Writing Art History Since 2002

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Ashraf Jamal Interviews Phillemon Hlungwani

1) Ashraf Jamal: I must say, your works are very beautiful! Lets talk about the skill involved, how you learnt your immense control of your medium?

Phillemon Hlungwani: Controlling the medium… there’s a lot of mediums I work with; charcoal, collage, printmaking (etching, drypoint etching). I love working on drawing, charcoal is my favourite medium, I’ve been working with charcoal for 3 years now and haven’t touched a printmaking medium in that time. I realised I needed to mix a little bit of colour – I’m not afraid if using pastel on charcoal or colour paper to make collages ontop of that; to do something like that connects with me.

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2) AJ: Your work fits into a grand tradition of landscape and figure drawings. Are you inspired by the world you see around you? In the remaking of that world you see, how does your artistic imagination work? How aware are you of the process of composition?

PH: The landscapes that I’m doing are where I’ve come from; the people I’m working with on that landscape connect with me culturally and share a language. Why does art have to be in a gallery? When I see people I see art on those people – the way they walk, patterns on their clothes. Women especially, most of them are artworks, a symbol of my mother.
Like the landscape where I come from, I love to treat trees as a symbol to connect me and the landscape. Playing under big trees: life you know? Last time I did a landscape with different kinds of trees, they talk and communicate with each other artistically. There is inspiration in people around me, everyday life in the village. Art has to come to you, listen to you – meet art with living. If you dream it won’t happen; I don’t want to lie, I have to connect with those people.

3) AJ: Your works, while vividly clear and beautifully evocative, seem freed of statement – you don’t seem to push a particular political or ideological stance. Is this in fact so?

PH: I don’t want to offend anyone with my artwork – ART is my political organisation. My artwork you can buy and hang anywhere, even if it’s 2 months old you can still hang it up anywhere – each and every one is free. I don’t want to harm anyone, I want to make art that my kids can see and appreciate; I don’t hide my artworks. Sometimes if it’s a commission I’ll make it but I don’t want to make political things. If you ask me, I don’t want to hurt anyone.

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4) AJ: And if your subjects – the land and the people who occupy that land – are freed from the burden of statement, then what are you trying – quietly, artistically – to communicate?

PH: What I am communicating with my artwork is exploring inner meaning; where I come from. You meet people, they change where they have come from, they want to hide it. I don’t have reason to change, I connect with my artworks to where I come from. I connect with people that know me from childhood; if I don’t have money we connect, if I have money we connect. That’s me, the environment – if I draw the landscape we connect. I’m free to do that kind of landscape and people in my art.

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5) AJ: Do you make works for a particular consumer? Do you make works for yourself? How are you dealing with your success, and the public’s appreciation of your work?

PH: I did, I’ve made work for big companies – Standard Bank, the Reserve Bank and more , a lot of people. Art is a business, you have to do something when people as you to do it. They know my style and they know me; they connect with me…that’s me.
I do it for myself, in terms of myself the artwork comes from my mind. I do artworks for my house, I also donate lots of works for auctions, like the WWF auction at Everard Read and Artist proof studio. As far as dealing with the public my success doesn’t change me. I’m who I am because I come from a very good background in terms of humanity. Credit goes to my parents for making me the person I am today – especially my mother. It makes me work very hard.
I love the public, they are the ones who make me who I am today. I don’t run away from them because I am a known artist. I remember last time one of the collectors called me, I went to their house and when I arrived – at around 9pm – I saw my artwork hanging in the dining room. It was dark, with a light projected towards my artwork. I was humbled when they told me that this particular artwork brings joy to their house. It made me realise that I connect with people. You need to be there for the public when they call. When you meet people on the street, why run away? These are the people who buy my are buy my artworks. I am happy that I grew up with a mother and father who taught me to respect everyone in this world.

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