Interview with Mxolisi Vusimuzi Beauchamp (Part I)

Location: Pretoria Art Museum, Tshwane, South Africa

Date: Tuesday 17 February 2015 at 09:00

 Part One:

Childhood and Exposure to Arts Education

 

Mmutle Arthur Kgokong: Good morning Vusi Beauchamp, thanks for giving me the opportunity to interview you.

Mxolisi Vusimuzi Beauchamp: Thanks Mr. Mmutle

Mmutle AK: I just want us to start a little bit at the beginning of your life, when were you born?

Mxolisi VB: 1979 the third of May

MAK: and where did you grow up?

MVB: I grew up in Mamelodi Pretoria and I spent most of life there.

Mmutle: So you are a Pretorian

Vusi. Yes, I was made in Pretoria (Jokes)

Mmutle. (Laughs), if you can just tell me about your early childhood experiences. What was it like growing up in Mamelodi?

Mxolisi Vusimuzi Beauchamp at work. Image source, the artist facebook profile.
Beauchamp at work on The Great Maestro. Image source, the artist facebook profile.

Vusi. As far as I can remember (are) the highlights of me coming to consciousness I would say that the first things I can remember as far as I can go is in the 80s and 90s. Especially 1985, there was this incident ko Mamelodi. I remember my younger brother was a one year old and I just came back from primary school and we were sitting outsides. We’ve just came back from school and we were sitting outside playing. There were gun shots from everywhere, it was the first time hearing gunshots loud and very close, I mean we were used to watching the A-Team or whatever, people shooting shooting. I used to think of guns as toys, in a way. My mother came running from the house in her gown, under gowns and stuff running, picked up my brother and took us into the house and stuff. She put this white cloth-vas lappie…

Mmutle. There was also Tear Gas

Vusi. So there was also tear gas and all that …I could not understand what was going on. I never saw my mother in the state she was on. I remember looking out through the big windows wondering what is going on. Go iragalang? And at the same time there was this feeling, a scary feeling that I’d never felt before

{[Mmutle. This was obviously the states of emergency that was happening in the country.] Comment ignored}

Vusi. Coming into conscious was when I started to think about my surroundings, why is this happening? You know. What for? You know. Why is it only when there is tear gas you’ll find these soldiers? Why are there these,…we used to call them mellow yello…whatever

Mmutle. You mean the caspers

Vusi. Caspers and there is white people with guns , and you start to wonder why always when there is white men with Caspers there is always guns, what’s happening, I started asking questions ‘what’s really happening’? What’s the commotion about, you know, why is it that when there is something like that that’s when you see white people. Obviously representing the government and stuff. So, I sort of, yah neh, the challenge is to taking upon teaching myself to ask questions why are things the way they are?

Mmutle. Are you one of the eldest kids at home?…

Vusi. Yah I am one of the eldest kids at home

Mmutle. And you come from a family of how many kids

Vusi. I come from a family of four kids and

Mmutle. And you are the eldest?

Vusi. Yes I am the eldest, yah.

Mmutle. Let’s look at your exposure to visual art itself, when did you come into contact with visual art?

Vusi. The thing is at my parents’ house there never use to be paintings (or all those sorts of things hanging on the wall.) My grandmother use[d] to have like this flowers thing, vase,…

Mmutle. She was staying with you?

Vusi. No, she was staying elsewhere and she used to have paintings hanging on her walls and at home there was nothing on the walls. I used to enjoy looking at the paintings at my grandmother’s place. When I was at home I would draw [the paintings I saw at my grandmother’s house] and paste them on the walls, I was using, you know that shoe glue for repairing shoe soles…?

Mmutle. Oh yes

Vusi. So there was that glue at home, my parents were using it for their shoes and I used it to paste drawings on the wall. That glue was so strong… (Chuckles)

Mmutle. It peeled off the paint? (Laughs)

Vusi. (Laughs) that peel was so strong you would find my mother over the weekend trying to clean the remnants of the paper still stuck. There was time in the newspaper there was this nice painting, I can’t remember which [news] paper, I cut it out of the newspaper, and I pasted it [on the wall] I think it was one of those doubles spread, [a] nice once, a landscape of some sorts. I cut it out; nice colour and pasted it on the wall this time I used extra glue to make sure it does not come off. Yes I pasted it in the bedroom and over the weekend when my mother was cleaning the house she saw it was difficult to remove it, it took her a while and when she finally removed it, it took some of the paint with it.

Mmutle. ..and then your schooling, in terms of where you went to school, your primary school?

Vusi. The primary school, well the fascination pila pila with painting was more at crèche. … they use to make us play with these, colours – paints, brushes, the whole day just go crazy on the whole thing. I just remember enjoying certain colours like green and blue. They used to have something like paint in between two children while we worked. I will be seated next to a child who will be irritating me because they will use a lot of green and I will be left with a little bit of green and the painting is not the same anymore because that child next to me used too much of the green and I can’t use it. And mixing it becomes uhm darker and I wanted brighter and I was fascinated with the colours. It was a personal thing to me, it was not err you know a play-play time for me. I took [it] very serious, I had passion for it – I used to get lost…

Mmutle. In making potato prints and so forth

Vusi. Potato prints and all that and this painting things and the nice thing about that every…I don’t know if it was semester of some sort they use to

Mmutle. In crèche?

