TEXT BY LUCINDA JOLLY, HABITAT MAGAZINE
JULY 5, 2019
There are both symbols and metaphors in Juan Stockenstroom’s intuitive, streetwise, mixed- medium paintings, which are a far cry from the process driven lino cuts of his Model C High School art classes. Fed by the inexpensive medium as a mono diet, one senses that the only
lino he wants anything to do with now is the stuff beneath his feet as floor covering.
Stockenstroom took the long route in finding his expression as a painter. His earliest visual influences were the comics of his childhood. Later, as he entered adolescence – as if to compensate for his inner nerd – he was drawn to the edgy world of Main Road, Woodstock in Cape Town, populated by gangsters, hookers and dealers. He often paid the price for this influence with his naivety.
For this artist – from a loving, working class Woodstock family – there was no money for further studies. When you finished school, you got a job. First came the call centre, then the position of photographer’s assistant. He admits to getting into photography for all the wrong reasons: glitz and glamour.
But Stockenstroom gave up being a photographer’s assistant when he started to feel that the positioning of props and lights was closer to being a ‘glorified furniture remover’ than anything creative. Then came the choice of buying a VW Beetle or a ticket to Britain – part of a two-year exchange offered by Britain to South Africa. The Beetle lost out.
Commercial photographic re-toucher in post- production followed and he took to it like a fish to water, falling in love with the medium as it allowed him the use of his drawing skills.
Unseen, barely perceptible underground currents had been gathering and the epiphanic moment arrived when Stockenstroom made the decision to go out and buy a roll of canvas and acrylic paints. Working furiously for days, he poured out a stream of unconsciousness until his wrists ached.
Stockenstroom names Cubism, Francis Bacon, David Hockney and William Blake as some of his primary visual influences. Others include pod casts and a range of music and literature from bebop to classical, Shakespeare and books focusing on history. The influence that comes most strongly to mind in his paintings is Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Both Basquiat and Stockenstroom are essentially self-taught. Their energetic surfaces are produced by contrasting flat areas of colour with intense mark making: the impulsive vs. the controlled.
Using mediums of acrylic and oil stick, the schematic and the use of words in paintings as both formal, visual elements and for meaning, Stockenstroom uses three different fonts. Each font emerges intuitively in accordance with the dictates of their specific content. The same can be said of the presence of various languages, including Spanish, Afrikaans and even Swahili.
There is a profound point of connection between the two artists; a deep sense of otherness, which informs their artworks. Basquiat’s mixed heritage is to Stockenstroom’s ‘coloured’ or mixed race. Both are observers whose works are more concerned with the wider social and political context than the personal. Their work engages with issues of race, slavery, identity, masculinity and the effectiveness of a people. But Stockenstroom’s content is firmly rooted in the slavery, colonialism and Apartheid particular to South Africa.
Black people in Stockenstroom’s work are portrayed schematically as if to suggest a skewed perception by the dominant white race who do not truly see them. Hence their reduction to flat cardboard cut- outs or highly simplified, schematic doodlings in both artists’ paintings.
Concerned with the history of slavery, Basquiat gave us ‘Slave Auction’ and Stockenstrom ‘Freeing Fleeman’. Stockenstroom’s work shows the journeyof a slave brought to the Cape of Good Hope during the 19th century and how he bought his freedom. Witty, catchy phrases and puns, like those graffitied on urban walls such as: ‘the truthful liar may have won’,‘bars not bars’ and ‘ja baas’ populate the surface and provide a literal dimension.
Currently Stockenstroom is working on a new body of work in which he has introduced the medium of metallic paint. One of the works in progress is inspired by a book on the rape of Africa, which shows thebody of a woman with two faces, her body sectioned, suggesting the continent’s butchering by Europe and the colonising of her resources.