|>>>/ There is something daring about art when it becomes a personal reflection; when it’s thematic considerations are meditations of its maker on themselves. This mode of working which is a tenant of contemporary art is a brave leap as the artist leads the viewer into a personal space both in imagery and a nuanced psychology of the self. If the body of work produced in this frame of mind sees the artist sharing personal anecdotes with the viewer through art making discourses then the viewer can be seen as accessing what can be akin to a memoir through a strewn body of a work that represents a ‘particular period’ in the artist’s life and career. The reader should note that I am saying that the memoir access that they will be subjected to with regard to the artist only represents a ‘particular period’ in the artist’s life because surely the artist focus, if they are constantly searching for new forms of artistic expressions, will shift in time and come to bare on something else \<<<|
In the frame of practice wherein the artist is focusing on himself as a subject matter momentarily the artist is not interested in what is going on in the social stratum of our society from the vantage point of the society at large. They are not playing a role reserved for a social critic observing our society from outside. The artist is not seated at the apex of an ivory tower and like a giant eye surveying everything that is happening down below omnisciently passes wrath judgment to all and sundry. Rather the eye of the artist takes everything in from the theatre of life itself, from within life’s temporary structures themselves and using themselves as a point of departure and a point of arrival simultaneously, they then comment from that position.
But what is of interest here is the divergent point itself from which everything is absorbed by the artist and then blown outwardly in visual responses propelled by a creative curiosity, economy in art media applications borne through discipline and bravery in visual narratology. When we are confronted with work produced in such light it is not hearsay that is displayed before us but the direct results of first hand experience despite the subjective nature of the artist voice.
Art is subjective by its innate nature because it is a viewpoint of an individual even if it can be social in its annunciation. It represents a point of departure of an individual. Consider art that violates this expectation by turning the gaze honestly and knowingly at the artist themselves. Such art shifts towards an anecdote akin to a memoir as it amplifies the very fact that it is ‘a memoir’. It arrives at a point wherein it is a direct response that results from direct contact with the stuff of life i.e. isolation, comradeship, pain, joy, love, lonesomeness etc, etc.
Here the artist starts from their own unique point of view wherein they are located in the social stratum, at the personal level. This is exactly what’s sets them apart from the rest or specifically speaking socially orientated artists. Their reportage is individualistic not socialistic. The viewer completes this phenomenon by learning the visual language of the artist in attempt to understand the work before them, the trick is to let go and let the work take over. If the viewer receives the work of the artist as socialistic in its viewpoint and not as individualistic then the viewer would have begun their journey of understanding that artist from a socialistic point of view. In time, as they delve deeper into the artist’s life, they would arrive at the personal viewpoint that the artist annunciated before them from the outset; a point they missed initially. Of the newer generation of young artists practicing in Tshwane Banele Khoza fits into this paradigm of artistic production credo.
The Autobiographical Tone of Banele Khoza’s debut Solo Exhibition
Banele Khoza’s work distinguishes itself from what we have seen in the contemporary South African art in that it is fresh in terms of technical approach which straddle acrylic paint loosely and manipulates digital prints in such an exquisite manner that in certain instances of his work one can recall the dampness of lithography and the crispness of a silkscreen print. While on the other hand within the Contemporary South African art fraternity he is contributing from a personal anecdotal point of view, individualistic viewpoint, which is a prevalent modus operandi of contemporary art.
The present writing comes out of a difficult writing position as to date a lot of writing has been generated around Banele Khoza’s body of work shown under the For Sale Project Solo Exhibition Temporary Feelings, shown at the Pretoria Art Museum from 9 July to 4 September 2016, of which I was directly involved as a curator. Fortunately, with critical distance events we are directly involved in falls into a better resolution, we begin to see things clearly from a distance. Presently I am compelled to reflect on the body of work that was on show in order to watertight the exhibition in terms of its concept. Though not overtly pronounced, the concept that is, the artist’s self as a continuous experienced phenomenon was at the core of Temporary Feelings.
This essay will focus on works that I consider important in punctuating the crux of the exhibition. I have selected some of the artworks that were on show for a viewing in attempt to render the autobiographical tone of the exhibition clearer and arrive at the individualistic credo I have alluded to above. It is my hope that this viewing would dispel the quick reading that the work might have solicited at first viewing from those who saw the exhibition and pinpoint the autobiographical nature of the body of work produced between October 2015 and late April 2016 based on the contents themselves that the works’ title hinted at directly or simply through pure viewing.
