painter / cape Town (South Africa)
1. Can you tell me a little bit about what you do?
I am a painter but I also draw a lot. My most recent exhibition included a hundred of my drawing sketchbooks. I normally draw in the mornings soon after breakfast and after that I start painting. I've been painting with oils most of my life but at the moment I'm using encaustic, which is a beeswax and pigment mixture. I also make mosaics and although this is an integral part of my practice, I feel it’s less important to me than painting.
2. Why do you make art?
When I was at school I could do very few things. I couldn't do history, math or Afrikaans, but I could draw quite well. Art was the only option. While that is how I started, the reason I continued is that art became like a need, a hunger. Art is what made me get up every morning. It's been like this since I started making art, at the age of 14 and it has never stopped.
3.What are your main sources of motivation?
I am not completely sure. What I know is that my head is full of images which are not formed things until I open up my sketchbook to start drawing. That’s when things just start pouring out on paper. I feel like I don't need to look out for motivations to paint. Motivation to me is like an inner drive, a built in engine that keeps me going.
4. What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your early days as an artist?
After I graduated, my wife (painter and sculptor Giovanna Biallo Stone) and I went to Italy for a year. Those days were a struggle. I had to take ona part time job to make some money and had difficulties finding a gallery to represent me. But despite all this, making art was not a struggle and I always made sure I had time for painting.
5. What was the first opportunity you were offered in the arts? Would you have liked to have had different ones? How do these opportunities influenced your work?
Opportunities arrived very early. There was no art at the boys’ school in my hometown but my mother managed to get me to go to the girls' school, where they did teachart. She pushed me because she could see I could do nothing else. I never finished school though, and I when went to the UCT Art School in Cape Town I earned a diploma for which you didn't need matric for. That was a huge boost for me after having done so badly at school.
Due to the structure of this diploma I was spared the typical BA courses like philosophy or anthropology. It worked out very well for me because I ended up having more time to work in my studio. I don’t think anything could have been different: these influences gave me exposure to books, movies, lectures, other artists’ work, rather than directly influencing my work.
6. What were the first risks you had to take? Do you think the challenges you had to face gradually evolved with your practice?
The very first big risk I took was giving up my part-time teaching job to become a full time artist. I didn’t really like the job and I don’t think i was cut out for teaching.
It was a challenge because I didn’t know whether I was going to be able to keep my family going without my teaching salary. I don’t know how it actually affected me. Most of what it did was giving me more time and a greater sense of freedom. Of course I had to work harder in the studio but it was worth it.
7. How do the risks you take influence your work?
When you make such decision, you give yourself the confidence to go beyond all the doubts. My work, what I was in my heart and the art that I wanted to make did not change, and was what kept me going regardless of everything.
8. What puts you at ease when experimenting with something unfamiliar or trying out a new approach?
Early in my career I considered going into video art. I decided not to because I felt it would have been a huge stress, something too risky that might have failed. Every time I sat down and thought about it in detail nothing materialised. The other issue with this type of art would have been working with people and I'm not particularly keen on this.
Painting is my comfort zone. No one else is involved apart from me. I can make a drawing and get on with it, pushing it until I'm happy to turn it into a painting. I feel I have the confidence to do that.
Mosaics are a different story and a different kind of risk. When I started, I wasn’t sure of the outcome although I felt confident enough I could put an image together. When I taught myself how to do it i found it easy and that, together with quite a few lucrative commissions, made it feel less challenging. A similar thing happened when I started using encaustic. You can’t buy wax paint in South Africa, so again I had to teach myself how to make it after getting hold of the right pigments and beeswax. This was quite challenging but I enjoyed doing something different.
I think in general working with imagery puts me at ease...if I want to go on holiday, I go somewhere and paint.
9.When overcoming challenges, what is the role of your community of peers and mentors?
When I put together a few notes for this interview, I wrote down “acceptance and encouragement”. I think that's what I really want. That said, I don't mind criticism which is not something that worries me or gets me down - a bit like water off a duck's back.
In particular, the acceptance I am thinking of is when somebody is willing to pay for your work. It is a very specific type of feedback because it doesn’t just mean that they like your work but they want to support you and encourage you to do more. When you mention community I think of way back when I was a bit younger and I socialized with other artists. That was quite important at that time, but not so much at present. I know what I want to do now and I just want to get on with.
10. Are you easily able to consider your work outside of the labels of ‘failure’ or ‘success’? If so, are there tools and techniques you use in thinking beyond these labels?
I think I find it quite easy. I was never really bothered by neither of these and somehow this reflects the way I was brought up. My parents grew up during the war years when one wasn’t patted on the back or scolded after doing something good or bad. It was just how things were.
11. If you could go back in time and give yourself a good piece of advice what would it be, and is that the same advice you give yourself today?
I think I would have liked a mentor in my early days, somebody to give me a few pointers and advice. Not so much about the art, but on how to deal with things like dealers, prices, publications, written work. This is not relevant now but back then it would have made a huge difference.
11.What are you working on at the moment, and is there anything particular that excites you?
Using encaustic is hard work because I have to make my own paint and the whole technique differs a lot from oil painting. You have to think and act quickly because the wax and the pigments dry up very fast. The immediacy of this technique is what excites me.