Following his recent solo exhibition, ‘Close Distance’ at Gallery MOMO in Johannesburg (23 April – 25 May 2015), we interviewed Ransome Stanley, a Munich-based painter who draws from his African roots as the London-born son of a German mother and Nigerian father.
This interview appears in full in the ‘Painting’s Not Dead!’ Issue (13.4) of ARTsouthAFRICA – on shelves at a store near you! You will also be able to read this exclusive content in the August Digital Issue (FREE download here for Apple and here for Android).
ARTsouthAFRICA: In your work, you reconfigure visual motifs from the ‘archive’ of the media, encouraging the viewer to question or reconsider cultural axioms embedded within familiar images. What brought you to painting these iconographic references, rather than simply collecting and collaging them?
Ransome Stanley: I don’t consider myself a ‘collage artist,’ but I would say that collage describes my thinking process – nonlinear, absurd, sometimes beautiful, sometimes grotesque and fragmented.
Painting as a contemporary medium tends to receive the most analogous assessment, drawing comparison with paintings made throughout history. Your style has been described as “difficult to pinpoint,” compared with that of German contemporary painters Anselm Kiefer and Neo Rauch, perhaps finding its graphic linearity in early 20th century natural history books or drawing inspiration from classic Modern painting. How would you describe your style?
Painting is not as easy to define as it was in recent decades and period-dominant discourse seems to be over, at least when it comes to painting. What matters now is the artistic attitude behind a particular form of expression. Today everything is permitted and an interrogation of the uniqueness of a work, or of what painting is, no longer yields definitive answers. The boundaries between painting, drawing, collage, photography and sculpture have conglomerated.
Today, art is not created for art’s sake. Art questions global processes; it discusses what globalisation has created – (in my case) hybrid hybrids of European and African influences. I love it when different cultures meet. Characterised, each element is much stronger.
In my work, I want to show how many influences and contradictions are at work within people. I identify with the theme of ‘nomadism’ – for me it means crossing the boundaries of art, both in a geographical and temporal sense, and with undaunted technical freedom.
Where would you say you ‘draw inspiration’ from?
The desire to paint is thrown at me by sensory impressions. On the one hand the beauty, on the other hand, pain. Art history, historical events and images from the media are the archive from which I select references and manage by staging various image plane revaluations and correlations.
Drawing on images from bourgeois culture of the 19th century, Western images of Africa and colonial clichés of exoticism, you paradoxically reference both your Western habits and upbringing (born in England and living and working in Germany) and fragments of distant, un-experienced roots (your father is from Nigeria). How did you come to this subject matter?
It is the curiosity, and also the unknown stranger, exploring the diverse mutual influences. Europe and Africa have been together since colonial times.
In the accompanying statement for your ‘Close distance’ exhibition in Johannesburg, it states that, in drawing these connections between Europe and Africa, you are “inevitably always in search of [your] own identity.” What kind of connections, similarities or differences have you discovered that have aided you in defining “your own identity?”
‘My own identity,’ is really more of a confrontation. As someone ‘different looking’ in an almost completely white European country from a very young age, I move like a frontier between two worlds and play consciously with different forms of practice.
So it is rather an attempt at drawing connections between experiences – feelings and things that happen to me that I cannot speak or write about.
It is also mentioned that you explore the concept of time through the introduction of certain materials into your paintings. What materials are these? How do you incorporate them into your overall aesthetic?
Ever the fugitive, my works are almost always transitory – the concept of time is emphasised again and again. To represent the traces of time, I deal with the materials patina or rust. For the perception of the images, these materials play an important role.
Sometimes I use found objects like metal parts or rusted iron plates that I incorporate into my paintings. Nature, weather, colour – these elements create interesting surfaces.
You have exhibited in both America and Europe, and ‘Close distance’ will be your third solo exhibition in Johannesburg, South Africa. How do you think the interpretation of or reaction to your work varies from continent to continent, taking into account the varying socio-political climates?
I don’t think that there are different perceptions of my artworks on different continents. Rather, I believe that the approach has something to do with the personal experiences and interests of each viewer.
“The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” – Oscar Wilde