2022/3 Updates from the studio

Surfaces and spaces; this may be the title of the exhibition at Spin Street Gallery in April 2023

There are currently four work stations in my studio. I move between them as the work draws me in; sometimes stumbling, learning and unlearning within a process of deliberation and impulse.

 There is “behind the scenes” or “off-line” processing, which I then take to the studio and apply or discard in conversation with the work.

The body of work in progress/process seems to have started from various impulses; (an impulse to value the color in wood, the feel of the raffia in a heap on the floor in the store, the shadows of the bronze on the wall surface.) What follows is a deep engagement and exploration, whereby the materials and the ideas become expanded.

 Reading brings information and often pushes doubts aside. I use the words and information like I use the observations that accumulate daily. There must be a reservoir somewhere that stores all these memories, jumbles them up, makes networks and patterns. I can’t quote or reproduce from these memories but I can make images from this reservoir. For example; I can hold a tree in my hands when I am working with wood.

The various media converse by co habiting the studio space. They are framed by similar preoccupations; A small painting watches the wood begin to glow or the deepening of shadows from the wall sculptures as the light shifts, assist in pushing color contrasts.

Color is the determining factor in all these various media.  Color naturally includes texture and mark (surface), it always has for me. The pulse and rhythm of color is what I seek everywhere. it is the color that I seek and find; lose and find…in the wood, on canvas, in bronze, on paper, with raffia and threads.

 Like music, color exists in space. Sound lifts from an instrument, into space; color and sound alike.

 How very physical color is. It enters the body and psyche; color activates the spaces between objects.  You can feel the space with your eyes. Color moves from my hands with the movement of my body, onto the surfaces and into space. Developing this inclination brings confidence; there is a dance in the making. Studio time is an event. My energy, my body, my frequency levels, my sensibilities, all become more finely tuned.

 In 2020 I took an inventory of my studio and found work that I have selected to keep from school. The inventory consists of selected work over 50 years. I refer to these images, to the way color finds a surface to hold or a space to play in. Our eyes seem to touch and invigorate our imaginations. I feel as if I am participating in an event, not a performance. The event is the eye taking the space onto the surface of the object. In this process, the mediums, the vision, the observation and the making all work together in space and on the surfaces. When I am released from this event, I step away and often feel very excited and overwhelmed by what has happened. At the moment of stepping away everything changes, a spell is opened and new ways of seeing what I am doing are considered. I must cut the wood again, repaint or scrub down the surface.

 Conversations. This year I have invited more people into my studio and encouraged responses.

 The solitude of a studio is significant to the work but a workshop, “Thupelo style” workshops, complement this isolation. They offer new and un expected perspectives on one’s journey, shaking one’s subjectivity up a bit, which offers an opportunity to free one from those old attachments to be seduced by sentimentalities, indulgences and old “easy” habits. Conversations re orientate me and my ability to reflect on my work and revisit various directions I was so seduced by but which needed to be nudged into something more truly representing the process of “subject” and “object”.

The workshops enable a new way of seeing, which is as a participant in the event/process of making images.  There seems to be a senselessness in all the sensitivity and in memory. Visual is so beyond what we recognize. Shifting some of the expectations and desires is essential in finding the core of the image.

 I am noticing more that Sculpture extends painting; 3D activities happen while I wait to paint. I can’t paint all the time. We can only keep up a pace for a certain time; remembering the pace of each painting so that I can return to it again at the right time, is a fine art.  The freshness is really what counts in the activation of surfaces and spaces. A freshness in picking up on the pulse each images carries. The pulse of the color is what the viewer may feel.

“Making” has always been a very optimistic process of blending and borrowing, relaxing boundaries but carefully observing interactions of color and surfaces. Surfaces and spaces are an ever exchanging dialectic where I look for transformation.  This year’s work has come more easily, it is less “self-conscious”. There is a natural pace and a friendly eye.

Moving into 2023 in preparation for the exhibition at Spin Street Gallery in April brings the work into new focus. A focus on finishing and communicating/writing but also the focus on new work that continual draws me forward. I sense it is time to paint a large surface again soon. A workshop at Zeitz Mocaa in January will bring a focus through working with others and exchanging ideas and experiences. The summer light will change the surfaces of work completed and work in process.

The space, actual real space, the environment where an image finds a home is very significant because of the effect it has; a small painting may sit quietly on a wall in a home and be very present there. Remove it and the whole space changes. I like that. I move my work around the house so that it is caught by various changes of light and I enjoy the responses from casual and serious viewers.