The reader must be aware that given the nature of the self drive that Khoza possessed at the point of exhibiting this body of work there were other shows he was involved in during his solo exhibition for which he was producing other artworks which continued to see him delve into the concept of the self or, what I posited thus far to call, an individualistic viewpoint. Even in those exploits his individualistic lyricism encapsulated by free hand painting and textual annunciations remained connectors to the solo exhibition. In some of those works produced outside of Temporary Feeling the artist was just drifting away from the concentrated ‘self demarcated’ themes albeit on a minutiae pace. I shall refer to some of these works towards the closure of this essay.
A year to the date on the eve of the opening of Temporary Feelings Banele Khoza was residing in a tiny apartment in Sunnyside, Tshwane. It was there that works that brought him the opportunity to have a solo exhibition under the For Sale Project Exhibition brand were conceived. Those works were digital prints that poignantly took humorous shots at our society but with a touch of personal anecdotal tone. They were loosely drawn on a tablet with a hand that understood the minutiae grooves of fabriano paper surface, a hand that also understood what happens when fabriano paper fused with water colour wash and ink. As it is his visual lexicon there were traces of text that complemented the images in an interplay that blew upon his themes to extreme possibilities of meaning. The diptych painting ‘It’s all temporary my darling’ (see figure 1) alludes to the title of the exhibition on the temporality of life experiences including the exhibition itself. Part of the diptych that features a blue figure is actually the portrait of the artist himself. This enigmatic figure made several appearances in other works within the exhibition. The openness or emptiness of the picture plane echoes the isolation that the artist might’ve have endured in his small flat cum studio at the time of producing the work. Discussing this work he reminisced that while working during breaks he would look outside and see a world filled with people compared to his flat which he described as cold and empty except for the myriad of paintings and drawings that he was producing for various clients as well as for his solo exhibition at the time. When one continue to look at the diptych there are flowers that descend on the artist from the viewer’s right hand. Khoza confesses that he loves flowers. As a motif they recur in the work aphrodisiac (See figure 2)
The difference between the two diptyches is their colour scheme. The work sees the enigmatic figure returns on the picture plane. The artist has mentioned in a lengthy interview that he was influenced by Marlene Dumas as well as Moshekwa Langa; herein the Langa-Dumasque influence is apparent; as far as flowers are concerned in particular Khoza relates how painting flowers is so universal in that artists such as Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst has produced work centering on flowers as the main focus of their themes. In a sense then this work references other artist’s who have influenced Khoza however the artist here speaks from a perspective with traces of influences implicit to the viewer except when the work is extrapolated through an interrogative insight that can only be offered by the artist’s notes and commentary.
There were 16 prints on show complementing the paintings in this exhibition. Four of these prints connected to and held a conversation with the bed installation installed in the middle of the exhibition entitled ‘Our Bed’. These were ‘Sleeping with a stranger’ series and ‘His Bed’ (see figure 4 through to 6). With regard to the ‘Sleeping with a stranger’ series the artist relates to the experiences of having visitors sharing his bed with him when they slept over at his place. On certain occasions his visitors would be visiting with a friend and ended up sleeping over when it was unsafe to travel late at night. What is of interest here in the execution of the artwork is that unlike crowding the bed with unidentifiable people the artist has chosen to represent one figure throughout the work with poses akin to a figure drawing model who is aware that their various poses are being captured.
The bed as an intimate arena is taken further with the digital print ‘His Bed’ which hints at the fact that even though people who are in a relationship might be close and loving to each other there is a possibility of the ghost of a previous partner haunting the relationship henceforth the skeleton between the two figures. Upon finishing the work the artist realized that he did not express the shadow beneath the skeletal figure, by then the image of the work had been used for the exhibition invitation which was out and circulating. Adding the shadow would push the skeletal figure away from the image associated with the exhibition through the invitation. With this mind he opted not to return to it. The result is a ghostly punctuating figure that floats between the two figures. Technically speaking it is a beautiful mistake. Note the preoccupied figure on the left on their smart phone. Next to them there are some unused condoms. The red x mark on their forehead signifies HIV/AIDS and it is carried over unto the pillow of their companion. The red x mark appears also in work such as Food Chain, see figure 7 wherein the ravenous nature of the HIV/AIDS scourge within our society due to ignorance and carelessness is articulated.
Perhaps the vulnerability of relationships in our contemporary society is better expounded in the work entitled F***k Boys (see figure 9) wherein the artist speaks about power relations between those with money and those who don’t particularly in the gay community wherein there are men who are prepared to pamper other men to look good by buying them clothes and paying for their gym membership. What the artist observed in conversation centering on this work was that those on the receiving end are comfortable with this arrangement. Thus this work and work such as ‘Blesser’ see figure 10, ‘Bless Us’ see figure 11 and ‘Blessers’, figure 12, shines a spotlight on contemporary issues within our social construct as far as power play is concerned. The mindful viewer walks away from these works with an understanding that power play is universal.
