Express Yourself

Something that strikes me about all modes of artwork is their platform for creative expression and the emotions they can inspire in audiences. The emotional impact of a painting is, in my opinion at least, the most impressive.

Books and films envelop you in their story long enough to emotionally invest in the story and characters. Photographs reflect images that are immediately recognisable to us; their power lies in the composition and how the image is taken. Paintings, however, do something very different. Most often they can’t tell a story as effectively as books, and they can’t reflect reality as exactly as a photograph. Because of this, we don’t connect with them in the same way we would a movie. Many paintings have no recognisable subject matter at all, and yet have the ability to inspire a moving, visceral emotion immediately upon viewing: joy, sadness, passion, fear. It’s not quite as sophisticated as sympathising with the inner psychological world of a character, but it is much more startling.

I think of paintings from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when remembering my most powerful and unexplained emotional reactions to paintings. Often the movements don’t matter. It was a time in history when formalist painting – aesthetically ‘pleasing’ and unemotional art – was really being rejected. This had a lot to do with war and political unrest being rife at that time. This quote from Barnett Newman, one of the major figures in the Abstract Expressionism movement, explains why emotional expression became vital in art at the time, and much earlier too:

“We felt the moral crisis of a world in shambles, a world destroyed by a great depression and a fierce World War, and it was impossible at that time to paint the kind of paintings that we were doing—flowers, reclining nudes, and people playing the cello.”

The chaos of the world reflected in the artists’ works. I like to think that they began painting with their hearts, instead of their minds; that the paint felt its way onto the canvas, rather than being planned out and structured. Perhaps images of some of these paintings can convey more accurately the raw emotions they were created in the image of:

 

Edvard Munch - The Scream (1893)

Edvard Munch – The Scream (1893)

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Karl Schmidt-Rottluff – Corner of a Park (1910)

 

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Emile Nolde – Still Life of Masks (1911)

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Pablo Picasso – Guernica (1937)

The first three paintings are by artists that belonged to the German Expressionist movement. The last is by Picasso, who did just about everything under the sun before his death. I chose mostly scary or shocking images to better illustrate what I mean by paintings that make you feel something. I’m not even sure what some of them make me feel, but it is something powerful and I find that fascinating.

Since that time, the tendency to express oneself emotionally through art has not faded away. It has manifested itself differently through the decades, as it still does today, but the importance of this form of expression has been realised more and more. Creating art has been recognised for it’s therapeutic abilities and it’s capacity for healing. People no longer go to art museums just to view beautiful paintings, but also to feel something; to take some emotion or insight away. I think that is an experience unlike any other, and one that is so valuable in appreciating art and understanding oneself.

I highly recommend visiting the biggest museum you have access to and exploring its halls for works that make you feel something.

You don’t have to be Picasso to use a paintbrush

When one thinks about artists, we tend to envision the greats: Da Vinci, Monet, Van Gogh. Beyond that, perhaps contemporary artists that have appealed to us, like those I have shared in previous posts. It makes sense that we do this; one doesn’t think of struggling plain Jane in Hollywood when the word actor is mentioned – (I think of Ryan Gosling, but maybe that’s just me).

Anyway, my point is that there are millions of artists out there who don’t get any of the recognition that professionals do. There are those who aspire to make art their career and struggle, but there are also those who make art purely for themselves. In some regards, I think that is even more admirable than those who turn art into jobs. I may be generalizing, but I think that a lot of people don’t do many things they don’t have to anymore. Hobbies have largely been replaced with social networking and browsing the internet. Making art is something that takes time, patience, determination and genuine interest. I know this from personal experience.

I thought I would interview someone who is not a professional artist, but has spent decades working on their skills nonetheless. I wondered for a while who to speak to, but it dawned on me that the choice was obvious: my mom.

She has been painting her afternoons away since before I can remember and long before I was even alive. It takes guts to dedicate half of your life to something, but I don’t think I would have developed the interest myself if I hadn’t watched her for years growing up. I may be more than a little biased, but I think she’s pretty amazing.

Jeannine Evans (my wonderful mother), began drawing when she was very young. She used to take my grandmother’s sketching pads and pencils, and draw what interested her that way. She says that she “never really decided to start [making art], it just evolved slowly”. However, she began getting more serious about it when she got her first job, and attended a series of short courses which eventually ended up in her experimenting with oil paints. She has been in love ever since.

She explains that painting is “a place that [she] can escape to… a way to achieve something”. One only has to watch her work and rework the same area ten times to understand the depth of her passion and determination. Having never had any formal training, Jeannine finds that watching DVDs of professional artists working, as well as reading art books and magazines help her in honing her skills.

