Tiny Brick Wall Interview

This was this first interview I had to do and it happened in 2013. Since then I have matured considerably, but I think it is still an entertaining (if slight cringe worthy) interview to read: 

*  tell us a bit more about your background (how you got into art, at what age, etc)

I was born and have spent my whole life in this limbo we call Bloemfontein.  The first truly formative event in my life happened when I was six and it planted the first seed which germinated into me becoming an artist: It was watching the movie The Never Ending Story. I don’t really remember what the movie was about; all I can remember was the weird crab-demon monsters which made a terrifying appearance in it.  They were the stuff of nightmare and completely captured my imagination, and for the next few years all I could draw was stygian beasts, growing all the more grotesque the more my drawing skills increased. From then on I was completely hooked on drawing.

At school I became that kid “who could draw cool shit, you know, like aliens, dragons, knights, angels, scantily clad women  etc.” (Every school has such a kid, and usually he/she is a bit shy and creepy… I completely fitted that bill) By drawing my peers their fantasies I managed to create a niche for myself in that horrible crucible of domination, anxiety and manipulation we call school. 

  * why art? (What made you decide to take it further and go study it)

When I reached grade twelve I was still drawing much the same stuff I had been creating since kindergarten, the only difference was the growth of my technical skill.  I really had no idea what I was planning to do after school: Becoming an artist never really seemed like a viable option, since people just don’t take it seriously as a career.  But in the end I realised that art and the creative processes behind it was the only thing that kept me sane throughout the awful twelve years I spent inside that prison (yes, I hated every moment of school).  It seemed ungrateful to my muse, who kept me going until then to abandon art after school, so in order to show my gratitude I enrolled for a degree in the Fine Arts.

Another reason for choosing a life in the creative world is my aversion to routine and predictability.  The whole concept of the nine to five job has never appealed to me; I want to live on my own terms and not just become a cog in a bigger system.  Art affords you a way to function outside the normal confines of society, and that was the main reason I choose to make a career of it. 

* what kind of medium do you use?

I love drawing. My main mediums are charcoal, pencil, ballpoint pen and ink.  I have also dabbled in printmaking and have found an affinity with scraperboard, but I plan to explore etching and mono-printing in the future.

 The other medium I also use is performance.  I love the immediacy and freedom of this art form, since there are no set conventions and rules, anything goes.  I also enjoy the exhilaration of acting out your concepts and ideas; there is a visceral rawness in performance which I find extremely refreshing.

Another medium I use is artist’s books.  I have recently learned to do bookbinding and I’m now busy making my own sketchbooks.  I try to carry one of these around wherever I go, so that when an idea arrives out the ether, I can jot it down before it escapes me. For me doodling and scribbling is part and parcel of the process that leads to a finished art work.

 * what/who are your main influences?

I have always been a compulsive reader and bibliophile, so it goes without speaking that literature influence everything I do, especially fiction related with the weird and fantastical.  A few authors who inspire me are William Blake, Edgar Allen Poe, Franz Kafka, H.P Lovecraft, Neil Gaiman and Stephen King.

I also love children’s books and I see the great picture-book writers and illustrators in the same league as the great masters of modern-art.  Especially Maurice Sendak, Wolf Erlbruch, Oliver Jeffers, Dave Mckean, Quentin Blake and Anthony Brown feed my creative impulses.  The sad thing is that the contemporary art world does no fully acknowledge the important work these geniuses have done in their respective fields in the visual arts.

Another source of inspiration for my art is music since I never work in silence and there is a process of cross-pollination between music and imagery in my art.  I think to fully understand my work you should be well acquainted with Radiohead, Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Nick Cave.  I enjoy music with dark atmospheric sounds and narrative driven lyrics. 

The last but definitely and unfortunately not least influence in my art is smoking.  I am a chain smoker and get most of my better ideas while inhaling the cancerous smoke of my cigarettes.  Many of the character I drawn also inevitably end up puffing on one.  I’m planning to quit sometime soon, but I secretly fear that my ability to think of new ideas will vanish along with my horrible habit.  My muse is definitely not some Grecian beauty with flowing hair and poetic eyes; I imagine him (it’s an old man) more in the line of a philosophical drunk, coughing away at his whisky in some seedy bar.     

 * what's your main thesis?

My art has always gravitated towards the weird and fantastic: myths, fairy-tales, history and any narrative driven form of story-telling inspire what I do. 

