“I slowly slipped into an affair with impasto. It’s kind of hard to describe if you have never worked with oil paint before but the stuff is like butter. Why skimp on butter? It’s so juicy and sensual. The surface takes on a sculptural quality that is sometimes raw and almost bodily.”
INTERVIEW: RICK DE LA RAY
PHOTOGRAPHY: OLIVER KRUGER
You left Durban after high school and graduated with a BA in fine art at Michaelis in 2011. It seems that you were very driven to follow a certain path as an artist from an early age. Were there any particular influences in your life that fuelled your passion?
I don’t think I ever knew for sure what I was doing. As confused and unsure of myself as I was, I knew that something about painting made me feel like I understood the world just a little bit. Painting was a means of discovery for me, and that desire to know it, to know people, emotion and myself is what fuelled my passion to follow it.
Taking into consideration the age or movement we live in, what made you decide to choose the more classical technique of impasto to execute your work?
I slowly slipped into an affair with impasto. It’s kind of hard to describe if you have never worked with oil paint before but the stuff is like butter. Why skimp on butter? It’s so juicy and sensual. The surface takes on a sculptural quality that is sometimes raw and almost bodily. I find the thickness quite ugly, almost crude sometimes, but I like that. I like that it’s real, you can touch it and it feels squishy. It’s not afraid to be oil paint.
The origin of the word ‘impasto’ comes from Italian, meaning ‘dough’ or ‘mixture’. You also enjoy cooking. How would you describe the recipe you follow while painting?
I think painting is a lot like cooking, well the way I cook anyway. I never follow a recipe. I am constantly tasting and adding different ingredients along the way. I don’t like to plan a painting too much; I physically can’t do pre-sketches because I get too bored. I need to be present the whole time I’m painting so that I can pick up on what it needs and what it’s lacking. This is also why I don’t know how to cook a slow roasted lamb stew or make a 3x5m painting, I am at a loss for motivation to go back to something a while after I started it. I could do it, and it would probably be okay but I’d be like ‘meh, whatever’, you know? I would probably shred it.
Your work moves from figurative portraits to complete abstract landscapes, all within a strong impressionistic realm. Which of the two do you find the most challenging and where do you see your work leaning to in the future?
Figurative painting is most definitely more challenging. It’s actually agonizing at times. It’s so intense having to concentrate so hard, and maybe that’s why those paintings mean much more to me when I get them right. Abstract painting is so chilled. I mean I’ve made some really ugly ones but I don’t care as much because I usually just do them for fun. Abstract painting has almost become a type of meditation for me, or a little breather between the more difficult figurative works. I feel like I have to explain myself for making such diverse work. A lot of people don’t like my abstracts or don’t understand why I am doing them but I think they are an important part of my body of work. In the future I see the extremes coming together a lot more and I’m in the process of trying to marry the two. I want the same looseness of the abstracts to translate into my figurative paintings.
Like most painters you work a lot from photographs, what are the key elements that draw you towards creating your own impression of a certain image that you choose to work with?
When I know or I am attached to the subject, I usually pick up on something I know is there that you can’t see in the picture. The photograph only shows one side of the subject. When I know more than the picture I end up adding everything I know about it to the painting. It’s the same when I’m painting film stills. I’ll be drawn to the layers and baggage that come with a certain image.
I find that there seems to be an undercurrent of young painters working within an impressionistic vein again. Do you feel that there is some sort of a revival happening or maybe even the birth of a new movement?
There has been a lot of respect for impressionist painters lately, more so than in the past. Impressionism is a lot about personal perception and experience and I think people are yearning for that. I think for a while the trend had been to create the most unique weird art, never seen before by human eyes. Now painters are starting to realise that they don’t have to try and do that (if they don’t actually want to). By painting what they see personally, they are already making work that nobody else could ever make. There is a lot of freedom in knowing that you don’t have to try to impress anyone with good ideas, you only have to be sincere in what you perceive and create. I don’t know if there is a new movement being born or just a few wannabe impressionists that will come out the closet, but yay for them.
How do you approach colour within your work, do you try and stay as close to the reference as possible or do you find that your emotions sometimes steer the way?
I base colour loosely on the reference, but the process is intuitive. I’ll add colour where I think the painting needs it. When painting from life I stay pretty close to reference colours because they are all there glowing right in front of you. I don’t know why I don’t paint from life more often. I guess I’m lazy.
Claude Monet said, “Colour is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.” Why do you think most artists carry some sort of burden within themselves and their work?
I feel Monet, but not limited to colour. This sounds so cliché but being an artist is a constant roller coaster. It can tear you apart or make you feel crazy high. It is a burden in a way because it takes over your whole life, all your dreams and fears and everything you experience and think about is rooted in your work. The other day I found myself calling a painting I had made a “fucking overworked bastard.” I speak to tubes of paint like they are lovers. I don’t think that’s normal. Painting is the most important thing in the world to me and it can get exhausting caring about something so much. I think a lot of artists feel that way.
Some of your work has a sense of urgency embedded within the strokes – as if you have been rushed by some unknown spirit. What do you feel drives the emotion within your work while you paint?
Mostly ADHD. I was on Ritalin at school. I can’t concentrate on anything for too long and I know I need to concentrate while I’m painting so I try get it done quickly before I lose that spark. Normally, the quicker I paint something the better it is. When there’s less time to think about what I’m doing and worrying what the painting should look like then I can spend more time being perceptive. I’m not a neat, realist painter, I put a lot of energy into my work and make some bold brushstrokes that I need to be there for. There is no point in me even trying to paint when I’m tired or bored, it gets so ugly and then I just feel like shit.
When you look at a picture for the first time is it the colour or the shape that stands out for you and what do you feel is most important within an artwork?
I think colour stands out more but both need each other. Shapes are generally just interesting even if they’re weird they can never be really awful. I think there is more resting on the colour.
Do you feel that your work in a way removes yourself from a certain situation or memory and do you look back at your works and still feel emotionally attached to them?
It’s been weird because I never really get to spend much time with my paintings. It’s great because it means they’re selling, but it’s also kind of sad. I can’t even remember some of them, I sometimes see pictures and I’m like, “hey, forgot about you”. I think I can put a lot of anger, fear, love and hate into a painting but after it’s finished I feel it less. It’s the actual act of painting where my emotional attachment is the strongest. I immerse myself in the subject and get so incredibly attached to the point where I feel like I’m there feeling what they’re feeling. After it’s done that feeling fades.
How much of a difference is there between the work that you did while you were studying and the way it’s heading now and what do you think has influenced the growth within the subject matter the most up until now?
There is more of a difference in the work I did just after studying and now. I think at the time I was freaked out about being independent and not having any idea of who I was or what I wanted to do. In terms of painting, I was all over the place. I made a few paintings that people liked but when I look at them now I see overwhelming shyness and fear. I think now there is boldness in my work that was scared to come out before. I feel a lot more assertive than when I was studying and as a painter I have learnt to trust myself a lot more. I think the growth has come from having a really supportive group of friends and family, and also just allowing myself time and space to figure things out.
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