How do you as an artist move from the initial conception of an idea within your head to a fully developed work that is ready to be exhibited in a gallery? Do you have any specific structure that you follow or are many of your works founded from a (cliche’d I know) more spontaneous point of departure?
Inspiration is something that I find has to be worked on sooner rather than latter otherwise it may evaporate. Once I have an invitation to fill gallery space I prioritize my time (I set myself 3 months for this one) and cut out as many distractions as possible and let my family know that I will not be ‘present ‘as usual till the art is in place.
I follow a disciplined work schedule and try to focus on one sculpture at a time, which does not always work if I get distracted by another idea. The sculptures are mostly spontaneous. I find commissioned work much harder to complete than the ones that I have dreamed up myself. I still enjoy doing both and start to become passionate about a piece once it is on the go. If an impulse to make something takes hold of me, I can go without eating and become obsessed with the work till it reaches its climax which is when what you imagined has become a reality, there can be no rest till I get there. That feeling of achievement is almost like a drug.
If there is indeed a structure, could you possibly outline the general schematics of the process? What procedures are involved in the completion of a project?
The initial idea is scribbled out in my diary or on my work list. I then surf the net for references and study all I have in our private library of books (collected over 20 years) My wood is sorted according to types and shapes from which I start to piece together the sculpture after finding one piece that strongly depicts something in my subject. From this single piece the scale of the artwork is determined. I juggle the pieces till I come up with the correct proportions and a stance or characteristic of the subject. Mechanical objects are easy as they don’t have an expression but living creatures have attitude and mood, they are old or young etc.
Working with driftwood must have its disadvantages in terms of size and weight and moving source material around; in terms of your workspace what are the fundemental aspects which make it suited to your line of work? What are the major tools necessary in order to make the works a reality?
Space is essential to store the wood of different kinds and shapes, large and small as they have to be accessible at all times because you are looking for the right piece all the time. What I enjoy about the driftwood is the multitude of variables you can achieve by choosing different pieces. Once it is finished there is no need for it to be molded and cast or painted. Wax and clay or most mediums need an armature before one can start. I worked on a cement sculpture last year using stainless steel as the armature which is so unforgiving compared to wood. The large driftwood sculptures do have a wooden frame which can be made of the same rough wood which then just blends in with the rest of the sculpture or can form part of the surface. I use whatever wood cutting device needed to shape chisel or sand a piece to fit securely to its neighbors as strength is a must. Wire brushing sorts out any loose wood prior to assembling and I sand off any splinters or sharp edges to allow the audience to feel the work, although children have been the only ones I have seen stroking or cuddling some of the sculptures in the gallery.
Does driftwood play any significant role (i.e. symbolic) within the meaning of your works? If so, why, and how did you arrive at that specific conclusion?
Not many of my sculptures are deliberately made to convey some hidden or mystic meaning. Most are just a celebration of God’s creation and I pray before each sculpture asking God to help me do justice to His amazing work. Mine are just a poor refection of the works of His hands. That is why I am also fascinated with anatomy and skeletons and internal organs, everything in creation is fearfully and wonderfully made.
Something more personal perhaps, what do you feel is your position within the artistic environment of South Africa? Do you feel that you are positioned within a niche market or do you aim at a broader base of clients/viewers?
The driftwood sculptures may be something new in South Africa but they have been made in other countries. I feel that I have found something that is unique for here and now. I have always said that if art is good enough it should sell itself, and the sculptures have done just that. 2012 was my third solo exhibition and each year the interest has grown. Doors have opened and we have been invited to other places and cities to exhibit the driftwood sculptures. I don’t think it can be exhausted as we have only just scratched the surface of ideas of what can be made with driftwood, we are in an exciting place and we have only just started.
It seems that the media is always eager to show off some new discovery. Facebook images are sent around the glob and today I even had a new fan write from Sweden about the sculptures. Solomon said in Proverbs 18;16 “A mans gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men” To be artistic in anything, music, writing, acting everything that is related to the media is in fact a gift. How we chose to use that gift will determine where it will take you. God lifts some men up and puts others down.
Would you say that your works are orientated towards a purely aesthetic focus or do you layer them with personal meaning that acts as a transport to issues that you feel strongly about? If there are certain meanings could you please outline some of them and why you think they are pertinent to the exhibition.
