Q&A with 2019 Award Finalist: DAMIAN OSBORNE

After careful consideration of several hundred entries by artists from across South Africa, the judges have shortlisted 10 artists working in a number of mediums including painting, photography, digital art and printmaking.

The work of the shortlisted artists will go on show in a special exhibition at StateoftheART’s Cape Town gallery from 27 August – 14 September 2019 and the winner announced at the Award Ceremony on 05 September. The winner will be awarded a R20 000 cash prize and a solo exhibition with the gallery in 2020.

We asked the Ten Gallery Award Finalists some questions to help you get to know them before the Finalists Exhibition.


Artist Statement:

The Thoughtful Man is a series of portraits that I’m currently working on, as oil paintings or drawings, depicting the modern man as I see him subjectively. I aim to complete between 12 to 15 portraits.

This series is a collection of men whom I know personally — regardless of generation, religion, status, colour, sexual preference and country; relatives and friends who have held up the mirror of inspirational maleness, have some defining character I look up to and shown me the more positive, albeit imperfect, characteristics of being a modern man in South Africa.

Since in this age it seems that men are no longer viewed in a positive light in our society, or seen at all. I wanted to take a look at the archetypes of men and their reactions and feelings towards women and their place in nature.


Tell us about yourself. Where are your from, and where do you currently live?
I’m born and bred Capetownian. I lived in Constantia for many years where I painted a lot of plein air landscapes of the beautiful wine farms, greenbelts, mountains and trees. I now reside in Fish Hoek with my wife, with a stunning view of False Bay.

Art school (and if so where) or self-taught??
I’m self-taught, though I think every artist is essentially self-taught.

How did you learn about the Award and what made you want to enter?
I discovered it on the VANSA website.

What do you think of the StateoftheART Gallery Award as a platform for emerging artists in South Africa?
I think it’s awesome. And I think it’s vital in our country to have platforms like this. Especially when the arts are being cut back in schools globally. I’m worried for our future generations. And I’m worried that people don’t consider art a ‘real’ career. Being an artist is really not the career for someone who wants security, or an easy route to riches. It takes a huge amount of passion. And it’s channels like this that give emerging artists a chance. Art is fundamental to culture. And one can measure the state of a nation by the state of its art.

The Non-Conformist
Tell us about where you make your work.
At this phase, because I’m mostly doing figurative and portrait work, I work at home in my studio. When I’m painting or drawing landscapes, I usually work outdoors. I carry a sketchbook with me everywhere I go though. I try to draw from life as much as possible.

What is your key inspiration as an artist?
I think one’s inspirations and motives as an artist changes as one develops and matures over many years. In the beginning, I was emotionally transported by the painters of the Dutch ‘Golden Age’. I still do love those fantastic still lifes, interiors and landscapes.
Then, as I grew more confident in my painting, I started studying anatomy and portraiture. There is an endless supply of inspiring artists these days; in the books of the Old Masters, on Instagram, in galleries or online.
I’m particularly inspired by representational artists who are not only technically brilliant, but who’s work makes an emotional statement.
So I would say my key inspiration or drive, is learning to really master the technical aspects, without making work that’s dry, overly academic, prosaic or detached.
I’m not interested in saying ‘Hey, look how well I paint!’
I think that’s egotistical and there are many artists in the world who are way better than me. I think, instead, artists should be more focused on using their technical skills to say something personal and individual. Stop worrying about what’s trendy on Instagram or comparing your work to others. Be brave enough to have an opinion and put something of yourself into the work.

Do you have any rituals or habits involving your art-making that you can tell us about?
I usually do yoga or go to the gym to keep up my energy levels. I usually paint for long hours and nearly everyday. I write in a journal a lot —about art, ideas, quotes, poems, lists of things I need to do, plotting the stages of paintings, etc. It really helps to direct my life. I do life drawing every week, and well, just paint and draw a lot.