A concept which fascinates me is that of the nomad, exile and travelling story-teller.  I have always been drawn to marginalised people and places.  Art theoretically speaking we call such ‘in-between’ spaces heterotopias: Some examples of a heterotopia is a bus station, asylum, graveyard, a motel or an airport.  I see these spaces as possessing some kind of strange magic or aura, neither here nor there, existing in a different plane of reality.       

Another concept which plays a role in my art is the ‘overlooked’.  Though I have great respect for the great heroic painters like Jacques-Louis David, Gericault or Delacroix, I have always been attracted by the more peripheral painters like Cotan or Chardin.  These artists focused on the detritus left behind in the wake of life, things existing behind the scenes and between the cracks of everyday life.  I guess I am a bit of a rag-picker, fascinated by the poignancy of forgotten and discarded objects.       

 * "you have to be a little nuts to be an artist.." What's the craziest/funniest/weirdest/silliest/most interesting thing you had to/or wanted to do, for one of your art projects/pieces?

I think everyone is crazy; humans are pretty fucked up species.  Artists are lucky enough to be able to do something with this insanity which is innate to us all.  The weirdest stuff I usually do on my own, when nobody is around to see me, but I’m not going to speak about that here.

I have done some pretty strange things in my performance art.  In my third year I specialised in urban performances wherein I ventured into the city clothed in my pyjamas and face painted myself stark white with acrylic paint.  I mimed and clowned about in public spaces and had an especially positive response in a playing-park next to dilapidated low-rent apartment block: A large group of children came to join me on the jungle gyms. They really thought I was some kind of itinerant fairy tale being, and I like to think that for a small while I was able to transport them from their mundane reality. I also got chased off from somebodies car once during these performances.   

The other performance requires two people wrapping met in thread, wool and twine.  Once I am confined in this cocoon they place me in the gallery and I try to extricate myself from my ropy confinement.  This endurance performance usually takes between two and three hours to complete and people respond quite interestingly to my discomforting presence in the gallery.

In the future I would like to up the ante in my public performances, and really remove people form their comfort zones.  I want to explore the possibility of public places like shopping malls and restaurants.  

*Interview conducted by Adri Louw 

 

Heroes

This is the statement I wrote for the series of work I created for the group show, Heroes in 2015. 

In literature, the hero as protagonist is a trope reaching back to the times of ancient mythology.  There is a prominent distinction between good and bad, light and dark, especially in children’s literature and fantastical tales. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but I think it is not too bold to state that most children’s stories have a didactic element to them that often result in the polarisation of moral elements.

My art inhabits a grey realm between fine art and illustration. I use many of the themes, visual vocabulary, and metaphors within the genre of illustration, but at the same time I attempt to problematize certain aspects of it. These pictures appear to be whimsical fantasy scenes, but they are often serious and personal reflections. I would like to believe that my art embraces contradictions; it is both the expression of playfulness and solemnity, whimsy and pensiveness.

The story fragments or fictive tableaus presented here in word and image reflect my views on heroism.  In some of these pictures, such as The Ramshackle Buskaneers, a climactic battle has been fought and all that remains is an unresolved and dissatisfied denouement. In others, like Little Balloon Boy or Monkey Lamps, even the climax is absent. I draw both personal and artistic inspiration from views held by the late David Foster Wallace on heroism:

True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious

exercise of probity and care – with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world

A morbid bunny contemplating the nothingness of existence or an imaginary creature pierced by imaginary arrows might not seem as heroic as the escapades of popular heroes, but perhaps their actions (or inactions) are just as powerful as those of Beowulf or Achilles. My creations may well embody a heroism informed more by a disposition of caregiving and introspection as opposed to acts of great power.   

Illustration in itself is sometimes not considered as forming part of the ‘Fine Arts’ family, but more as a bastard child, spawned in a scandalous union between word and image.  My pictures are my own restless bastard children; they are not fully at home in fine art galleries, and yet they are also not at ease encased between the covers of a book. Like their creator, they feel safest in the ever shifting periphery.

 

Arboretum

This is a statement I wrote for my exhibition, Arboretum in 2016. 

Arboretum

plural ar·bo·retums or ar·bo·re·taplay \-ˈrē-tə\

“a place where trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants are cultivated for scientific and educational purposes”  

This exhibition is a visual presentation of a lifelong obsession with trees.  Since I was little I have been captivated by the labyrinthine constellations of tree canopies around me.  This fascination has never led to a scientific study of trees and plant life, but rather an aesthetic and almost spiritual appreciation.  As an artists who works within the realm of the fantastical, I have taken imaginary liberties with my depiction of the natural world. The species of fynbos and trees showed in this exhibition really exist (you can see them all in Kirstenbosch, which is also an arboretum) but I have blurred the lines between humanity and the kingdom of plants.

