Intraparadox, Interview with Rudolph Tshie


Rudolph Tshie

Mmutle Arthur Kgokong: Good day Rudolph I will like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to interview you

Rudolph Tshie: Good day Mr Mmutle

Mmutle: I will like to thank you for allowing me to have the opportunity to have an interview with you with regard to you as an artist. I just want to ask you a question. Where were you born?

Rudolph: I was born in Mamelodi East of Pretoria, I was born in 1969.

M: You grew up there?

R: I grew up there of course, but I lived and stayed there for ten years then we moved to Soshanguve where I am based at the moment.

M: So you lived in Mamelodi for ten years then later your family moved to Soshanguve, do you still have relations in Mamelodi or the whole family structure moved to Soshanguve?

R: Not everybody moved to Soshanguve it was just my parents and siblings who moved to Soshanguve. I’ve got other relatives that we left behind ko…ko..

M:… Mamelodi

R: Mamelodi

M: Was there some kind of a culture shock or dramatic change in your lifestyle when you moved from Mamelodi uhmm to Soshanguve or is the two townships relatively the same? I mean look Soshanguve from what we know it used to be part of Bophuthatswana isn’t?

R: It is. Well growing up in Mamelodi has been somehow very educational to me although I did not like it so much because of other circumstances but growing up in Mamelodi that’s where I notice now that this art that I am doing now is groomed from the school which I started at in Mamelodi doing the handworks, I hope you remember that era…

M: (laughs)

R: that’s where the actual the art career started, that’s where it actually rooted

M: …yes…

R: exactly, and then living in Mamelodi for those few years, well I am still privileged to have spent those few years there in Mamelodi…

M: in Mamelodi

R: but the environment in which I lived didn’t satisfy me so well because of…having compared it with how I now live in Soshanguve wa understandah?

M: yes!

R: Yah…

Rudolph Tshie, about three months, on his mother’s lap. His two sisters flank the setting

M: so do you feel that Sohsanguve stimulated you artistically?

R: Yes it has, I hope you remember as I left you a note that growing as an artist doing the handwork and growing further as an artist doing arts and craft which I came across when I got to Soshanguve I grew up, I developed, it’s more like going up on steps discovering new things as you grow up, so I realised that Soshanguve stimulated me much better than Mamelodi because I was a kid and I have grown a little bit moving to Soshanguve.

M: You were about ten years

R: Yes I was about ten years then like I said earlier every standard every grade, we called them standards I came across an art class, the day wouldn’t end re sa etsa arts and craft or whatever that had to do with art. So it uplifted me artistically, you know, I grew up in the a world of doing something with my hands, doing and creating things, you know, if that is the answer that you are looking for (chuckles)

M: So now would you say, comparing the old educational system or education system with the present education system in terms of woodwork, ehh uhmm, in terms of sewing; which was done by the girls,…

R: …yah…

M: do you feel, comparing the two scenarios, do you feel that the previous situation was more stimulating that the present one?

R: I believe that the present one is much more stimulating, much better, far much better…

M: than the old one…

R: than the old, because now we have equipment, we’re using technology which is helpful, which I don’t really like using technology in my art skill because I believe I am a technology myself, I am a computer myself, why would I have to use a computer to create an artwork, you know, but to answering you; yes todays…

M: …environment…

R: …era is far much better of course

M: Yah

R: it helps, then things were quite difficult we weren’t allowed to access other things, we weren’t allowed…we did not have the equipment. Let me put it that way. We did not have enough! But we had our hands and our minds to open up to other skills

Mmutle: Let’s stick around the issue of creativity, ehh uhhmm, what was the first experience of art you had, art as in visual art, when you were growing up. What comes to mind when you think about the first time when you experience ehh, maybe a drawing or a painting or a sculpture?

