White River’s Tony Fredriksson is an outstanding artist who produces exotic and beautifully sculpted pieces from driftwood. We visit him to chat about his art and life in general.
Many Lowvelders won’t pass up a visit to Tony’s remarkable art exhibitions. His style and medium are unique and every single one of his sculptures is made up of sometimes many smaller ones, formed by the elements. His recent exhibition at White River Gallery at Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre left us amazed, not only by the complexity of the compositions, but also the skill and care so lovingly put into each individual piece.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, but grew up south-west of Harare in Bulawayo, a large city in the province of Matabeleland. My father, Freddie, practised as an accountant.
Your childhood must have been quite interesting…
Before I reached the age of 15, I had already gone to space, built numerous cities, dams and roads, performed a heart transplant from a sparrow to a frog, tried taxidermy and attempted building two aeroplanes, among many other things.
I was a happy, little boy with a fantastic imagination and grew up with two brothers who shared in the fun and exciting journeys of exploration.
Our parents were quite liberal and allowed us to experiment and play. We camped a lot and ran wild during the holidays and our house had a large backyard where we tried different things and played until we dropped.
In those days the Zimbabwean public schools were good and we received excellent schooling. I matriculated at Hamilton High School in Bulawayo.
We were not rich, but my childhood in Zimbabwe was good and I remember it with nostalgia.
Zimbabwe is in trouble. How do you feel about what’s going on?
I feel really sad. It’s a beautiful country with loads of potential, but the leaders have no desire to utilise resources to uplift the country and its people. But I must stress what I have already said: I was privileged to grow up there and have very fond memories of my Zimbabwean childhood.
When and why did you come to South Africa?
I came to SA in 1980, the same year in which Zimbabwe gained its independence from the United Kingdom. Missionary work was in my blood and I joined Christ for All Nations, doing photography and printing and handling all publications.
Those were exciting days and I travelled all over Africa. I also met my wife, Dalene, in the mission field. We came to White River to join Emmanuel Press – I acted as artist and production manager. In 1993 I started teaching art, guidance and basic art techniques at King’s School, also in White River.
When did you first start creating sculptures?
One of my kindergarten teachers told my parents that I have a gift for art and that they should encourage me to pursue it. Luckily they were open-minded people and gave me free rein and all the support I needed to become the artist I am today.
My love of sculpting was born from suffering! When I was a small boy, I suffered from severe tonsillitis and spent many days in bed. My mother bought me the best gift ever to pass the boring hours alone in my room: modelling clay. I must mention that I still have my tonsils!
To this day I believe that a child’s natural gift is demonstrated by the games he or she plays and that this needs to be developed and pursued in order to find happiness and fulfilment.
After school I studied fine arts in Eastbourne in the United Kingdom. Before I started working with wood, I made bronze and resin sculptures for 15 years, doing my own moulding. I started African Heads & Tails and produced miniature limited-edition sculptures of the mammals of southern Africa.
Other sculptures I made during those years included insects, dogs, cats, snakes, fish and commissioned sculptures of prized sheep.
Close to 7 000 of my limited-edition sculptures have been sold to collectors worldwide. I also did a lot of sculpting work for museums. Through the Bush Box I produced sculpted wooden decor and rustic furniture.
Surprisingly, other animals are my best critics: once I delivered a serval cat to a client. The guy’s cat came into the room and once he saw the serval, his hair stood on end. He walked round and round the sculpture, wondering who on earth this stranger is.
I started doing driftwood sculptures in 2007.
Tell us more about your sculptures made of driftwood.
It’s an exciting medium to work with. No two pieces are the same, and every single one has potential. Everything I want, every single shape I’m looking for, is hidden somewhere in a piece of wood. It just needs to be found.
Where do I find these wood pieces? Every-where. On a game farm near Vivo. In the plantations surrounding White River. Lying around in dams going dry.
The dam wood has different, interesting patterns because of the parasites in the water. My best friends are the termites as they leave exciting patterns in the wood. Sometimes I even leave dead wood close to termite nests so that they could help with the sculpting!
I usually pick up a piece and immediately see potential in the shape and cavities. It is really a mechanical process of fitting all the pieces together to form something recognisable in the end.
What about bugs in the wood?
They can be a problem. The moment I suspect that there might be bugs in a piece, I first microwave it. After that it is frozen at -25°C to kill all the eggs as well. Whenever I send an artwork overseas, it needs to be fumigated in order to get a customs certificate.
Where’s your favourite Lowveld spot?
Definitely my studio, Open Sky! I also love sitting beside the koi dam, pondering on life and many other things.
Get in touch
082-463-8966, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.openskywoodart.com