dot 51: point of view

This telegram is a work of art if I say it is.

– Robert Rauschenberg –


In my previous blog a sense of place I pronounced soil as my sense of belonging, my sense of place. Since then, I have painted a 5 meter canvas with various soils and attempted to substitute lithographic inks with soil in fine-art printing during a CMYK linocut workshop at Warren Editions. It has been an explorative process, filled with equal quantities of frustration and surprise. Nevertheless, it is a medium I am intensely curious and passionate about. In allowing myself to acknowledge the importance that soil holds for me, and actively pursuing this understanding creatively, I have been led to question what my point of view is.

Recently reading a book by Will Gompertz titled Think Like an Artist has funnelled this process for me. Gompertz – a previous director of Tate Gallery, voted one of the world’s top 50 most creative thinkers and who is now the BBC’s Arts’s Editor – says: “Let’s be clear, a point of view is not the same as a style. It is what you say, not the way you say it.” Juxtaposing some of the greatest artists, Gompertz highlights how some (if not the majority) of The Creative Greats at some time lost their way and ‘no longer had a point of view.’

What to do if one has lost one’s point of view, then? It is opinion that drives the creative process forward, says Gompertz, each artist’s individual filter on how they see the world:

…[it is] opinion that compels any of us to make something exceptional and different. If we want our ideas to be seen and heard it is essential we have a point of view and something to say.

Reading up on Robert Rauschenberg it is clear that his point of view was that art and life could not be separated in his lived experience of the contemporary world. What is mine? What could I clearly state as my point of view? What do I want to say? What is it that I am questioning..? My answer, from my art diary, reads as:

I question the immersiveness of traces. These traces, once made visible, help to show interconnectedness, or the lack thereof. Traces occupy space. Traces inhabit space. Traces are ever-present. They exist constantly, like the moon, but are not always visible to the eye even though they are present.

Once made visible, traces suggest sound to me. I am fascinated by the probabilities that exist at the intersections of traces, and imagine them to be co-ordinates or codes at interstellar level. These intersections are vibrational indicators which occur outside  human hearing.

My key idea stated then, and linked to my point of view, is the longing to print auditory traces using soil as medium. During the aforementioned CMYK workshop at Warren Editions, I attempted to do this but soon realised that there was too much grit still in the soil. Nevertheless, there was potential evidenced in the prints:

Currently, I am sieving soil through geological sieves in order to make paint from soil. My opinion is that I could very well substitute Rauschenberg’s statement with: This soil is paint if I say it is.


dot 50: sense of place

Sense of place is the sixth sense, an internal compass and map made by memory and spacial perception together.

– Rebecca Solnit,  Savage Dreams –

Whilst cleaning up my studio this week I came across an article on the South African painter, Colbert Mashile. My interest was immediately captured by Oliver Roberts’ subheading which stated that Mashile ‘thinks and talks like a writer.’ This is a space I can certainly relate to and at times this dichotomy has caused me some distress. Blogging has proven the equalizer.

In The Colbert Rapport Mashile talks about growing up in Bushbuckridge which is a more rural area situated in Mpumalanga province. Mostly, his characters are placed in  similiar landscape settings on his canvases and art prints. This, Mashile says, is because he himself does not relate to the city ‘as a place of belonging’, geographically describing it as ‘a place for the outside.’ For Mashile ‘the inside belongs somewhere else.’ He talks about the importance of a sense of place:

… a sense of place is what created your thoughts, your world view, everything.

I started wondering about my own sense of place, and what has contributed to my personal world view. After playing around with various and rather obvious elements I was left with the idea of soil as place.  Running right through my artistic development over time, is the deep and weighted pull of earth itself: I have collected soil from anthills and painted with it, I have buried artworks deep into the soil, I have done fine art printing with soil I have substituted for printing ink, I have done video performances using soil as a medium, to name but a few. And I have collected soil all my adult life.