I think it is really important to support non-professional artists. If you live in a small town as I do, I can guarantee that there are dozens of talented painters displaying their work in a nearby gallery. Owning a work with a name is nice, but owning one from an unknown artist does so much more good. Jeannine explains that she feels genuinely humbled when “anyone wants something that [she’s] created on their walls”. A day with a painting sale is a very good day indeed.

She exhibits all around the Grahamstown, Bathurst and Port Alfred areas alongside many other talented artists. If you ever happen to be at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, I highly recommend taking a look at the local artists’ exhibition and supporting them.

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One of her earlier works in pastel, made when I was still a toddler

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A portrait of my cousin Jared

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One of her many recent township scenes in black and white

As a side note, it is interesting that my mom’s love for art started by taking my gran’s art tools, because that’s exactly how it started for me. If anyone is interested, here are some things that I drew. Perhaps someone will interview me too someday. Wink, wink.

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Now That’s Just Showing Off

In the baby years of Facebook and while i was developing my online ‘persona’, I figured out that I could make zits disappear at the click of a button and no one would be the wiser. I had overlooked the minor issue of now being significantly less attractive in person, but I was ecstatic nonetheless. At the age of fourteen, I thought I was a photo retouch genius. Turns out I was greatly mistaken.

Retouch photography is technique whereby the photographer manipulates their image in order to change or perfect elements, as well as bringing different images together creatively. Contrary to what one might think, this is not a technique that only came about in the age of digital photography; pictures have been manipulated by hand for centuries. The digitisation of photography, and editing software such as Photoshop have simply broadened the horizons for perfection and imagination in photography. Retouching and manipulation are used in almost all sectors of professional photography, with the most obvious being beauty and fashion. And trust me; they can do a hell of a lot more than cover up a few pimples.

South African photographer and retoucher, Graham Bartholomew, is one of these mysterious people I refer to. He can make the average beautiful, and the beautiful flawless if he so chooses. I bet tweenage me would have killed for those skills of manipulation. However, he also uses retouching in other, more artistic ways. It is a skill that is being exploited brilliantly overseas especially, both for advertising and private work.

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Graham Bartholomew – Back in Black

Leo Caillard is a French retouch photographer of considerable repute. He uses his well-honed skills primarily in the world of advertising, to take the limitations of original photographs to the next level. Many transnational corporations have hired him for advertising campaigns, and when looking at his work it is easy to understand why.

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Leo Caillard – Amusement Bureau

There is, however, a certain man who holds a very dear place in my heart. I have found myself coming back to his work again and again, and quite ironically decorating my Facebook wall with its sheer epicness. Erik Johansson is a retouch artist and photographer from Sweden. I have very little to say about him except that his art is magnificent and unbelievable. Erik says that “I don’t capture moments, I capture ideas. To me photography is just a way to collect material to realize the ideas in my mind”. It is hard to believe that every aspect of his images came from actual photographs that have been immaculately fused together. If you’d like to understand the amount of work that goes into creating art like this, check out his blog post on Set Them Free. It is hard to fathom for those of us whose photographic patience don’t extend much further than well-angled selfies. But if that doesn’t impress you, at least take a look at his spectacular body of work to understand why I’m totally obsessed.

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Erik Johansson – The Cover Up

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Erik Johansson – Set Them Free

Wonder-Lust

If you’re anything like me, travelling the world is rated very highly on your mental to-do list. I am endlessly amazed by the variety and beauty to be found in the landscape, culture and artworks of places I didn’t even know existed. The desire to see these things with my own eyes is immense. The term for this sensation is ‘wanderlust’ and it pretty accurately sums up what it represents. I’d like to share just a few people, places and phenomenon that have contributed to my personal sense of wonder at the beauty out there.

I have been lucky enough to travel a fair share in my young life. Just before my last trip, which was to London and Northern Europe in August of 2012, I was given a new camera by my wonderful parents: a Nikon P510. It’s no Canon 5D, but it afforded me hours of photographic fun while travelling around Scandinavia. My photos are by no means professional, but I would like to share the things I saw that interested me in my wanderings.

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Nyhavn, the historical channel in the centre of Copenhagen, Denmark

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A statue in the gardens of the great Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia

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Streetside artist in Tallinn, Estonia

I wasn’t able to travel far enough north to see the Northern Lights, which is something that I really regretted about my trip. In non-scientific terms, the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis are caused by gas particles from the earth and electrically charged particles from the sun colliding in the earth’s atmosphere. The colour of the lights is determined by what gaseous particles are involved and how far from the earth’s surface the collision occurs.

Yeah, I’m not a science buff either, but it is interesting to know the reason behind the mysterious and beautiful phenomenon. I would have loved the opportunity to see and capture it for myself, but for the mean time at least, the spectacular photographs of Tommy Eliassen will have to do.

