Wednesday, 26 August 2015

#tbt #7 Drawing out the subject

I have unexpectedly been included in a group exhibition next week, at a gallery where I am hopefully having a drawing exhibition later on next year- in Johannesburg.
I am not sure what the other artists on the show will be exhibiting this coming week.
I do however know that I am included so that the gallerist/s can see exactly what kind of drawing or painting skills I will exhibit.

The thing I am struggling with here is a concept…
How will I produce a single drawing that will stand strong amongst other works by other artists?
The challenge lies right here- the same challenge I wrote about in my previous blog post… The conceptual catwalk.

I have tried to stretch my thoughts about what drawing is, what is it that inspires me to draw, and why I choose the subject matter I usually draw.
The answer is this.
I like to draw the organic.
Bodies, animals, plants, water - things that move.
Things with emotion.
Things that make me feel.
I then exclude everything else.

I often get asked why I do not draw much of a background.
My figures and subject matter are almost always floating - anchored to the space around it with a few loose lines.
This line always differs in boldness, in frequency and in style according to what the subject makes me produce.

I draw things from real life.
I have always loved paging through fashion magazines.
I love drawing the figures of the models.
I love drawing the animal bodies from National Geographic magazines.
I love drawing sportsmen and women.

The way a person stands, an animal’s muscles flex, or mouth moves when stalking prey…
The way the bones of a thin model protrudes, a hand clutches a bag.
The way the tree roots press through the ground.
To me these little things tell a whole story.

It’s these little things that demand an emotional response.
They reveal and at the same time try to conceal a weakness or strength.

Most often it is not a story at all, but a small thing that serves as a reminder.
Often the pose or position of the subject matter can be related to other things, Iconic things.
In a drawing I just finished for next week, I paged through ‘The Lake’ Magazine.
I immediately knew I wanted to draw a diving figure in a Billabong surfer advert.
Drawing the figures feet, it reminded me of Jesus’ feet nailed to the cross.

Iconic depiction of a crucified Christ figure..

One of the nights I was working on the drawing, I joined a few photographer friends whilst they edited their pics. They are out-doorsy, sporty, skateboarders and surfers with an insatiable lust for life and a marijuana habit.
This reminded me again of the free spirit this figure in the pic had. Diving, in bubbly blue water, long hair, free spirited in appearance.
Yet he was possibly also a teenager with religious constraints. someone that sins, some model that hated diving into the freezing water, and that just wanted the shot for the ad to get paid.
A person tortured like the rest of us by everyday demands like religion, forgiveness, making money and surviving.
Surrounded by the smell of marijuana whilst I was drawing made me think of how they were also just trying to escape these daily demands and the monotonous routine of survival in a modern world.

From there I thought of how similar and different people are, all at the same time.
The title I decided on was INRI/IRIE.

Both titles are Iconic in their fields. One religious and the other part of Rastafarian belief. Both are born from cultural beliefs, and similar in many ways. Bringing calm and peace, but both can be so destructive.

There is nothing more tangible and revealing than a figure outline, or a pencil line on a white sheet of paper.
I love seeing a figure almost breaking free from the paper.
I love to focus on the organic.
I say ‘I love’ quite a bit, but that is purely because I cannot point to one thing that makes this so pleasing to me.
It makes me happy.
I feel like I am ‘freeing’ whatever I am drawing in a way.
I have also realised that I have never drawn anything not ‘alive’ or organic willingly (still lives at school doesn’t count);).

If I choose, I exclude the rest, and always just draw the live subject/s.

I remember three things we were taught in art school:
I do not believe there are rules- so these to me is a complete load of shit, but they were:
1. Never ever use paint colours straight out the tube.
2. Never ever draw with an HB pencil!
3. Do not use a National Geographic magazine as a reference.

I am adamant to do all 3 of these things, in three different exhibitions or in one exhibition. The last point “Never use a National Geographic Magazine” made me think.

My magazine stack always include National Geographic J

I used to study with a guy (a painter) who used to paint in quite a traditional realistic way.
He often used the National Geographic Magazines - and our one lecturer really could not stand this.
He always tried to push this guy into a more abstract and ‘loose’ way of painting.
So did everyone really.
I saw this guy recently, and to my relief he is still painting!
And in very much the way he used to.

I have met so many artists over the years that feel their work is too "tight".
Some even do rituals to try loosen their approach.
Things like dancing or listening to music whilst painting or drawing.

This to me has never made sense.