As a child I played in the soil, with the soil. This was the vehicle for imaginary spaces, for watching and playing with migratory Matabele ants and for making pathways to other worlds that no one else could see. It was the resting place for countless insects and small animals that I tearfully and ceremoniously buried. It was the red receptor for the first rains, releasing a smell that defies language. Soil, as sense of place, is truly a sixth sense as Solnit suggests.

The reality, however, is that I no longer live in my country of birth. Place of the red soil.  My sense of place has long shifted into that of memory where it may very well be acting as an internal compass and map, and, if so, I need to follow this ‘inside place’. For me, the ‘outside places’ are what the anthropologist Marc Ange coins as non-spaces. Examples thereof are shopping malls and airports where no relational or historical identity can be found. I am surrounded by such things.

I must r[re]connect to soil as my sense of space in order to map [and see] ahead.

Grinding red soil
Grinding recently collected red soil.                                                    Photo: Sonya Rademeyer

dot 49: open[ended]ness

To live means to participate in dialogue: to ask questions, to heed, to respond, to agree, and so forth. In this dialogue a person participates wholly and throughout his whole life: with his eyes, lips, hands, soul, spirit, with his whole body and deeds.

 – M. Bakhtin –

I did my art training at what is now known as Willem de Kooning Academie in Rotterdam (The Netherlands). It was a time of exploration where process was central to the experience of art making. This approach allowed that high value be placed on the process itself, often pushing the (eventual) art product into the background. Conceptually, thinking was open-ended and galleries in The Netherlands typically display the importance placed on process by often making the choice to exhibit concepts above finished art works.

It was therefore quite a joyous experience for me when I visited SMITH in Cape Town last week for the show Sketch. This group show is curated by SMITH curator Amy Ellenbogen, who offered the participating artists exploration in their choice of medium. The follow-up show in December 2016 will allow visitors to have experienced artworks from the beginning of conception (Sketch) to the final exhibited pieces after a 12 month process.

In my view, it is a brave and necessary step that Amy Ellenbogen has taken as South African galleries appear to be, generally speaking, mostly interested in selling end-art products. Ellsworth Kelly, aptly quoted by SMITH in Sketch, says that people have a need to give art ‘a sense of fixity, a sense of opposing the chaos of daily living.’ Perhaps it is the chaos of process that disturbs gallerists …

The importance of process placed in Sketch took me back to an exhibition I had seen – or rather, experienced – at Witte de With in Rotterdam many years before where a visiting artist had filled the entire gallery – both upstairs and downstairs – with crunched balls of paper. This experience has stayed with me clearly whilst I have forgotten the many other exhibitions that sold perfect, well-rounded and beautifully framed artworks. The resonance of process is etched into my memory because, I suspect, I experienced process alongside and with the artist. My experience was, as Bakhtin says, connected to eyes, lips, hands, soul, spirit as I immersed myself and connected to the actual deed and process of paper ball making. This is, perhaps, because I myself make balls of clay on my daily walks.

Currently, I am immersed in the experience of line. I am mesmerized in the ways that line/s are able to transport energy and express movement. There is no beginning and no end and the viewer is drawn into interpreting this frozen fraction; this crack of chaos. As I continue exploring the fragility of line in a more 3-dimensional way, I shall murmur and meditate Kelly’s authenticity so that I remain in open[ended]ness:

What I have tried to capture is the reality of flux, to keep an open, incomplete situation …

playing with line & earth Photo: Sonya Rademeyer
playing with line & earth                                                                          Photo: Sonya Rademeyer

dot 48: making art [just] for me

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.

– Dr Seuss –

A few years ago I presented my work alongside many other hopeful artists from the African continent to a certain gallery in Cape Town. This application was for representation by the gallery who have a second gallery in London. Neither myself nor my friend were selected, and, as we collected our work, my somewhat dejected friend said: ‘From now on I am only going to make art for myself.’ Unknowingly to him, his utterance made a huge impact on me. I have often thought of these said words.

