Daniel Hewson speaks to South African artist, Mongezi Ncaphayi, winner of the 2013 Gerard Sekoto Award. Hewson spent time with the artist in Amsterdam on the occasion of his exhibition at No Man’s Art Gallery.
Daniel Hewson: When did you your interest in art begin?
Mongezi Ncaphayi: I was actually first introduced to drawing by my primary school friend. We also had an arts and recreation class once a week after normal school hours that I always looked forward to. I remember one day my uncle visited us and he saw some of my drawings from my sketchpad. He took it and with a pen he transformed a shoe I had drawn into a man wearing a cap. That was the coolest thing ever, and I wanted to be that good at drawing. While I was not exposed to serious art growing up, I continued making sketches. When I was about 17 years old I joined a drawing class for kids at a local public library. After this experience I was recommended to enroll for art studies at a local college in Benoni. I was accepted and have ever since married my life to art.
Why do you think art is important to society?
I believe art is a tool with which we can shape and change society for the better. However it depends on how we use it. Art can teach us about ourselves as a society and also as individuals, hence it is reflective of our lives. We can look back on art to shape and create more or less what we want to see in the future.
Tell us about your love for abstraction – when did you start making abstract art? How do you decide on compositions? Do you plan them or do they evolve as you make them?
I think that has a lot to do with the music I was exposed to as a child and grew up listening to – Jazz. I’m always fascinated by how musicians can communicate and express a feeling purely through sound (especially without any lyrics). As a listener you’re given room to relate it to your own experiences and ideas. I like the fact that it makes you think and engage with it and not only be on the receiving end. Thus I see my abstract works as musical compositions in a visual form.
I was introduced to abstract art in my art history class. I am still inspired by the works of Kandinsky, Mondrian and other artists part of the Abstract Expressionism movement. However it was only in 2011 when I went to attend the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in the U.S.A that I felt compelled to switch from the graphic and representational work I was making to abstraction. I found there was so much abstract art at the school and in the Boston art scene compared to what I was exposed to back home. I am not saying that there is no abstract art in South Africa, it is just limited.
I don’t really plan my compositions. I rely on my intuition and spontaneity, and yes, they just evolve as I make them. If I put a mark down, the second mark would be based on the first mark and so are the rest of the marks, shapes and colors. I let the artwork guide me through its various directions. When it has reached that end point, the artwork tells me to stop.
You have recently started to paint more. How has this been and how does it compare to printmaking?
I’m enjoying painting as much as I enjoy making prints although it’s a completely different process. I enjoy the fact that it has its own challenges and problems to solve. I like the directness of painting as much as I like the sense of intrigue one gets from making prints. They’re two mediums I enjoy working in and I like the way they convey my ideas.
You have recently been in Amsterdam and Paris. Tell us about this trip. What have you been doing and what have you learnt from this experience?
I went to Amsterdam on an invitation from the No Man’s Art Gallery, who represent my work in the Netherlands and at international pop-up exhibitions. My work has been featured in two group shows and also exhibited at the KunstRAI Amsterdam Art Fair. The trip was more like a residency programme where I could make work, engage with the local artists and visit museums. In Paris, I was invited back to work with the Atelier Le Grand Village, a lithography workshop I worked with last year when I was on a residency programme at the Cite Internationale des Arts, Paris. I actually had some “unfinished business” and started working on some new works in preparation for my exhibition later this year. The whole experience has been rewarding as it was my first time showing work in Amsterdam and the response was very good. I’ve learnt that I’m on the right path with what I’m doing and that my works are actually of a high quality that befits the international standards (whatever that means).
What do you enjoy about being an artist and what do you find challenging?
Currently I’m enjoying traveling through my work, meeting up with other artists and engaging in exciting cultural exchange programmes. The only thing I find challenging is the limited time I have with my family.
Are there any contemporary artists whose work you currently admire?
I’ve actually been impressed by two artists who showed alongside me in Amsterdam; Bertrand Peyrot is a French artist who makes beautifully corrosive abstract works on metal sheets and Aixia Li a multimedia Chinese artist whose photographs of playhouse toys reflects on the transformation of childhood to adulthood and adulthood to childhood and the common refusal to do so.
Daniel Hewson is a curator, educator, writer and artist.