When I draw or paint I relate to the figure/subject in my own unique way. For instance focus especially on the part where I put the line down.
I concentrate on the pressure I apply to the line I am drawing.
Where the subject needs to be stronger and weaker.
I guess one can say that I try to exploit these strengths and weaknesses within the subject.
Almost like I want to free the subject from everything around it. I want to isolate it and make it speak louder - so that everyone can see the truth in those little muscle twitches, or broken branches, or clenched hand.
If an image is from a magazine, I will often crop out a hand clutching a bag, I will leave out any body part or clothing. I feel that any part that conceals or alter my interpretation of the truth is unnecessary...

My favourite magazines are those thick, fancy overseas Vogue magazines and National Geographic magazines.
I love images, I can literally flip through thousands- often taking pictures of parts of the pictures in these magazines.
I immediately know when I see a subject I am drawn to.
It is then when I try figure out exactly what drew me to the subject. How does the subject stir me? What part of the subject does this, and why.
I do this sometimes with television too.
I will pause and draw a figure bending, moving or doing something specific.

I still find drawing to be the most relaxing form of art.
The process is painstaking and a little torturous.
I, for instance, avoid music when I draw. I concentrate very hard on the subject and intensity of it in the purest of ways. I find music disturbs this intensity.
After I have drawn a subject I always feel a great sense of relief – the struggle is always worth it.
When a drawing is complete I feel a sense of freedom in a way.
I feel a sense of calm.
Like taking something out of chaos that was concealing or abstracting it’s truth/beauty.
Like birth- rebirth maybe (producing images from images).

Since I can remember I cut out images- little things.
I spent hours pasting snippets in my diary- drawing over them- pasting them on my cupboard.
I could never wait for my mom to buy her monthly magazines.
I still love going to the hairdresser, where there are piles of those thick fashion magazines.
I sit and drink tea and take pictures of the pictures.

These Images are from a book I picked up at a market the other day. We had the same book when I was very little… they stuck with me all these years. I knew they were in that particular book before I even opened it!

How cute is this little frog!

And the bubble and colour of this one..

And this baby babboon..

In the beginning of this post I was worried about a single drawing being strong enough to stand by itself in an exhibition with many other pictures.
I wanted to create something punchy, striking and memorable.
Thankfully, I remembered the three rules art school tried to enforce on me, and the struggle of my painter friend- being too ‘uptight.’
Maybe seeing him reminded me to search for the real reason I draw what I draw, and how I draw it.
I found that reason writing this post.
I free images.
That in itself is enough for me.
I can and want to forever do this.
The same way I have forever been excited to receive a pile of old magazines from a friend, my mom buying her monthly mags or going to the hairdresser.


Thursday, 20 August 2015

#tbt #twentyjourneys #6

I found myself attending a documentary style photographic exhibition by three young photographers the other night.

At first, seeing the exhibition title “Twenty Journey”, to be honest, I was not intrigued.
It was only after I saw twenty guests attending on my friendship list on Facebook that I started becoming interested. However I was still sceptical.

To me artists like David Goldblatt laid the foundation in terms of documentary style photography in the History of South African Art, and younger artists such as Guy Tillim, Pieter Hugo and Zwelethu Mthethwa challenged these aesthetic foundations. Rodger Ballen is perhaps the artist who set the foundation for a stylised, posed, more contemporary ‘studio-non studio’ type aesthetic.

To me it seemed near impossible that these three young men, one white English, one white Afrikaans and one black, could produce challenging photographs with titles and subject matter such as ‘Born frees’, ‘Land’ and ‘Idiosyncrasies’. To me it seemed like these phenomena have been used and reused, visited and revisited so often post-1994 that there was little left to explore. I was even a bit taken aback by the poster displaying all three of them in what looked like a ‘stereotyped’ characterised depiction. It appeared to me like some kind of politically correct (almost satirical) marketing stunt.

To my surprise, I was blown away (and I have to admit very wrong).

Sean Metelerkamp, Sipho Mpongo and Wikus de Wet challenged and changed my entire view on documentary photography in current South Africa.

I obviously did not like all the photos but overall I was very impressed. Influence from one or all the above mentioned older artists was visible in the images these new guys produced. They just did it in such an honest open and revolutionary way.

The strongest image of the exhibition to me personally was this one by Sean Metelerkamp.

 The other two images that really stood out to me were these by Wikus de Wet:

These images struck me as the best for personal reasons which I won’t go into detail about here.

I do need to explain Metelerkamp’s image (the first one) though in order for my story to make sense. 

I will do so later on in this post.

To me de Wet had the strongest body of work.

Upon arrival at the gallery I was surprised at seeing de Wet in Khaki clothing. They were relating to their poster, an attempt to create 3 diverse characters as part of a satirical marketing stunt - almost Leon Schuster inspired!!!!