Over the last year or so I have noticed that artists / writers who claim to make work only for themselves generally excel at what they do. I recently read that the British author J.K Rowling says that she writes simply for her own pleasure. One of my favourite South African artists, Willem Boshoff, clearly states that he has nothing else in mind when making art than making art for himself. Assuming this to be true, there is a valuable lesson to be learnt in their collective approach. Such an approach excludes thinking how others may be viewing their own work, instead focusing on ‘being who they are’ and ‘saying what they feel’ as they express themselves. This is my primary goal for 2016: making art [just] for me.

On that note, allow me to voice myself on which artist I felt met this criteria in 2015. Of all the exhibitions I managed to see in and around Cape Town last year, the work of Gregory Stock stood above the rest. A Space Between his exhibition held as 99 Loop Gallery exhibited his kinetic drawing machines and installations.  Exploring the idea of finding himself in a transitional space of sorts (hence the title) I could not help feel that Stock had made the work purely for himself as he searched for meaning in his experiential uncertainty. Perhaps an assumption on my part, but to me the exhibited works were not made ‘to sell well’ nor was the impetus of the works particularly considered in relation to gallery wall & floorspace. When speaking to the gallery assistant at one point I was told that they had not known what to expect by showing Stock’s work.

Collage of images from Gregory Stock’s A Space Between exhibition (2015)   Photos: Sonya Rademeyer

 I commend Loop 99 for ‘not minding about what matters.’ As for myself: as I move into 2016 I shall not mind those that do not matter.

dot 47: artists

I don’t believe in art. I believe in artists.

– Marcelle Duchamp –

It’s not an easy thing to explain what an artist is. In 2009 Sarah Thornton started investigating how artists see themselves. Interviewing over a hundred artists Thornton explored ways in which artists ‘command belief in their work’ and ‘what artistic myths [artists] enliven or reject.’ Her ethnographic research culminated in an insightful book 33 Artists in 3 Acts (2014) which I have just has the pleasure of reading.

For some reason I have always thought that well-established and high-profile artists have clarity when it comes to this issue. Thornton’s digging into creatives’ thinking, value systems and beliefs uncover quite the opposite. It would appear that we all struggle with expressing what the essence of being an artist might be. This includes those of celebrity status such as the ever-polished Jeff Koons.

The famous Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco  offers perhaps the most un-hidden and insightful interpretation to Thornton:

There are moments when artists are artists and then they are not anymore.

For Orozco an artist moves away from being an artist when art-making is disconnected to thinking. A South African artist whose conceptual thinking is evident in his painting is the Durban-based artist Themba Shibase. His current show at SMAC (Stellenbosch) clearly exhibits that each work is conceptually considered.

An activist, Shibase is certainly the type of artist that Orozco alludes to as his thinking is continuously revealed through his image making. Tackling huge issues relating to African power structures on the continent, Shibase is fearless as he exposes African leaders for their lack of leadership, their self-enrichment and their tyrannical will which ultimately is imposed on the vulnerable.

The exhibition titled Slightly Off Centre directly refers to male sexuality and dominance, where, according to the exhibition pamphlet ‘the black phallus can be equated with the ceremonial staff’ which is generally part of the exhibition of display with regards to the endowed power of African leaders. However, in this instance the phallus has been replaced by a screw:

Screws are known to hold things together, but this bent, used screw serves as an icon of disintegration, and a blatant phallic symbol that reinforces Shibase’s equation between masculinity, dominance and exploitation as it most obviously alludes to a government screwing the people.


Off Centre (2015) Photo: Sonya Rademeyer
Off Centre (2015) Acrylic on canvas                                           Photo: Sonya Rademeyer


Like Duchamp, I can say that even if I don’t necessarily believe in the artwork, I certainly and wholeheartedly believe in Themba Shibase as an artist.

dot 46: absence

The absence of a muse can be even more inspirational than its presence.