Rudolph: Yah that was around the late ‘80s, 1987, 88, 89 when I…I completed my matric in 1989 of which it was a difficult era writing my matric exams but excelling well in art, but at the time I remember my teacher, that was my first visual art teacher, to be honest, Mr…the late Saltheal Phoshane, he was a sculptor; he introduced me to making sculpture. We would cut out, cut off our own tree in the backyard of own backyards and try to dry it up to make a sculpture that he wanted (chuckles). So today as I am a landscapist, I paint mostly landscapes, he is the man that introduced me to landscapes, so I remember my first landscapes was in watercolour, then I felt I nailed it, it was the most beautiful landscape ever made, and then one of the most beautiful sculptures ever made at the time but it couldn’t stand. He would make us make a stand within the actual wood so that the sculpture stands straight up.

M: when you finish with it

R: when you finished with it the sculpture looked well at that time but kept on falling, so it was a piece of a sculpture and a watercolour painting – landscape actually.

M: so it was two artworks…to be precise?

R:  it was two artworks at the time yes

M: And the teacher was he your teacher at high school?

R: Yah high school ungh

M: Was he a professional artist himself?

R: He was a….

M: was he having exhibitions at the time?

R: he used to have exhibitions at, what you call, the embassies, at the time you wouldn’t get eh lots of galleries that we have today where he would exhibit of which I never heard of but as far as I remember he would always tell us, not invite us, but tell us where he is selling his work and he would show us pictures after all of what has been going on through his sales  maybe exhibitions and his few trips overseas, but he was a wonderful sculptor I remember. But he couldn’t draw or paint that’s one thing (chuckles) I remember of him. He is actually my first teacher in visual art to really really make me partly what I am today.

Mmutle: Uhmm, do you think artists like, by the way his surname is uhmm,?

Rudolph: Phoshane

M: Phoshane?

R: Saltheal Phoshane

M: Altheal Phoshane

R: Yah Phoshane, uhmng

M: what do you think the challenges were that artists like Saltheal Phoshane had that makes them today almost quite inaccessible, you know, to young artists in the township, you know, I mean obviously he was based in Soshanguve, am I correct, because now he had his exhibitions with the embassies, you know, eh uhmm, and he had done community work in a way because you say he was teaching art at the school but maybe quite a few people will know him as an artist today.

R: exactly

M: What do you think is the challenge? Some of the great artists who have lived amongst us in the communities especially in the townships, uhmm what is it that is the challenge for us not be able to access them in the present moment or at this time?

R: I think ehh, ena he was a teacher by profession, he would stay at his home and sculpt, I don’t remember him inviting us to see him work or to motivate us some sort we would only meet at school during art period and remember that at that time you would do like, how many periods? seven periods a day, and then each period would last about

M: one hour

R: Yah, not even one hour about thirty minutes, yah maybe art, in visual art at the time, fine arts at the time, you’d have two periods – double periods, but still you had very little time to start off and finish a piece or either a sculpture or a painting. So remember that we, you only had that time for a day and then within a week you’ve got  only two or three days to do fine arts. So that’s the only time you will meet and do the work with him, otherwise you wouldn’t see him again. Unless you insist visiting him in his house and unless he accepts that do come to my house and see how I do things and I will take you to where I exhibit or I will arrange for you to meet other artists out there. So I think those are the challenges that I myself have come across working with him or to get him to teach me to become who I am today. Yah so it has been very very difficult to…at the time to meet overall other artists through one artist. We were young, we were little boys and it wasn’t easy to associate with other artists out there to have, you know, galleries like this, workshops like those that we are having today, you know doing get togethers as artists at that time it wasn’t…I couldn’t see that, I don’t if they were available that I was a boy not to access them, I don’t know, it’s a question that I am asking myself today, you see.

M: thanks, auhmm, where did you receive your formal training in Fine arts or in visual Arts

1st Year Visual Art Student, 1991, FUBA, Johannesburg.

R: I have received it at FUBA, Federated Union of Black Arts, tt was based in Johannesburg of which I heard it doesn’t exist no more today, yah that was actually in 1991, 1992, 1993…those three years. Well it wasn’t only visual art as in painting, sculpture, drawing also photography which I am very much using today. I find it very inspirational to my work as well.

M: So the training that you got at FUBA do you feel that it was holistic in preparing you to become a fine artist?

