Daniele Tamagni and Araminta de Clermont show at Michael Hoppen

April 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

Michael Hoppen Contemporary is pleased to bring together two contemporary photographers who have documented the sartorial expressions of particular communities in the Congo and South Africa. Daniele Tamagni and Araminta de Clermont befriend their respective subjects and utilize the camera to create unique records of their chosen circles. Tamagni’s images brilliantly capture the energy and pride of ‘Les Sapeurs’ of Brazzaville in Congo. The works are highly spirited, with bold displays of colour and perfectly framed decisive moments. Tamagni’s animated compositions wonderfully reflect Henri Cartier-Bresson’s notion that the talent of a photographer is in instinctively capturing the one fraction of a second when everything in the frame falls into place. In contrast to this, De Clermont’s portraits reference the glamorous feeling of contemporary editorial images – her bright, hot daylight flash and posed subjects remind one of the images filling the glossy pages of fashion and music magazines. This is a deliberate attempt by De Clermont to create the glitziest portraits possible of her young subjects. Both styles of shooting suit their respective subject matters, bringing to us – the audience – an eloquent point from which to view the sartorial pride in these vibrant and relatively unknown communities.

Daniele Tamagni has documented the creativity of a community in the Congo, known as Les Sapeurs. Les Sapeurs (consisting of mostly men) adhere to a subculture of highly tailored fashion called Le Sape (Society for the Advancement of People of Elegance). Their style and attire is their identity in life.  Their look seems derived from the wardrobe of a British dandy yet is very much its own evolved creation, based on a strict and detailed code of aesthetics. Socks, ties, pipes and handkerchiefs are chosen with meticulous care – many save up for years to buy the best suit and accessories they can.  Le Sape is more than just a look – it is a lifestyle imbued with a deeper, more profound moral undertone and identity. The series of images Tamagni made of Les Sapeurs, are wonderfully dynamic and fresh. The sense of celebration and dignity Tamagni has captured amongst Les Sapeurs is all the more remarkable given the background of poverty and political instability that is the backdrop in the recent history of the Republic of the Congo. Tamagni was awarded the highly regarded 2010 ICP award for Applied Fashion photography for this body of work.

Araminta De Clermont has photographed a series of portraits of young girls dressed up for their matriculation dance celebrating their graduation from school. They were shot on the Cape Flats, a vast area outlying Cape Town described by some as having been “apartheid’s dumping ground”. The Matric Dance has a huge significance for the girls in these photographs, and their families; for some it is a reward for having not dropped out of school, for others it is an opportunity to celebrate the reaching of an academic level, which the previous generations may not have had the chance to reach, and for yet more, especially in the cases of more impoverished families, it may primarily be a night of fantasy escapism, a chance to live out their dreams through costume and styling. It may even be seen as being the night of these youngsters’ lives, their first and possibly their last real opportunity to dress up no holds-barred, be the centre of attention, shine in a world where not much is certain, and life can be very hard.

On the Cape Flats, many families will deny their children nothing for this outfit; costs will be budgeted into household expenses up to a year in advance. An incredible amount of thought goes into what will be worn on the night. Some schools hold the dance right at the end of the school year, enabling them to insist that the school fees are settled before the dance, and threatening that it will otherwise be cancelled (at the same time ensuring that parents do not end up spending all the fees on hired limos, accessories, and so on, as they apparently often do). The resultant looks, seem to speak volumes: about the hopes, dreams, aspirations and influences of young South Africans today.

The show previews on 6 May 2010 and is open to the public from 7 May – 5 June 2010.

Michael Hoppen Gallery
3 Jubilee Place,
London SW3 3TD

Tel: +44 (0)20 7352 3649
Fax: +44 (0)20 7352 3669

Text: Michael Hoppen gallery

The Cream of the South African Contemporary Art at Rose Korber…

April 13, 2010 § 3 Comments

Rose Korber Art is a unique gallery in Cape Town run by a husband and wife team, where you’ll find the cream of South African contemporary art.

Visitors and clients come to the gallery in Camps Bay (which is in fact an extension of  the Korber home), to view the broad selection of quality paintings, mixed media works, limited-edition original prints, photography, sculpture, ceramics, Rorkesdrift tapestries and African beadwork, all on display in an assortment of rooms.

Rose Korber runs the show, and has quite an impressive background. She’s been a free-lance art writer, critic, consultant and lecturer for many years.  These different experiences have provided her with an excellent platform for when she decided to change direction in 1990, and begin her own independent galley.

Over the years, Rose has played an important role in introducing South African artists to a local as well as an international art market and she has become widely known for showcasing innovative, cutting-edge contemporary South African art.

