Alien Growth | Confronting the world’s agenda with acrylic, oil and cut outs

Art Africa , April 26, 2018

John-Michael Metelerkamp, from the series The Immortal Nekkies, 2017. Mixed Media. Courtesy of the artist & Berman Contemporary.

John-Michael Metelerkamp, from the series ‘The Immortal Nekkies’, 2017. Mixed Media. Courtesy of Candice Berman Gallery .

 

ART AFRICA spoke to Knysna-based artist John-Michael Metelerkamp on his latest series of paintings, ‘The Immortal Nekkies’, to be exhibited at The Turbine Art Fair in July with Berman Contemporary. His latest series presents an impressive shift into a more neo-expressionist realm exposing a layered and chaotic dialogue.

 

ART AFRICA: You have said before that your work is autobiographical in the context of your recovery and journey to being a more whole person. With the creation of your latest series of work to be exhibited at The Turbine Art Fair in July, which part of your journey does this series represent?

John-Michael Metelerkamp: These pieces have me looking in at some of the people who live on the outskirts of Knysna. It is a highway settlement called Nekkies and I feel I can identify with some of the characters I’ve seen there, not their circumstances, but the feeling of utter despair. There is a tavern along the highway running through Nekkies, there is always plenty of people, dogs, cattle and cars around. But you can feel a sense of uneasiness on that stretch of highway.

 

Your most recent paintings are similar to each other but quite different from your previous work. More layered, abstract and chaotic than what you’ve produced before, with a neo-expressionist edge that brings the work of late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat to mind. What sets this series of work apart from the rest?

They are experimental paintings, like most of my work, I guess. But I can’t actually remember doing the first few. Once I realised where I was an entire series was being produced. There is a bit of Basquiat in them but I was also inspired by my favourite German artist, Jonathan Meese. What sets these paintings apart from my previous work is the process and materials. A variety of material was used, I painted with acrylic and oil and also included cut out paper works. The cut-out material was sourced from my old sketchpad drawings which included watercolours, crayon, oil pastel, charcoal and coloured pencil. I found the process of cutting out to be very pleasurable.

 

John-Michael Metelerkamp, from the series The Immortal Nekkies, 2017. Mixed Media. Courtesy of the artist & Berman Contemporary.
John-Michael Metelerkamp, from the series ‘The Immortal Nekkies’, 2017. Mixed Media. Courtesy of the artist & Berman Contemporary.

 

The main focus of your work lies in the representation of the mental state. You have made reference to the beings in your paintings being portrayals of the ‘world’s agenda’ manifesting in a dichotomy of physical versus the spiritual. Can you elaborate on this, what is the world’s agenda and how do you interpret it?

From my own experience the worlds agenda can manifest in a state of disconnectedness with self. The all-consuming search for acceptance in a place where nothing is static and all you have to lead you are the whims of your next fix. I feel the tension in my paintings alludes to an internal dialogue between landscape or figure, or eyeball and elbow.
The paintings are like alien growth in a far off land, that when they fall to the ground they will make a sound. Even if no one is around to hear it.

 

For thousands of years people have scrutinized over the relationship between mental illness or sadness and creativity. Romantic poets in the past believed suffering was a prerequisite for literary life and Keats is quoted as saying, “Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?” What does this statement mean to you, as a creative?

Depression was one of the factors that led me to painting. And the mental struggles of past and present have been a driving force in my work. I feel better when I work and the world makes a bit more sense every time I connect with the process of painting and a finished work.

 

John-Michael Metelerkamp, from the series The Immortal Nekkies, 2017. Mixed Media. Courtesy of the artist & Berman Contemporary.
John-Michael Metelerkamp, from the series ‘The Immortal Nekkies’, 2017. Mixed Media. Courtesy of the artist & Berman Contemporary.

 

You have said before that if you knew what you were going to paint in a month you would be bored, and if you sat around planning for too long your idea’s would seem contrived. Having said that, what are your plans for the rest of this year?

Soon I am moving into a new house with a nice big studio. And I’m planning to visit London. I have never seen work from the masters, so will need to go to a few museums. I also have a few friends who live there so hopefully catch up with them.

 

John-Michael Metelerkamp, from the series The Immortal Nekkies, 2017. Mixed Media. Courtesy of the artist & Berman Contemporary.
John-Michael Metelerkamp, from the series ‘The Immortal Nekkies’, 2017. Mixed Media. Courtesy of the artist & Berman Contemporary.
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