“ When I asked my father for money, he gave me some art materials and said that I should make my own money. I think that is the best thing that ever happened to me, as I was forced to make my own living from art, and it was the only thing I knew…”
INTERVIEW: RICK DE LA RAY
As time goes by, your work seems to have grown bigger, bolder and exploding with much more colour by the year. Looking back at the natural tones and smaller scale you worked on about 6 years ago, what motivated such bold changes through your career so far?
One of the big reasons is that I moved to Cape Town. I think my environment changed me a lot. I was trying to reinvent myself and I suppose I was doing everything I was afraid of.
How do you go about choosing the subjects in your work, whether it’s figurative or portraits, is there a certain muse or model you like to repeat in some of your work or is it just a random choice regarding interesting facial features?
I think it’s a little bit of both. At first, Cape Malay people intrigued me in a visual way. Due to the shift in my environment, I was not use to seeing so many mixed race people. I think these qualities appealed to me almost as if they were universal to me – not white, nor black. I then started exploring this more conceptually.
Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m looking at an exaggerated frame within a graphic novel when I view your work, did your read a lot of illustrated novels when you were younger?
No, in fact, I think I was visually stimulated from a young age, since I grew up in an artistic environment.
You never studied art but you did have art as a subject in school, do you think your work would have been a lot different or would have taken the same route as it has if you did study art?
I think that my work would have taken a different route if I did study art, as I think everything, including our environment, influences us – even if it is only subconsciously.
At what stage did you realise that you can make a living from your work – is there a certain memory or event which lead to the lifestyle you’re living now?
When I asked my father for money, he gave me some art materials and said that I should make my own money. I think that is the best thing that ever happened to me, as I was forced to make my own living from art, and it was the only thing I knew…
I have read that your father is a sculptor, was it just a natural progression for you to evolve your work into giant sculptures or what made you decide to take on this medium?
I actually started off sculpting and steered away from it during the early stages of my career, as I wanted to become more independent in my paintings. Later, when I was more established in this, I inherently translated it into sculpture.
Do you see yourself only taking on this medium in the future or do you see yourself always being more of a painter?
I definitely see myself using this medium more, like the Morphous installation we just did at Circa with just one sculpture. It really excited me to do this project.
Francis Bacon would say that he felt like he was giving art what he thought it previously lacked… Do you feel your work fits into this mindset?
I don’t necessarily see it that way, but I think I created something for myself, that lacked. I think I combined everything that I liked into one style. For instance, I love the craftsmanship of art, such as that of the old masters (like Da Vinci and Michelangelo) and at the same time I enjoy abstract and conceptual art.
Size does matter, especially with your work – do you think that creates a sense of intimidation towards the viewer that is confronted with the imagery?
Yes, that is definitely something I wanted to create with the viewer – to be confronted and immersed with the painting, as you stand in front of it. That is where the abstract quality becomes evident and where you actually translate texture and colour instead of a figurative image.
What do you think has lead to the popularity of your works, why do you think they are so appealing and collectable to people? If you had never seen your work before and then stepped into one of your shows, do you think it would have the same effect on you?
I think so, probably, because my work has that quality of a combination of two aspects in one – the abstract and naturalistic quality. I think all the rest is still a mystery to me, I don’t know why. It’s very difficult to know if I would like my work or not.
“I use the gallery as if it were a doctor. I come for ideas and help, to look at situations within painting, rather than paintings” – Lucian Freud. When was the last time you went to the “doctor” and walked away inspired? What draws you to a painting or a sculpture for that matter?
I think that these days one can become overwhelmed by the amount of art out there, and with the internet it becomes much more accessible. I try to see as many shows as possible, but I think the last time I can remember having that feeling would be seeing big canvases, up close, of Rothko and Richter.
Certain artists discover their ‘recipe’ and then just keep on rolling out the ‘crowd-pleasers’, slightly changing a stroke every now and then – how do you see your work evolving in the next couple of years?
I think the evolution of my work may seem slow to some people, but I have been exploring many ideas and mediums, moving into more sculpture installations, which may move my work into a new direction.
Many artists have some inner conflict or vice reflecting in their work or actions as an artist, do you feel any of these factors effect your work in any way?
I would not say I directly transfer my conflicts onto canvas, although that is something that may happen inevitably.
Who are you represented by at the moment and where can your work be viewed?
I am represented by Everard Read in South Africa and Rook & Raven in London.
Do you have a soundtrack for when you paint – what do you tend to play in the background while you work?
BAT FOR LASHES
MR. TWIN SISTER
Double Six, Domino
INFO – LIONEL SMIT