Dear Sean,

ART AFRICA, issue 09.

Robin Rhode’s Letter to Sean O’Toole

 

A journalist asked me recently whether I have lost my edge in my recent work? As the works appear more passive, colourful, maybe not as playful and humorous as previous body of works.

To this I almost laughed in his face.

 

Dear Sean [O’Toole],

I wanted to inform you in a personal capacity that recently I have been caught up in a spiral of violence and danger in the area where I work. The Broken Wall.

To an extent that I now have private security to protect me. These are two former Black Operatives who have completed missions in Rwanda and Afghanistan to name but a few. They have guaranteed my safety and that if violence escalates they are willing to match it. Blow by blow. Bullet by bullet.

I am imbedded, or have been imbedded with street gang soldiers, brave boys, who have helped me produce over a dozen wall pieces over the course of the last 3 years.

Some of them float in and out of prison regularly, mostly for armed robbery.

A lot of my crew have a fascination with knife fighting. I’m usually asked after a work production ‘Big Boss please give me a R50 and a knife….’

I was in the jail cells last month in Sophiatown brokering a deal with a gang to not retaliate against my crew.

My crew have been targeted by local gangs. They have robbed my team one by one.

Picking them off on street corners and alleyways. Usually targeting them at night.

My family believes that I have become a target as well.

My street crew now consists of about 18 young men, all have spent time in jail or juvenile facilities, all have been or are on ‘tik’, ‘kat’, ‘crystal meth’, mandrax.

But even this has not stopped or deterred my creative output. I’ve had to navigate bailing and bribing to create my recent artworks.

A journalist asked me recently whether I have lost my edge in my recent work? As the works appear more passive, colourful, maybe not as playful and humorous as previous body of works.

To this I almost laughed in his face. I am confronting the edge, quite literally, producing work on a dangerous periphery, without representing it, without even judging it.

I operate on the edge and face violence daily to make my art in JHB.

I’ve taken enormous risks to produce my work over the last years.

My latest works, which focuses on aspects of colour theory and geometry, functions as a complete rejection of the outside world.

I wanted to reject all the politics, economic, social, etc. and to give the community and my crew, a glimmer into a fictional world. This I find to be completely radical as I’ve broken away from the aesthetic trends of an almost ‘African Baroque’ that is common in SA Art.

To be completely free one has to embrace the liberty of the creative act.

My drawing process has also changed as a means to embrace scale, and to allow for a more instructional drawing process. This gives young my crew the opportunity to engage with the processes of drawing and painting in a more structured, almost mechanical manner.

This idea of instructional wall drawing is very much Sol Lewitt inspired.

However, this idea has been forced onto me, to help employ guys from the streets, and to empower individuals in the creative process, rather than the instructional drawing process becoming a conceptualized decision.

I’ve promised my family that I have quit the streets of JHB as it’s become too dangerous. The risk factors have become too high. Much too great.

But, I don’t know Sean. I don’t think this story is over yet. I don’t know if this cycle will ever end for me. I have to confront this fear in order to make art.

Yours,

Robin.

 

Robin Rhode, David series, 2017. © Robin Rhode, images courtesy of the artistRobin Rhode, David series, 2017. © Robin Rhode, images courtesy of the artist

 

Robin Rhode is our cover star of ART AFRICA issue 09, ‘Liberation is not Deliverance’, and was also the featured artist. Read the editorial by Ashraf Jamal here.

 

FEATURED IMAGE: Robin Rhode, Candle (Tangram) series, 2017. © Robin Rhode, images courtesy of the artist.