Her gallery is definitely the number one destination for anyone wanting to get a broad overview of the South African art scene.

Little Black Book of Art goes and visits the gallery in Sedgemoor road, and interviews Rose’s husband who is an integral part of her team, to find out more…

RKA: Here at Rose Korber Art, we have a very specific niche. Rose was an art writer, an art critic an art academic, an art everything else, and then decided some years ago  by mistake to get into this side of the business, so she’s very serious about what she does.

A lot of people think we’re too serious for the ordinary guy. I had someone come in the other day with a blue colour swatch and ask if could show them any blue paintings. They were very wealthy and intellectual, well, intelligent I mean, and we just told them we didn’t think this was the right place for them. The woman said, “But I want to see your collection!” and we just said, “But we don’t have any blue paintings”…

I had another chap who came in and said, “I want to see some nudes” and we just said, “What? You want to see erotica?  We don’t deal in erotica.”
Anyway, that was that. We don’t have time for that kind of thing at this stage of our lives.

LBBOA: South African’s think very differently when buying contemporary art.  They’re still into purchasing little twee, traditional paintings and are not too good at investing in art that is more innovative or perhaps conceptual. I think that’s why there are probably only about four, good, cutting-edge, contemporary art galleries here in Cape Town, and Rose Korber Art is one of them. It’s more akin to the kind of gallery you’d find in London for instance…

RKA: Yes, you’re right.  Let me tell you about some of the art here…
(The Korbers are in the middle of changing around their space, so there are a variety of pieces scattered all round the place).

You see this particular guy (he points at work by South African artist Matthew Brittan, b.1948, Johannesburg), these paintings are available individually, but he has put them into sets of five, and we have hung them in rows.  He would ideally like them to be sold in sets, and you can mix and match as you like, but it’s up to the buyer.  We’ve sold some and put new ones up.  He is into the Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925) school of thought (an Austrian philosopher, social thinker and architect) and the work here is a selection of paintings from his botanic series using oil paint on Belgian flax.  You see, this is not the type of work for people who are looking for decoration, and with Ruth everything is like this.

Installation detail

Matthew Brittan, The Ingathering of Osiris

RKA: This is also an important artist, Richard Smith (b.1947, Scotland).

(He points to a huge charcoal and mixed media portrait on paper).

I don’t know if you have seen any of his art around town, but we sold 4 of his works last week. Even in this crunch time, because people who come here are serious people. We had this guy from New York who had reserved this piece and he took too long to make up his mind, and someone else came along, a German, and bought it straight away. We actually commissioned Richard to do something similar, obviously he won’t copy his works, but he’ll produce something along the same lines.

Richard Smith, Bongi Au Sahara

LBBOA: This is stunning… (I point to an exquisitely crafted, large ceramic vase on a table).

RKA: This is from our personal collection. It’s by a chap called Ian Garrett (b.1971, Eastern Cape).  We got it from the Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum in Port Elizabeth – they have a big ceramic collection.  It was difficult to get them to sell us this, because he doesn’t make pieces of this size anymore.

LBBOA: Ohh…and these also look interesting. (I point to some beadwork on a coffee table. I am constantly hurrying him along as I don’t know how much time he’ll give me, and there are so many beautiful objects around that I want to ask him about).

RKA: Yes, this is older beadwork. This is not the kind of stuff that you find on street corners.  This is part of a very large exhibition they had in Johannesburg and in England, and we got some of the work from it. This is a (Zulu) Shaman’s muti bottle. They put their ‘muti brew’ in here and you swing this strap round you and you drink it in order to make you fertile or whatever.  This is a snuff box. You put the dried up tobacco or snuff in here and you wear this round your waist together with a belt.  When we do sell the wire sculptures and things like this, it is obviously not the street stuff.
(I feel slightly offended that he could even assume that I would think that, but I keep quiet…)

Beaded belt, muti bottles and snuff box

LBBOA: And tell me about this piece? (I point to a large landscape on the wall created in oil, on paper).

RKA: This is an artist from Johannesburg called (Paul) Blomkamp (b.1949).  You won’t see his work down here.  You see, Rose knows all these people from the days in which she used to interview them – she has a different relationship with them.

We have an enormous quantity of stock.  What you see here today is only a fraction of what is available. If you were a buyer, you would make an appointment, come and see us, take off your shoes, which you did, you have to take your shoes off – that shows you’re serious… You’ll also spend the day here, one-to-one, have a drink with us and we’ll become great friends. We work on that basis. You’ll find something you like, we’ll shake hands and that’ll be a deal. (In fact the only reason why he showed me round unannounced in the first place, he tells me, is because I took my shoes off when I came in!).