The illusion that is present in painting is there in sculpture too. This is due to what happens on the surface or in space or in the mind of the viewer. If there is no familiar image to catch you, do you walk away or should you pause to re-look and not allow your “practiced” eye, with its scheme of pattern recognition, to eclipse meaningful multiple nuances un-encountered before due to entrenched old habits of seeing? As references and projections hover and often stick, there is little space for a fresh uncluttered interaction other than in the touch of the eye and the immediacy of an open mind. The sensibility to allowing for color to be “heard” and the rhythm of the marks to be “felt” is usually very worthwhile. This ability must be considered careful. Sometimes this happens so quickly that it is the memory of the work that visits me and I return to take another look. The exhibitions at Iziko and Zeitz Mocaa in recent weeks, both made me feel welcome, engaged and I will return.

The objects (art works), initially reveal “frozen” gestures that the viewer has to “unfreeze” with a wondering eye and open mind. The viewer can be a witness to the shadows, merging and enriching the object and themselves. The mark that weaves the eye through, beyond, across the surface. The brush mark, the eraser mark, the chisel mark, the braided mark, the polish and rub.

New experiences are an interruption to the well-trodden path of seeing the world as expected, but opening up the imagination opens up movements within, that one could call “soul stuff”.

 In making objects of the wood, (sanding, chipping, polishing); in bronze (observing the translations from wood); in raffia; (braiding and binding); in applying color to paper and canvas; the doing and undoing are part of exposing the surface and transforming space. All these offer the viewer an insight into being and discovering akin to the artists own experience.

This has been part of my practice for over fifty years, I see it now in retrospect.  The irony is that despite the open and curious response to impulse/inkling/making there is a fundamental constanscy.

 Open, start again, refresh. Finger marks on the surfaces, fingers hovering in space, marking the surface. Digging gently with a tool into dusty old wood, rubbing polish into surfaces.  The physicality helps to lift and loosen the color into a space off the surface; with a different medium the color is embedded into the surface. The environment imbibes and weaves the experience from the form into space.

The wood.

 Watching my father and brothers work with wood, select specific pieces and find the grain, the color and the scale to make furniture and objects found, has been part of my life.

The craft of carpentry is similar to the craft of weaving, of ceramics and print making. I found these planks while packing up the wood in my father’s workshop.  In these eight planks and the small pieces of wood, I celebrated the roughness, the potential to find color and movement, the life within took me on a very new journey.  These planks had been through saws, on trucks and left in timber yards, finally finding their way to the workshop and then to me. In the timber yard they were selected for the blood color in the otherwise uniform color of Kiaat.

Seeing the color, I felt I was holding a tree in my hands.  In places the powdery wood needed to be dug out, blown away and the structure secured. (Finding form.) Beauty pushes me forward. The recycling of matter; as with the wool, sheared off a living animal it dies. The wool or hair can be spun and woven or knitted and so recycled into new life.

 I hold a tree in my hand when I work with a part of a tree and allow the life to show itself in my hands. I stand larger than the part of the tree yet I am given to hold the whole great interior and exterior of that tree. The world is so much bigger than any of us and our thinking.

Working from the inside out. Getting out of oneself through a response to a color and working with my hands.

The bronze pieces;

 The world is so much bigger than we are. Originally made of wood these bronze pieces were transformations from fragile wooden objects into everlasting bronze. Some thoughts hover relating to the forever relationship of man, earth, sky, water, space and surface, the universe, holding the tension, delicately balanced looking for clues. The little person in the visible world; always so much smaller than the space.  The shadows spill and stretch with the light onto flat surfaces; space is energized.

The paintings; I am just holding a line and keeping my balance as the world sways around me.

The installation; Mobile.

 Raffia in skeins in a store in town; I need to braid this I hear from inside myself. Such was the impulse to work with this material that my fingers wriggled through the air in response to my mind being stimulated at the thought of touch.

This was a solitary piece, made night after night as a healing perhaps, the braiding was company during long, quiet hours. When I took the work out to the day, it was finished, done, over yet alive in itself speaking many languages from many places.

 I thought to grow it and ask others to extend it; perhaps to share the feel of it or perhaps to be included in a group of workers allowing it to expand but, no, it was done. My heart says put it away now. The ideas of a collective piece can be another activity. The collective piece is towards braiding an interactive community. Ironically, social inclusion beckoning towards an inwardness, towards empathy perhaps.

 The sound and rhythm of the raffia as my fingers nimbly separate and braid the threads, transported me and the work. 

I dream on; to work with others in a public space so that we can exchange skills and build a large braided collective. Braiding, dating back as far as 5000BC (examples found in Namibia in the Herero culture) is present in most cultures globally. It is one of the skills used most extensively by all who have hands. A braided mobile made by a global society in braiding our sensibilities towards a more empathetic life style, specifically and generally.

I hope to start a piece that others will complete. Allow to outgrow me.


2022 moves into 2023 through the summer movement of light and dark.