Malcolm Payne on Batiss, Duchamp and Beards

Recently retired from Michaelis School of Fine Art, where he is a professor emeritus, Malcolm Payne is a key figure in this country’s experimental and conceptual practice. Coming to prominence in the early 1970s, Payne has distinguished himself as a sculptor, printmaker and video artist. Seated in his Kalk Bay studio, surrounded by a suite of new beard paintings, Payne considers the early influence of Walter Battiss, Marcel Duchamp and musician Jeff Mpakati on his life and work. Dismissive of the way struggle art collaged stock images of violence, he also ventures a thought on how artistic practice can refashion the way we think and speak about art.

SO:You were born in Pretoria. What influence would you say growing up in thecapital city had on your decisions to become an artist? MP:Walter Battiss. SO:So you attended Pretoria Boys High? MP:Yes, but before that my mother took me to Pretoria Art Centre. Battiss used torun it and I used to do kiddies classes. I was five. When I went to PretoriaBoys High, there were two very good practicing artists, Larry Scully, who usedto paint, and Battiss. Battiss was a teacher of mine throughout school and afriend thereafter till he died. Outside of the school itself there was strongartistic environment: Preller and Pierneef, highly respected South Africanartists, whatever one might think of them now, lived and worked in Pretoria. Mysecond mentor at the time, after Battiss, was Jeff Mpakati, a drummer from Mamelodi.We met on Church Square. Jeff and I often shared lunch standing up on thathallowed segregated centre of Afrikaner supremacy that disallowed blackscomfortable seating – it was a time of the “blankes alleen” benches. Jeff – atall, thin, stylish man – introduced me to jazz by taking me to Star Music onthe fringes of Marabastad, west of the city centre, where we listened to theAmerican greats, Art Blakey, Oscar Petersen, Charles Mingus, and blues artistslike Champion Jack Dupree, and Monk in our Florsheim shoes and importedmapantsula trousers. Jeff’s normality was inspiring. He gave me a realeducation at 19 years of age, a counter to the Beatles and Rolling Stones. read more in the current issue of Art South Africa magazine
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