Anyway, back to Blomkamp.  He was originally a stained-glass window artist, and there aren’t many churches in South Africa with stained glass, so he developed his talent in a different way over the years, and these are his latest landscapes. He draws using oil on paper.

Paul Blomkamp, Highveld Hightveld 2

It’s quite funny, a child of six was looking at one of these, and out of everyone he was the only one who really got the message.  He said, “This man is inside the scene mummy”, and he was right.  This is what he has done; he’s gone inside the picture. It’s more than just a picture with trees, mountains and sky.  If you stand back you can see the elements better… As the child said, he is inside the landscape, that is what landscape does to him.  He is painting with the gut. He is a cerebral artist.  He is wonderful.

Paul Blomkamp, Highveld Nightveld

“The influence of Blomkamp’s early stained glass windows is still evident in his latest paintings, which appear to transmit rather than reflect light. They have a transparency, clarity and sharpness akin to glass, and often appear to be made of coloured light rather than paint”. Rose Korber

(We stand in silence and admire the work for a while before he drags me to another part of the room and shows me a subtle, grey hued painting.)

RKA: This is another very interesting lady.  Gottgens.  Kate Gottgens. This is oil, acrylic and ash on canvas. This is very unusual.  Again, this is a very serious painter. We’ve sold a lot of these.

LBBOA: I prefer these ones here. (I point to another couple of pictures by her).

RKA: I don’t think she’s Jewish, but she does a lot of paintings inspired by the holocaust. She’s very sensitive.

Kate Gottgens, Found Photos (part of a triptych)

LBBOA: I love this collection.  This is the first place I have visited in Cape Town where there is a large body of very interesting work in a whole variety of media.  I mean I loved Michael Stevenson, The Goodman Gallery and What if the World Gallery was very, very impressive, but here is very different.

RKA: This is an artist who has shown at the Goodman – (Jabulane) Sam Nhlengethwa (b.1955, Springs).  He is a very important black artist. He does hand printed photo-lithographs and collages.  This is a wonderful collection. But you must look at his work with your eyes closed because it has got jazz musicians…he fuses jazz with art, and you can actually hear the music in your head when you look at his work.

Sam Nhlengethwa, Jazz Trio I

(In a statement on why he fuses jazz and art, Nhlengethwa said, “Jazz simply inspires me. Of all the subjects that I have dealt with, none has been re-visited like jazz. Jazz is second nature to me. Painting jazz pieces is an avenue or outlet for expressing my love for the music. As I paint, I listen to jazz and visualize the performance.”)

Sam Nhlengethwa, The Pianist

Sam Nhlengethwa, Jazz Series Tacet

LBBOA: So how do all of you cutting-edge galleries make your money? It doesn’t seem like South African’s would ever invest their money in contemporary art.

RKA: Not yet.

LBBOA: In Europe, people have been keen to invest in art instead of property for example, but here…? (He doesn’t respond).

RKA: This is William Kentridge (b.1955, Johannesburg). One of our top artists. He has just opened an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/964

He doesn’t paint, and says Simon Stone (b.1952, Lady Grey), is in his eyes one of the best painters we have in the country.  I just sold one of these little ones.

Simon Stone, Two Men and Nude

RKA: Do you have an art background?

LBBOA: Yes, I studied ceramics at Central Saint Martins in London and then I worked in advertising for a while before going to Chelsea College of Art to study Interior Architecture and Spatial Design…

RKA: My wife travels a lot to England and there are very few English ceramics that touches South Africa.

LBBOA: I agree.

RKA: We have unfortunately given back most of our ceramics that we had here for our last show, so I can’t show you what we had here. This week, we have just lost Barbara Jackson (b. 1961, Cape Town)…

LBBOA: Yes, I know.

RKA: She was a very important ceramic artist. A top ceramicist.

LBBOA: Yes…I have met quite a few local ceramicists here in fact.  I’ve loved looking at their work.  There seems to be a ceramics revival in London presently. You see a lot more of it around. The people that I find are gifted ceramicists working in London, are in fact Chinese, Japanese or Korean…

RKA: This is a collaborative piece in fact that Barbara did with her partner of 25 years Carrol Boyes, at the time she was a sculptor. This belongs to our own collection.

LBBOA: It’s beautiful…I love it. (I can’t photograph the work – the Korbers like to keep certain things private, and it’s probably worth a fortune now).

