Interview by Nico Krijno for JRNL
Stefan and Nico are brothers. They are seven years apart. They both studied drama. Nico prefers the original spelling of his name (before his grandfather changed it) for various personal reasons.
Nico Krijno: Did you always want to be a painter?
Stefan Krynauw: Yes and No.
You come from a very small town in the Eastern Cape. How do you think that has influenced your work?
I’m not sure. I know that living there made me want to create something. I felt quite bored and detached there, so I started painting and reading up on art history.
Was there a specific cultural experience, observation or fascination that triggered you to come up with the idea of ‘A Portrait of a Painter’?
Not really. I went to Oyster Bay to paint without knowing what I wanted to do; I [had] just finished studying and I was a bit lost. I think the work stemmed out of a lack of cultural experience, because I was quite isolated during most of the process. I worked from various Xeroxed images and newspaper clippings on each painting, using the emotional quality of these images and trying to transfer it into other forms.
You recently had a sell-out show at Joburg’s Rooke gallery. How did that come about, and what’s your next move?
[My] previous work was seen by Roelof van Wyk, and he later became my patron and mentor. van Wyk introduced Gavin Rooke to my work and they gave me the chance to exhibit. I’m busy moving into a studio and I will make some paintings for the JHB Art fair a little later in the year, and I’ll just take it from there.
In the press release for ‘A Portrait of a Painter’ it is stated that your work is directly linked to Roelof van Wyk’s series ‘Young Afrikaners’. I know you were featured in his selection for the V&A.; Stylistically, how is the work linked?
I see all my paintings as portraits, which link up with the ‘Young Afrikaner ‘series. Some of the paintings have a similar baroque like feel to van Wyk’s, with regards to contrast etcetera.
You recently moved to Johannesburg. Do you feel a move like that can have a big influence on your work?
Definitely, there is an energy here that I’m not used to. I moved here about two months before the exhibition, and in that time my work did change, I don’t know if it was the environment, or because I had limited time to finish my work.
The core of the next question really is: How, or what, do you feel about your (fairly uncommon) position as a young, South African contemporary abstract painter (whose work has also been recognised as relevant enough for exhibition at a fairly exclusive gallery)? Do you think about that at all? How do you feel about your relationship to South Africa’s own history of abstraction, and of course the larger legacy of Modernist (and, I suppose, postmodernist) Abstraction. Have you established a position towards these two modes?
I feel privileged in my position at the moment. My work is important to me, but the weight it has in a larger sense is for other people to decide. I honestly don’t have a care for the history of South African abstraction. I don’t see my work as tied to the country I’m living in. While I was growing up, I didn’t have large exposure to exhibitions or art. I spent more time browsing through books featuring artists abroad. I’m a South African painter, but I don’t see my work at the moment as ‘South African’.
What artist/architect/designer do you feel connected to?
I appreciate the work that forms part of the abstract expressionist ‘movement’, and the portraiture of Bacon.
The work is very dark, bold and arresting, some might even say sombre. Essentially, the work was created in complete isolation as you mentioned. What did that bring to the process, and do you think you’ve found your ‘way’ of working?
I was lonely and depressed during the process. It channelled through to the work. I regret destroying so many works. Being isolated definitely had an influence on it. I wanted to find different ways of portraying emotion. I haven’t painted a lot so I wanted to find out what works for me and where I am. Paintings in books always creep into the work. I hate it, because you see a picture and it’s stuck in your head forever. You don’t think about other’s work, but somehow it always creeps in. Working alone had its plus points, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go to an extreme. It’s too early to say if I have found my way of working.
I have always thought that the place where you sleep or the place you share with your partner should be separate from the place where you work/paint. The domestic rituals and details somehow kill the imagination. How do you operate?
In Oyster Bay I worked in a renovated garage, which was good. If you can’t sleep you can just start painting again. A few months before the exhibition I started painting at the Rooke gallery, which was interesting, I drove quite far and it felt as if [I was] going to [my] job and it’s serious. I haven’t had my own space yet, but I will be working in a garage outside the flat my girlfriend and I rent. I prefer working close to where I live, because it gives you more freedom.
I know you are primarily a self-taught painter. Do you ever regret not getting formal training? Do you think much can be gained from formal training?
Yes, I do regret it, but I’m also glad I don’t have training. I don’t have a strong background in painting, so I compensate by working harder. Formal training is good for rapport with people who have the same interests as you, because you can easily get stuck in your head.
I find that nowadays, with photography, digital art, and the ability to create prints, it’s no wonder that artists are seeking to make it perfectly clear that what you see on the canvas was in fact created with a more personal human element. For example, with built-up layers to create depth, etcetera. Tell me a little bit about your process.
I work intuitively, which is probably as a result of studying drama. I work on various paintings at the same time; it makes it easier for me, because you learn from the one and apply to the other. I make drawings, but I don’t use them as guidelines for paintings. I enjoy improvising on the canvas. I don’t think it’s the best way, but I enjoy it. I am obsessive, so I keep changing paintings. I was still finishing one painting while we were hanging the exhibition. It’s difficult to know when a work is finished, but that’s an almost universal thing with painters.
The Rooke Gallery, Johannesburg. The exhibition runs until 24 June, 2011.