Forests and plant life have always held an important place in humanity’s psyche and this can be seen in the way arboreal themes are featured in religions and myths dating back to archaic civilisations. Many cultures (especially early ‘pagan’ religions) included tree inspired motifs and symbols in their liturgical practices and texts.  The figure of the earth mother, Gaia is also a recurring figure in legends, myths and religions and worship of this deity pre-dates the great monotheisms.  Contemporary fascination with trees and nature is also prominently manifested in Jungian psychoanalytic practise, where holistic well-being is often allegorised in a tree diagram.  These examples are mere pinpricks in the rich history of tree-culture and my exhibition taps into this rich past which can act as a source of limitless creative inspiration.

Many of the fynbos characters here have humanoid features and facial expression. At first  this may seem an unnecessary anthropomorphic addition to already beautiful creations. However, in my imaginary Arboretum there are human figures with tree trunk skeletal structures sprouting cornucopias of verdant growth from their scalps. There are also the natural fauna of the Cape which are portrayed as hybrid botanical beings and a motley assortment of quirky fynbos faerie sprites. What I hope to convey by this fusion of the humanoid and herbal, and the mammalian with the botanical is the manner in which we all add up to one homogenous organism: we consist of the self-same matter, visualized metaphorically as fynbos.

This is related to the second important concept of this exhibition namely; that of conservation. If one aspect of the fragile system I have portrayed is damaged, other elements are consequently also damaged.  This is especially topical due to the environmental crises we are headed to due to an insatiable appetite for ‘progresses and industrialisation’.  There is much we can learn of patience, diligence and care-giving by examining the natural world surrounding this beautiful city.   

 

  

Nocturama

This is the piece I wrote for the catalog of my 2014 solo exhibition, Nocturama.

Welcome to the Nocturama. This exhibition is a manifestation of the whimsical thought-fragments and digression with which I attempt to give my existence some semblance of meaning. None of the creatures presented here exist or have any practical value: These pictures simply flow from my subconscious mind and in the process of imaginative creation, miraculously (at least for me) gain life. 

When I visit the zoo, the first place I go and usually end up staying for the duration of my visit, are those strange, penumbral rooms where the nocturnal creatures are housed in an ethereal blue haze behind a veil of glass (You call this part of the zoo a Nocturama).I am filled with a feeling of ineffable awe and mystery when walking through this topsy-turvy micro-universe where day and night does not exist, but time is frozen in perpetual dusk. As the late great W.G Sebald (anotherNocturama lover, like myself) remarked in his wonderful dream-memoir, Austerlitz: “…all I remember of the denizens of the Nocturama is that several of them had strikingly large eyes, and the fixed, inquiring gaze found in certain painters and philosophers who seek to penetrate the darkness which surrounds us purely by means of looking and thinking.”

This dusky world intuitively becomes an analogy of art for me or at least the type of art that I find an affinity with: In my opinion, art functions within a penumbral sphere of society: A place with no absolutes and certainties. It rather seeps in the gap between ‘illumination’ and ‘obscuration’, a shadow-play in a grey nebulous realm where truth and lies, belief and unbelief, order and anarchy, meaning and meaninglessness intermingle to form new constellations of ideas which sometime alter the way we perceive reality. It may seem arbitrary for me to construct a metaphor between art and a Nocturama, but in essence an intrinsic part of my thinking pattern is arbitrariness and whimsy. 

My art falls within this penumbral realm (Nocturama) for a myriad of reasons. These pictures may simply appear to be whimsical fantasy scenes, but in actuality the themes I attempt to visualize are often very serious and extremely personal: My art walks the tightrope between playfulness and solemnity, whimsy and pensiveness. Another way in which I situate myself in this Nocturama is with my use of children’s illustration as an idiom to express my ideas. Illustration in itself is not seen by many as forming part of ‘Fine Arts’ family, but more as a bastard child, spawned in a scandalous union between word and image. The pictures you will see in this exhibition are my own restless bastard children: They are not really at home in fine art galleries but also not comfortable to be safely encased between the covers of a book, like their creator they feel safest in the periphery, the threshold and the boundary.

Night Aquarium

This is the statement I write for my 2015 solo exhibition, Night Aquarium. 