RKA: This is also our own…Ardmor. (He shows me a traditionally decorative and vibrant piece of sculptural, ceramic work). They had exhibition in London at Christies…not an auction, but an exhibition. My daughter who lives in London went and spent quite some time looking at all the pieces that were on show, and there was a lady there who said, “Who are you, looking at all this work so closely?” and my daughter replied, “Barbara Korber” and she replied, “Oh, Rose Korber’s daughter?…Darling, don’t waste your time here. I know your mother’s personal collection – Wait till she snuffs it!” (He chuckles)…

(NB: The internationally renowned Ardmore Ceramic Art Studio was established in 1985 by Fee Halsted-Berning in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands. The studio has more than 40 artists, most of whom have had no formal training, but they learn quickly and within a short time develop their own particular styles of sculpting and painting.  The shapes and colours of the ceramic work produced, stem directly from the heart and soul of the artists, who capture the light, colour and texture of Africa perfectly.)

RKA: We just sold some of her work. (He shows me an Alexandra Ross). She’s an artist from Johannesburg. Polaroids. She makes large-scale photographs that function like ‘fake’ windows. That’s an old-fashioned train window.

Alexandra Ross, Polaroid 4

RKA: We only have artists from the upper echelons here, but we do take some young artists.  We like to introduce a couple of young people to our collection. This is the conceptual work of a young man. Stuart Bird. You need to stand back.  Look…He wants to comment on the position in South Africa.  You can see the letters R,S,A. The country of South Africa, for sale. Everything in this country is for sale.  Corruption is so rife, that the country is for sale.  Wonderful conceptual piece.

Stuart Bird, RSA

(In fact, I saw one of his pieces at What if The World Gallery, a few days ago. Stuart Bird is deeply concerned with social injustice, and the way that people with power so frequently abuse it.  His work comments on what is happening politically in Africa.)

Stuart Bird, S.O.S

LBBOA: I love pieces like that, makes you think.

RKA: This is by another piece by the same artist.  You see, ‘Made in China’ (He points at the work’s title).  China is slowly eating its way into South Africa.

LBBOA: Well, the whole of Africa actually…

RKA: Look, even the animals here come from China. Look at the little red ants… the red ants are known as the ‘Chinese Army’.  There is actually a little bug, called ‘the red ant’ that eats away at everything and if it gets into your house, it will eat your roof and timbers.  So here it’s like eating away at Africa’s soul.

Stuart Bird, Made in China

RKA: This is a very important black artist. Zwelethu  Mthethwa, (b.1960, Durban). He’s at the top. This is a pastel that he did some years ago. It comes from our own collection.  He did a whole load of these in pastels called, ‘The Wedding Cake Series’.  This is an amazing piece that we have decided to sell. We are now introducing works from our own collection for sale.

(Mthethwa is best known for his large-format color photographs, but also works in paint and pastel; he has had over 35 solo exhibitions in galleries around the world.)

Zwelethu  Mthethwa, The Wedding Cake

LBBOA: I love these! (I point to a couple of pieces by Babette Ben-Dror. I fall in love with one called ‘African Heart’. Looking at it makes me almost breathless. I can’t stop touching it. Luckily they don’t mind.)

Babette Ben-Dror, Africa Heart

RKA: These are reconstituted marble. It’s not marble.

LBBOA: It’s resin.

RKA: Yes, it is.  It’s beautiful.

Babette Ben-Dror, Lullaby

RKA: Look at this. (He now points to a landscape on the wall). It is a hand worked photograph printed on rag paper by a guy called Stephen Inggs (b.1955, Cape Town). The piece is called Anysberg, which is in the Karoo. He is now the head of Michaelis Art School!

Stephen Inggs, Anysberg

RKA: Now stand back to look at this piece.

LBBOA: Hmm…’Pieces of me’…

RKA: This particular lady had anorexia. She’s a South African woman called Pamela Stretton (b.1980) and is now based in London.  She’s cured now, but all her work revolves around body image.  This is a self-portrait. She makes her own photographs, mostly of herself and her body parts. All the pixels and the bits she makes her pictures up from, come from magazines.  It’s a wonderful technique.

(Pamela’s work deals predominantly with the female body, focussing on issues such as beauty ideals and the body’s relationship with popular culture, fashion, health and food. Charles Saatchi is a fan. It’s clever and makes you think, but I don’t much like it).

Pamela Stretton, Pieces of Me (work in six parts)

Pamela Stretton, Detail of Pieces of Me

Pamela Stretton, Consumed

Pamela Stretton, Detail of ‘Consumed’

RKA: This is called ‘The Promised Land – Egoli’ and the piece next to it is called ‘The Promised Land – Packing for Perth’ by Jaco Sieberhagen (b.1961, Victoria West).  They should go together but are sold separately.  They are made from lazer cut steel. It is a political piece.