– Alagraphy –

I have been very aware of what absence is lately as the recent loss of my whippet has raised my awareness to the lived experience thereof. It has also stirred memories as to the unique space it inhabits in space and time; how it has separated trajectories of memory both near and far, how weighted and dense living has been for a while, and yet how the winds of passing time has carried me forward to where I am birthing my memories through my art making.

A truly phenomenal South African artist who has worked with the concept of absence in a remarkable way is Lyndi Sales. I first came across her work in her 2006 show at Bell Roberts Gallery entitled 1 in 11 000 000 Chance. This body of work explored her deep sense of loss and absence of her own father that died during the infamous Helderberg plane crash.  According to Sales it was working through her loss that streamlined her work towards what it is today, but for many years there appeared to be a tangible link between what ‘was cut away as symbolic of negative space and hence absence which was clearly my expression of loss at the time.’

In a published interview in the The Lake Rachel Kelly explores Sales thoughts around her October show No Place at whatiftheworld. Here, Sales expresses how she sees things differently now by equating absence – or nothingness – to dark energy and our inability to perceive it:

Right now negative space no longer equates absence. It seems that the more we discover through science the more we realize that “nothingness” or negative space does not exist. Nothingness is merely that which we can’t quite comprehend and so we can’t see it’

Keeping this in mind whilst being immersed in the very recent exhibition ELEGY which showed at Goodman Gallery (Cape Town), it is difficult to imagine that any words of insight could soothe the loss of  19-year-old Ipeleng Christine Moholane.

Ipeleng was found raped and murdered on 25th of May 2015, and ELEGY is enacted in commemoration of Ipeleng by the artist Gabrielle Goliath. The gallery space – set up as an installation – mainly includes a looped video of a performance as well as the small stand on which the performances take place. The awareness of absence is heightened by the darkened and bare environment.

However, as soon as the performance video plays the ‘sung cries’ of the three female singers, an incredible presence of who Ipeleng (and many other victims of violence) may have been is felt.  Elegy is certainly no negative space, but rather one where absence is replaced by presence not seen.

Still from installation video Photo: Sonya Rademeyer
Still from installation video                                                                     Photo: Sonya Rademeyer


Elegy Installation view Photo: Sonya Rademeyer
Elegy Installation view                                                                             Photo: Sonya Rademeyer

It is commendable that Goliath has offered the due respect and memory of the absence and presence of Ipeleng to her grieving parents. It has been a long time since I have experienced an artist such as Goliath who appears not to be driven by ego. Elegy was not about showcasing her own talent, but allowing for the absence of a loved one to be honoured and felt. Truly inspirational.

Thank you Goodman Gallery.

dot 45: colour

Colour provokes a psychic vibration. Colour hides a power still unknown but real, which acts on every part of the human body.

 – Wassily Kandinsky –

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to re-visit Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) where I was born and raised. An even greater opportunity was being able to care for an old friend who was in hospital at the time. Sitting outside the Mater Dei Hospital one hot afternoon my eye fell on something shiny reflecting in the sharp sunlight. My curiosity led me to explore a bit further and I discovered that a few rocks had been covered with silver paint. It was unclear to me whether this had been done intentionally or whether it had happened by accident in some way. There was no obvious reason I could see as to why they had purposefully been painted.

Perhaps the obscurity of the illusive reason to this mystery is what kept me awake that same night. Since seeing these silver-clad stones I have been experiencing a recurrence of the memory of this image. I have also started becoming deeply drawn to the colour silver.

Siver stones photo: Sonya Rademeyer
Silver stones

This is a completely new experience for me as most of my artistic life I have purposefully avoided colour. I am starting to think about colour; even consider colour. In Concerning the Spiritual in Art  Wassily Kadinsky says that: ‘Color is a power which directly influences the soul.’ For Kadinsky there is a strong correlation between art, music and spirituality.

A South African artist whose work has fascinated me for some time is that of Jan-Henri Booysen. Booysen’s work often incorporates music or musical metaphors. His current exhibition WHITEOUT at blank projects shows work that leans towards Glitch art which, according to the exhibition printout is ‘a result of his fascination with pixel drifting, data mulching and other forms of automated abstraction.’