R: Yes, it really was and I am still so thankful having gone to that school, even though it was very difficult to access myself to that school because it was very difficult financially problems at home but I managed through friends to get there and I am glad that when I got there I found teachers, artists, professional artists that today I wouldn’t mind to call masters, people like, if I had to mention, avid Koloane like I said earlier, Kay Hassan, Pat Mautloa, Sam Mhlengethwa, Nerupa Singh, Ben Susha and many more teachers who were invited to further up, to become who were are today as artists. So that bunch of artists have really, really, uplifted me you know, to become still who I am today. You know when you are a child you are raised by two parents. And you find you are not the only one at home, you got sisters and brothers. When your parents are not there they take care of you. Not look that you have to look up to your mother and father only, you’ve to listen to your sisters, because they become your parents too, your brothers they have to become parents too. You know, that’s what I am relating to other teachers besides the so called masters that I said. Like Elza Miles, she taught me History of Art, she was good and I can’t remember the names of others that couldn’t stay too long at that time. They would come for a month and then leave. They would come for two months and leave, others just a week and then they moved on you know, because of opportunities out there.

M: What was the environment like with other budding artists or other art students there, how was the environment…

R: …eish…

M: was there competition amongst you guys?

R: We were not so competitive per se or we did not declare ourselves in competition but you could tell that we were in competition. I mean as we paint in the studio you walk around and you see how Mmutle is doing, is he better than me, inside your hard you say: he won’t beat me, I am gonna beat this still life and I want the teacher to talk about my still life not theirs. Remember when I first arrived at FUBA in 1991 I attended only six, the first six months from February and then on the seventh month…

M: …was it ‘89 or ‘99?…

R: …no ‘91, ‘92, ’93…

M: Yes

R: Those three years

M: when you arrived in ’91 that is

R: ‘91 yes, so my first six months, I was doing far…not that I was the best, but I did not tell myself that I was the best, I was recognized as good and better than other artists and then the principal, whom was…I remember…

M: who was the principal at the time?

R: Sepamla, Sipho Sepamla

M: Sipho Sepamla

R: I think he was the director at the time and he was an author

M: The poet…

R: the poet

M: and the writer

R: yes, he was the man at time, he decided with other directors that his superiors that on the seventh month of that should be located to second year and I shouldn’t pay anything anymore until I completed my classes, until I completed the third year because they loved my determination, remember I was taking a train to Jo’burg at that era where…

M: it was violence, the country was going through a transition…

R: serious transition politically, you know people were being shot in trains. You enter a coach then you don’t want to sing those songs, they kick you out of the moving train and you hit your head on a rail and you die

M: you die

R: I mean imagine seeing those things at the time, but I was able to managed to get to class early and at times I would get so late that they understood what I’ve been going through on those rails because it was that era

M: to make it to class

R: to make it to class and to do better in class. I respect other artists jobs, they did very well, although they were mostly from SOWETO, I think I was the only one from Pretoria including Mohlalifi Mahlabe, I hope you’ll remember him

M: uh uhm (no)

R: you’ve got his work in the museum. He was a photographer, he actually inspired me, he actually inspired me to go to FUBA. ‘Go to FUBA you’ll make it out there’ and I think he is one of those guys that I have to put up in a mark out there, you know, without him I don’t know if I would’ve gone to such an art school. I don’t know I am asking myself today. He pushed me because he was studying there. At that era, using the train, and it was a violent moment and getting to class, getting late, I wouldn’t lie anymore if I was lying what got me late…

M: yes

R: but they understood, they never asked me anymore why I got late. They knew that the repayment that I was going to do was to do better job in class and of which they liked my work and I liked what they did, and I liked other people’s works. But yes there was competition in class, there was, I wouldn’t lie about that.

M: So what drove you actually by all means to be so determined against the violence, against the train’s disruptions and the mere fact that you are one hour away at the most, even more than that by train, I mean it’s two hours away…

R: its two hours away…

M: to Johannesburg, what really drove you, what was one thing that drove you to persist?