Jaco Sieberhagen, The Promised Land – Egoli

RKA: Here you see the white woman on the left is pretty dominant and she’s looking down at the city of Johannesburg. The blacks on the right are walking towards Johannesburg – ‘Egoli, the city of gold’.  That is what the blacks call Johannesburg – ‘Egoli’.

The other piece sees all the white South African’s moving abroad to Perth, Australia.  They even have a little springbok with them! South Africa’s mascot. You see, now the white female is less dominant.

Jaco Sieberhagen, The Promised Land – Packing For Perth

RKA: You also have these wonderful ‘smoke images’ by Diane Victor.  Aren’t they wonderful?…

Diane Victor, Smoke I

RKA: This is Paul Du Toit, (b.1965, Johannesburg).

Paul Du Toit, Related Letters

LBBOA: Yes. Also one of my favorites.  I’ve seen his work before. It’s very special.

RKA: This is Deborah Bell (b.1957, Johannesburg). Really important artist who works closely with Kentridge.

Deborah Bell, Map

RKA: This is Robert Hodgins.

Robert Hodgins, Officers and Gents, Series 1

LBBOA: And these silver gelatin toned photographs?

RKA: Yes, they are by Jurgen Schadeberg (b.1931, Berlin). We have quite a lot of his work that we sell in Euros.

Jurgen Schadeberg, Nelson Mandela in his Cell on Robben Island, Revisit 1994

RKA: …and here we have more William Kentridges’.  We have hundreds of these.

William Kentridge, Overlap

LBBOA: Wow, you really do have a treasure trove of pieces. I love all the colours that contemporary South African artists use. It just lights up your space. It’s all so rich.

RKA: This is by a young photographer, Robin Reisenberger. (He points to a large photograph printed on cotton paper, of a gritty landscape charged with meaning).

Robin Reisenberger, Ad had always said

LBBOA: OK, so how do you ‘recruit’ as it were young artists? Do artists come to you?  I mean how does it work? Do you go and seek them out?

RKA: Rose goes to Michaelis art school and gets them at their graduate exhibition. This guy Rose happened to come across by chance, saw his wonderful photographs in his father’s work place, and we’ve now exhibited him!

LBBOA: What is this one?  It has space invader faces on it…it’s like this street artist called Invader (b.1969) who’s work is inspired by the Space Invaders game. His characters are made up of small coloured square tiles that form a mosaic…you often spot his work in Soho and across the East end in London.

RKA: That is Conrad Botes and this lithograph is called ‘Foreign Policy’ (b.1969, Ladysmith).

RKA: She is going to be the next ‘Kentridge’. The Museum of Modern Art have started buying up her work. This is a wonderful work. We have works by Marlene Dumas (b. 1953, Kapstadt), ceramics by Madoda Fani, and these candlestick holders are by Helen Vaughan.  That is Peter Clarke (b. 1929 in Simons Town, South Africa).

I sense that I’ve taken up a lot of the Korber’s time, so I make my excuses.  My head is filled with wonderful pictures of all the incredible work that I’ve seen.  This will definitely be a day to remember and I know where to go if I need any advice on investing in contemporary South African art.  I’m so grateful for all the time I’ve been given here, and it has certainly opened my eyes to a whole new range of artists.  For more details, visit their website at www.rosekorberart.com

Rose Korber Art
48 Sedgemoor Road, Camps Bay
Cape Town 8005

Tel: + 27 (0)21 4389152
Email: roskorb@icon.co.za

Shirley Fintz

April 12, 2010 § 4 Comments

Cape Town is one of South Africa’s most important creative hubs, and when I visited recently, I was lucky enough to come across the multi-talented Zimbabwean born artist, Shirley Fintz.

Little Black Book of Art interviews Shirley to find out more…

Shirley Fintz was born and educated in Harare, and after finishing her A-Levels in Art and Economics, she moved down to the Cape, having gained a place at UCT (University of Cape Town). Shirley began studying for a BCom in economics and after completing a year decided to change direction. She gathered a portfolio together, and with it gained a place at UTC’s prestigious fine art school Michaelis, majoring in graphics and photography.

During the four-year course, Shirley briefly explored working with clay but didn’t have the opportunity to connect with the medium because the tutors were pushing the students to create work using a variety of materials – they were teaching sculpture, not ceramics.

However during her final year, Shirley came across one of Michaelis’s former students and one of South Africa’s most accomplished ceramicists Barbara Jackson (1949-2010), who inspired her to look at the medium again for her concluding thesis.  Shirley’s project was entitled ‘Food and Art’ – an exploration of popular culture and packaging. She began by photographing hundreds of branded supermarket products, blowing her pictures up, then creating a series of larger-than-life replicas of food and iconic South African consumer products, such as Mrs. Balls Chutney sauce and Lucky Star – Marmite pots and coca-cola cans were also used a great deal, because “the forms are so divine!”…The work became Shirley’s own take on what artists such as Claes Oldenberg (b.1929) and Andy Warhol (1928-1987) had achieved during the Pop Art movement that emerged in the 1950’s in Britain and the United States.

