Francois Pretorius is a South African graphic artist who uses visual cues from across the globe to create pieces that are striking and evocative. Though he primarily works with black and white, his images have depth to them. His understanding of space, culture, as well as his desire to combine art concepts and techniques exemplify relevant messages concerning his culture , and humanity at large today. In this Starved interview, Pretorius gives not only an in-depth look into the details of his art , and what inspires him, but also a slice of his worldview.
1. The usage of black and white in art and design has always intrigued me. Why do you choose to work within the more minimal approach of black & white, as opposed to using color?
Color often carries with it varying associations depending on the viewer’s culture. As an example, to many Sub-Saharan African cultures red is symbolic of life and good health, in many Western cultures red is often associated with blood, passion, war and violence, whereas many Eastern cultures interpret it as the color of heroism, good fortune, joy and celebration. Of course, working in black and white is by no means devoid of its own inherent associations. Yet by stripping my work of color, I have managed to shift the emphasis of my work’s physical appearance to the structural design of the symbols and narratives conveyed.
2. Recently you expressed the conception of a series of combined Indian ink , and felt-tip pen works. When did you start working on this project? What inspired you? What is different from the Indian ink and felt-tip works versus your traditional work?
It’s easy to stagnate in one’s creative output and to counter this one constantly has to think of means to push the proverbial envelope. A couple of months ago I decided that I’d like to take the visual language of my work and gradually develop it by using different media. For the first phase of this endeavor, I chose to experiment with the contrast between the fluidity and textural residue of Indian ink and the more clear-cut lines of felt-tip drawing. I particularly like how the combination of these two media has also taken on the character of the content of my work in the sense that I try to portray elements of the flux of human life with the rigid structural spaces of urban life. For 2015, I plan to extend this development of my work to wooden surfaces and installation pieces.
3. Why do you prefer using your art to portray your surroundings instead of being purely autobiographical? What stories do they tell about your homeland?
This question cuts to the core. South Africa is a melting pot of different (and often clashing) cultures, languages, income groups and worldviews. In spite of its troublesome history and ensuing economic and political troubles, the hopeful resilience of its peoples persists. It is difficult to abstain from politics in contemporary South African art, and instead I try to address certain current issues by asking alternative questions through my work rather than expressing personal opinions on these matters. Examples include “Babylon” and “A place of inclusiveness”, where the current issues of homelessness, joblessness, and of post-apartheid land restitution and redistribution are juxtaposed with simplified images in Indian ink and stylized images of industrial and urban development. In these works the architectural negative spaces reflect the notions that everyone has to sleep somewhere, eat somewhere, live somewhere, work somewhere, and dream of a better future somewhere. This poses questions on what can be done to create a more inclusive society, one that collectively wishes to help in lifting the burdens of their immediate other.
4. While viewing your Facebook, I saw you often link to other artists rather than just promoting your work. Do you think there is an importance to encouraging relationships , and appreciation between fellow artists?
To me, promoting only one’s own work on social media sounds a lot like the seagulls in Finding Nemo shouting “Mine! Mine! Mine!” Though social media sites have become an essential tool for marketing one’s own work, I have found it much more rewarding by also showcasing the creative output of others and by establishing an active network with other emerging and established artists. This has also gained me very useful career advice and two exhibition opportunities.
5. Everyone is familiar with the phrase ,“Great Minds Think Alike”, do you feel collaboration proves to be more beneficial , or harmful in creation?
Beneficial! Collaborations remove you from your comfort zone and are the best medicine for thinking outside of the box and for extending one’s creative output into unfamiliar territories.
6. What other art forms inspire you? Have you ever been inspired by written works, or different mediums?
I love reading. Authors of note include the works of Gabriel García Márquez and other magical realists, Milan Kundera, Haruki Murakami and “The god of small things” by Arundhati Roy. However, I find that my work often leans more on inspiration from music and here the list is bizarrely eclectic and random (incl. Radiohead, The Black Keys, Nina Simone, Beirut, The Naked and Famous, The XX, Bombay Bicycle Club, London Grammar, Goldfish, Jeff Buckley, Rodriquez y Gabriella, and recently I’ve been really into Miles Davis). The illustrative poster designs by Saul Bass also deserve mention in terms of inspiration.
7. Your work has an M.C. Escher feel to it at times with the funky, and intense geometry. As someone who can only draw stick figures, how do you go about creating this kind of space in a two-dimensional medium?