R: Well I think finance at the time because I was ehh, at the time I was mostly…, I was mostly…at the time I did lots of portraits, I would draw people I would paint people’s faces and make a living out of out of it and make sure that that money helps me to fill up my stomach at school. At the weekends I would paint a lot. I was a hair dresser as well. I use to do these German cuts, ke betha metaile and stuff like that, le melaene


R: you know, at that time you know, I was able to make a lot of money for myself to be able to buy a ticket for a train. I couldn’t afford a taxi, it was expensive, even though it is more expensive today, but at the time I could not afford taxi. I would take a train rather, which would go forever until it reached its destination. But eh, I believed that, passionately as an artist I told myself that I’ve been longing to get the right school for me to become a better artist and this is the place, this is the school. My qualifications weren’t so good that I would go to a Technicon, say Wits Tech, of which I wanted to go. I couldn’t qualify to enter there obviously a university is a higher level of which I had to forget about of which yes I would loved to go. But FUBA really, not that I am undermining them but…

M: they welcomed you

R: they welcomed me, they become much…they made me who I am today, you know a better artist I am today. So the challenges that I had travelling by train didn’t distract me from going to school. It was difficult, it was difficult. Remember the whole thing started at home, that’s the root, that’s the core of how things happened the way they did. You know, it wasn’t an easy road, waking up and asking for money: e ke kgopela ten ranta go re ke kgone go reka Sphahlo ko sekolong, it was not easy to say that, I felt I was a man enough to say you know you gonna make it, stand up this is what God gave you and indeed that’s what God gave me because without him I wouldn’t be what I am, I wouldn’t do what I am doing today. I was able to survive. I had to borrow money from friends ultimately to pay those first fees for six months…

M: yes-yes

R: like I said it’s rooting out very terribly from home, you know, from both parents. But it’s a very confidential matter the homely thing…

M: of course

R: it’s very painful

M: I understand

R: Eish, it’s very very painful

M: But it’s an inspiration that you rose up against those challenges. It’s an inspiration.

R: I’m not saying today everything is easy, it is flowing like I planned. It’s still as difficult as we speak today but it is far much better than it is previously.

M: When you compare the two situations

R: when I compare the two eras

M: yes

R: Yes

M: Thank you Rudy. Tell me about, auhmm, any of the artists there at FUBA who really really stands out from the rest. I mean I know you’ve mentioned Kay Hassan, you’ve mentioned…

R: meaning artists or the teachers?

M: the teachers, the teachers, you know you’ve mentioned quite a few of them including Sam Nhlengethwa, David Koloane, Pat Mautloa auhmm, is there anyone amongst these older generation of artists, who stands out, who, when you work they cross your mind, someone who was a motivator – a pillar as you developed during those three years in FUBA?

With a pupil at Tswelopele Day Care, 1989. Soshanguve, Pretoria. Tshie presented art lessons there.

R: Not stylistically as they are, but as they taught me, well every one of them. Well even though I met Bra Pat late, but the three: Bra Sam Nhlengethwa,

M: Ntate Koloane

R: Ntate Koloane and Kay Hassan. They all had different characters in handling us  you find one of them rude tomorrow is better the next day is fine. You find Bra Sam (Nhlengetha) is arrogant the next day he is fine.  I really liked Kay Hassan’s strength, he is an arrogant man I must say, but his arrogance helped us. He fought with other students to be honest. I remember this artist, Lucky, I can’t remember Lucky’s surname he fought physically with Kay Hassan in class because Lucky wouldn’t want to listen to what Kay was telling him. Kay was straight and honest, he would tell you this is rubbish, he will name your work…

Mmutle: if the work is poor?

Rudolph: yah if its poor, it’s nonsense, because at times you paint to hurry up for your errands out there forgetting that you are here to learn and work. So Kay would call you to order he will call you until you are called, you know, so I liked his strength and there was another part of him that most of us didn’t like though he was a good print maker he taught good printmaking and bra Dey (David Koloane) even himself I met him on the last year of my studies he is a soft spoken person and he is very polite he is an old strong man that would sit you down. He liked sitting you down and talking to you about life artistically, how to do things and when to do things you know such things. You know when I visit him today at the Bag Factory I find him working painting or drawing he stops and then he seats down   of which I never ask him to, he would stop and seat down and talk to you until you leave his studio and then he will go back to work. But he wouldn’t hide his work from. But Sam (Nhlengethwa) when I visit him today in his studio he continues to working and inspire you while he is working, you know. I am trying to compare that era and now but at that time there were teachers that had their characters, they had their own way of teaching us and at times it depends on how you woke. You wake up one morning your wife or girlfriend had made you angry and you break your anger to your students. Then you say ao Mmutle ke mo irileng ka jeno why is he so arrogant yesterday he was smiling today he is something else