Vusi. Yeh, they use to give us all the paintings that we did and I will come back home with these piles of…

Mmutle. Drawings

Vusi. …drawings and paintings, you know, bring them home, and parents will be like, oh nice, nice. They’ll put them somewhere then they will disappear. Every time I will come back with these piles. That’s when I think…

Mmutle. By the way this is in the… early eighties?

Vusi. Yah this is in the early eighties

Mmutle. Eighty one, I mean eighty three eighty four somewhere there

Vusi. Somewhere there

Mmutle. Because, remember you said in eighty five you remembered coming home with your brother and

Vusi. Yah, so I’m going back forth and back (laughs)

Mmutle. It’s excellent, because we’re dealing with time here, uhm, the crèche that you went to was it in Mamelodi as well?

Vusi. Yah it was in Mamelodi as well

Mmutle. Do you still remember the name of it?

Vusi. Yoh, it was in Xi-Tsonga, err

Mmutle. But obviously primary schooling was also there?

Vusi. Yah primary schooling was in Mamelodi as well…

Mmutle. The name of the primary school?

Vusi. M.L. Msizani, yah it was M.L. Masizani, I don’t think it is there anymore, but it was M.L. Msizani…

Mmutle. Primary School

Vusi. Primary School

Mmutle. You did your grade…sub A, sub B, remember back then they called them sub A and so on…

Vusi. Yes sub A, sub B I remember I enjoyed both sub A and sub B because we had more time in painting and drawing. The nice thing about that is that they use to put our work on the board for display especially the best drawings and stuff. In primary school there was also a bit of theatre I was also involved in those type of storytelling theatre and I really enjoyed that too. I mean one of my teachers use to think that I will be an actor of some sort because I use to tell little stories.

Mmutle. But were you interested in the trade, were you interested in acting itself?

Vusi. Acting? I enjoy the expression of talking itself, telling stories. It was only primary school. When my parents first bought us books like boThree little Pigs’ and all those…in Isi-Zulu we use to have Isigodo I am not even sure I’m saying it right. These stories ‘Three Little Pigs’ and ‘Isigodo’, kids running around and all that and they gave me an interest

Mmutle. You enjoyed the stories

Vusi. I enjoyed the stories and all that.

Mmutle. What did you think of the illustrations that went hand in hand with the books that we used back then?

Vusi. The funny thing…yah that’s a nice

…with the Zulu books like bo ‘Isigodo’ there use to be like black and white more like outlines and with ‘The Little Pigs’ would be coloured nicely and all that and bo ‘sgodo’ there will be just illustrations and I would try to colour some of them because I just felt that it is not the same (Laughs) without the coloring, the story in that, I use to enjoy coloring them in. enjoy pictures more than the story itself.

Mmutle. Uhm. Tell me a little bit about…obviously when you speak about how the illustrations that were in the Zulu books lacked colour and the illustrations that were in the, say maybe

Vusi. English book

Mmutle. – European Fables, had colour in them uhm, tell me a little bit about your artistic concerns in terms of you as an artist. You work in two dimensional format, do you also produce sculptures as well?

Vusi. (Clears throat) I think I discovered more when I went to high school basically the other side of art making as in sculptures and printmaking. There was a bit of introduction into that but my passion was always painting, the two dimensional side of it; I always enjoyed mixing the colours. In a way telling a story and uh what I enjoyed about it is that the story on a painting it was not that literal. You can enjoyed the strokes, the brush strokes the colours, the intensity. What I found out later was that (trails off into a thought)…uhm what you call it? uhm What’s that word?

Mmutle. In terms of?

Vusi. Placing objects that…

Mmutle. Composition

Vusi. Composition!

Mmutle. Composition yes

Vusi. …You know…

Mmutle. On the picture plane when you’re making the artwork, yah

Vusi. And I just remembered that all the time when making an artwork I use to stare at the paper before making the artwork. Unknowingly I was just looking for the best composition that I can have and I realized that in high school there is actually a study about that. You know, composition, put – placing objects in a certain way and it just fascinated me in a way that I am sort of learning, sort of regurgitating something that I always knew but I never had words for. But something? It became I can’t say instinctively but it made sense looking at it with my eyes…

Mmutle. And later on

Vusi. Later on I realized there is actually a science to it. That’s what I enjoyed in painting

[Mmutle. In high school]

Vusi. You can place things in such a way that might be significant to the artwork or you can hide things or with colour you can bring something out, you know such things

Mmutle. So colour continue to be of interest to you

Vusi. Very interesting and that what it does with perceiving things yah I mean looking at the background sometimes might be blurry but the objects might be more pronounced and stuff like that, you know. I enjoyed the conversation with the signs and story behind them, I enjoyed that a lot

Mmutle. What was the name of this high school that you went to, where you were exposed to art, obviously it sounds like you were exposed to art in a broader sense.

