COLIJN STRYDOM: To work with what you know, in many tones of voice

CONTEMPORARY SOUTH AFRICAN ARTIST  |  ARTIST WRITE-UP  |  INTERDISCIPLINARY ARTIST  |  CLAY  

colijn strydom

South African visual artist Colijn Strydom lives and works in Cape Town, has exhibited in solo and group shows all around the country, and has taught part-time in various fine art tertiary institutions.

BY SOPHIE COPE

Threading together many seemingly disparate ways of working, the artist describes a recurrent starting point as, ‘to work with what you know,’ and to allow ‘the known’ to be various and contradictory. To delicately lift it with self-satire and irony, to use it to rub up against the unknown or the inexplicable, and ultimately to transform it. In 2020, Strydom’s luminous series of blue and white ceramic tiles (A History of a Breath) was inspired, in part, by the tiles next to the loo. The sacred and the profane are neighbours all the time. Much of the artist’s work reveals a particular willingness to see this. 

Frequently for Strydom, ‘to start with what you know’ means drawing a line and following it — sometimes onto the pervasive tightrope of the grid, or in the opposite direction with gestural marks and clay fragments, or in a careful layering of both. 

colijn strydom

Colijn Strydom  |  A History of a Breath  |   2020  |  Glazed Ceramic Stoneware

 
colijn strydom
colijn strydom

Colijn Strydom  |  A History of a Breath  |   2020  |  Glazed Ceramic Stoneware

 

The artist knows about lines and paint and their material residues, and he knows about working in a studio apartment surrounded by books and blue grids and clay limbs. He knows and questions white, male, Afrikaner identities in post-Apartheid South Africa, he can accurately sculpt his own nose, he remembers having asthma as a child, and a devotional pursuit of beauty and symmetry — as well as its various inverses — is always present. 

To delicately lift it with self-satire and irony, to use it to rub up against the unknown or the inexplicable, and ultimately to transform it.

Starting with all this — the many ‘knowns’ and their peculiar intersections — Strydom’s practice does not attempt an artificial ‘integration’ of the pieces. Rather, they exist in dialogue, and in the artist’s willingness to move between them — sometimes fluidly, sometimes in shaky leaps and questions.

In 2020, during the first hard lockdown of the pandemic, Strydom spent time carefully sculpting disembodied clay limbs, a fragmented torso, a nose, some blobs that look like cross-sections of skin under a microscope. This more recent use of clay and three-dimensional space stands in stark contrast to the artist’s drawing and painting practice, but is also somehow part of the same conversation. The clay appears to have fallen into (or out of) place with ease, unpretentiousness, an element of the uncanny. The forms are rendered tenderly, as if familiar, with the simultaneous freshness of a first attempt — seeing what happens when one makes a disembodied foot that both references ancient classical sculpture, and is like the first foot in the history of everything.

A history of a breath_2020

Colijn Strydom  |  A History of a Breath  |   2020  |  Glazed Ceramic Stoneware

 
Colijn-Strydom_A-history-of-a-breath_2020

Colijn Strydom  |  A History of a Breath  |   2020  |  Glazed Ceramic Stoneware

 

The clay appears to have fallen into (or out of) place with ease, unpretentiousness, an element of the uncanny.

In an attempt to understand and question origins of Western visual culture, Strydom’s grids and irreconcilable body-fragments make subtle reference to classical Greek sculpture and mythology, without being overly didactic or evasive. What do we really mean when we think of beauty, truth and symmetry now? Is the grid oppressive or expansive, really? What if it’s both — and how do we bridge the distance?

Perhaps unanswerable in any definitive sense — except, as we see in Strydom’s work, in the allowance of many answers. Many truths that are simultaneously true, and many ways to make a mark, think about fragmentation, re-see a foot. The artist talks about ‘being many people’ in his use of line and paint. So too with clay — the more recent introduction of this medium appears to be an outward expression of another one of the many ‘people’ who was always there, and perhaps just never got a chance to say anything until fairly recently. Not an entirely new sentence – just another tone of voice.

Colijn-Strydom_A-history-of-a-breath_2020
Colijn-Strydom_A-history-of-a-breath_2020

Colijn Strydom  |  A History of a Breath  |   2020  |  Glazed Ceramic Stoneware

 

Images courtesy of Colijn Strydom 

 

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