Mmutle: yes(LAUGHS)

Rudolph: So those are the things we come across even today. Tomorrow you might invite me to the museum and you find out you are not the same Mmutle you were mabane maloba…you become…why are you like this today. You know it depends on your moods, I think the moods, but the strength that Kay Hassan had

Mmutle: which I suspect most of the students thought that he wanted to break them although he wanted to make them strong…

Rudolph: strong yes

Mmutle: and objective

Rudolph: precisely

M: of what they were doing there

R: that’s him that’s Kay Hassan. Sam was ehh, he is a very…how can I explain him…he is a very motivational person in terms of practicality, he would show you practically, but Kay is a talker ok he would give you a subject to work on and you must work on it and then the only thing he is going to do is to come to you verbally, he would tell you, he was a good

M: your mistakes or your strengths according to

R: yes

M: the results that you

R: had to provide, that’s how they were. And Ben Susha he taught me a few…a year or so and he left. He was a sculptor and a painter as well and I did not understand, he was a wonderful man he taught me also printmaking but not so much of it, I can’t remember so much of him, but he was a wonderful old man as well. You know.

M: Do you find the structures that are in the formal institutions, I am not sure how familiar you are with them

R: formal institutions?

M: yah do you find them stimulating in terms of the teaching of the visual arts. I mean if you compare them to a place like FUBA where I would think it is not that formalised as in…

R: compared to

M:…compared to the University of Pretoria even Wits or TUT auhmm what do you think of the environment of  the two environments?

R: Going back to FUBA I realise that there was more freedom of expression in our work as opposed to what I think the Techs, the Technikons are doing than at the time. I realise that having studied at FUBA I’ve got more freedom, although the qualification network at the time I wouldn’t compared it with Wits or Pretoria Universities or Technikons, well those are superior, but I realise that the freedom that I had at FUBA I wouldn’t compared it with the Technikons…

M: do you find them stringent and strict?

R: they are strict and they are so, they’ve got these borders, they’ve got borders according to me. Well they are good, you learn a lot you learn better things especially historically you know but coming to the actually

M: practice

R: the practical part of it I realise that street wise, self-taught, FUBA, after all you find more expression more relaxation, more freedom as opposed to them. I respect the culture of the universities and the technikon I would’ve loved to study there of course, but at the era that I am today I don’t think if I had studied at the Technikon or University I don’t think that would’ve restricted me from who I am today, I still feel gore that who I am today is what is within me is not what the Technikon or the university would’ve taught me. Even FUBA I am so thankful of it, but I believe who I am today is partly FUBA and the me. It’s all about how you grew up becoming who you are, what you are, it’s about passion.

M: So in other words in terms of freedom of the self-expression that you are talking about now, in terms of the Universities and Technikons the borders that are there do you suspect that they limit this originality, this character, if maybe you are weak, if you are not strong headed as an artists

R: if you are weak yes, because I will tell you one thing, I went to a show late last year, one of the Technikon shows, I came across a bunch of guys, they did not know me but when they realised that they know my name from somewhere as an artist they started to pick up their ears, ’oh this is him, where did you study?’ then I started telling them how I grew up as an artist then they started complaining. I respected that their parents were privileged to send them to take them to Technikons there was money to take them to schools I did not have the money instead I started painting portraits and I did some hairdressing to finance myself to that arts school but I respected the fact that they are attending better schools than me having attended FUBA but they complained that their teachers are not doing enough for them. A teacher comes to class he gives them a project he sits down or goes away and there won’t be able to access their teacher whatsoever, they complained generally that enough is not done for them and they are paying so much you know. It’s a very difficult situation.