Shirley then organised a solo exhibition in Cape Town that took the form of a supermarket, stocking all the over-sized products she had made. She sold very well, loved the whole process that had taken place, and felt encouraged to spend more time learning how to master the art of sculpting with clay. She therefore settled herself into a space in Barbara Jackson’s pottery studio where she stayed for 15 years.

(NB: for those who are not familiar with Barbara’s work, the self-taught artist was known for her curvaceous, hand-built earthenware pots decorated with bold geometric patterns, often pushing the use of texture to the extreme and glazed with unique colours complimenting her outstanding craftsmanship. Her innovative and exotic pots were often inspired by the social and political transformation of South Africa and can be found in several public collections, including Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts. For more information, see www.barbarajackson.co.za)

Image:  Barbara Jackson  ceramics

Whilst working in the pottery studio, Shirley finally found her niche and began to establish herself as a ceramic sculptor. The first pieces she made were a series of large, playful, memorabilia-type creations, inspired by her vast collection of vintage, vinyl toys. Superman, Pooh, Piglet and the Muppets amongst others, were humorously recreated in clay often covered with beautifully painted, graphic patterns.

After finishing her ‘toy series’, a new assurance and self-belief emerged in Shirley: she found that she had been able to easily replicate the very intricate details that these old toys had been fashioned with, including arms and legs that moved, thus giving her the confidence to begin to build quite complex objects.  She says, “The project completely freed me up, and gave me the tools I needed to build pretty much anything”.

Whilst in conversation with Shirley, she revealed that she has never felt the urge to use a pottery wheel. She’s found a method that works for her, and hasn’t felt the need to develop it further.  Shirley doesn’t like the flawless finish that using a pottery wheel can sometimes bring; she doesn’t want to make something that she could buy in a store. She likes to make things that are unique and offbeat by employing the versatile coiling technique and creating pieces that have a freeness and looseness about them. She sees beauty in her imperfect pieces and loves the hand building process.

She hates ‘slabbing’ and the energy it takes to roll out each piece and to cut it up and paste the bits together.  However she likes to roll coils, as­ it‘s the rolling process that provides her with the serenity she craves.  Having totally mastered the technique of building with clay, she now meditates while working – a process she finds extremely healing and calming.  She feels blessed to have an occupation that provides her with a living, expresses her creativity and brings her inner peace.

Shirley has always had a fascination with the every day and is a compulsive collector, not only of toys, but also of art, jewellery, vintage clothes, and tribal craft – all of which clearly inspire her work. She likes to discover things and make them her own. She’s interested in history and often merges the past and the present by adapting old-fashioned designs and putting them in a new context. South African culture also plays a part in the direction her work has taken, since she likes the pieces she creates to have reference to where she’s from.

As Shirley’s work has evolved over the years, the themes she focuses on have become intertwined, reflecting on her heritage, her fascination with the inner child and our brand obsessed culture. It is said that her more recent work sculpting animals has really begun to find its focus. The series touches on fantasy and includes trophies, flying buck, stacked animals, and giant toys decorated in delft (blue and white pottery made in the Netherlands), florals, and traditional South African shweshwe motifs.

I love the fact that Shirley is undeterred by the fact that she feels that her countrymen see ceramics as the underdog of the art world.  In most recent years the British artist and Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry has brought ceramics to the fore again, but it is still not seen as work that South African’s necessarily want to invest in. Shirley finds it strange that people can’t necessarily relate to an art form that requires the skills of both sculptor and painter, and therefore part of her prefers to exhibit internationally where people have more of an appreciation for ceramic design.

Shirley’s success has meant that a few months ago she has had to move out of Barbara Jackson’s pottery studio into a place of her own. The new space is located round the corner from her house, enabling her to be close to her husband Russell and two young children Eden and Leo. Her new work environment has been well adapted to her needs, giving her the capacity to have a space where she can teach, create, try different things, and have the freedom to expand her commercial output. (She now supplies to the American cult store Anthropologie in London’s Regent Street, amongst others).

I find it very hard to see Shirley as a ceramicist (even though she would probably disagree), because she uses her creative talent in such a variety of ways, often working simultaneously on a number of different projects and turning all her passions into thriving businesses.

Firstly there was Monkeybiz, a bead project that she co-founded with Barbara Jackson in 2000.

