The human mind is a trickster who enjoys playing hide-and-seek, deceiving and teasing us. We set out on our paths with perhaps some ideas about how we will be when we grow up. Then, some way along the trail, we might look back at work and be surprised to read a different story. So who do I see looking back?
Self portrait. Pencil on paper
I paint portraits. As a life sitting unfolds, I listen to the stories and learn about other ways of living. My assumptions, the sitter's intentions, my intentions - all of this is mixed up and given a life on a canvas. I try to be as true to the sitter and myself as possible, but a picture can only tell part of the story. It is for the viewer to tell their own while reading the symbols I left there.
Portrait of Anne Phillips. Oil on canvas
I paint best what I can relate to. Family and children were my priority and I painted the sitters in the same boat as me with love and discernment. Children are always inspirational because they are uninhibited. Until they stop being so, and sometimes one watches with anguish how the vibrancy fades, gradually or in an instant. And then, I paint this vibrancy and aliveness as if an act of shamanism to reinforce it.
Portrait of the Neilson Family. Oil on canvas. 175x200 cm
I also paint and draw that which is intriguing. While this country was new to me, I was soaking it all up by observing its people going about their lives.
"All Weathers" Etching
"Come on!" Drypoint
"The Devil You Know?" Ink on paper
I paint still lifes, sometimes throwing together anything handy and sometimes going for that which sells well. When I have a technical element to explore within the still life format, I enjoy my work, and it would be good. But eventually I ran out of excitement in the lucrative cheese and wine theme and the paintings became lifeless. There was nothing left to do but abandon it.
"Still life with Cheese and Wine" Oil on canvas
There was a time when I felt so inundated with the life minutiae that I craved for space and simplicity. The only way I saw to find it was through painting airy still lifes in shades of white.
White Still life With a Fig. Oil on canvas
In the same period, I often felt emotionally fraught and would find myself crying for no reason. A chance encounter led to my attending a meeting with a white shaman from South Africa who diagnosed it as undergoing a spiritual transformation. I began exploring gurus, healers, aliens, and all that hippy paraphernalia.
The exploration took about a decade, with some detours and dead ends, but it helped me. Somewhere along the way, I was surprised to discover that art-making was essential for my well-being.
I learned the basic techniques of intaglio printmaking at the art college. In 2003 I discovered mezzotint. The medium lent itself easily to my set of skills, and for the next few years, I enjoyed making prints. The best part of it was getting away from everything into the silence of work, with a solid excuse and no guilt.
Printmaking studio in the bedroom.
By 2010, after probably thousands of hours of mezzotint work, I felt burned out and didn’t do any printmaking (apart from occasional monotype) for the next decade. I usually plan and laboriously execute mezzotint plates, finding the technique not accommodating for free-styling. Now, revisiting it, I want to introduce spontaneity in the process, allow it to take me somewhere unforeseen. Meanwhile, I am telling myself to draw more, with no premeditation, to sow seeds for future work. Sometimes a drawing or a photograph can lead to something meaningful years later.
All the while, I must share my time between the creative time alone and the family time. Parenting is a choice we make to become a support team for our children. It’s not about us anymore. The creative act is the opposite. By its nature, it must be selfish and self-centred. Robert Kipniss who's mezzotint work I love, in his book, wrote, “my work is my life, and my life is a hobby”. Without wanting to be sexist, I’d say that this attitude is more accessible for male artists. Me, I keep a careful balance between Life and Art.
On the brink of graduating from college, I had an experience of intense anxiety, which stayed with me as a warning for decades. On an outing with a company of friends, I overdid the drinking part. The next day I wasn’t sure if the party's events happened or were a product of my mind. Suddenly, I was gripped by a fear of insanity. In that moment, I became convinced that if I gave entirely into Art, madness would be only a breath away. I guess, since then, I tread carefully, trying not to tip over either side. Too much Life is treacherous too. Stealthily, it envelopes you in material minutiae, social traps, neurotic behaviours.
"Swing" Acrylic and oil on canvas
Communion with the divine self is vital. The moments of being alone, in silence, with the gaze towards the unseen are oxygen to the human psyche. But then, the swing must move back to the material realm, eternally keeping the motion of human existence.