M: So it means now the quality of what the young generation of artists that is emerging now, their education, which is supposed to be formal it is lacking commitment from the side of the educators themselves

R: from the side of the educators themselves exactly, yes somehow I have to blame the students they are quite under pressure I believe. You come across students or people, young people today they don’t know what they want to become, they don’t know what they are doing, what they gonna be in the future. They enrol for a career that doesn’t suit them. Before the end of the year they cut it off and do something else. That’s why they get confused along the way. They are mixed up. I believe you need to soul search yourself who you really are what you want to become in life. If you want to become a nurse, what is it that pushes you to become a nurse? What is it that inspires you to become a nurse? Are you growing up in a nursing environment in a nurse family? Are you inspired by your mother as a nurse to become one in the future? That’s the question, fine growing up in a family that never had an artist, I believe that I am the only artist in my family although I don’t know what inspired me but I believe God has inflated me with this thing of becoming an artist. That’s why I believe that when I paint, I paint with God, my body is in control of God, it’s controlled by God, I am flesh and blood because of him. If my soul and heart had to stop right now it will be the one who created me and everything stops you know.

M: So you paint and make work through the inspiration of the almighty

R: precisely

M: but it is important to address exactly what you want to as an individual

R: exactly as an individual. Going back to your question yes I find today’s young man and women not knowing what they want to become. They enter a university because the parents are able to afford, when they get there you find that their minds, and their talents whatsoever are not ready to be captivated into whatever that they are going to learn there. Along the way they withdraw they pull up their handbrakes they want to do something else and money is wasted. I knew what I wanted to become and I completed it. I come across lots of people out there telling me that they use ‘to do this subject but I couldn’t continue with it’ but he had money, they would also add that ‘I couldn’t go on with it because I actually wanted to become this instead of this. You see that’s a confusion they are confusing themselves. You need to know what you are, what you want to do. I still have friends today that do not like what they are doing. I brought a friend the other day she is an artist she feels that she is an artist and she wants to fulfil her career as an artist. She is thinking of withdrawing from what she is doing professionally and continue with art, that’s why I brought her here. I am inspiring her big time, not only is she inspired by me but I’ve got lots of artists out there who believe that they are inspired by me and they inspire me in return, they push me, they are alerting me how better I am out there and I like that very much. I always tell people that if o kereya Moruti ka mo Kerekeng, Moruti is made a Moruti because of Phuthego if phuthego was not there he would not be a Moruti that he is Phiuthego wasn’t there. As the Reverend preaches and the congregation is going like ‘amen, hallelujah’ you make him talk further, you know.

A letter from Peter Clarke, 2008.

M: In terms of the older generation of artists in Tshwane, in Pretoria, now that you talk about this cross inspiration between artists, amongst artist and friends, if you will, as far as Tshwane is concerned is there an artist in Tshwane, besides your teacher who you’ve spoken about earlier on, today when you look at our city uhmm is there an artist who stands out who you look up to? In terms of…

R: in terms of practicality

M: practicality, in terms of focus yah in terms of concentration, whether they are concentrated on their work – in terms of determination. Is there an artist in this city who stands out

R: stands out

M: Yah who stands out from the rest?

R: You have asked me this question before (laughs) and I have answered you

M: (laughs)

R: I don’t forget, but I…well I think I should pick up a few…I have not spoken to…I am not gonna mention names…but haven’t spoken to any of them and felt inspired but I really like practical works of a few of them. Well after all I love, I like Rebeiro’s work

M: Johnny Rebeiro

R: I love his work, I love his work. I don’t know much of him, I met him for less than an hour we didn’t talk so much, we didn’t talk so much. But going back, you remind me of someone, going back to the previous years you remind me of someone, before he left this world I spoke to Ntate Mashiangoako

M: Si Mashiangoako

R: Si Mashiangoako, I met him, I was with Mohlalifi Mahlabe when I first met him, that was when I was still studying at FUBA, I spoke to him for a while. We’ve been out in the bushes to sketch me and Mohlalifi Mahlabe and when we returned we showed him our work. At that time he was still living in Shoshanguve