I met de Wet after the show, and I have to admit (again) that I was wrong.

This man is as true to his work as one would ever find
He really wears two tone Khaki shirts, and he does so with pride.

A humble, insightful, pro-active, sensitive and most importantly true artist if I have ever seen one.

Anyway, back to the story …

After the exhibition I went out with some friends who had contributed to putting the show together with these artists. The artists would join us later at the bar, when I would realise my wrongful prejudice ;)

At the exhibition, I could not pinpoint exactly what it was about Metelerkamp’s image with the Likkewaan that intrigued me so much. It was only at the bar when a friend held out his bank card, asking me if ‘’I would like to break it’’ (the bank card) in a tone that made it sound like it was a pleasurable, satisfactory thing to get rid of something in a destructive way.

This immediately made me think of an occurrence that happened a while back, when keys to a locked bedroom door at my house were lost, and I mentioned this to another friend at the time. His reply was almost exactly the same. In the same excited-by-the-opportunity-to-destruct tone as my bank card friend, this friend asked if he could: ‘’Please kick the door down?!…”

Needless to say, I let my friend kick the door down (back then) and I did snap the bank card (at this bar).

As soon as I snapped the card it occurred to me…

The reason I relate to this image of Metelerkamp so much was exactly this:

With a dad farming cattle in the Limpopo province, and me growing up in a culture where animals, domestic and wild, was and is still today often seen as only ‘for profit’, I have witnessed a fair share of animals being mistreated (often in a playful almost sadistic way).

What comes to mind is an instance (I must have been 22 or 23) when me and my boyfriend at the time visited some friends of his in Bloemfontein.

His friends stole a smallish crocodile from a nearby crocodile farm.

The animal was already stolen and in a bathtub with tape around his jaws when we arrived.

The guys showed off the crocodile to us (almost as if it was some kind of achievement).

I remember peering into the bathtub and seeing the reptile looking so scared.

I will never forget how this made me feel.

I felt sick, very guilty- I am not sure why - because of my humanity perhaps, or because I was helpless.

I wanted to leave, phone the SPCA or get the crocodile some help. Nevertheless, with pressure from my boyfriend and his one friend, I failed to do so in time. Maybe that is why I still feel so guilty.

He was killed the next day without my knowledge. I will rather spare the details of how they killed the poor animal.

I have witnessed (maybe not to such an extent as the example above) animals being killed.

Once my cousin killed a huge black mamba the dog was aggravating on my dad’s farm.

I remember crying whilst witnessing his shrieks of joy as he repeatedly yelled out with pleasure every time he struck the snake.

I will never forget the snake swinging what was left of his body around with such fight.

It broke my spirit.

It made me ashamed to be human.

It has only ever been in environments like these (farms, farmers and around often drunk ‘Afrikaner’ men) that I have seen humans getting such pleasure from hurting and/or killing a defenceless animal.

Please note: I am not saying all men are like that, nor am I saying all Afrikaans men or all farmers or Afrikaans farmers are like that. That would definitely not be true. Nor am I restricting it to only Afrikaans men. I am purely referring to my experience and how it relates to my interpretation of this image of Metelerkamp.

My father is one of the biggest lovers of nature and animals I have ever known.

He is both Afrikaans and a farmer.

The boys in Bloemfontein with the crocodile were farmers, but not all of them Afrikaans.

I think what I am trying to say has nothing to do with this particular image of Metelerkamp’s even.
I am trying to say that sometimes one event (snapping the card) can remind you of other events (such as the locked door) which in turn is all shaped and interpreted by personal experience.

What makes one image (artwork) better than another, one artwork more ‘valuable’ to one viewer and not another is a result of personal experience.

For the above reason I believe the only way an artwork can be strong and good is if an artist creates art from a very personal place.

In this case titles such as –‘Born frees’, ‘Land’ and ‘Idiosyncrasies’ relate to a generation or generations of many races and diversely different people.

The style is documentary and universal, yet all three artists had three different bodies of work, interpreted by hundreds of fellow South Africans in hundreds of different ways.

Metelerkamp, de Wet and Mpongo in my opinion succeeded to put together a powerful show, depicting an issue, or issues us South Africans relate to in so many different ways. At the same time you cannot see their story, their journey, their experience without confronting your own interpretation of their images.

A very powerful exhibition indeed!

You guys have proven to me once again that art that comes from within is the real deal.

Well done guys!