This socially conscious business initially began when Shirley tried to help her nanny Makatiso, as well as her friends Mathapelo and Eunice, make extra money to help their impoverished families. Shirley knew that all three women had been raised to produce exquisite beadwork (since it is such a huge part of African culture), so she simply bought a whole load of beads and asked them to copy a vintage doll she had at home. Makatiso, Mathapelo and Eunice set to work and Shirley subsequently fell in love with the dolls that they created, each with their own personality and style. She bought the lot, and began thinking of ways to expand the project, and that was when she took her idea to Barbara.

Spurred on by her desire to do something more to help alleviate poverty in Cape Town, Barbara injected money into the venture, and the non-profit company Monkeybiz was born. Barbara’s life-partner, the famous South African artist Carrol Boyes (b.1968), gave them an office space at her own headquarters in Bo-Kaap, where all the logistics took place.

They then set to work training a group of women in the Khayelitsha Township and provided them with free materials such as wire and multicoloured beads to make a range of quirky items (mainly animals), which initially Shirley designed herself, and which they copied. Barbara and Shirley then bought back the products made by the women and sold them on, putting the profits back into buying new materials and forming projects to help the community.

“This project is the real-deal”, as Shirley says, “because the money goes directly to the artists and they’re also saving money by working from home, which also enables them to look after their families”.

Today Monkeybiz provides jobs for 450 women and employs ten staff at its headquarters. It takes orders from all over the world by high profile designers such as Donna Karan (who sells Monkeybiz pieces in her Manhattan store), Oprah Winfrey, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. (See www.monkeybiz.co.za). After dedicating 10 years to Monkeybiz, Shirley left the business to devote more time to her other ventures; however she’d like to start another social project in the not too distant future.

The success of Monkeybiz has meant that a number of companies throughout South Africa have climbed onto the bandwagon and have started up similar businesses thus helping to revive interest in the art of beading. This specialised craftsmanship is far more than just a decorative art of weaving small glass beads into aesthetically pleasing patterns. Beadwork is influenced by a number of factors and is full of symbolism. It employs unique colour codes and geometrical designs in numerous ways to shape a variety of messages. It is a communication system, similar in principle to a written language and has a strong social function, as well as giving aesthetic satisfaction in the form of art. It is an integral part of tribal cultural tradition throughout the continent, and tells us a great deal about the way in which certain African countries have constructed their society.

Shirley’s creativeness seems to have no bounds, and Monkeybiz gave her the impetus to start making and selling her own beaded pieces, in the form of necklaces, bracelets and rings. Shirley is an incredibly accomplished jewellery designer who stocks up on beads from an African glass bead dealer that comes to Cape Town once a year, and with them makes one-off trinkets that immediately stand out and catch your eye.  Her jewellery has just been spotted by the Conran group, and they have just placed a mammoth order. In fact when I visited Shirley, she greets me with blistered hands, saying, “You need to be careful what you wish for!”

She cites moonstones and chevron beads as her favorites. (NB: Chevron beads are also referred to as Rosetta or Star beads and were originally created in Venice and Murano towards the end of the 15th century. They consist of layers of alternating coloured glass with a number of facets created in specifically constructed star moulds). She also collaborates closely with jewelers who help her create pieces for herself, using finer materials and gemstones that require a specialist skill-set, along with tools and machinery that she doesn’t possess.

Shirley’s boundless energy and sense of style also stretches as far as fashion. She’s long been a lover of vintage clothes, so when the shop next to her studio became available, she began stocking it not only with her ceramic work and jewellery, but also with customized vintage dresses along with a variety of accessories dating from the 50’s through to the 80’s.

Vintage is not commonplace in South Africa, and Shirley spends quite a bit of time sourcing items from a range of suppliers that she then slices and alters to give them an interesting edge and to suit her tastes.  Originally, she just started just selling a few items to her friends, and now a veritable craze has begun with women piling into her shop snapping up dresses almost as soon as they are hung on the rails.

Shirley explains that when she sees a vintage dress, she becomes manic and just wants to cut the lining out and change the piece.  More than anything she loves to customize what looks like dreary old clothes and turn them into something sexy and beautiful. She doesn’t have a favorite era in terms of collecting, but she loves the thick, pure lace from the 50’s, and anything Victorian if it’s in good condition.

What Shirley does is in fact, is another way of sculpting, but using fabric.  She freely admits she’s a frustrated fashion designer, but a very talented one at that! Her beautifully considered, quirky pieces retail from R300 to R650.  I say watch this space…she’ll soon have a big, international department store clamoring for her pieces!