M: at the time

R: at the time yes, then we passed his house, we greeted him, ne re feta fela re mona ‘Ntate Mashiangoako le kae’ he was surprised. We told him where we came from and we showed him what we did and he started looking at each of our work and he started talking about it. He was a hush man, but hush in a good was ne e le tshobolo the way ne ke monna ka teng. Can’t remember what he exactly said but was very hush on the outcome of our work. It was rubbish

M: (laughs)

R: We were in a hurry according to him. He drew very well, at the time he did wonderful drawings like almost Fikile Magadlela’s. They painted almost alike, then we did drawings and he told us all that. I sat down and asked myself what does he mean? I respect him as an elderly person father and artist, and I understood him, I started liking his work at that time. He came out so well compared to the rest of the artists today. He spoke to me, I spoke to him and he motivated me. He told me rubbish at the time, the rubbish that I needed to hear


R: something that I needed to hear about my work, you know, so not that I humiliate my brothers out there in Pretoria today, I think I told you why I was not fond of them today, I respect their work so much, I met with them, I was not

M: you could not get along with them

R: Yah because of other things and that depressed me that…what’s the opposite of inspiration…whatever, I was not uplifted. But I do go to their shows. I meet them there and then, I love Lefifi Tladi, I love him, I love the poetic mind of his, I know he is a writer. I am inspired by his poetic recitations.

M: Is there an exhibition, moving on to you, is there an exhibition , obviously the first exhibition is the exhibition that tells you that you will be able to carve a career in the vocation that you’ve chosen especially with reference to the visual arts. Which if the exhibition that you had, earlier, that really added to the motivation?

R: It’s when Fridah Hattingh was a curator at the UNISA Art Gallery. I remember the first one was a group show with artists from greater Pretoria Region, which was one of the main shows that I ever attended and took part in. SASOL bought a piece from me of which they have in their collection and it really awoken me, it really pushed me to further levels of my art life today

M: When exactly was this period, what year was it?

R: it was during the nineties, 1994, 1995, because it happened in three years

M: and you took part

R: I took part in each of it, even though whether they brought or didn’t I felt much inspired. I felt that at least I am able to show my work in galleries at least I am recognised.

M: and this was at UNISA Art Gallery

R: Yes, UNISA Art Gallery, yes. But I remember the first piece that I sold, the very first piece that I sold was at FUBA, the FUBA Annual Student’s exhibition. Yah it was a woodcarving influenced by the style of Cecil Skotnes, I was more of an era of that style, carve wood, painted , of which I still do today in my abstract pieces but not so much. But the main exhibitions was

M: those greater Pretoria Region’s exhibition held at UNISA

R: Yes, it was one of the well known galleries

M: and obliviously in FUBA it was round about the same time, the early nineties

R: early nineties of which I was still studying I was still at school exhibiting from school

M: so you started exhibiting before you graduated from FUBA

R: Basically yes

M: you hit the ground running

R: Yes (laughs) exactly, exactly.

Workshop in Mauritius, 2007.

M: lastly, what do you think of formally trained artists ne their role in South Africa as far as arts education is concerned today in those artists who were trained formally institutions, now that you know how difficult it is for other young people interested in the arts to go and study art formally lack of finance, you know, but now more and more we see lots of graduates with Fine Arts Degrees and it’s a tight environment in terms of job opportunities. In your own opinion, seeing that these graduates represent potential labour or potential investment in terms of visual development in our country what do you see their role as far as education is concerned especially visual arts education?

R: Well it’s a difficult question, I have heard a lot about them, I have come across some of few who I don’t see any more or come across anymore and…but basically what I can…like I said earlier you find most of them retreating from the art life doing something else. Falling into teaching something else not even the arts anymore …it’s a difficult one of course. I don’t come across such people to really find out from them what they have gone through, have a cup of tea with them, to really know what they have gone through as opposed to what they are going through today as professional artists well off having studied in Universities and Technikons, it’s really is a difficult question for me right now.

M: So you get a sense when you look at the situation, I mean I know what you are talking about you know there seems to be this void this emptiness that when they graduate they are actually swallowed by a black hole of some sort

R: Yah

M: After three to four years of formal education in the visual arts they get lost through the cracks.

