In the Studio with Claude Chandler
By Sam Rietmann
The cheerful yellow
door of Studio 41 on the corner of Upper Canterbury and Glynn Street is a
welcome splash of colour
on a temperamental, overcast Cape Town afternoon. Slip
through the door and creak up the purple wooden stairs and you
yourself in a diverse studio brimming with some of Cape Town’s most creative
beings. One such individual is artist
Claude Chandler, former Durbanite, who
has taken up residence in the mother city. We chatted about new beginnings,
studio life and his distinctive series Binary Visage.
SR: Why did you leave
Durban for Cape Town?
CC: In Durban, I have this heritage. My mother was an artist
and my father an artist and lecturer. I grew up in galleries so
me, and in a way I just felt that no matter what I did there would always be
that shadow. I think people always
need change in their lives, to leave the
nest, go on an adventure and struggle and work. So that was why I moved to Cape
It was actually quite refreshing having no one know me, being dead to the
art world here, being invisible and to prove to myself
that, just on my skill
alone, I can do it. And incredibly enough nearly two years later I’m becoming a
full time artist.
SR: Was the move to
Cape Town exactly that for you, an ‘an adventure and struggle”?
CC: At the time I had moved with my girlfriend but that
didn’t last long. I needed to work so it was either being a waiter or my
who I was staying with, was working at Art Jamming…And you kinda got
paid the same but at least you were in an art studio. I
just thought it’s so
important to stay within the same genre and even though it was the lowest end
of the art market. But it was cool,
like when there were no customers I could
paint and use the paints for free so for a long time it worked out alright.
SR: How did you land
up at Studio 41?
CC: Zavick (the founder of the studio) came to the group
exhibition at Alex Hamilton, of which I was a part, and he brought three
works. We got chatting and he was telling me about Studio 41 and their Toilet
Cubical exhibition and I was thinking ‘what the
hell, what is this’ and I took
his card but I never really followed up on it. But then Adele (a fellow artist)
invited me to a show here and
I just came with a whole bunch of my work. I saw
Zavick and we recognised each other. We got chatting again and I fell in love
the space….Eventually I was able to quit my job at Art Jamming and the
rest is history.
SR: What is it like
working in the Studio 41?
CC: The studio gang is great; they are like my second family so
we are kinda compadres. For an artist, you can work at home, but
really lonely life, very lonely career, and that blur between home life and
work life is difficult. There are too many distractions,
so for me to be able
to come to the studio feels like I am coming to work and then I have home time
so I can separate the two lives.
I think you can get so short sighted with your
work and its always great to have someone else to pull you out and give you
criticism or some affirmation, or if I wanna take a break I can play some
chess against Zavick, or have a cup of coffee with someone.
The studio means so
much to me and in many regards I don’t think I would be at this stage in my
career without it.
SR: Let’s talk a
little about your series Binary Visage. How would you describe it?
CC: The stamps are
very sort of Pop-urban, they are more open ended (than realistic portraiture).
My work got labelled with this
idea of ‘Urban-Pop’ so at the moment I am
sticking with it.
SR: How did you come
across this style?
CC: The way I remember there was a group exhibition in
Durban called Online at the KZN
Gallery, which I was part of…I wanted
to work the surface so it looked digital,
so I just did binary stamps (1’s and 0’s) with a bit of paint work as well and
when it sold on
the opening night I was pretty stoked. Also in art school I was
really inspired by Chuck Close and his technique, 'cause of the
between abstraction and realism in his work. When you are really intimate with
the work and up close, it's all about
texture or pattern or colour, and then
from afar it becomes this portrait. That’s inspired a lot of my work. Being up
intimate, rubbing you hand on it, it’s just about texture and the
print and then again from a distance it becomes resolved.
SR: Why portraiture?
I really enjoy the process of
discovering the portrait, cause for me I always believe that the image is in
the blank canvas and
it’s about pulling it out instead of putting it on.
SR: Some of your paintings are of celebrities and others are of
‘unknown faces’, how do you decide who to paint?
CC: Well with high school and even with art school there’s a
kind of ‘who can colour in the best’ mentality. The person who
can draw more
accurately is the better artist and for a lot of artists I think it is hard for
them to break out of that - I faced a bit
of that with my stamp technique. The
first stamps I was doing I was wanting to prove ‘ look I can make this look
like Brad Pitt’
and then after a while I realised that’s not important. For me
the relationship between the stamp and the face, the abstraction
realism, that’s what its important. The more I went away from the representational
stuff, the more I found I was getting
better responses to my work. And I think
its accessibility as well, maybe one out of a hundred people want to live with
and one in five people want to live with ‘Binary’ or ‘Code’ or just an
obscure face. That is always my issue with portraiture.
You want to be a
portrait artist and for people to be able to live with your work but you want
people to engage with it too.
If it is a quick representational image of
somebody that they know they look and move on without fully engaging. It is
tough to find that kind of balance
SR: How important do you believe it is to have a defined sense of style
and stick with it?
CC: There is so much competition and to stand out you have
to maybe be a really crazy personality but I think having an identity
in your work either, subject matter or
technique, is important. Luckily for me and my technique, you see one of these
know ‘okay it’s a Claude’. It doesn’t disappear and that’s why I gave
up quickly on realism.
SR: Earlier on you said Chuck Close was a source of inspiration, who
CC: I guess Lucian Freud, Francis
Bacon; huge one is Francis Bacon. He is just so honest about his work, what he
what he wanted to achieve. I think that is why he did what he did and
why people reacted so well to his stuff. I think honesty in
your work is key
and people can pick it up if you are bullshitting them. Also seeing how far you can push the
suppose that’s why I like Damien Hirst and those guys. They do the
whole looking for the boundary but there is no boundary
type of thing so I
think that is important.
SR: How do you work past the dreaded artist’s block?
CC: By going to openings, and
recently I downloaded a whole bunch of art documentaries. Watching them and
artist’s lives and their process and struggles, you kinda just
relate to them and are like, ‘Yeah I have also been through those
seeing the importance they attach to their work and what it’s done for their lives…
it kinda ignited the fire again
for me. I just felt really great about what I
was doing, about being an artist and producing work - almost like magic you
But I also had a period of work burn outs when I would work Monday to
Sunday and after a while I realised I have to just chill
out and enjoy my life
as well. SO I have been on one of those breaks at the moment, been enjoying
life a bit too much
lately, but I couldn’t think of doing anything else with my
life at the moment, its wonderfully fulfilling.
SR: Where do we find you outside of the studio?
CC: Recently I had a friend from
Australia visit. I call myself a Capetonian now, and to enjoy the tourist
things was good. I don’t
do that often enough anymore, so I kinda got into that
again. Also then I guess Roxies, the Shack…the beach and Lions Head
then. I just love the fact that in Cape Town you really feel like you are trekking and in nature but then you just
over your shoulder and there’s the city.
SR: Any advice for other artists?
CC: Anyone in the creative industry, be it artist, musician,
dancer or actor, wants to be rewarded financially for their trade, and
is the biggest attribute needed. It’s also important for artists to get day jobs
initially, because as soon as the desire to
make money penetrates your art
making, you are going to start painting blomme and Karoo landscapes and all that. People can
smell that crap from a mile
away. It is great having cash flow so that it doesn’t affect what you paint or
how you paint. And if you
find something that works for you and you really
enjoy it I think it’s best to kind of repeat and investigate it and discover
again. Eventually there’s going to be some sort of evolutional mutation
or fluke or something will happen and then you can take it further.
View Claude's Portfolio