A work that seemed to be an odd choice of inclusion in the body of work on shown in the exhibition was the work entitled Life: LOL which is mixed media piece, see figure 13. Here Khoza has used pen, ink and water colour washes that echo the luminosity that are characteristic of his digital prints akin to lithography. These washes in a myriad of churned out small quick pieces formed part of the installation ‘Our Bed’ occupying the center of the gallery.
In Life: LOL we see Khoza hinting on the imagery nuances and textual interplay which preoccupied his huge white canvases that we saw in the middle of the winter of 2015. Presently here the artist throws in humorous figures that gives away several narrative tit bits of his life during a physical fitness quest. For an eye familiar with this artist’s work Life: LOL covertly connects with the illustrations that become a stable diet of priceless artist’s books of the artist. The artist’s books inclusion in the exhibition were indexical to the foundation of the body of work forming the core of this exhibition in that in them there are thoughts, observations and experiments in text and drawings that predated much of what ‘Temporary Feelings’ was about.
‘Our Bed’ the installation was complemented by these books in a glass cabinet meant to simulate a headboard while the numerous pen, washes and textual gesticulations minutiae works on paper pinned on the bedspread cluttered out of the bed cover in further exposure of the artist’s personal observations and artistic experimentations. Please see details in figure 16.
The Later works that the artist produced for other exhibitions while ‘Temporary Feelings’ was still on saw the artist returning to the artistic enterprise of mixed media witnessed in Life: LOL in such work as Tinder (see figure 17). Tinder assembles small intimate wash drawings that carry the lexicon of Life: LOL randomly, compositionally speaking that is. While Tinder’s predecessor Life: LOL can be seen as formal in its compositional take Tinder is random akin to abstraction in its tone.
Father Fixated I and II (see figure 18), a diptych is undisputedly in the league of It’s All Temporary Feelings My Darling (figure 1) as well as Aphrodisiac (see figure 2). Compared to these two earlier works this work’s colour scheme is warm. What links this work to these two works is the loose handling of acrylics in terms of colour application, line expression and washes in dealing with modeling through colour gradation. Of course the content as an overriding vehicle is still figurative which evidently links the work in an apparent conversation. Here then Khoza’s Langa-Dumasque influence is acknowledged but it is his fauvists slant that braves the way for him for the art audience to grant him tolerance; an ear, for he has something to say.
The new stand taken beyond these two established artists is the one that embraces colour and a disconnect. I have already made mention of the warm colour scheme. Note the deviation from traditional diptych presentation as far as the content of the diptych is concerned; though the two artworks are part of a whole their contents do not fluidly interlink and connect to each other in terms of colour and content except for the title of the work.
In the mixed media Why Did You Stop (Figure 19) the exquisite gradations of colour handling that has become synonymous with Banele Khoza marks a delicate return to strips of paper that somehow refers back to Life: LOL and simultaneously, riding on the familiar torso motive, retains the grandeur of washes in the expression of form and modeling through the use of colour. See the interplay between the torso and the strips of paper wherein in there is a movement of the torso being read as being submerged into the strips of paper or emerging from them.
In time Temporary Feeling can go on to be forgotten as as the first solo art exhibition that Banele Khoza held in Tshwane at the outset of a career that has a strong promise. The exhibition showed us what prowess and stamina the artist possess at the beginning of a promising artistic career. The downside of staging this exhibition at a Museum with its formal restriction and its emphasize on historical importance could prove disadvantageous to the artist in that his scholars in the future will always use this exhibition as a barometer to situate him, to locate him within the grand narrative of South Africa Art History.
Granted an undisturbed career path I look forward to his next solo outing as it will demonstrate whether he is competent to take us further or that this is it; he’s sold out and that there is no room to maneuver anymore. I believe Khoza’s Temporary feelings has revealed an artist of an interesting vision and that only the freedom he possess at the moment wherein he is not signed to any commercial gallery will continue to encourage him to push the frontiers of his forte undeterred. The grip of the commercialization of his enterprise may limit his movement and curtail his themes to what the commercial art world has come to expect of young artists through the ruby of monetary value ingrained in the elusive gimmickry of what is trending or maybe he would take us farther and emerge amongst the rest when his mid career period catches up with him.
© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong 2016