On a personal level I have found his work around automated abstraction particularly intriguing and there is an overlap here with my own work. Perhaps then for this reason that in WHITEOUT I was most strongly drawn to a smaller (91 x 76 cm) painting entitled  Blind verlug ( 2014) exhibited opposite the office area at blank projects.

Jan-Henri Booysen Blind verlug (2014) Photo: Sonya Rademeyer
Jan-Henri Booysen:  Blind verlug (2014)                                 Oil and spraypaint on canvas
Photo: Sonya Rademeyer


Blind verlug (2014) captures Booysen’s automative gestures on a silver surface. Perhaps, as Kadinsky suggests, silver’s power is still hidden and unbeknown to me. It most certainly affects me corporeally, emotionally and spiritually.


dot 44: confluence

And, most of all, ideas come from confluence – they come from two things flowing together.

– Neil Gaiman –

 Like many art lovers that saw Portia Zvavahera’s recent show at Stevenson Gallery (Cape Town) I was taken by the authenticity and directness of the Zimbabwean painter’s work. Perhaps these sensibilities are particularly present because Zvavahera apparently waits for imagery to come to her.

An article by Lucinda Jolly explains that Zvavahera remains ‘totally present’ as she anticipates what may present to her via dreams, prayers and emotions. I find this an intriguing as well as a meaningful approach. I am reminded of Paul Klee who wanted his work to come only from ‘within himself’ being ‘suspicious of any attempt to try to do something not of one’s own time.’ Like Klee – who fascinates me – Zvavahera seems refreshingly detached from contemporary ideas of artistic success where creating ever-emerging bodies of work are expected. Her unfolding happens as it does; her ideas reveal themselves to her as they do in their own time. Afro-time does not equate clock-time.

I keep coming back to the way such ideas are generated. The well-known author Neil Gaiman is of the opinion that ideas are formed when two separate things flow together. Confluence is allowing the flow from various sources to amalgamate into one. Allowing in itself – a fluid and especially receptive state – is something that Zvavahera appears to be good at. Experiencing her canvases I become detached of time, culture, geography and belief systems. Most of all, though, I become detached from creative contemporary expectancy.

In my own work I am at a place where, like Zvavahera, I am allowing for imagery to come to me.  This requires not only patience but also belief in a process that has not yet become visible to my conscious self. Where my patience fails me, however, is in the expectancy of ‘pairing’ with a secondary flow or secondary source that, like a river, could potentially create confluence.

After all, confluence can be understood as ‘the place where two rivers flow together and become one larger river.’

This is potential place.

Portia Zvavahera: I Can Feel It in My Eyes (2015) photo: Sonya Rademeyer
Portia Zvavahera: I Can Feel It in My Eyes (2015)                           photo: Sonya Rademeyer

dot 42: identity

To live is to construct an identity bit by bit .

– unknown –

What is a true identity? What is a projected identity? Are these polarities of one another or are they intertwined? Does a fixed identity – if it exists at all – expand beyond itself or is it a restricting boundary? These are ideas that the South African artist Barend de Wet have often challenged and which are highlighted in his current exhibition Projected Identities showing at SMAC Gallery (Cape Town).

Identity is something that I have explored myself. The video piece I am an African (2008) exhibited at Dak’art 2008, investigates the lived reality of being white and African. Of particular interest to me in Projected Identities is de Wet’s exploration of how others perceive the self which he explores through the role of dress.

My heightened awareness of the construct of identity is directly linked to what I’m currently reading. Exploring the relations between societal constructs and brand identity in Brand Management is an entirely new field to me. Although struggling somewhat through the marketing approaches and linguistics, I am quite fascinated by the idea that ‘brand is a construct formed by society.’ In a way this resonates with what de Wet attempts to explore in Projected Identities. Here, however, the viewer is asked to deconstruct the societal construct of identity.