P.S: You have also made me remember not to judge before investigating… ;)

Thursday, 13 August 2015

#tbt #The Conceptual Catwalk #5

I now find myself planning a drawing exhibition.

I approached a gallery I like (there are not many) on my visit to Johannesburg. Having done a lot of conceptual art of late, I had to ask myself why and how; do I suddenly turn to drawing.

There is this weird thing- conceptual art often seems to conceal (to an extent) in an often mysterious way. Whereas, I find, something physical like a drawing or painting (that is a 3D expression of a concept in shape on a paper) has some physicality that kind of demands attention, and speaks the undeniable truth and attitude. Fuck your concept, but it better present and clearly visible or the work is weak because what you see plays a huge (if not the biggest) role in what you get.

I had to be honest with myself. I have done a lot of conceptual art- art that often only exists momentarily. Art that often happens, and then it is over. The process that builds up to a fleeting moment is often the most important in such a work.

On the contrary to most of my conceptual works that take a lot of planning and often are very physically demanding, I have always found drawing or painting quite therapeutic. Meditative in a way. To me, so much gentler than my conceptual artworks.

I always push the boundaries (this comes naturally to me). I am not sure if it is my controlling nature that does not like to be told how, and what to do, but ever since I did my first painting in school I always had to be free of boundries. Maybe it was exactly these boundaries that taught me how to challenge.

The first painting I was proud of was the second one I did when I was 15. The project was to replicate a piece by some artist- in acrylic on A3 board. I chose to paint an Irma Stern ‘Eternal Child 1916’ because I love the painting and the little girl in it. I wanted to challenge myself.

The paint was applied in an expressionistic way. I wanted to feel the little girl when I painted, at the same time I had to pay incredible attention to detail to ‘copy’ Stern. I did not, like the other kids, use acrylic to replicate what I chose.

How could you? If it was painted in oil, to replicate it one would need to surely paint it in oils again? And so I did. I only bought the five primary colours, I wanted to teach myself to mix any colour I could ever imagine. Sometimes I look at the painting, and wonder if it was not my best- it was so honest. I certainly learnt the most from this piece.

The process of trying to balance the emotions I was feeling, re-capture the spirit of the little girl (from a painting  where Stern had already, in my opinion, captured her spirit so beautifully and honestly - from my biased 2nd hand interpretation), to put my own signature on my painting- yet to copy the Stern painting to the best of my 15 year old innocent (naïve) perfection.

The title: ‘Eternal Child’ seems highly ironic now, almost mocking the conceptual path my adult life has taken since creating a replica circa 2001. 

 Irma Stern’s : ‘The Eternal Child’ 1916

      My: 'The Eternal Child' 2001  

I gave the painting to my aunt- she used to fetch us from school. I felt like I could never thank her enough for transporting me and by siblings.

(A few years later seeing it in a cupboard at her house, I immediately asked for it back.)

My parents worked very long hours- 6 days a week, and we would often wait in front of the school from when school finished till they would arrive often only after 17:30.

This was one of my biggest frustrations in life. We were just told to wait unsure of whether my parents would arrive in 5 minutes or only hours later. This taught me to have an incredible respect for people’s time. Money can be made, but time can not.

I participated in some sports to kill the time, and when I discovered art in high school I use to sit in the art class and paint and draw. I was obsessed with creating. In the same vain I can also add that I just loved the conversation, I often created alone, but spent hours socialising in art class, sometimes (unknowingly to the others) drinking wine whilst talking away. Being social, being in love and being around other people has always been integral to my functioning. I love people! I love to love! I love to be loved! I want to create, eat, sleep and share every life moment possible with fellow human beings. I want to be able to talk about it all! All the time! We here once only, and we better make it interesting.

For most of my high school career we only did drawing and painting. My art teacher was the most amazing young lady,  we are still friends. My school embraced me- let me test boundaries and excused my absence from almost anything not related to Art, almost all of the time. I went to the art class most days for the entire day of school, only going to the classes of subjects I enjoyed, and teachers I enjoyed.

It was a social paradise.I loved school! I still dream about making art in that class- with my teacher. I respect and love her beyond words. I guess painting and drawing for me was where it all started. Today,it is still therapeutic to me.

The school environment was care free -hormone fuelled- but care free. No real worries, no real responsibility. A platform to create innocent, honest and no hidden agenda art. Painting and drawing was the main form of practice. I firmly believe it is these two things that shaped even my most complex conceptual works to date.