I often mix the “from-above” angle as used in architectural blueprints in the depiction of non-living entities with profile/sideview line drawings, adding patterns as applied to sculptures and totems from various non-Western artistic traditions. Apart from breaking with the laws of perspective, I like the all-compassing multiview this effect creates. In constructing patterns the repeat of differing linework and motifs also tend to generate different visual rhythms and pulses. These effects are an integral part of the type of cross-cultural art I aim to produce, and provides an embedded spiritual quality, which I find refreshing and at the core of what I want from my art.
8. What unique elements of international and African visual languages do you use in your work; and how does it translate universally to those foreign with language outside of the global west?
In a formalistic sense (i.e. not the content, but that which is physically seen by the viewer) my work draws inspiration from the artistic output of many cultures from across the globe. Most notably these influences include the figurative shapes, lines, textures and patterns as frequently used in traditional African masks, sculptures and body scarring patterns, traditional printmaking by cultures from the so-called Far East, totem designs by the Haida peoples of the Northwestern regions of North America, as well as the art of certain individuals such as Jean Dubuffet, José Bedia and David Hale.
In the content of my work I often try to negate a conversation about the structuring of one’s own identity, the Self, in relation to the perceived otherness of those who differ from oneself. In its essence this is a call for Ubuntu (a Zulu word referring to that quality which includes the essential human virtues, especially compassion, tolerance and understanding, and which makes one want to share the burdens of others and to rejoice with another person’s reason for celebration). Many international contemporary artists address the collective oneness of humanity by means of creating art that appears homogenous to all. In contrast I purposefully try to counter this homogeneity by embracing visual elements from highly diverse cultural origins, stating that – not in spite of, but inclusive of our differences: “There is no them, there is no other; there is only us”.
9. Tell us about giclee prints. How did you produce these prints? Is there a difference between giclee , and traditional pen and paper? Are there other mediums that you’ve worked with?
A giclée print is the term used for a print made by a high-resolution ink jet printer on printing paper. It is a means of producing a limited volume of the same image for selling purposes, similar to the prints made by woodcuts and linocuts. The work of art in the age of digital reproduction, if you will.
Apart from producing drawings and prints, I previously created numerous painted wooden relief carvings and paintings in acrylics or mixed media.
10. Who are some visual artists you are digging at the moment? What do you admire about their aesthetics? Outside the realm of visual art what other artists draw your eye in?
Visual artists that I’m really into at the moment include Herbert Baglioni, Shantell Martin, Blu, Supakitch, Lionel Smit, Phillemon Hlungwani, Wim Botha, Lee Jay-Hyo, Giovanni Longo, Audrey Kawasaki & DALeast. Their art may differ greatly in terms of content, material and physical appearance, but they share the ability to employ their respective (and insanely impressive) technical skills to address current and contemporary issues and concepts in very profound manners
Outside the realm of visual arts? Though still visual formats, I’ve really been getting into animated music videos, and animated adaptations of graphic novels. In terms of books, since I’ve finished Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram two years ago there’s been a void in my life.
11. How has the internet and social media affected your career?
It’s a growing process, but up to date I’ve managed to connect an unbelievable amount of creative individuals and establishments. My work has been featured on various online magazines and art blogs and I’ve managed to get involved as exhibiting artist with two group exhibitions on national platforms as well as Contemporary Visions 2014, a festival of contemporary international art, in Florence, Italy (upcoming in November).
12. Does your work at the university influence your art work? How does your work and what you go through in creating your work influence how you interact with students?
My role at the North-West University is to manage its Creativity Centre, which in 2014 is presenting 33 after-hour short learning programmes to students and members of the public alike. I’m also involved with the university’s Research Niche Area for Visual Narratives and Creative Outputs through Practice-led Research. This has been an exciting and insightful journey into an interdisciplinary project-based collaboration, which include artists, art historians, graphic designers, anthropologists, and creative writers.
Via university connections I’m also part of Zebrasovereign, a free online platform for emerging and established artists, designers and photographers to showcase their work. All of this means I’m constantly interacting with creative people and creative output, which makes for a very vibrant environment.
13. Animals are prevalent in your work. What is your stance on current ecological matters? Why do these animals take on human characteristics?
In general, animals are increasingly relegated to mere financial value and statistics. For instance, the slaughtering of rhinos by poachers in South Africa is a rife problem. Perhaps the way in which we view animals globally is in desperate need of a paradigm shift. The animals in my work often serve as totemic individual personas of traits we identify in people. By adding human traits I often aim to create a narrative sphere where the human relation towards animals is more familiar.
14. What are you STARVED for, as it pertains to art?
I’d like to see more visual artists making the effort to apply stronger technical skills and craftsmanship in creating contemporary art – not at the cost of the conceptual elements, content or narratives, but in conjunction with it.
Intrigued? Follow Francois Pretorius & see his latest artwork on these various social platforms !!