Cynical in the city
Johannesburg gives us many gifts but we never fully appreciate them. The most simple being a place to call home. But home means different things to different people.
Johannesburg is as defined by prosperity, ambition, envy, and seekers of opportunity as it is by innocent losers, the permanently damned and indigent. But how does art show balance? And, as I wrote over one of my prints, to question Warhol: ‘Is art anything you can get away with?’
The seeds of the city were planted well over a century ago. And they’re still growing. Its spirit is in everything I create. But that doesn’t mean that it has to come packaged with an inviting, or foreboding, skyline that includes Ponte and the Hillbrow Tower. Instead, I like to see what I can get away with.
When I place figures under a blue sky, that sky is the sky over Johannesburg. When I compose a constellation of logos over creatures I’m aware that, for most, those products have been sought after in the marble halls of malls in the best business districts.
We are together in our desire to live in a city that’s a place of infinite delivery. But we’re not always part of the solution. I always feel a mixture of unease and affirmation when, in queues at places like Home Affairs or licensing departments, I find people from vastly different backgrounds openly sharing their frustrations.
That is why, when an artist places a joyful looking cartoon creature over a Louis Vuitton logo, here and now it looks cynical and cheeky. Almost like saying why can’t a humble mouse get its hands on the world’s best brand of luggage? Well the promise is that everything is possible in Sandton.
The South African dream is not so different from the American dream. But artists have to be free to interrogate it in a way that speaks about who they are in relation to their city and their country. I happen to be a Pop artist by choice. Clearly, I could make figurative art that is an almost photographic reflection of the city. But, then, why don’t I just buy myself a camera?
Right now, I wish to mash up the elements of real life that intrigue me. Even if, in the end, they look like they popped out of my dreams.