Which new trends or South African artists do you find inspiring at the moment?
To be honest, my back goes up a bit when people talk about the latest art trends. To me, it usually means art that’s gone past the inspirational/original phase, and become superficial and commercial, with lots of mediocre copy-cats jumping on the bandwagon. So I don’t care much for what’s trendy.
I think great art is timeless. A hundred years from now, someone looking at a great work of art should be able to say ‘Ah, so that’s how they lived then. I can still feel those emotions.’
Like looking back at a self portrait of Rembrandt. We still feel that vulnerability and awareness of his own mortality, 400 years later.
What inspires me at the moment is Deborah Poynton’s work. But past South African Masters like Pierneef, Tinus de Jongh and more recently, Neil Rodger, I find extremely beautiful and evocative, creating the feeling of whole other worlds.
The Pagan

How is your work relevant in a South African context

I want to contribute to bringing back representational art after the 100-odd years that abstract, non-objective or ‘Modern’ art has held court. I think representational art is making a comeback, but in a contemporary context. I mean, I don’t think you can go much further than panels of a single colour, or blotches and squiggles of paint. That had its time and place. But I’ll leave auctioneers at Sotheby’s to worry over that.
I also don’t understand the romanticising of realistic art and the way contemporary artists are mimicking the mood or even clothing of the 19th Century in their paintings.
So, I am trying to imagine how my paintings will be seen in the future. And I always ask myself how authentic I’m being; how true to myself and my national identity.
Perhaps our ideas of nationalism won’t actually exist in the future. Perhaps there won’t even be a country called South Africa in the future. But as a South African in the present, I want to paint what I see and feel personally. Not the propaganda or political stuff. I leave that to other artists, of which there is a multitude.
I am currently working on a series of male portraits —of men I know personally. The inspiration behind starting this series, was due to my own personal questions I have as a white South African male. By painting my contemporaries (regardless of race) and asking them these same questions, I hope to explore this small snapshot of our collective identity as South African men in the 21st Century.
I have plans to do a series of female portraits afterwards too.
What do you think South African artists can contribute to the global art market?

In South Africa, we have a unique perspective due to a complex hybrid economy; one where we have the majority of the population living beneath the poverty line, juxtaposed against the few super rich.
I think because of that, we have much raw material as a nation to work with. Art is a struggle in itself, and by expressing that, we can transform ourselves into something hopeful, something purer, and thus inspire other nations.
We are able to draw upon both African and Western aesthetics, and share our unique voice with the world. Therefore it’s important to develop our own aesthetic, instead of trying to fit into molds that belong to others.
StateoftheART is South Africa's leading online gallery. How important do you think it is for an artist's career to market their work online and through social media?
I think it is important. But making quality artwork that will stand the test of time and express the artist’s unique voice is even more important. Be authentic in your work. So I say, paint first. The rest will follow.
How do you feel about the upcoming group exhibition and the other shortlisted finalists’ works?
I’m excited and grateful.

Do you have any plans for the coming year?
I’m working on three series: ‘The Sirens’ (which I’m halfway through), the male portraits (my main focus this year) and a series of female portraits.
Besides that, I’m also creating more videos and blog posts, teaching art in Fish Hoek and Constantia, doing the odd framing job (which is my side business), continuing with weekly life drawing and learning anatomy and portraiture.

If you win the Gallery Award, tell us about what you have in mind for your solo exhibition in 2020?

Well, I really want to get these male portraits out into the world and make some sort of connection with people. Without going into a whole sexist spin, I think men are the cause of a lot of pain in this country, and are they themselves damaged and in pain. Men have lost their way, and their identities are being shaken. It’s new territory in this post-feminist era. Men and women should be lifting each other up, not alienating each other.
So, I hope these portraits of my male role models can somehow transmit a feeling of wholesomeness and inspire other young men, and even women. Art is a very powerful medium, because images can be retained in the subconscious and begin to grow within us.

Finally, tell us something surprising about yourself.
I completely rebuilt a 1989 VW Jetta II (my current project car), though I’ve built other cars in the past. I am always restless. I hate wasting time watching TV, but I love Brooklyn 99.
I completed a trifecta of crossing over into early old age: I moved to Fish Hoek with my wife, I shouted at some kids skateboarding on our driveway at 10 o’ clock on a Saturday night, and promptly pulled up my tracksuit pants to tuck my T-shirt in.