Saskatchewan Duo Bring South African and Canadian Artists’ Work Together with New Business
Brendan Copestake and Jillian Ross didn’t initially plan to open a business in Canada. The pair, who met overseas and originally settled in South Africa, were originally meant to come to Canada for an artist residency. Due to COVID-19, they came a few months earlier than intended and decided to stay in Ross’ home province. Now, they’ve started a business called Jillian Ross Print (JRP), continuing their careers focused on collaborative printmaking that have seen them partner with world renowned South African artist William Kentridge. To build their business, they applied to Creative Saskatchewan’s Market and Export Development Grant in order to get them started on the right foot.
Copestake says that the funding was key to sustaining the relationship between Jillian Ross Print and their collaborators overseas.
“Starting a new business, there are always cashflow concerns and the Creative Saskatchewan funding gave us access to some finances that allowed us to travel… to South Africa and to work with long-time collaborator Kentridge in his studio and the David Krut Workshop for a period of two months, and produce a significant body of prints.”
While Kentridge is well represented in places like Europe, Australia, and Hong Kong, Copestake says that Jillian Ross Print was and is well positioned to take that role in Canada.
“William doesn’t have representation in Canada itself, there isn’t a specific gallery that works on his behalf in the Canadian market. And so with the close relationship to the Kentridge studio (Jillian and William have been making prints together since 2006), and in depth knowledge of Kentridge’s prints specifically, we are able to present ourselves experts on William’s prints.” If you would like a link to the specific body of prints that were made whilst in SA link to Studio Life Gravures on their website here.
However, their business aspirations don’t end there. They’re in the process of partnering with other Canadian artists like Wally Dion and Russna Kaur. For Copestake, having a collaborative print studio —and being one of the few studios doing this sort of work—is about filling a gap between artists and the broader market.
“So in those instances, an artist like Russna Kaur, who’s a painter and whose paintings will translate very well into print, would approach Jill (the master printer of JRP) or Jill would approach her and say, ‘Let’s work together and develop a body of prints in my studio.’ And so that person would be invited into the studio and they would work together over a period of weeks to produce hand-printed editioned artworks available to a growing network of collectors.” This collaborative work allows artists to excel in a new medium as they don’t have to learn all technical aspects of printing but rather focus on the creativity of the visual presentation.
With so many things on the go, amidst a very expensive move across the world, Copestake says it was funding like that of Creative Saskatchewan that allowed Jillian Ross Print to get off the ground in a more calm way while also being promoted to new audiences and customers.
“That removes a lot of pressure from the project. Because you’re not spending all your time being ultra careful about what you’re spending. You can actually go out and do what is needed for the project.”
As the company grows, its owners are weighing what it might look like to hire assistants, to find different spaces where they can create work, and to enter into a new stage of business development. Still, Copestake says that their next move will largely revolve around what resources are available as they, like many artists, look to expand into newer opportunities that are even more collaborative.
“I think, especially in a place like Saskatchewan, where you are so isolated because of winter, that you need that kind of opportunity to socialize and interact with your community.”
By John Loeppky
If you’re looking to find out more about Jillian Ross Print, their products, or their past, present, and future collaborations, you can do so via their website. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram.