Image courtesy of Stefan Blom
Stefan Blom born 1963, Kimberley. After a brief period in the advertising world Stefan became immersed within the arts as an artist and activist. Blom’s work has been shown in both national and international joint exhibitions.
He has exhibited widely with solo exhibitions in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Germany and New York at establishments such as District Six Museum, Hänel Gallery (Cape Town and Germany), the AVA, JAG and The South African National Gallery.
Stefan’s earlier work is seriously hard hitting and you’ll have to visit his website to find more evidence of that. It more than hints at some serious issues that when taken with his latest pieces, as a whole body of work, tells the story of Stefan. These are his passions, his sociopolitical beliefs, the serious underlying personal backdrop and ultimately a desire to communicate through a visual language. Strong with visceral content that can be disturbing on some levels. I find Stefan much more mellow than his earlier work might signify. Maybe it’s after decades of working, a maturing process, or maybe it’s just another part of the story, the psyche.
Stefan’s reserved persona and reliance on his work to provide the language, coupled with the technical issues we had in recording the conversations, made for effort on both our parts to tease this one out.
An extract from his latest exhibition ‘DShK’ press release written by Lucinda Jolly, a lecturer at Cityvarsity in Cape Town, sums up Stefan’s work.
“Blom’s latest sculptures continue to channel his first hand experience of the psychic wound inflicted by personal trauma into the more impersonal and largely unstable area of political and social forces. His works investigate how the victim and perpetrator are part of a continuum. Bound together are one entity in an eternal symbiosis the human spirit is trapped. His current sculptures have their early roots in the more personal pieces as seen in his first solo show in 1995.”
(DShK is the acronym for “Degtyaryova-Shpagina Krupnokaliberny” the name of a Russian made heavy machine gun)
To give you a sense of scale the figures in Blom’s latest work are life size.
Q. You’re about to have a solo exhibition at Commune 1. Can you tell me a little bit about that project and the body of work you have done for that?
Well for this specific body of work some of the pieces have been in existence for a couple of years now. There are probably two pieces in this exhibition that are from my first exhibition, that you could probably call revamped or better still relived. They were pieces that hadn’t sold. Normally for an exhibition I haven’t worked longer than a year, probably 6 months on most of my exhibitions, but this has taken me a couple of years to complete. So what makes it different from previous exhibitions is the time that I have spent on the work itself.
Q. Is there a specific narrative or theme that you have in mind because they do seem to belong together as a body of work?
I think they do belong together purely for the fact that my whole approach was to do work that relates to things that I am passionate about and have been all my life and I’ve been making commentary about it. These have been relived again from previous exhibitions as an incorporated body of work in a more mature and more knowledgeable way. Normally with 6 month’s work on an exhibition it’s very quick, there’s no time to really explore the concepts completely. Obviously they do look like they belong together. They have been completed at the same time and the way they are finished and the actual materials that I have used are virtually the same. My work was and still is very politically and socially driven. My views on gender and politics are very strong. It’s always been there in my work. This is just another exhibition of that ongoing output that reflects those views. Sometimes it does feel like you do repeat what you have said before but we still live in a time when it can be ignored so pointing it out again and again doesn’t really matter.
Q. Has it been some time since you last had a solo exhibition?
Yes, about 10 years.
Q. Where was your last solo exhibition?
That was in Wiesbaden, Germany, just outside of Frankfurt. It was that long ago for plenty of reasons and in the mean time I have taken part in joint exhibitions. You know I was very spoilt by the German gallery that also had an outlet here in Cape Town. I became very good friends with the gallery owners and I was able to load anything into their gallery. Sadly, both of them died 10 years ago. I think I was just too busy to go out and explore new galleries and commissioned work was keeping me busy enough… and happy enough.
Q. You work solely as an artist?
Q. Looking at your current work, as compared to your more visceral and hard hitting previous pieces, although there does remain hints, is your current work a departure?
I eventually came to conclusions and certain solutions in my personal life. I am a person living in this world at a very particular time and I am very aware of it and how things influence me. I can’t see myself as being unique in the way that I experience the time and space that I live in. So the relevance of the work, to me, I don’t even think about it to be honest. The work in this exhibition is pretty much complete in what I wanted to say. I don’t think there is much more to say about the subject matter or the concepts.
Q. Is this a cathartic or therapeutic process where you are expressing something that you want to let go of? Are you ‘off-loading’?
It’s alway been like that I think, even in my previous exhibitions. Yeah, off-loading certainly.
Q. For want of a better phrase, are you exorcising personal demons?
I think always. I do live in a particular time and those demons are not only solely mine. They are the same as plenty of other people’s too. People who do relate to my work normally fight the same battles. I think it’s to show in a visual way how I dealt with it and my experience of dealing with it for those that don’t quite have that same experience.
Q. Are they driven by specific events or specific moments that are near to you, or is it a general feeling, a zeitgeist, that you have about your political and social time?
I think it’s possibly is a personal thing. I do believe there are others thinking the same and feeling the same way. There are things that have occurred in my life, my experiences, that a lot of people have seen in my work…but then I grew up in a country that is extremely conservative so when it comes to racism, sexism and many other things I feel very passionate about, it seems endless. Those are things that I will address and I will show it in my work. I won’t specifically talk about it. I don’t think it’s my place. I don’t think I can do it in an appropriate way anyway, apart from in what I do artistically.
Q. The press release for your upcoming exhibition uses the term ‘comic strip characters’ as a visual reference. Is there specific intention to have that notion about your work?
I worked in the ad industry for quite a while and I’ve always been very interested in comics. I’ve looked at artists that use comics illustrations as their fine art medium such as the Japanese artist Hideki Arai, a manga artist. Strangely enough I have always been drawn to artists that were born in the same year as me like Tracey Emin, I love her work. I also look at industrial design. The same applies there with two or three industrial designers born in the same year as me like Khodi Feiz . That’s the kind of thing I like looking at and obviously it influences me and that gets reflected in my work.
Q. Do you think your current work is a reflection of a calmer more mature Stefan? Have you exorcised your demons and moved on, or do you even think about that at all?
I am quite aware that it has been a maturing process. I think that just happens automatically.
Q. You also paint and as a process is that part of the same artistic experience, is it just another way of expressing yourself?
It is just another way of expressing myself. Painting was what I started doing before sculpting. When I started painting it wasn’t with the intent of exhibiting the work. If it was more therapeutic, I don’t know, possibly, but I do perceive them separately as different disciplines. I do have the need to express myself in both disciplines without a particular preference. I love painting.
Q. What instigated the current exhibition at Commune 1.?
It had been quite a process because some of the work had been in existence since my first solo exhibition. I’ve used them as the basis for a re-working and the difference between this exhibition and previous exhibitions is that I have been working on it for a longer period of time. It’s basically taking old concepts and ideas and the emotions behind them and revisiting them and solving them.
“I grew up in a country that is extremely conservative so when it comes to racism, sexism and many other things I feel very passionate about, it seems endless.”
Q. Is Commune 1. a relatively new gallery?
The gallery is about two or so years old. The owners are quite experienced gallerists. Daniel introduced me to them. I was going to have the exhibition at the AVA Gallery in Cape Town which is far more established and linked to the Michaelis School of Fine Art. They could only give a date much later in the year and I felt at the time that I had completed the work and needed to exhibit. Commune 1 gave the space and a closer time slot to show the work.
Q. So the exhibition is a commercial one? You are looking to sell?
I am always looking to sell pieces. To be honest it’s not that I don’t have money to eat or to do the work but I would like to at least get something back from what I put in so I am looking to sell work. In my line of work you realise that artwork is normally a luxury to sell .
Q. Is selling part of the process to refresh, renew and move on? Do you find it easy to let go of these pieces?
I do want to get them out there. My main objective is to show the work . It’s only when you are showing the work at galleries or any show that people can actually view the work. As soon as it’s been sold, especially to private collectors, that work is out of the public sight. Where authors have the luxury of actually selling and republishing books, ultimately it’s not possible to do that with my artwork. I would like to sell, but I would like to show it as much as possible first of all.
Q. Do you pay attention to people’s interpretation of the work and that feedback loop?
I think I learn from it first of all. Especially in the beginning of my career I was dealing with a way of communication that can be quite fuzzy at times. To make communication more direct and specific you need to learn from what and how people view it especially when you are treading on new ground. It’s always in the back of my mind, how are people going to react? Are they going to experience it in the way that I experience it? I have been sculpting for a long time and I have experienced people reacting in a way that I do want them to.
Q. Are you ever surprised by the insight people get of you from your work?
I am never surprised but it is always fantastic to see people reacting in a fashion that pleases me. Now and then you do meet someone that over intellectualises work, which can be highly irritating. My main objective is to provoke an emotional response, not an intellectual conversation. I do allow people to say what they want about my work. People tend to want to understand what they see and tend to put it into words . The work is made to be viewed. All I want them to do is look at the work and experience it as it is. I would say that I think subconsciously people tend to get the message right even if they like it or not but people do sometimes get it wrong.
Q. In the context or your practice, and more in terms of process, is there anything you don’t like doing? Is there any aspect of what you that jars with you?
I think marketing the work is a real pain the arse to be honest with you. I hate doing that and I prefer galleries to actually do it for me. I don’t mind them doing it however they want to because if I have to spend time marketing my work I won’t be doing any work. I like the creative aspect of what I do. I don’t even mind, especially in sculpting where it is quite a physical job, and can be quite tedious at points. You can imagine doing the finishes that you can see on my new work is very time consuming and a bit repetitive to do but the finished product is so rewarding it makes the process enjoyable and worthwhile. The only thing I really despise is the marketing.
Q. Do you find it easy enough to get into galleries?
In the beginning of my career it was something I had to work at. It was quite difficult. For my first solo exhibition I couldn’t get a gallery to exhibit in Cape Town and I had to take it to Johannesburg and exhibit there. Since then I don’t really have a problem. They are normally willing to exhibit my work, but there is always the issue of timing. They often want to see a complete body of work that is also completely new and then you often have to wait a year before there is a time slot to exhibit.
Q. You mentioned earlier that you had undertaken quite a few commissions and that was filling most of your time in terms of your artistic output. Can you tell me a bit about those commissions?
I normally get quite a bit of free reign. Most of it was work I have done for political commissions. It’s been mainly for political exhibitions or memorial services. Other than that it’s for people that had already bought work from me or heard about the work and would specify a space where the work would go. Sometimes it might be from an incomplete piece that they liked. In my experience it’s never really been specified in terms of what they want to see or what a piece must look like, thank God.
Q. Has that been a pleasing part of your career or would you have preferred to do purely expressive work for galleries?
I quite like doing those sorts of commissions. I like to look at something and do an interpretation of whatever exhibition it is. I like the challenge of actually having some guidelines and developing an interpretation.
Q. So you like responding to the location, the people and the process?
“My work was and still is very politically and socially driven. My views on gender and politics are very strong. It’s always been there in my work.”
Q. If I could interview any artist or sculptor who would you want to hear about?
I love Tracey Emin’s work. The way she works and that she is not bound down by one single discipline. I really enjoy seeing her work.
Vox /11 - Thursday, 28th May, 2015
Images courtesy of Stefan Blom
Interview by Daniel Lingham