“A commission can have parameters. I think it is important to keep the ‘client’ in mind, but most importantly to stay true to your own work. It is really up to the artist to establish those boundaries right from the start.”
INTERVIEW: RICK DE LA RAY
PHOTOGRAPHY: OLIVER KRUGER
You have gone through some major changes over the years, from more illustrative-type objects to portraits, and now a mixture of minimalist shapes. Was it an intentional evolution over the years or did it just develop naturally on its own?
I think it has been a bit of both. I started studying graphic design at the university of stellenbosch and changed to fine art after two years. It was quite a radical shift for me and i always felt very torn between design and painting. This has had an influence on how my work has evolved.
Initially the abstract works served as an escape from figurative painting, but what used to be a schism has become more of a symbiosis. For me these paintings function in a space of disorientation, falling short of being fully representational or coherent.
Your last two exhibitions have stuck to the same abstract nature regarding the color and feel and size. Do you feel you have reached a place where you can settle for a while?
A yes in a way, but then again change is integral to everything. I think one always wants to improve or develop. I am never really satisfied after completing a painting. I always think about how to approach the next work differently. I think the figurative work might come to the fore again. It won’t replace the abstract paintings though.
Your use of color is a lot bolder then your earlier pieces, with a mixture of primary and pastels layered across the canvas. What draws you towards certain colors and the way they communicate with each other?
Colour is an incredibly complex phenomenon. I find it very difficult to restrict myself to certain colours. I often set out to make a painting using specific hues or tonal values only to realise that i have gone through the whole spectrum. I think this adds to the “frantic” quality of some of the abstract paintings, where colours compete like they would in a supermarket.
Would you consider doing a portrait series again or do you only do them on commission these days?
I am always thinking about the portrait. It is almost an intuitive reaction that i have when i stand in front of a canvas – to want to make a portrait. Portraits are very specific things, because inevitably they deal with identity. In a south african context it is difficult to make a portrait that is apolitical. In the past i often made portraits thinking i was dealing with identity, but i realise i was quite naïve in my approach. I think these days i am more interested in the portrait as something elusive or even abstract.
“I think it must be very fulfilling as an archaeologist to filter through the artifacts and remains of history.” In a sense i feel you have been similar to an archaeologist with your found objects and broken shards in some of your earlier works such as “objects of unimportance” and “patterns with meaning”.
Yes, i think these works illustrate my fractured way of looking at things. I like the idea of sifting through various objects, shards and images in search of something tangible, but unlike the archeologist my work doesn’t reach a conclusion.
Do these found objects relate to each other?
Yes, but i think it is often quite subtle or not important. I like the idea that there is flux and that the meaning can’t really be pinned down.
Some of your portraiture leaves a hint to some of peter blake’s work in the 50s. Which artists do you feel have been crucial to the development of your work?
It is difficult to answer, because there have been so many at different stages. I have always looked more at figurative painters than abstract painters and specifically at art with a strong graphic quality. As a student i was influenced by the photomontage work of the russian constructivists and artists such as hannah höch and john heartfield. I have also always identified with the tactile qualities of ‘outsider art’.
During 2014’s design indaba you had the opportunity to work with the master carpetmaker paco pakdoust when he did a series of woven carpets using local contemporary artists’ works. How did the collaboration come to life and is it something that you would consider doing again?
It was a collaboration initiated by southern guild. Initially i thought the painting would be too ‘busy’ for a rug, but it worked really well. Southern guild and paco must really get the credit for that.
Some artists reach a point or a safe place and then only produce a certain signature style of work. How do you see your work evolving in the future?
It is difficult to look too far into the future, but as mentioned i would like to bring the abstract and figurative works closer together.
Do you still work with charcoal much these days?
I still work with charcoal. I am in the process of doing a series of charcoal works on paper. It is a medium entrenched in me, due to the many hours spent in the drawing studio as a student!
When you get asked to do a commissioned piece, how much control do you have over what goes into the work in the end in terms of color and arrangement? Is it similar to a designer working with a client or are you open to interpret as you see fit?
A commission can have parameters. I think it is important to keep the ‘client’ in mind, but most importantly to stay true to your own work. It is really up to the artist to establish those boundaries right from the start.
Regarding your work process – do you work on multiple pieces at the same time or do you finish them one by one. Do you find that they cross-pollinate themselves in a way?
I work on multiple pieces at once. It helps me not to get too sucked into one work. It is also practical to work on something else while waiting for paint to dry.
Are you only represented by whatiftheworld gallery now or do other galleries also deal with some of your pieces?
At this stage i am represented by whatiftheworld only. They really put a lot of effort into their artists, so i feel very happy to be represented by them.
Some of your sketchbook work leans very much towards the satirical ‘bitterkomix’ style of anton kannemeyer and conrad botes. Were you in influenced by the whole era at the time and do you still spend a lot of time working on similar illustrations?
Initially as a design student anton and conrad were lecturers of mine and later became friends. They exposed me to illustration and comics and i think a lot of students were energized by the stuff they were doing. I definitely learnt a lot from them especially in terms of drawing. The best teachers are those who teach through their own work and they were definitely doing that.
What do you find the most challenging part of the creative process while you are working on new concepts?
Staying committed to the process. It often takes a long time to complete a body of work and self-doubt is part of that process. It is important to learn to deal with that, especially in the insular confinement of a studio.
‘Space Is Only Noise’
‘Bamnan and Slivercork’
ALI FARKA TOURÉ
‘Time Out of Mind’
LINTON KWESI JOHNSON
‘LKJ in Dub’