In conversation with Shirley…

1. Life philosophy? Live in the moment, be true.

2. Favorite discovery? Cutting up vintage clothes.

3. What makes you happy? Family, working, people, life. I’m always happy.

4. Favorite place to escape to? Ibiza.

5. Worst nightmare? Death.

6. What art pieces do you collect? I collect what feels right across all media.
Contemporary, antique, famous, not famous.

7. Favorite book? Book that I have read the most times? At the moment it has to be the Ringing Cedars of Russia series by Vladimir Megré. I think I’ll be dipping into that forever. The book is all about consciousness and it is a real story about a woman who lived in a forest – in fact, she was brought up in a forest and there is a cedar tree there that holds the key to a lot of stuff that we don’t know about. The book really is about how children should not be at school and they should be brought up in the gardens and learning about plants and looking the moon and all the information that they need will come from the earth. It talks about how the moment we are born we are put into this society that shuts down our talents and our truth and our knowledge – because we are born with all the knowledge that we need, and we just close it all up by being put in this society that is all about learning and all about taking away from who you are. (Although Shirley’s children are not home-schooled because her work is so demanding, she says that putting her kids in school makes her feel almost like she’s back there.) I hated school and discipline and the teachers. I felt like I was in prison, and all these elements are being stirred up in me again. Oh…and uniforms…I hate uniforms. I can’t stand them. They take away individuality and they are synthetic and revolting. Maybe you should cut them up? (Ignores that comment…) I mean, I know what it’s about. You don’t want little girls wearing short skirts, but be reasonable! Why can’t you say wear jeans and a white t-shirt? Or, jeans and a t-shirt? Why does it have to be that horrible synthetic stuff? Why we all have to look the same? Why do you have to be in an army when you’re 6 years old? Therein starts the taking away of your individuality and your soul.

How do you then develop your style? You copy all your contemporaries, then you come out of school and you don’t have your own identity, and you don’t necessarily know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. Your parents tell you to go to university, and then you wonder what you’re going to study. Then your parents tell you to study something they want you to study, and not something you actually want to study, you finish your degree and say, “But I don’t want to be an economist or an accountant!”   Then you’re like, “What must I do?”…You have a bit of a breakdown when you’re 30 and then you go on this spiritual search to find out who you are, which is unnecessary. You can be bought up in a different way…and here I am preaching when my kids are in school. But I try to provide them balance. They both kite surf and they’re like only eight and they love nature, gardening and cooking.

8. What talent would you most like to have, that you don’t already possess? Acting.

9. Do you think an artist is born or made or both? Both. I think that we are all born artists, and we are all born able to be whatever we want to be. We just have to nurture it, find the right teacher and you can become what you want.

10. What was the first piece of work that you sold? It was an oversized box of Lion matches. The box was open and the matches were loose inside, and it sold immediately. In fact, I ended up taking orders for that piece and made 4 more. What happened with Monkeybiz, was that my oversized pieces got made into beaded products and everything was just a flow of my artwork into there.

11. Do you have any other passions? Music. I don’t play an instrument, but I DJ.

12. How does art make you feel?
I love the way a piece of art can change a boring room into something exciting and full of energy. That’s how to teach people about art.

13. What challenges do you face in your work? I don’t have any really. My only frustration is not being able to prevent people from copying me. I don’t mind people being inspired by what I do, but there is a difference. It’s hurtful when an artist takes your design and mass-produces it. They aren’t real artists, they’re just copyists! I know being copied is the highest form of flattery and when it comes to my personal style it doesn’t bother me so much, because I sell jewellery and fashion items that I wear myself, so obviously people are going to look like me, but when it’s my work, that’s different. I mean with regards to my style, the reason I like vintage is because it is individual and unique, I don’t want to create clones or become some glorified personal shopper…There is a fine line though – it’s hard…

14. Who do you admire? Do you get inspired by artists or objects and everyday things? I love looseness and originality in an artist. I admire uniqueness, as well as people who aren’t afraid to make a statement and aren’t afraid to be who they are. Artists need to express what is inside them and not…(she stops)…In my opinion, all art is a reproduction of things we have seen before. But expressing things in your own way is what makes it unique. Obviously everything has been done. There is only a certain amount of colours and combinations of colours and things, but you have got to take something and make it your own, you can’t just take something and reproduce it…

Once again, I sense Shirley’s exasperation at the people trying to copy and reproduce something of who she is – almost as if they are trying to steal her identity. I understand, and I’m not quite sure how she copes. I think she’s very gracious. I’ve seen trails of ‘wanna-be Shirley’s’ buzzing in and out of her shop, desperately trying to re-capture her style or the way she works, and it must be slightly frustrating. Thing is, she is so gorgeous, stylish, and charming with it, I guess women just can’t help themselves.

Visit Shirley’s website at www.shirleyfintz.com for any further information.

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