 “Daydream, which is to thought as the nebula is to the star, borders on sleep, and is concerned with its frontier.…Night is a universe…The dark things of the unknown world becomes neighbours of man…and the sleeper, not quite seeing, not quite unconscious, glimpses the strange animalities, weird vegetations, terrible or radiant pallors. Obscure unmakings of miracles, the whole mystery which we call Dreaming, and which is nothing other than the approach of an invisible reality. The dream is the aquarium of Night.”

 

- Victor Hugo, Travailleurs de la Mer. (Toilers of the Sea)

The act of making art, in the most basic sense, is the concrete making of some abstract idea, an idea that often lurks in the subconscious. This exhibition is a collection of a few, tangible thought-fragments. These pictures flowed from my subconscious mind, and like a person stepping out from a dream, gained life in the waking world.

However, the dreamlike origins of my work do not bar it from having its own recurring themes, metaphors and symbols. The more work I produce, the better the onlooker and I become fluent in its visual vocabulary. My work is thus is a process of both creation and discovery. Some archetypes that have surfaced so far are: the nomad, the displaced youth and the melancholic thinker. My work is often in conversation with literature from Franz Kafka, Friedrich Nietzsche, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and T.S Elliot. These artists can also be the catalysts to my creative process.

What I ask of the viewer is to suspend their disbelief, and to enter, for a moment, the inbetween-space of waking and dreaming. By doing this, the viewer will be able to actively engage with my work, and hopefully, impose her own dreamlike associations onto it, thereby enriching the work and making it a personal experience. After personally engaging with other’s work in a similar way, I have found that reveries can be infectious. Should you participate with my daydreams it might well be that your own imaginings take a different form.  Welcome to my aquarium of night.

 

Zoologia Fantastica Statement

This is the artist statement I wrote for Zoologia Fantastica, a dual show I did with the extremely talented artist, Linki Lutz. 

This exhibition is a collection of works sprouting from two playful minds. It is a miscellaneous menagerie of imaginary beings, captured in the form of drawings. The idea behind this exhibition is very straight forward: It is a space for imaginative interplay and flight of fancy. In a world where most of our actions are dictated by logical thought and considerations of practicality, a form of escape is vital to one’s wellbeing. It is Linki Lutz and David Griessel’s hope that these vignettes into another world may provide a sense of temporary escape and suspension from reality. 

The title of the exhibition, ‘Zoología Fantástica’, is a reference to the Argentinian Surrealist writer Jorge Louis Borges. Borges has reached a point of almost mythical grandeur in the literary world and is often cited by imminent critics as one of the greatest figures of 20th century literature. While there is no denying his genius, one must not forget that at the core he (and most of the great artists and writers in history) was a playful spirit, spinning yarns and speculating about realities other than the one we are in. It is in this spirit of ‘serious’ play that our exhibition was conceived. 

Manual de zoología fantástica or Book of Imaginary Beings was a compendium written by Borges in 1957 which catalogues in a playful pseudo-scientific manner a vast collection of mythical creatures. A lot has been said about this book of curiosity and wonder, but what is pertinent to this exhibition and the ethos behind the creation of the works on display is a open-mindedness to the imaginary and the belief that it is important to spend a lot of hours and energy creating worlds and beings that do not have any practical face value. 

In summation this exhibition is a spontaneous act of playful creation. Not too much thought has been put into how exactly the works will function together and we hope to create interesting new constellations by juxtaposing our work together, thus creating a kind of ‘play circle’ where our flights of fancy cavort around in this dream-zoo of the imaginary and fantastical.

Regarding Manuel Zoologia Fanatsica, Borges states that the book is to be read "as with all miscellanies... not... straight through... Rather we would like the reader to dip into the pages at random, just as one plays with the shifting patterns of a kaleidoscope" This sentence in the book’s preface captures the manner in which we approached this exhibition and also the way in which the observer is encouraged to participate in it.

 

 

Nocturnal Meanderings Statement

Nocturnal Meanderings was the launch exhibition of Studio Clowder (a collective I am part of). This is the exhibition statement I wrote: 

Paul Klee famously stated that “a line is a dot that went for a walk”. Like much of what this singular philosopher/artist said, this statement can be interpreted divergently, and as such it purposefully eschews one reading. Perhaps at its core, it is a statement about the creative process – that leap into creativity where the inert idea (dot) begins to rove freely: a movement both purposive and mercurial; sure but also uncertain. No work of art, in any medium or discipline, can develop without this transition from stasis to movement. It is a delicate moment and difficult to describe; perhaps the only way to explain it is through praxis and the fruit thereof. And this brings us to the exhibition through which you are about to meander. All the works presented are the products of a creative leap. They are countless dots and thoughts going for walks and often as not getting lost in the wood and becoming weird and feral before ending up on the paper and canvases that hang upon these walls.

