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John-Michael Metelerkamp was born in 1982 and is based in Knysna, South Africa. His practice of work deals with intriguing sensitivities about both reality and the subconscious, confronting trauma, anxiety, and awkwardness. The artist has said that his paintings serve as an honest expression of humanity’s shared human condition, where an attempt at confronting life – as well as seeing its humour– has been made.
In previous bodies of work, the artist considered his past, present, and future in the hope of learning about who he was and where he found himself in specific moments. His work is most fascinating when viewed across it's varied scope; in the relatively short span of time he’s been painting he’s fast-forwarded through many phases, including (but most certainly not limited to) depictions of beady-eyed people in swirling landscapes, a brief exploration in Cubism, characterful wild animals and peculiar still lifes.
The artist says: ‘My work is autobiographical in the context of my recovery and journey to being a more whole person. Painting has so many elements in it that I find effective at accessing a certain mood or energy. I don’t step back until I feel I have something to look at. I don’t edit my thoughts and have tried in the past to find the most awkward colours that work in harmony. I’m concerned with mental states. Human life is crude
and the beings in my paintings are my way of displaying the world’s agenda manifesting itself in a dichotomy of physical versus spirit.’ There’s a clearly sympathetic tone in his work, one with an honest attempt at understanding people.
Metelerkamp considers himself a student of painting and has never formally studied art. He enjoys experimenting and surprising himself. ‘If I knew what I was going to be painting a month from now I wouldn’t be happy,’ he says. John-Michael Metelerkamp only began painting five years ago. He recalls: ‘I have always been quite intimidated by painting, but I always wanted to paint. It all started with a push from my brother. He simplified it and said, ‘paint anything’, so I did. I can beat myself up sometimes for not having one style that signifies my work. But I am just doing what comes naturally to me.’
Gateway Series | 2017
The vast majority of paintings in the artist’s Gateway Series takes place on a body of water. Metelerkamp expands on its background and intention: ‘Perception governs how we interact with everything. When we look at a blazing sunset, I believe what we actually see and feel is different for each and every one of us.’ With this series, he looks to explore the ‘Rorschach Effect’. Metelerkamp says: ‘There are ten official Rorschach tests. Let’s call these paintings the unofficial eleventh – in progress. Traditionally most of these tests will reveal a moth or human figures, a cat or wild animal. But with people who have mental disorders (e.g. schizophrenia), the visions might become somewhat violent or extremely
abstract in subject matter. ‘In this series, I undertake to break the tradition of the Rorschach and place a solid story in the midst of the mirror image.’ The artist admits to the deeply personal themes in his paintings though emphasizes them as being mere stories, engraved with some of his own fears, anger, sympathy, history, future and so on. ‘I think with most art, the viewer's mind is put into a visual story, open to interpretation; and this cuts directly to emotion or feeling. Many patients of mental institutions have a hard time talking, so these Rorschach’s can provide a way for the doctors to understand and treat these minds more proficiently. A paradigm shift in our perceptions can be the most difficult and/or amazing experience. The mirror effect in these paintings seeks to invite us to always welcome introspection and self-reflection.’