As I understand it, brand identity relates to the way the brand sees itself and brand image is the way the brand wishes to be seen. Applying that to what it means to be an artist the questions then become: What is my own art identity (brand identity), and, how would I want my art identity to be seen (brand image)?

Agreeing with the idea that identity is constructed bit by bit through the lived experience of life itself, branding experts believe that this organic approach cannot be enough to stand out in the global reality of cluttered, competitive noise. Your (brand) identity as an artist needs to offer something of value to be noticed above all the din. According to Klopper & North:

The value of a brand  … is defined by who its stakeholders are and by what they need and want. A brand’s identity is in essence defined by the value it adds to people’s lives.

We are back to the viewer here. It resonates with de Wet ‘s approach to the assigned role of the spectator, viewer or stakeholder in the relationship of what is being perceived.

Obliquely linking to my previous blog purpose I need to ask myself what value my art is adding to those who see / experience it?

Still image from Projected Identites
Still image from Projected Identities                                 Photo: Sonya Rademeyer

dot 41: purpose

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions which have been hidden by the answers.

– James Baldwin –

 When I started my blog in July 2014 my sole purpose was to reconnect with my fragmented creative-self.  I have since then reached that purpose and am deeply grateful for it.

My current status is one of art-making again and I now find myself re-contemplating the idea of purpose in art. Exploring this idea via a Google search it is clear that there are diverse viewpoints loudly echoed from Creatives. Pablo Picasso felt that purpose in art could allow ‘the dust of daily life’ to be washed away, whereas Glenn Gould (pianist, writer and composer) said that the purpose of art was ‘the lifelong construction of wonder.’ Neither these artists seemed particularly perturbed by purpose itself, yet developed an art brand that was not only unique, but sustainable and relevant over time. I believe that I can draw from advertising here. Although a somewhat foreign environment to me, I realize that the development of powerful branding purpose is an area of advertising’s expertise.

Mark Di Somma is a creative strategist and writer who sees brand as a powerful lens to explore issues one may grapple with in a broader context. It’s the big picture that counts here yet strongly connects to each day, to today even. The big picture concerns itself with ways one’s brand (read: your specific art) will change the world for the better. This is one’s ‘statement of  belief, of hope, of pursuit.’ In other words: the purpose of one’s art-brand. One’s focus should be ‘on the passion, on the biggest belief you share and on the implications of holding that belief for everything that you do.’ That’s the big picture which Di Somma creatively sketches in Developing A Powerful Brand Purpose.

But how is one’s (larger) purpose framed for where one currently is? How is one’s brand purpose brought back to the here and now? Referencing Steve Jobs, Di Somma says that instead of Jobs asking people to think differently, he would frame the question as: ‘What are you doing today to think different?’ 

It’s easy for me to ask myself what I’m passionate about and what my biggest beliefs are. My answer would be to say: my continual interest in invisible connectivity, which could include movement, sound and/or energy. I know what I intensely pursue and have pursued over time, and to me this pursuit is more than evident in the drawing below.

purposeimage1But let me take Jobs’s question back to this drawing that got me thinking about purpose initially. Starting as an exercise the idea was to connect 11 dots made randomly on paper, allowing the process of mark-making to unfold as the process evolved. In the midst of the drawing I started wondering what the purpose of joining random dots could possibly be in the context of global art. How could this drawing contribute to making any fundamental change to the world,  a question that Di Somma urges one to translate into a statement.

Asking myself Steve Jobs’s specific question is far more difficult to answer than what my overall purpose is, surprisingly enough. Yet posing this question is vital according to Di Somma:

Such questions bring the purpose right down to what anyone is doing at any given moment. If you can’t frame a benchmark question from your purpose, it isn’t personal enough and therefore risks being irrelevant.

It is certainly something I will ask of myself today as I work. To this, I would add James Baldwin’s benchmark question: ‘What questions have been laid bare ..?