Whilst busy finishing this sentence hours ago , the school of my son, Luke, phones to tell me he is ill- a whole day gone. Poor little man -exhausted and diagnosed with infected tonsils L  This #reallife reminder inspired me to write this. ;)

When I spoke to the gallery I am planning to have my upcoming show at (a drawing exhibition), they immediately mentioned the size of the space and that the work need to be in light transportable format as the gallery is in Johannesburg – boundaries* I hate to love them and I love to hate them.

Apart from being practical for the works being showed in another city, I am also really keen to challenge myself to put together a drawing exhibition that is equally conceptually and visually strong.

I have never before done this, and it feels to me that it will force me to colliding these two separate parts of my existence- this carefree innocent, somewhat naïve, yet resilient school girl who could paint and draw and the, divorced, mother, x-wife who creates these sometimes dramatic, sometimes very large, sometimes very loud conceptual works..

I would love to create art that is both gentle and powerful, that conceals and reveals at the same time. Reality also forces one to look at the commercial side of art.

What sells? I have never been one too concerned with sales- as my work mostly is not sellable, conceptual and even not tangible in some cases. I enjoy business, and the challenge of making money, and I would never change my art to a formula in order to make money through it.

I always explain conceptual art to people as a catwalk. I make couture clothing, but in the shop you get the interesting jeans and T shirts form the same label/designer- it is just more practical- but also unique. It still carries the signature and edge of the creator. It is a reflection of the couture creator genius on a more practical level.

I hope for my art to take me in that direction (for a while). I hope to revisit my younger artist, to show this older artist the spontaneity, innocence and gentleness of a decade ago. In turn, I want the older artist in me to teach and inspire the younger one where she faltered and succeeded or was perhaps too naïve or ignorant.

I also want my art to take me places, therefore I need to give galleries something more practical. I want to travel with purpose!

I want to stop worrying about making money on the side, starting new business and focus all my energy on the ‘shop’ part I want to sell my ‘high end fashion’  inspired pieces from. I want to keep it all alive with new ‘couture’ shows, but at the same time have an exciting and unique expression of me represented in the more practical pieces.

A more practical, yet gentler, innocent and naïve self. I want my art to become more and more honest.

I want to create something equal in concept and presence. In a way I am tired of the terrible force I had to live by the last few years. I want to balance it out in the most non boring and ever changing, organic and hippy way I probably can, whilst drawing inspiration from some Hipster, and still keeping it undeniably unique! ;)


Friday, 7 August 2015

Filling the conceptual void..

Over a lovely Troyville hotel lunch (one of my favourite spots whilst I lived in Johannesburg) with some fellow artists ,and art collectors, I realised exactly what it is that keeps me creating and being enthusiastic about art and art practice.

The artists that joined me for lunch (12-30 years my peers) seem to have politics and socio economic issues as the underlying concern fuelling most of their art practices.
When speaking to one of these artists -a widely travelled and exhibited individual- he mentioned a fellow female artist he befriended years ago. He told me about a painting she made of her and her mother naked on a rooftop. He asked this friend why she created the artwork. Part of her reply stated that the most challenging part of the artwork to her, was being faced with the awkwardness of her and her mother being naked together, posing for the reference from which the painting was made.
This in particular struck me, and made me think of what Ryan Schulz said in an interview I read about his painting, a while ago.

He Wrote:
''I don't do paintings of pretty girls smiling with flowers in their hair. I rather do a pianting that delves into the psyche of the individual that literally and figuratively raises people up. When I painted Jakub, lying on a carpet, by painting him, he's raised up on a wall where you have to look up at him. His eyes literally looking down on you. That totally changes the context.''

On first seeing an image Schulz's painting (before reading it).. One could almost t(if you not careful) mistake the painting for being a mere photographic imitation of reality - a copy of a copy of a moment. Yet on closer investigation, one can explain why you 'feel' something when you look at the image...

The painting of Jakub, lying on a carpet by Ryan Schulz..

The parallel Schulz draws in his statement above, between the physical and conceptual, literal and figurative explains what fills this conceptual void.

The fact that the physical presence of what the artist creates and how this is integral to the concept, is so beautifully pointed out by Schulz. I would go as far as saying that he highlights that even the space around what is created should be considered when creating an artwork. One cannot exist without the other..
The one thing whether physical or conceptual influence the next..
A great artwork considers it all (this symbiotic relationship between literal and figurative), even beyond these borders.
It is those little things that intrigues me..that keeps me appreciating, creating and exploring art and art practice.
The way subject matter can ‘stare’ back at you, or talk to you during the creation of art. An array of emotions such as ‘awkward’ or ‘uncomfortable’, bought on and experienced by the creator or viewer by the physical or conceptual.
This is what keeps me creating!
These little things that fill this conceptual void.