendan Copestake)

The art of collaboration

USask graduate Jillian Ross (BFA’02) is sharing her knowledge of collaborative printmaking through an interactive exhibition at Remai Modern


An exhibition at Remai Modern is offering visitors an inside look at a working print studio by showcasing the knowledge and skills of University of Saskatchewan (USask) graduate Jillian Ross (BFA’02), a Saskatoon-based printmaker and longtime collaborator of renowned South African artist William Kentridge.

Jillian Ross (BFA’02) is a Master Printer. (Photo: Larry Kwok)

Live Editions: Jillian Ross Print demonstrates how prints are produced from start to finish and highlights the collaborative process that takes place between artists and printmakers. The exhibition runs until Aug. 11, 2024, in Remai Modern’s Connect Gallery.

Ross began moving the elements of her print studio into the gallery in March. Since the exhibition officially opened at Remai Modern on April 5, Ross has found the museum to be a comfortable working space that enables her to interact with students, museum employees, fellow artists, members of school and tour groups, and other visitors.

“It’s a very natural place for me to explain printmaking by showing—and by having the props, the sights, the smells,” she said.

USask graduate Bevin Bradley (BFA’02) is the co-curator of Live Editions: Jillian Ross Print. (Photo provided by Remai Modern)

The process of printmaking involves transferring an image from a template known as a matrix, which in this case is made of copper, to another surface, in this case paper. Multiple impressions of the image can be printed from the matrix, which has the image embedded into its flat surface.

Fellow USask graduate Bevin Bradley (BFA’02) is the co-curator of Live Editions: Jillian Ross Print with Michelle Jacques, Director of Exhibitions and Collections and Chief Curator at Remai Modern. Bradley said she is “amazed at the generosity of spirit of the collaborative nature of the printmakers working with the artists.” Bradley added that it is “remarkable” for a printer to invite visitors “to be present during moments of truth” when the work is in development.

In recent years, printmaking has seen a resurgence as more people become interested in the artistic process and vintage printing techniques.

“Repetition is embedded in the printmaking medium, and it is an effective form of communication in a world of increasingly quick exchanges and a flood of images on social media platforms,” Bradley said. “This, combined with a growing interest in craft processes in contemporary art, feeds into a resurgence in printmaking.”

Collaborating with artists

Ross now has more than 20 years of printmaking experience. Although she studied studio art at USask, it wasn’t until she graduated from university that she began to focus on printmaking. In 2003, a year after completing her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at USask’s College of Arts and Science, she moved to South Africa. While working at David Krut Workshop in Johannesburg, Ross began collaborating with William Kentridge, an artist who is internationally acclaimed for his drawings, films, theatre, and opera productions.

Since then, the relationship between Ross and Kentridge has been long and fruitful. During the past 17 years, they have produced more than 190 works together and their international partnership now continues from Ross’ studio in Saskatoon, where she returned to live in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jillian Ross Print began working with USask graduate Wally Dion (BFA’04) in 2022 on the artist’s first printmaking work. (Photo provided by Remai Modern)

The latest collaboration between Ross and Kentridge is a large-scale photogravure series consisting of more than 30 plates. Live Editions explores and celebrates the significance of Ross’ work as a collaborative printmaker in the production of Kentridge’s yet-unpublished series. In addition to the print studio itself, the exhibition at Remai Modern also features recently published works by Jillian Ross Print with a focus on Kentridge’s Studio Life Gravures series, as well as a film by Kentridge and Joanna Dudley and Prairie Braids by USask graduate Wally Dion (BFA’04), a Saskatoon-born artist of Saulteaux ancestry who now lives and works in Upstate New York.

Jillian Ross Print, which is owned and managed by Ross and her partner, Brendan Copestake, began working with Dion in 2022 on the artist’s first printmaking work. This summer, Live Editions will demonstrate the collaboration during a residency in the gallery from July 17 to July 28. Ross and Dion will showcase the experimental and technical aspects of developing a work collaboratively, bringing together elements of Dion’s practice, such as drawing, painting, sculpture, and textile work.

Becoming a Master Printer

While Ross is now a highly regarded Master Printer, she said she “stumbled into” the world of printmaking in her early days of living in South Africa. Her printmaking career began with a phone call with David Krut during which she volunteered to help at his business in Johannesburg, which included a gallery, a book publishing company, and a print shop. Ross had heard there was an opportunity to work in the book section; however, since she studied art in university, Krut placed her in the print studio.

 “I blotted wet paper every day—for months—to help the printmaker print the editions through the press,” Ross recalled. “But I also had the chance to listen to the artists in the studio and to learn just by watching.”

Ross was a quick study. Just two years later, after learning about printmaking in “real time” by working with the artists coming into the shop, Ross became the head printer at David Krut Workshop. Her willingness to learn and experiment has served her well.