Vusi. I went to Clapham High School. I remember when I got there I was excited that there was a subject …you know art… and that’s what attracted me to that school. There were other schools obviously the so called Model C Schools that had such course. I remember those days we used to write like entrants exams or something

Mmutle. But this is the 90s

Vusi. Yah this was in the early nineties. Ninety what – four five?

Mmutle. When you arrived in high schools?

Vusi. Yah high school and I sort of…I remember first time going to that high school. We were just going to high school after high school looking for space writing all these entrant exams and I remember when we arrived at Clapham, the other entrance to the school yard was closer to the art classes and the art classes were decorated with paintings on the windows, you know, something reminiscent of churches

Mmutle. Stained glasses

Vusi. and I was like, wow, …

Mmutle. it fascinated you

Vusi. It fascinated me and it grabbed me and I just knew I wanted to be in that school I mean painting on the windows that excited me

Mmutle. Yes

Vusi. It’s something that I can do. And I was lucky to have a teacher there. An art teacher there that in the first class we had to paint like a landscape and I was using different colours and I was excited doing this and the teacher would collect our work and mark them, give us ten percent, fifty and she just pulled up this, she couldn’t read my name – at the time I was using Mxolisi, she couldn’t pronounce it and she just pulled up this drawing and asked who painted this? ‘Because I can’t spell the name, but whose picture is this?’

Mmutle. This was one of the first art class works that you did?

Vusi. Yes first work and I was petrified, freaked out, did I do something wrong, or what and I raised my hand and she was like ‘wow did you go to other…did you have painting classes art classes? What school do you come from? All these questions. At that time we were afraid of white people and this lady was asking all these questions (Chuckles) and I was like scared did I do something wrong or something and she made an example to the class of the different colours I had used and she was mentioning, I remember she was mentioning artists like Van Gogh, [the] using of expressionistic brushstrokes and I was like wow, she sees all these things. These techniques and she is asking questions and I was like…

Mmutle. But you…

Vusi. I was blown away

Mmutle. …You did the painting intuitively based on the experience that you had with the material, with colours?

Vusi. …experience that I had and the colours for me it’s something that, you can use the word intuitively but it something that came

Mmutle. It came naturally?

Vusi. Naturally yah and I was just enjoying it.

Mmutle. Obviously you went through Clapham until you finished your matric there?

Vusi. I had that teacher from standard six until I reached matric

Mmutle. What was her name?

Vusi. It was Mrs. Rea, unfortunately she passed away a few years ago. You see I always thought that I will go back to her and talk to her about my art practice but she passed away. Yah she is one of the few, the first people to give me encouragement in high school about painting, giving me extra books on painting and artists. You know the literature of painting and art and stuff like that.

Mmutle. What made you decide to study fine art academically? By the way you went to Tshwane University of Technology?

Vusi. I come from a family where my mother is a teacher and my father is a lawyer. My father always talked about building a legacy of lawyers, you know, it is something that he instilled in us, becoming a lawyer and such things.

Mmutle. Was it easy for you actually now when you finished matric err to study painting, to study fine arts? Rather than going into law?

Vusi. I think there was a conversation like that to study something like law. I made everything myself I went there to enquire, I already had a portfolio. It was too big, I remember I had a lot of things. I actually had to scale my work down to A3 at least. I remember walking around town in Pretoria looking for printing places to photocopy this A1 papers and paintings and I remember I ended up in small gallery a place close to, there was an Edgars and there was this gallery place and I went in there with my portfolio and

Mmutle. are not talking about Indsad? There used to be an art gallery opposite the ABSA tower when you go into the Tramshed there used to be, I think it’s a fashion store house at the moment but it is opposite MacDonald as we speak, remember [where there is a] MacDonald [now] it used to be a chemist

Vusi. yah, yah

Mmutle. But it closed down later, it could’ve been Indusad

Vusi. It must have been that, the guy was very helpful, he liked the drawings he wanted to keep some of them. But I was not in a stage to give away my work (chuckles)

Mmutle. He wanted to put some of the work on consignment for you?

Vusi. He wanted to take them and it did not feel right, I was still very close to my artworks. I did not even see them as a way of making a living. But one thing that I must say with Mrs. Rea is that, I remember it was ’95, ’96 actually here at the Pretoria Art Museum there was a travelling show, Da Vinci Show. The biggest show Yah she took us as a class that’s when I saw works by Da Vinci. I don’t know whether you remember it was ’94, ’95, ’96,…

Mmutle. I remember, the exhibition was actually in 1999. It was in 1999,..

Vusi. oh it was ’99, yah, ok

Mmutle. It was 1999

Vusi. It was a travelling show

Mmutle. Yah it was 1999 it started somewhere in April and ended in August of that year

Vusi. I remember yah

Mmutle. But has the attitude of letting go of your artworks over the years, has it changed?

Vusi. It changed but it was a painful experience if I can say that of letting go. Even at TUT when I was learning how to paint family members would ask me to paint their portraits and even though they paid for it, giving them their [commissioned work was easy], it always pained me to give that work away. It is something that stayed with me for a very long time, but [with] the realization of the importance of money (chuckles) you quickly learn to let go.

End of Part One

27 April

© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong 2015

mmutleak@gmail.com

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