South African artists Mia Chaplin, Olivié Keck and Michaela Younge reveal their working methods and private passions
Unafraid of colour, focused on innovating their medium, observant and oftentimes sub-consciously driven, three South African female artists, Mia Chaplin, Olivié Keck and Michaela Younge – all rising stars and alumni of Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town - tell us a little more about their practice and the internal inspirations moving their work above and beyond.
To take a complex phenomenon like the human endeavor and make it playfully hilarious is a daunting task, reserved for only the smartest. Print and sculpture artist Olivié Keck likes to use a variety of materials to estrange the viewer from commonplace narratives using theatrical compositions, thereby encouraging them to look with, as she describes, “delighted eyes”. Using verbose colours, juxtaposed ideas and jumbled associations, the artist subverts expectations and bewilders her audience. She’s been avidly exploring printmaking since her 2016 residency at the Kala Art Institute, California, where she had access to her own press. Such freedom resulted in the series, Selfie Fulfilling Prophecy. The premise of this project was to examine the role digital platforms have in simulating the heightened emphasis on self-actualisation - think the trend of curating your own catalogue via Facebook and Instagram. “This genre of self-reflexive perspective has led to a significant set of visual signifiers and linguistical dialogue, which I find particularly relevant to contemporary culture,” she says. Keck graduated in 2011 and enjoyed her first solo show, False Priest, in 2014. She’s currently continuing to explore the digital gaze at her third international residency, which is at Frans Masereel Centrum in Brussels, Belgium.
Having graduated in 2015, Michaela Younge has been transitioning from flat, colourful digital prints and sculptural work into large, wool-based felt compositions. Using merino wool and a needle, the artist creates scenes where the subject matter is largely anthropomorphic. Alluding to the blurred lines between human and non-human, her visual narratives could belong to dreams, folklore or children’s stories. They most often depict farmyard animals as a means of emphasising our relationship with animals, especially the horse. The trusty steed, partner to the warrior; or the beast of burden, partner to the wagon. But don’t expect to find her sketching in stables.
“I’m inspired by the first people to arrive at a bar and the last to leave. They’re very entertaining to watch,” she says of her own special fieldwork. “I found one of my first characters like that, his name is Cupid Man because he was chubby and bald, and he tried to kiss a woman at the bar, but his lower jaw jutted out so he basically just licked her cheek. Needless to say she was not impressed.” Young graduated in 2015 and recently participated in the group show, Folly at SMITH. Where some may find her humour dark or absurdist, she prefers to see it as a spirited and perplexing way to examine the human condition. The resulting uncanny scenes allow for the kind of comic relief that our daily lives demand.
Under A Boiling River, Mia Chaplin’s second and concurrent solo show at WHATIFTHEWORLD, Johannesburg, takes her audience on a journey along the faint fence that lies between what is known and what is unknown. The oil painter contrasts subtle metaphors of humanity in her almost idyllic, dreamlike works. Pairing her gestural, impasto style with still life compositions, floral motifs and drapery, brings to life a sense of what is yet unseen, a cause of tension. “The paintings act as membranes between me and the viewer,” Chaplin says. “The cloth acts as a symbol of shame and a need for protection. I want to remind us of what we are, and to speak of human fear, a desire for power and the politics of intimacy.” With its lightness of depiction and a seriousness of matter, Chaplin’s work offers a lingering memory vaguely lodged yet nagging at the back of the mind.
Chaplin was born in Durban and is based in Cape Town. Since graduating in 2011, she has completed two residencies, at the OBRASS Foundation in Portugal and at Nirox near Johannesburg, and has exhibited extensively in South Africa. This show allows us a view of what subtlety can do when the paintbrush is in the right hands.
Under A Boiling River by Mia Chaplin is on view at WHATIFTHEWORLD gallery until 29 April 2017