Paint on Steel
Morena Sello Letswalo, congratulations on your recently opened exhibition at Trent Gallery, entitled Paint on Steel: Contemporary exploration and Discoveries. Due to your previous exhibitions held there, we can conclude that Trent Gallery is one of the galleries you have contact with here in Tshwane despite the fact that you have moved to Johannesburg,
Mmutle Arthur Kgokong. Now, in almost ten years since the first exhibition you participated in, Mosokolo I Group Exhibit, What would you say remain a challenge to you as an art practitioner within the industry?
Sello Letswalo. What remains a challenge for me since my first exhibition is having to deal with all the art admin and funding applications whilst keeping an eye on my artmaking. I think it is important for an artist to have assistance in other fields within the art world. This would free the artist to focus on the production side of making art.
Mmutle AK. You are currently Lerato Motaung’s studio assistant at Ellis House Art Building, Johannesburg, how has your time working in Motaung’s studio shaped your art practice?
Sello L. The time spent working at Morena Motaung’s studio has shaped the way I plan and think about my art practice. One of the effects is that I ended up organising a different working schedule between working on my own work and assisting. His work has influenced how I see my own work, I believe that one has to share and exchange ideas to make work.
Follow up Question,
Mmutle. Can you please say a little bit more on this, what is the difference between how you saw your work before you started being a studio assistant and now?
Sello. My work changed in a sense that I started using more expressive brush work and the way I look at the materiality of steel also changed, hence the title of the exhibition. I also learned to value the time and the process of producing art while finding balance between my studio assistance work and producing my own work. It is easy to fall into a trap of being a copy artist or being comfortable with doing studio assistance work. A lot of artists tend to neglect their own work once they start to work for a certain organization or an artist. Which is not healthy because once they are no longer employees they struggle to pick up where they left off.
MAK. Your continued relationship with Trent Gallery covers your Pretoria market. What has been your experience of breaking into the Johannesburg art market scene since being based there?
SL. Yes, that is true, Pretoria has helped start my art career however Johannesburg has a different art market, and it tends to follow new artistic trends within the art world. I still think Pretoria, even though it is a small market, plays a huge role in the South African art.
Follow up Question,
MAK. Can you please elaborate more on this point?
SL. Trent Gallery is unique because it uses a system that galleries usually don’t use. It is the appointment and apply approach which I think is for the work to speak for itself, not the gallery or manager in some cases. I think South Africa has a lot of undiscovered talent; we have a lot of artists that are struggling to find spaces where they can show their work.
What I love about Trent Gallery is that its market is open to all and the process involved is not restrictive. Today what contributes to an artist’s career is with whom and where their work is showing. And it is providing exactly that.
MAK. Your work continues to explore the human figure and its activities or how it is perceived within the social landscape. The figures are presented, in one aspect of your work, in earthy warm tint backgrounds, a result of the corrosive nature of steel sheet. Can you describe how, in your compositions, colour and the texture of the steel is achieved?
SL. The process of achieving the earthy tint. comes from a process of adding and subtracting different liquids. My process starts with finding steel material and treating it with hydrogen peroxide, salt and vinegar mixture. Afterwards I use a different application process to achieve the desired look.
Follow up Question
MAK. By application, do you mean different mixtures of these liquids?
SL. Yes. I learned about different lab chemicals and started making mixtures of my own where I will mix vinegar and hydrogen peroxide and in another approach I combined the these mixtures with oil paint. In most instances I have learned to let go and treat steel’s surfaces the way I would have found it. Preserving the feel and look of the material.
MAK. What is the running theme of Steel on Paint: Contemporary exploration and discoveries? In ‘O’ Foreman, also shown at Trent Gallery last year, you explored totems in African Indigenous Knowledge Systems, what is your work dealing with currently?
SL. Both series of work produced for these two exhibitions speak about my daily experience as a black African man living in Africa.
Follow up Question
MAK. What do you mean by this?
SL. Since my previous exhibition, I started to explore humans and animals as totems within my paintings. The totem theme has been inspired by my grandmother’s teachings on totems and how our connection with them affects us in the physical realm. Paint and steel as materials used to produce work is significance as well. I feel that with the present work, it is more about the material than the subject matter.
MAK. How many artworks did you produce for this exhibition?
SL. I have produced atotal of just over twenty artworks.
Mmutle AK. You are currently featured in the exhibition Inscape, on at Johann Van Heerden’s Gallery, Garsfontein, what has been the reception of your work there?
Sello L. The reception at the Johann van Heerden Gallery has been great. It is my first exhibition in that space and my contact with the gallery has offered me the opportunity to meet new people and reconnected with familiar faces in Pretoria.
Mmutle Arthur Kgokong. Lastly, in the work that comprises the body of work submitted to Trent Gallery for Paint on Steel Exhibition, Cattles, Dikgomo, dominates – due to the symbolic nature of your work, what is the meaning of this animal within these compositions?
Sello Letswalo. Kgomo, Cow, is my clan, family’s totem. It exists both in my maternal and paternal sides of the family. These works are inspired by Letswalo’s clan, its history and genealogy which has ties to the royal family. My aim is to explore this totem in its traditional settings.
Mmutle Arthur Kgokong. Thank you Morena Letswalo for making the time and space for us to talk. Congratulations on the exhibition.
Sello Letswalo. Go leboga nna Morena Mmutle, Agee.
Mmutle Arthur Kgokong. Thobela
Ditebogo tse di tsenelletseng:
I would like to thank Morena Sello Letswalo for creating a space for us to have a conversation about his exhibition and his artistic production processes. Selah
List of figures:
Figure 1. Sell Letswalo. Mosadi ga a Dishi 2022. 111 x 66 cm. Mixed media on treated steel sheet.
Figure 2. Sell Letswalo. Madishong 2022. 111 x 66 cm. Mixed media on treated steel sheet..
Figure 3. Sell Letswalo. Bina Kgomo 2022. 111 x 66 cm. Mixed media on treated steel sheet.
Figure 4. Figure 3. Sello Letswalo Mma Dikgomo (The Mother of the cattle) 2022. 111 x 66 cm. Mixed Media on steel
To reference this text & audio documentation please cite:
Kgokong, M.A. 2022. Intraparadox, A correspondence with with Sello Letswalo, Paint on Steel. Mmutleak.com-Intraparadox. https://mmutleak.com/2022/07/22/intraparadox-a-correspondence-with-sello-letswalo-paint-on-steel/
© mmutle arthur kgokong 2022