The works are purely aesthetic but I would not hesitate to do some abstract or layered works, as you call them if and when inspiration grabs me.
Last year I was struggling with resentment and I made a Blackbird that I called ‘Two face’ with a hollow body perched on a circle of wood. One side of his face was pleasant and the other angry. It was my favorite of the show because it freed me to even more creativity. Nobody seemed interested in it till one day I was explaining its meaning to a couple from Pretoria.
We are all actors who try to hide behind a mask, but what is on the inside eventually shows up on the outside and can determine weather we live in joy and peace or weigh ourselves down with negative feelings and emotions. If I am anxious or trouble, it affects my creativity and everything else around me. Bitterness, unforgiveness, greed, lust envy, pride, are all detrimental. Not only to our mental well being but also to our health. People may say or do something ugly that you re play over and over in your mind like a record spinning on one spot, going nowhere. Only when you cast them off are you free.The couple brought the sculpture on the spot
Does the notion of “the watering hole” hold any value to you as an individual? Does it tie in with previous experience or symbolize something in your life that you would share with others?
“Around the watering hole” was simply a theme to tie all the pieces together. One could certainly have fun interpreting it in another way for another audience who don’t have wildlife all around them, but say a concrete jungle. Most of the driftwood was collected on fishing trips so if you happened to be a fisherman I would eagerly share those fishing stories with you.
What I did share with the public was where a number of pieces came from which made up one sculpture. They all have a story to tell like the tip of the swimming elephants trunk which was picked up on a beach in Mozambique by a friend and given to me. It may well have floated down the limpopo or Oliefants river and ended up back in White River.
More often than not artists are misinterpreted in their exhibitions, the viewer’s impression does not always correspond to that of the artists intentions and as a result confusion is sometimes an issue. Do you as an artist believe that the intentions of the artist him/herself are important to the final product or are you more aligned with the idea that the impression created on the viewer is a wholly more important aspect of the artistic process? Please explain your answer.
The buyer has to live with the art in his home or workplace, what he believes or enjoys about the art is what matters. If a piece has some symbolic meaning or comical idea or message, the public may buy it for that reason. Art has power as we can see by the outcry from Murry’s “Spear” painting of President Zuma. The artists painting made a comment on the morality of a public person but he had no idea how the culture of the public at large would react to it. We all react differently to art determined by our unique point of reference.
I have also wanted to make political statements through sculptures but have refrained as I feel our culture here is too immature to understand it. It is a matter of playing it safe. If one could promote beauty or your art triggers feelings of joy, wonder and amazement, I would rather do that than entrench negative feelings in the public.
In terms of expression, are you aligned more with an ‘aggressive’, rapid development of ideas or do you opt for a more controlled and rational approach.
I think far more about how I plan to do a sculpture or painting than just jumble something together. Some sculptures I have even taken apart after finding a more perfect piece to achieve what I intended. Some artist don’t want to part with their work or feel it is too sacred to change. My brother also makes a living from his art and even paints over a canvas if it does not sell or if it did not make the mark.
Last question: Do you think that there is still a vested interest in sculpture in the contemporary age? With the advance of technology and digital production, are you as an artist finding it more difficult to cope financially with the monster that is mass-media, or do you find that it assists you in the creative process? Explain.
I have been in commercial art and done graphic illustrations generated by a computer program. The obvious difference for me was that if I did them with conventional methods, they took me a fraction of the time I spent on the computer. For me man made wins hands down over machine made and one can see it in the finished product. There is technology today where a machine can sculpture an abject from an image feed into it but it does not have that personal feeling that someone handled it and left a few errors of mishaps that made it unique. I have also done airbrush work and tried to achieve the photo realistic finish that some of Japan’s artists have accomplished. Because you know it is done with an airbrush you can appreciate the skill of the artist but the average person thinks it may just be a photograph.
But real art is when the paint is masterfully applied with a few frugal strokes but it talks. There will always be people who appreciate that and will pay for it. It is not so much the mass media that influences the sale of art but fashion also. Everything must be minimalistic, bland canvases that help you think nothing as you gaze into them.
If this contemporary age has made it more difficult to make a living from ones art, it certainly has forced the artist to dig deeper and find something of true genius within that technology will not be able to duplicate.If you are an artist pray Moses prayer from Psalm 90;17
“May the favour of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.”