Q&A with 2019 Award Finalist: SIMON VENTER

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:

Culture is an ever-evolving thing, it is hard to say what it fully encapsulates other than that it exists in relationship to people. The idea of culture as something that is evolving and organic is my conceptual point of departure. In my artworks, this process is explored from one to the other. The second piece is on a tondo canvas as there is something to the circular shape that is both evocative of the organic and evolving nature of culture and how it can at a point in time seem complete.
The series links to the contemporary setting through the use of three people from my city of Port Elizabeth, each with their own unique background and cultural identity. As a painter I aim to confront the viewer with the concept of an evolving and hybrid culture in each one of my pieces.
My use of colour is quite overpowering and with the way that each subject looks out at the viewer, this gives a semi-confrontational feel to the pieces. You as the viewer must engage with the subject. This creates a process in which not only is the physical oil-painting a cultural object, but the act of viewing it and deriving your own insights from the work is itself the creation of a new cultural moment. In that moment we see the evolution in the cultural landscape. The cultural landscape of South Africa is one in flux, in the paintings I try to emulate that feeling.


Tell us about yourself. Where are your from, and where do you currently live?

I was born in East London in the Eastern Cape. Shortly before beginning primary school my family moved to the Howick in KZN. After growing up in KZN my family then moved to Port Elizabeth once my sisters and I had all finished matric.

Art school (and if so where) or self-taught?

I am self-taught in the sense that I never attended an art school. The only formal art training I have is what I learnt in high school. Otherwise, I have sought out information online or in books.

How did you learn about the Award and what made you want to enter?

I came across it online. Possibly via the VANSA newsletter. I entered last year and wanted to have a second go this year and see what happens. I think the gallery has a good online platform and thought potentially winning or being shortlisted for the award would be a good outcome.

What do you think of the StateoftheART Gallery Award as a platform for emerging artists in South Africa?

I think that it is a good platform. It has one of the better social media presences in SA when compared to other galleries. Because of its online platform it can take on more artists than a traditional gallery, something that can allow it to focus on developing emerging talent.

Tell us about where you make your work.

Currently I create my art in my parents’ garage. The garage is being used to store things, so I have taken over a corner for my easel. If it’s drawing then I work at my desk in my room.

What is your key inspiration as an artist?

People are my key inspiration. People and their stories, but more specifically the stories they tell with their faces. I am also an avid reader and in addition I love film, so what I read, or watch will also inspire me when creating an artwork. But the main inspiration is people.

Do you have any rituals or habits involving your art-making that you can tell us about?

Sadly I do not have any eccentric rituals or habits. It’d be interesting if I did. When it comes to creating an artwork my habits are quite mundane, I like to have a cup of tea, maybe I will listen to an episode of a podcast I like, or some music. During breaks I may play on the PS4. 

Which new trends or South African artists do you find inspiring at the moment?

To be honest I can’t say I keep track of trends, be it international or local. I follow artist’s whom I like on Instagram and will take note of their style and themes. But I don’t seek out trends. In terms of South African artists, I really like the work of Solly Smook, Duncan Stewart, Robyn Pretorius, Joff, Angel Mey, Banele Njadayi and to look to past artists I’d say my favourite is George Pemba along with JH Pierneef.

How is your work relevant in a South African context?

My work is relevant to the South African context because I aim to create pieces that speak to the current situation our country finds itself in. But, I aim to provide a different perspective than that which is often found within the art world in South Africa. I aim to create art that is philosophically informed by my faith and my beliefs in the importance of individual liberty and unafraid to comment on matters of race, culture and history from an angle that does not devolve into the inevitable insanity of the intersectional lens.

What do you think South African artists can contribute to the global art market?

I think South African artists have a rich history and culture from which to draw on. The unique position of South Africa as a relatively ‘western’ African nation allows it to speak to a wider market artistically than other African nations. Because art and culture are spaces that help us overcome our differences and allow us to understand each other, we are fortunate enough to be afforded the opportunity create something that is both at once local and universal. It is this quality that appeals to the global market.

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 that social media and online services are extremely important to the success of emerging artists and aides greatly in kickstarting their careers. If they know how to use it. In my own experience I have generated more commissions via social media than through galleries or more traditional means.

How do you feel about the upcoming group exhibition and the other shortlisted finalists’ works?

I am very excited for it. I have looked at the work of the other finalists and it is quite interesting. I am keen to see who the judges pick as the winner as the finalists are quite diverse in terms of their media and subject matter. But ultimately I’ll just be happy to have my pieces in a good gallery in Cape Town. I see it as the start to more future success.
Do you have any plans for the coming year?

I do. I will be entering for the Sasol New Signatures award. I will also look to enter any other competitions I can find. Other than that, I aim to continue growing in my art. I look forward to seeing what opportunities arise from the Spier Arts Trust’s Creative Block programme as well.

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

To be perfectly honest I can’t say if the idea I have now would end up exactly how I imagine. But, I have been thinking of how much I’d want the freedom of a solo exhibition to explore this one idea. Namely, the failure of humanism, both group orientated and individual orientated. How exactly I’d bring across such an idea, I’m not sure. But key to it would be using our own history and its link to the world, to explore this idea. I would also want to explore some other media too, maybe film and photography. Definitely graphite.

Finally, tell us something surprising about yourself.

People are often quite surprised when they find out that I love rugby and enjoy watching it as much as I do. Most people who don’t know me well seem to assume my interests are purely within the creative space.