The surprising fact that John-Michael Metelerkamp only began painting three years ago could have something to do with his incredibly prolific output – barely a week goes by in which he doesn’t upload at least one new painting onto his site. The Knysna based artist’s 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 a phase including (but most certainly not limited to) depictions of beady-eyed people in swirling landscapes, a brief exploration in Cubism, characterful wild animals and his most recent kick, peculiar still lifes. Yet, without fail, each piece bears his distinct mark.
The painting bug bit in 2013 and since then, you’ve dedicated your full attention to the medium. What sparked this?
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.
What were you doing before?
I was being gnarly for like 10 years. And then I found painting, which set me on the right path.
You’ve said that painting has taken over your mind and body. In terms of the latter, what appeals to you about the physical act of painting?
I can be a very physical painter. I use my body to control the medium but I am totally unaware of it. So it sort of feels like an out of body experience. Guston said that sometimes it feels like a third hand is doing the work. I totally relate to this.
How much time do you spend per day painting, or thinking about painting?
If an idea comes to me I have to put it down as soon as possible. I think about painting most of the time. When I go away I don’t like to draw or paint.
Although your work always feels distinctly yours, various pieces differ quite considerably – stylistically. What accounts for this? Tell us more about your art making process.
Thank you. 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. I do what I want. I consider myself a student of painting. I have never formally studied art. I enjoy experimenting. Surprising myself is what really excites. If I knew what I was going to be painting a month from now I wouldn’t be happy.
Where do your ideas come from? Are your paintings based more on reality, or dreams?
Every painting I do spurs new ideas. I would say that all my paintings are based on reality. But not many are painted from reality, if that makes sense.
How does humour factor into your work? Often your portraits feel quite sinister, but there’s always something deliberately un-serious to take the edge off…
At my first exhibition a respected Knysna painter told me he liked the humour in my portraits. I was quite surprised.
What are the recurring themes in your work?
What is reality?
Is there a reason you seldom depict faces and instead, obscure them with thick brushstrokes or arrange facial features in a distorted, Cubist-like fashion?
Psychologically the significance is relevant in my life.
Straying dramatically from the look and feel typically associated with these genres, many of your paintings depict the natural landscape and local wildlife. What personal significance does this subject matter hold for you?
I love nature. I have a great respect for animals. My father would take my brother and I into the bushveld when we were younger, which is when I started drawing wildlife.
What role does music play in your practise? Do you listen while you paint and, does it have a discernible effect on the outcome?
I listen to music most of the time. Music has saved many a painting for me. I am not sure I hear the words when I paint. But the rhythm and sounds energise me and can make me a bit more spontaneous. Not sure if that’s a good thing. But for now I like the music.
What painting(s) are you working on at the moment?
I am experimenting with still lifes.
See a few of John-Michael’s wildlife paintings, landscapes and portraits on show at Woodmill Lane in Knysna from 7-10 October.