Dereck Nxumalo Project: The Oversized Painting Challenge

Earlier this year we were presented with a significant challenge by Simon Vines of Community Mural Projects in Durban. Simon asked us to capture a Dereck Nxumalo painting at archival quality. Capturing paintings at a level that conforms to international digitisation standards is doable for us with our specialised equipment, we have done that on a number of occasions before. This project, however, presented some additional challenges. Dereck’s painting is 1.5 m high and 9 m long and Simon wanted it captured at 300 dpi!

Mco Hlabe, a digitisation assistant at Africa Media Online looks on as we capture a Dereck Nxumalo painting at the Natal Society of Arts (NSA) Gallery in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Africa Media Online was commissioned to capture the painting by Community Mural Projects in Durban. The 9 m long and 1.5 m high painting was captured in 33 overlapping tiles at 300 dpi and then stitched together to produce the finished digital file. The image was made with Africa Media Online's Alpa 12 FPS camera with a Rodenstock HR Digaron-S 60 mm f/4 lens and our Phase One IQ3 100 megapixel camera.

We had to do some thinking before taking on this project. We knew we had the camera for the job, our Alpa 12 FPS with our Rodenstock HR Digaron-S 60 mm f/4 and our Phase One 100 Megapixel digital back. That together with Capture One CH, Phase One’s specialist cultural heritage software meant that we knew we could capture the painting’s colours exactly as they are at this point in time. But the size of the painting meant we needed to make some adaptations to our capture rig. The bearing sliders we were using up to that point did not give us enough space to reach right across the breadth of the painting, so I went shopping around. Fortunately, the guys at Broadcast Lighting in Pinetown were able to fish out a discontinued mechanism that we managed to jury-rig and incorporate into our digitisation rig.

Our new bearing slider suspends our Alpa 12 FPS camera above a Dereck Nxumalo painting that we were digitising at the Natal Society of Arts (NSA) Gallery in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

The next challenge was the challenge of space. With a painting this long, we imagined we needed a lot of space – not just for the painting but for the rig and lights etc. etc. The problem was solved when Simon managed to get the NSA Gallery on board who graciously allowed us to use their main space one morning. And so off we shot to Durban assembled the rig and got to work capturing the painting in 33 overlapping tiles.

Africa Media Onlineā€™s Alpa 12 FPS camera with a Rodenstock HR Digaron-S 60 mm f/4 lens and our Phase One IQ3 100 megapixel camera suspended above a Dereck Nxumalo painting at the NSA Gallery in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Next was the challenge was to stitch it all together. After much trial and error we managed to get Photoshop to produce an enormous stitched file. With each tile being 600 MB in size in its original 16-bit capture, the resulting stitched tiff file needed to be compressed with lossless LZW compress as it greatly exceeded the 4 GB limit that computer systems put on a single image file. This became our archival master compiled file. It preserved every crease and dent and nick of the original image.

One of 33 tiles that were captured and then stitched together to as part of the process of digitising a 9 m long by 1.5 m wide Dereck Nxumalo painting.

Then, because the intended purpose is for reproduction at the size of the original, we then spent many hours retouching the image. Dereck Nxumalo had painted the image on multiple sheets of paper that had been glued together. The creases showed in our archival master just as they do in the original. For reproduction purposes, however, we needed to remove these and also fix the numerous chips in the original paint.
The output is a digital file of phenomenal detail which I believe does justice to the incredible talent of Dereck Nxumalo in producing such an exceptional work of art.

The image at less than 1% zoom in Photoshop.
The image at 1% zoom in Photoshop.
The image at 4% zoom in Photoshop.
The image at 6% zoom in Photoshop.
The image at 12% zoom in Photoshop.
The image at 25% zoom in Photoshop.
The image at 66% zoom in Photoshop

More About Dereck Nxumalo
Derrick Vusumuzi Nxumalo is a largely self-taught artist. He was born on the 12/12/1962 in Dumisa, Umzinto, KwaZulu-Natal and his education was at Phindavele High School achieving Std. 8. In 1985, Derrick went up to the Northern Transvaal to work on an Anglo American Corporation mine for 4 months, but returned home to Umzinto in KwaZulu-Natal. He started selling his paintings through the African Art Centre in 1985. In 1988 Derrick started working as a part-time artist.
Derrick has served his community over the past 12 years. As Chairperson for the School Governing Board (S.G.B.) for 12 years, on the Community Policy Forum 9C.P.F.) for 2 years, Community Development Project for 2 years and Ward Counsellor for the local Vulamehlo Municipality for 5 years and currently serving.
Exhibitions :
1988 Cape Town Triennial
1989 Elizabeth Gordon Gallery/100 Artists for Life
1992 Standard Bank Arts Festival – Art meets Science – flowers as images
1990 Oxford, England, Zabalaza Art Festival/Art from South Africa
1990 “Vulamehlo – Open Eyes – Durban Art Gallery/Alliance Francalse sponsor
1991 Italy, 11 Sud Del Mondo, L’Altra Contemporanea/The South of the World
1993 Linda Goodman, solo show
1994 Durban Art Gallery/” Artlstsinvlte Artists”
1996 The Arnolfi Gallery, London, U.K.
1997 Gallery on Tyrone, Johannesburg
1997 African Art Centre/Alliance Francaise sponsor, exhibited with Raphael Magwaza &
Njabulo Hlongwane
2000 Abelumbi, Untold Tales of Magic, Durban Art Gallery
Anglo Vaal Corporation, Pietersburg
South African Breweries
University of Witwatersrand
University of Cape Town
Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermarltzburg
Durban Art Gallery
The Campbell Collections, Durban
Paul Mikula & Associates, Durban
Peter Rlche, Johannesburg
Bill Wright, New York, U.S.A.
David Elllot, London
Gavin Younge, Cape Town
Gencor Art Collection, Johannesburg
S.A. Reserve Bank Pretoria
The Carnegie Art Gallery, Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal
HSBC Bank, Johannesburg
The African Art Centre
94 Florida Road, Durban 0313123804/5
Simon Vines says that Derrick “is being supported by the Community Murals Project in this instance as we intend, in conjunction with the Phansi Museum, to promote his exciting vision for a future of Durban as an African city. Community Murals has been involved in many street and rural art projects in Durban and SA during the 1990’s and early 21st century. These embraced the period that our country changed to a democratic state, and the liberal outpouring of new art that accompanied it. This was an incredibly dynamic time in South Africa, hopefully one that we can aspire to again in the future.”