R: you remind me of one or two them that came that visited me previously

M: in your studio

R: they mentioned that ‘you know I use to study art formally but yes I realise that I don’t belong in it anymore I need to upgrade I need to start all over, I’ve got qualifications, I find one or two of them buts its long time ago and they are wondering how I’ve made it to the level at which I am today,…. I mean FUBA, I mean…you can’t compare FUBA with Universities but I’ve made it, it’s all about passion

M: and maybe determination

R: determination yah

M: vision precisely, such things you know you name it all, they couldn’t make it, they went through it because they had money to do that but along the way they are stuck, they are stuck and they do not know how to proceed and they don’t know how to go to the third gear or so, then they always go to the first gear of which I am on the fourth gear and I am pulling on and on. So I helped a few of them and a few of them have come to me and say ‘you know I use to study art at a university and I dropped out and I don’t see a potential in it. I don’t make money in it. I’ve got people that are telling me that I won’t make it, you know it’s all about money today, people go to school to make a living. They study to get a job to make a living…

M: So there is something missing there

R: there is something missing, a lot, a big thing is missing…

M: what would you say that is, exactly what is missing?

R: Determination like we just say, determination, the strength, the believe you know. The soul you need to build a room, a mokhukhunyana in your hear for this art ability, for this talent. Its all about talent. I believe, going back to the question of comparing the streetwise with a university…

M: a streetwise artist, self taught

R: ….with a University artist. You realise that with a University you’ve been restricted not to go beyond this, but not unless you’re highly talented that you’ll jump the borders and say ‘no ways this is the border that I’m given but I am going to do it my own way you know mixing with their way’. So I think they are stuck with their lecturers’ way, with the university way that’s why along the way they cannot jump this border line. They were told not to and they are not gonna do it. That’s why they are stuck.

M: So if you were to advise the formal institutions. One of them they were to come to you and say ‘look uhmm what is it that we are doing wrong, what is that you think if we were to place this component in our education the Fine Arts graduate they will survive the real world after graduation. What would you say that is? Of course we have spoken about determination…

R: It’s all about freedom expression, freedom of work, you need to be free after all, I mean to give you an example of president Mandela, I still call him a president because of what he had become, I mean he was jailed for so many years and within jail I mean if you are detained for so many years when you come out people think you’d become…always people have a perception, ah he has been jailed for so many years e tlonna leratha fela la motho, he would be nothing. They don’t what you are going through within jail. They don’t know at all until you show them what you’ve been learning out there. I mean think of jail for example, that’s a hell of an isolation…

M: confinement

R: confinement you know, penitentiary they even name it better. When you have doors opened for you we think the more useless you gonna become and you won’t even live long. You’d be cut out from lots of things you see, so the same applies to University level, I believe if the doors are opened up for you from the University I believe that we must hear from you, we must learn a lot from you. But why are doors closing further for you as a University graduate?…

M: doors of thinking

R: …doors of thinking better than those who were out there free. It’s a vise versa situation. One needs to…like the isolation of imprisonment, look at Mandela like I still repeat gore how far he has grown, how far he has purged up to now to a level that where he is up to now…I mean things are visa versa, you’re a graduate doors are open to you

M: (laughs)

R: but they are closed, I don’t understand that, it’s a difficult environment. Somehow I wish I was at a University to feel that pressure, just to feel how it is to become a University student and become a graduate after all  you know as an artist as a visual artist. I don’t know maybe they would be able to teach, if not practical, art history, if not the practical part of it, I don’t know, but most of them they don’t, it’s not a humiliation per se but they find it difficult to push, to make it as artists out there of which its painful. Imagine a complete University student coming to you as a streetwise self taught artist coming for help, go a tsosa its scary, wa ipotsisa gore motho ke eng wa nteka, is he testing me?

Mmutle: Well Rudolph thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings with me

Rudolph: Thank you Sir

Mmutle: I’ve learnt quite a lot from our conversation

Rudolph: Yah I know there is a lot to talk about some of the things we did not mention but one day we will.

Mmutle: thank you

Rudolph: thank you


20 July 2011

© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong 2012