John-Michael Metelerkamp is an artist based in Knysna, South Africa. His paintings deal with both reality and the subconscious, confronting trauma, anxiety and awkwardness whilst simultaneously conveying a sense of humour and light-heartedness. ART AFRICA spoke to John-Michael on the practice of his work and why these sensitivities portrayed are important to him.
ART AFRICA: In previous bodies of work, you have considered your past, present and future through the painted medium – especially in the hope of learning about who you are and where you find yourself in specific moments. How does your work visually portray this notion, and why is the painted medium one that may communicate it most effectively?
JOHN-MICHAEL METELERKAMP: My work is autobiographical in the context of my recovery and journey to being a more whole person. Painting has so many elements in it that I find quite effective at accessing a certain mood or energy. I stand up and paint, active. I don’t step back until I feel I have something to look at, so my thoughts are being exposed onto canvas in an unconscious manner. I don’t edit my thoughts – an honest and immediate process. Lately I have been trying to find the most awkward colours that work in harmony.
John-Michael Metelerkamp. 1982 –Silence Apparatus, 2017. Acrylic on Panel. 900 x 900 mm.
You have said that the surface of anything is a mere manifestation of the viewer’s ideology in whatever form it takes. How do you go about expressing this understanding in your work, whilst simultaneously keeping an expression of yourself in the paintings, assuming that you do?
I am not as concerned with portraying the body as much as I am with mental states. Human life is crude and filled with awkwardness. The beings in my paintings are my way of displaying the world’s agenda manifesting itself in a dichotomy of physical versus spirit.
Many of the titles for your works are at once straightforward and complicated. Do the titles come to you before or after the work has been created, and how do they enable the meaning of your subject matter?
Like my work itself, the titles are obtuse. Titles always come after the work and I take great care in choosing them, as I do painting the image.
John-Michael Metelerkamp. 1982 –Chipper, 2017. Acrylic on Panel. 900 x 900 mm.
In your artist statement, you have said that your paintings serve as an honest expression of humanity’s shared human condition, where an attempt at confronting trauma, cynicism and anxiety – as well as humour – has been made. Why is it important for you to share these sensitivities with your work’s viewers, and do you think a sense of a shared humanity is successfully conveyed?
I am not sure I have succeeded in conveying what I set out to do. I will always aim to provide a sympathetic tone in my work with an attempt at understanding people. This I learn by expressing myself and getting to know myself a bit better.
It’s important to me because I have had my struggles and still do. But the scale of my difficulties in
my twenties has taught me a lot about how powerful the brain can be. We create these worlds for ourselves and to us they are so real. But what is reality? Is it the confused state everyone lives in?
You work mainly in acrylic-based paints – what drew you to this as a medium, and why do you think it is successful in communicating your understanding of self, the other and the human condition?
I prefer the drying time and have since learnt how to manipulate the paint in different ways.
Drying time is most important because I can continuously paint until I am done. It is a flurry of movement and thoughts. My biggest asset, I feel, is that I have a strong sub-conscious thought pattern opposing my rational, considered way of thinking. When I sit around for long periods, thinking about what I’m going to do, it is most likely going to be contrived. We can only keep when we give away; working in this free-flowing way I am being honest and portraying my ‘world’ in the most uninhibited way possible.