Tommy is a landscape and astro-photographer from Mo i Rana, Norway. He has the privilege of living and working on the doorstep of the Northern Lights. The majority of his photographs involve long-exposure, which means keeping the shutter of the camera open for an extended period of time, thus allowing light in that may not even be visible to the naked eye. The results are extraordinary. This technique is often used to capture constellations in the night sky, and in conjunction with the Aurora Borealis, the photographs that one can take really are breathtaking.

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Laksejford – Tommy Eliassen (taken in Lebesby, Norway)

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Hogtuva – Tommy Eliassen (taken in Melfjellet, Norway)

Aspiring travellers of the world come in all shapes and sizes, as has recently been proven by photographer, Andrew Whyte, and his Legographer. He has completed a 365-day project, in which he travelled the world and took images with a Lego photographer in the foreground. It sounds arbitrary, but the end product is unique and quirky, framing predictable tourist shots in a fresh light. Follow my lead and check out every shot the duo took on their travels here:

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Day of Rest – Andrew Whyte

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Splash! – Andrew Whyte

It can quite easily be noticed that my conception of wanderlust is almost exclusively linked with landscape and the natural world. South Africa has some of the most varied natural life on the planet, but as a South African, the idea of my country being as mysterious and exciting to others as, say, Japan is to me sometimes escapes me as being a reality. However, if Hougaard Malan’s photographs are anything to go by, it isn’t hard to understand why South Africa – and the Western Cape in particular – is such a desirable spot to visit. Cape Town was recently chosen as being the top tourist destination in Africa and top ten in the world. Perhaps this fun (and frankly, just awesome) music video shot in the beautiful Mother City will shed light on why:

If you’re more interested in the man-made or manipulated side of artistic photography, look out for my post next week. It’s going to be epic.

The Eco-Evolution

With the growing spotlight on global climate change, depleting resources and the need for renewable energy, many sectors of industry and society have had to shift their focus and rethink their approach to the radically changing standards of our planet. While many disregard global warming as a money-making scheme or myth, (and after the record low temperatures in Europe and North America earlier this year, who can blame them?) it cannot be ignored that finite energy and non-biodegradable matter are becoming a massive problem.

The words ‘reuse’, ‘reduce’ and ‘recycle’ are familiar to the majority of the westernised world in 2014. The importance of these issues has led to the institutionalisation of recycling even on a domestic scale, with there being heavy fines on the incorrect disposal of waste in many countries. There is no doubt that people have change the way they live and companies have to revolutionise the way they run. We have all begun to see Earth in a new light, and are understanding its need for protecting. In a creative twist to the growing global crisis, artists worldwide have come up with innovative and undeniably beautiful ways of recycling and renewing.

Sayaka Ganz, a sculptor from Yokohama, Japan, has responded to the eco-evolution in art by creating stunning, fluid sculptures of animals with used plastic waste. Ganz’s inspiration for these artworks stem from the Japanese Shinto philosophy that all things have a spirit, as well as sympathy for discarded objects. She aims to create living artwork with value because, as she explains, “if we value our resources, we will waste less”. Among other installations, she recently created an exhibit about marine animals and the fragile ecosystems that exist in the ocean. Take a look at her other work here

Sayaka Ganz - Uta

Sayaka Ganz – Uta

Speaking of the world below the depths, an interesting project spurring from the desire to protect the open water is underway by English artist, Jason DeCaires Taylor. Overfishing, oil spills and harmful waste in the ocean threaten the stability and sustainability of its wildlife and delicate ecosystems. Taylor is especially concerned with over-visited and destroyed coral reefs. In response, he began creating artificial reefs out of pH-suitable and stable materials that actually attract micro-organisms and ocean life. His reefs are comprised of hundreds of sculptures of human beings that, over time, become layered with coral and marine foliage. Taylor’s artificial reefs are both beautiful and an ingenious response to the ocean’s need for safe shelter and breeding-grounds. Click here to see how he is saving our fish.

Jason DeCaires Taylor - The Dream Collector

Jason DeCaires Taylor – The Dream Collector

Jason DeCaires Taylor - TamCC

Jason DeCaires Taylor – TamCC

This response to our struggling planet isn’t just happening abroad, however. South African artist, Mbongeni Buthelezi has created a name for himself both locally and internationally with his work. His reply to the waste crisis is what has been called, “painting with plastic”. He makes stunning, colourful “paintings” of predominantly township scenes, using non-biodegradable plastic as his medium. It is inspirational to see a South African taking initiative to make a change through his work, and perhaps we should all be doing the same.

Mbongeni Buthelezi - 30km/h Speed Humps

Mbongeni Buthelezi – 30km/h Speed Humps

Here’s a nifty way of getting started:

If you are an artist and interested in how you can help save the planet with your work, check out this article by Diana Moses Botkin. It explains twelve useful and easy tips on how to reduce your footprint and reuse materials in your eco-friendly masterpieces.