To meander has two meanings; one describes the physical realm and one describes the mental. Firstly, and more commonly, the term is used to describe a certain kind of movement. To meander is to walk slowly without any clear direction or ostensible goal. This is definitely pertinent to the art-making process, since many creatives get ideas while walking. Obviously the real works happens in the studio, but often the slow subterranean bubble of an idea germinates in the in-between moments of aimless wandering. More often than not we are not conscious the idea’s formation.

Meander is also used to describe convoluted or undirected thoughts and language. In most aspects of modern life such unhurried acts are frowned upon, especially in an advanced capitalist society where practicality, productivity and efficiency are revered. Art, on the contrary, especially the darkly whimsical art of Studio Clowder, normalizes convolutions as a modus operandi. The artist exhibiting here all have different routes by which they stumble upon their creations, but no route is mechanistic, or straight- forward, or fine-tuned to adhere to any norms of optimum productivity. Our art belongs to a world apart from everyday norms; a world more akin to the night than the blaring, unforgiving daytime.

This brings us to Nocturnal, which according to our exhibition title is the time of day, or more accurately, the state of mind in which our meandering takes place. Nocturnal is a derived from the Latin term, Nocturnalis, which can be translated as ‘of the night’. It is therefore accurate to say our works aren’t only depictions of nocturnal creatures in the biological sense, but also depictions of creatures and scenes that embody nocturnal qualities. This essence of Nocturnal-ness is not easy to pin down (mainly because aloofness is a quality inherent to it), but over many years, artists of divergent disciplines have been inspired by this dream state (perhaps reaching its pinnacle in 19th century Romanticism). In this sense our exhibition has its roots in a tradition that is centuries old.

These pictures may appear to be merely whimsical fantasy scenes, but quite often the themes visualized are serious and personal. Our art walks (or meanders) the tightrope between playfulness and solemnity, whimsy and pensiveness. Another affinity we have with a nocturnal tradition of thought, is with our use of children’s book illustration as an idiom of idea expression. Illustration in itself is not seen by many as forming part of the ‘Fine Arts’ family, but more as a bastard child, spawned in a scandalous union between word and image. The pictures you will see in this exhibition are our own restless bastard children. They are not quite at home in (certain) fine art galleries but also not at ease when safely encased between the covers of a book. Like their creators, these images feel safest when viewed from the periphery.

We invite you now to take your own meander through our nocturnal expressions. There is no correct route between the works, and no order in which they ought to be viewed. Indeed, convolutions and ambiguity are welcome in our little universe. We hope that by participating with our nocturnal meanderings, your own daydreams may take on a different form. This process of imaginative crosspollination within the nebulous realm of dreams is what this exhibition is for, and which is the ultimate purpose of our art, and by extension our very existence.

Studio Clowder

I am part of a collective comprised of three other artists/illustrators. This is the mission statement of the collective which I wrote to accompany our launch exhibition, "Nocturnal Meanderings":  

Studio Clowder consists of four artists/illustrators who work incredibly hard and have a deep passion for imaginative creation, be it picture book illustration, sculpture, painting, drawing, animation, voice-acting, make-up or even creative writing. The members of the collective are: Linki Lutz, Chris Venter, Martinus Van Tee and David Griessel. 

Being workaholics with some very niche interests (examples include: paper grammage, obscure illustrators, needle felting etc.) can be quite isolating, and a significant component of the collective is simply having gatherings and talking for many hours about things that would make non-illustrative artists (understandably) die of boredom. We also learn a lot from each other and have a good (and necessary) time venting about the frustrations and anxieties inherent to being a full time freelance image creator.

In the midst of these informal social gatherings we organise exhibitions and related projects. Studio Clowder is a creative collective where we hope to support and motivate each other in the hope of attaining the type of creative fulfilment we would not have achieved individually. 

And lastly, what does the term clowder mean? Well, ‘clowder’, is the collective noun for a group of cats. We are a team of four individualistic and capable people, not unlike our feline friends. On the one hand, the skill pool we create collectively is quite extraordinary, but on the other, coming to a consensus about anything, including the collective’s name is a long process of discussion and debate. Trying to work together sometimes feels like herding cats – not the easiest task, but ultimately very fulfilling. And I know that analogy doesn’t completely work, but who knows? Maybe herding cats is extremely fulfilling – when we meet a cat-herder we will ask her.