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Kelly John Gough in conversation with ODA Fine Art Gallery.


Coruscation, 2017. Oil on wood, 200 x 120 cm. Images courtesy Kelly John Gough.

Coruscation, 2017. Oil on wood, 200 x 120 cm. Images courtesy Kelly John Gough.


You mention that your first art teacher was your fine art trained father, would you talk about this a little more?

My father, William Gough studied fine arts in Johannesburg but abandoned his artistic ambition in order to support his family. I have shown a keen interest in art since a very young age and was lucky to receive guidance and support in my first trials. It was, and still is, truly wonderful to have my dad’s input. I really do enjoy seeing him study every detail of my piece. He often has very original comments with a fantastic sense of humour.

You have an extensive background and experience in graphic design, how does that influence your fine art practice?

I think my graphic design background has helped me most when it comes to composition. It seems I place my subjects on the canvas differently to how I would have, had I not studied and worked at it.

Considering your involvement in the world of design, what is your view when it comes to the relationship / interplay between fine art and design presently?

I believe that design and art have, and always will, go hand-in-hand. Almost everything that has ever been created started life as a sketch. But it also goes deeper than that – in the words of Don Norman, “art makes statements. Designs work. Artists think design is decoration. Which is why the world of art and the world of design collide.”


Duskily Winsome, 2017. Oil on wood, 92cm x 120cm. Image courtesy of Kelly John Gough.

Duskily Winsome, 2017. Oil on wood, 92cm x 120cm. Image courtesy of Kelly John Gough.


There is a distinct reference to Renaissance techniques, is there a special connection?

One of my favourite artists is Caravaggio. I love his use of contrast in order to create drama. Out of respect I wouldn’t dare, however, compare myself to any renaissance artist.

Is it your ‘canvas’ that lends itself to figurative and portrait work, or is there a deeper motivation for the choice of genre?

Since I can remember I have been fascinated by the human machine. It’s really all I’ve ever wanted to portray in my artworks. The use of the wooden panels came about by happy accident, but one cannot help but see how they compliment each other.

You mentioned that you enjoy the prolonged drying time of oil?

I tend to work quite large and have tried other mediums, but they always seem to dry, quite literally,  while I’m painting. This just doest work for me as I need time to blend.

You avoid colour completely, it only appears in the woods that you use as your preferred surface?

I do prefer working monochromatically, however I do experiment with colour. I am yet to show these paintings. I am very intrigued by the Zorn pallet – currently made up of Yellow Ochre, Crimson, Black, Titanium White.

Do you work from photographs, life models? Please tell us more about your creative process?

Another skill that my father taught me was photography – I’ve been photographing and developing my own black and white films since I was a boy. I prefer portraying people I know well or my loved ones, and will spend hours and days and weeks in a silent analysis of their physique. Knowing my subject also helps me in showing who they are – details that make them stand out.

What’s very important to me is light and contrast – I use so-called Rembrandt lighting…

Life drawings and sketches often happen naturally – whereas when painting I spend a lot of time preparing the photograph. It gives me freedom to paint at any given hour.

I also spend a lot of time choosing the canvas as the grain of wood should blend into the entire work – certain lines of the wood grain fit right into the composition.


Pulchritudinous, 2017. Oil on wood, 75 x 60 cm. Image courtesy of Kelly John Gough.

Pulchritudinous, 2017. Oil on wood, 75 x 60 cm. Image courtesy of Kelly John Gough.

“Beautiful & Sad” – what comes to mind?

I once had the privilege of showing Rossana Orlandi my portfolio, she started paging through it, got about half way, looked up at me and said, “very beautiful, very sad.”

Many of your female nudes seem to fly or float in space, can you give us some more background on this recurring theme in your work?

For the longest time I painted my subjects grounded – often in distress. I guess in the end my works are like pages of my diary, the people I’ve met and the various interactions I’ve had. Personally, I’ve become a lot more positive and I have followed different inspiration patterns.

I suddenly offered my models a chance of entering the fantasy realms, leaving behind everything that ties us to the ground – such as self-doubt, depression, and anxiety. Flying also represents the desire for independence from social norms and other boundaries – in my opinion, both flying and the nude subject best portray this.

Would you consider yourself an African contemporary artist or simply a contemporary artist?

Creating an artwork is a process of continuously making mistakes and then solving those mistakes, I would therefore call myself a problem solver.

Could you tell us more about your upcoming solo exhibition at ODA Gallery in Franschhoek, titled “against the grain”?

I’m very proud and excited to have been offered the opportunity to exhibit at the ODA Gallery in Franschhoek. The show is titled ‘Against The Grain’, pertaining to the relationship between the paint and the surface of my wooden canvases. I like to think of this relationship as a symbiotic one, the paint and the wood transforming one another into something entirely different to what they initially were. It might also be somewhat about my refusal to paint according to how some curators would like me to.

Kelly John Gough’s solo exhibition, ‘AGAINST THE GRAIN’ will be up at ODA Fine Art, 24 September till 25 October 2017. The artist walkabout will be taking place Sunday the 24th September, please RSVP.

For information: http://odagallery.co.za

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