Jonathan Comerford was born in Cape Town in 1961, South Africa, where he attended the local Sea Point Primary and High schools. He attained his matric in 1981, and thereafter spent one year at the Cape Technikon in Cape Town. Not feeling stimulated, he left and joined the Ruth Prowse private art centre also in Cape Town. He spent six months here majoring in Fine Arts, printmaking, whereupon he was 'incarcerated' into the South African Army for two years, where he was sent as a fighter to the South African border, to fight against Angola and Namibia. The time he spent in the army had a great impact on him as a young, white South African, and upon returning to Cape Town his subject matter was predominantly involved with militarisation and the forced impact it had on young South African males such as himself. He was also disturbed by the indoctrination of the young fighters once in the army, which he also addressed in his early work.
In Aberdeen, he was simultaneously involved with a Grassroots workshop which worked with recovering drug addicts, homeless people and alcoholics. Here he learnt skills helping him deal with people with severe concentration problems and disabilities such as dyslexia. The aim of the workshop was to keep those people off the streets, especially during winter, and art was used as medium to deal with their problems. He, along with other artists, taught the people skills orientation and art skills, and the result was an exhibition that toured Scotland, being very successful.
Upon returning to South Africa, he exhibited his works and continued producing new prints experimenting with different techniques. He set up a printmaking workshop based on the concepts of the Peacock Printmakers workshop in 1989, and called it Hard Ground Printmakers. These concepts included empowering and enabling artists of the township communities to collaborate together to produce quality prints with proper art facilities. It was also a way for artists to stimulate each other and develop their own cultural identities within their communities. With the higher standard of work, a better living could also be made. Comerford was very concerned that black artists particularly had been excluded from the fine arts in South Africa during the Apartheid regime, with few institutions available for them to study at, and few affordable materials. The main aim of the workshop was and is to give them similar opportunities in the field of printmaking to institutions such as universities. At Hard Ground Printmakers, the artists learn the basic skills and then are free to experiment and develop their styles on the facilities.
Presently Comerford is still very involved in Hard Ground Printmakers and is exploring the printmaking skill of lithography, following his desire to be multidisciplined. He is enjoying collaborating with fellow professional artists, and the energy that is created in the workshop atmosphere.
Comerford has presented at the Taiwanese Biennial and the Yugoslavian Trienale in early 1997. He has also been part of other collaboration portfolios presented in the United States, France and the United Kingdom.
Comerford was drawn to printmaking because of his interest in image-making and in the technique and process that are involved in this art form. He enjoyed the fact that printmaking is a very broad medium with few perimeters, where different styles can be mixed and matched to create new things. He also liked the alchemy side to the medium: working with acids, waters and other chemicals. There is a strong natural element of time that is involved, for drying the surface of the etching, for example. Weather conditions also have an influence over this. The joining of the creation of an artwork with technical processes has proved very rewarding for him.
His personal favourites:
Comerford's personal favourite work of his own is a self-portrait he did while in Scotland. It is a large steel-plate etching. The process itself was a discovery into large format steel-plate etching. The subject matter consists of a full nude study of himself, etched with fine, intricate details. He depicts himself as strong, since he was forced to be very physically fit in the military. He is naked because he felt that the military stripped him of his identity. " His head is painted as a target, and he is clamped into position. The clamps, called 'crocodile clips,' were used for electrocuting people during torture carried out by the military. He is reaching out his hands as if trying to make contact with people.
With regards to other artworks, he says that he enjoys any artwork if it is well executed in whatever medium it is done in. he just enjoys visual imagery and making and viewing art. He does not have a favourite type of subject matter, as he creates his own story for each work he views.
Some words for an international audience:
"We make brilliant art here! [in South Africa] I feel very strongly about the quality of the art of my colleagues - the quality in terms of the skills of what art has had to go through in this country. We are really starting to compete with international art. Our transition won't be that difficult as other areas of business. This is because we've honed our skills."
On art-making during Apartheid:
"In South Africa, because of cultural boycotts and industrial boycotts on South Africa, within the country resources and materials were very hard to come by and were very expensive because the government classified it as luxury items, as a way of controlling the art. As a result, your average working professional artist used every single drop of ink in the tube! We would store paper because we didn't know when the next batch was coming through. We had to use everything to the best of our abilities. Now South African artists have an inherent care for our materials."