"Live Editions: Jillian Ross Print" demonstrates how prints are produced from start to finish. (Photo: Kathryn Warden)

“I believe, in my honesty of not knowing everything (early in my career), I would just say, ‘Yes, sure, we can do that.’ And then I would figure out how to do it—and that (willingness to experiment) is how my whole career has been,” Ross said. “And I was lucky; because I would also travel back and forth to Canada, I would stop at different print studios along the way, and I would learn from different printmakers that way.”

Ross is now a Master Printer—a printmaker who has been working in the medium for more than 10 years and who assists artists in making their work. Jillian Ross Print is a collaborative print studio, where Ross works closely with artists on the imagery they are making. Both parties bring their strengths and skills to the table; the artist focuses on what the image will look like, while Ross focuses on the technical aspects required to bring the vision to fruition.

Ross sees herself as somewhat of an alchemist, blending colours, using different acids, working with metal, and employing various pieces of scientific equipment through repetitive, collaborative, and precise processes. Once the artist is pleased with the image, Ross is then tasked with printing the limited edition.

“A lot of the artists I work with who are drawn to printmaking are painters or sculptors, but, for me, there’s also the fusion between math, science, and art in one—and some days it’s more math, some days it’s more science, some days it’s more art,” she said.

Related exhibition opens

With Live Editions: Jillian Ross Print now underway, a related exhibition, Life in Print: William Kentridge and Pablo Picasso, opened on May 10 in Remai Modern’s Picasso Gallery. The new exhibition highlights parallels between the two artists and features works from Kentridge’s Universal Archive alongside selections from Remai Modern’s holding of Picasso linocuts.

Universal Archive began as small ink drawings that Kentridge created while developing his Norton lecture series for Harvard University. They were carved in linocut by a team of printers, led by Ross at David Krut Workshop, and printed on non-archival dictionary papers.

Remai Modern is known for housing the world’s most comprehensive collection of linocuts by Picasso, which includes editioned prints, working states, and experimental proofs. The collection offers a unique glimpse into the artist’s life and work.

The process of printmaking involves transferring an image from a template, known as a matrix, to another surface. (Photo: Kathryn Warden)

Bradley said viewers will now have an opportunity to learn more about printmaking, and how it was employed in the work of Kentridge and Picassco, by visiting Ross’ working print studio at Remai Modern.

“From 1951 to 1968, Picasso collaborated with Master Printer Hidalgo Arnéra in linocut. The working states and experimental proofs reveal much of Picasso’s creative process and his unique approach to linocut. The collection is housed in a dedicated gallery at Remai Modern and audiences have many questions related to the printmaking process,” said Bradley.

Live Editions: Jillian Ross Print offers a rare opportunity to allow visitors to gain an understanding of what is involved as Jillian Ross and her team of printers edition a new series of prints by William Kentridge.”

Mentoring students

As Ross continues to learn and grow her expertise as a Master Printer, she is keen to pass on her knowledge to others. She is currently mentoring three USask art students, Kelsey Pavier, Marcel Houston-McIntosh, and Hannah Penney-Duke (BSc’22), who are working alongside her at Remai Modern. The path to becoming a Master Printer is based on apprenticeship, so Ross is pleased to be able to pay it forward and to share her knowledge with a new generation of printmakers and art students.

USask students Kelsey Pavier and Hannah Penney-Duke (BSc’22) are working with Jillian Ross at Remai Modern. (Photo: Larry Kwok)

Pavier is a current Bachelor of Fine Arts student who has been working alongside Ross since January. It was a natural fit for her to join Jillian Ross Print; in fact, she was working on a research project about William Kentridge when she learned from a friend that Ross was looking for help in her studio. That friend then connected Pavier with Ross, and “it’s been a brilliant fit” since, said Pavier. She is now assisting Jillian Ross Print with a variety of tasks, such as wiping plates and prepping paper.

“Jill is apprenticing me, so teaching me her tricks and ways of doing things—which has been great,” said Pavier. “I’ve already taken all of the printmaking courses at (USask), and I’ve taken extra senior courses. It was kind of a seamless transition.”

Penney-Duke, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology at USask in 2022, has returned to the College of Arts and Science to take art classes. She learned about the opportunity to work with Jillian Ross Print in one of her courses and is now a part of the activities at Remai Modern, where she has learned a lot about printmaking and the skills involved.

“I feel like I’m learning a lot more details on how to make it really clean and precise,” Penney-Duke said. “It’s a lot to take in, and I’ve never really seen commercial printing like this.”

Through Live Editions, Ross is making connections with other students, artists, and community members while working at Remai Modern. She also sees connections to another recent interactive exhibition held at the museum, Journal of the Plague Year(s) by Saskatoon-based artists Betsy Rosenwald and Dawna Rose (MFA’91), which also encouraged collaboration and interaction with visitors.

“I thought that a wonderful project,” Ross said. “I think this is kind of a continuation of opening up the doors (of the gallery) that Remai Modern and its curators are allowing the arts community to do. I think they’re embracing all of us. I think that it enables people to learn that little bit more about what they’re looking at on some of the exhibitions as well.”

Jillian Ross has more than 20 years of printmaking experience. (Photo provided by Brendan Copestake)