Artists We Love: Colijn Strydom

INTERVIEWED BY Cheri Morris IMAGES courtesy of 99 Loop


Pretoria-born, Cape Town-based fine artist and lecturer Colijn Strydom shares his thoughts on the exploration of identity through art, the realm where spirituality and politics intersect, and those that inspire him.

Tell us about how your journey into the arts began.

I have always been completely art obsessed – some of my earliest memories are of drawing. My parents often took me to the library as a child and the images in the books completely overwhelmed me. Some of the illustrations I still remember now. I also took it upon myself to figure out how the people who made these images did it, and I think the challenge of attempting the nearly impossible definitely spurred me on. Although I did consider careers in architecture and design, I was very determined to become an artist – my obsession won out.

Describe your style(s).

My style is quite drawing-focused. My first route to image-making has always been through drawing and as a result my paintings often have linear elements. At one point I wanted the work to look a bit machine-made and the line quality became quite cold and precise, but these days I am enjoying looser brushwork. I have also started to make greater use of flat areas of colour to achieve works that are quite bold.

Who inspires you?

There are so many people, works and places that inspire me that it’s hard to know where to start! As an example of what a working artist and lecturer can be, Diane Victor really stands out. She works incredibly hard with great integrity and manages to be a great lecturer and person too. As far as painters go, I am currently looking at early Renaissance artists, such as Fra Angelico and il Sassetta. I am also a huge fan of Mughal miniature painting, but if I had to move into the 20th and 21st centuries, I would have to (for today – it keeps changing) mention Philip Taaffe, Louis Maqhubela and Yunhee Min.

Elaborate on the interrogation of and dialogue with your masculine Afrikaner identity within your works.

I decided to “start with what I know” (apparently Rembrandt said this; I’ve always thought it good advice) and work my way from there. I have always wanted to make work that speaks to where I’m from and that responds to my place and time, but I found this to be easier said than done.

I didn’t want to attempt to represent anyone else and run the risk of misrepresenting them so I decided that, while it runs the risk of being solipsistic, a clear view of myself and my relation to what I’ve inherited would have value. Being white and male has given me incredible advantages and it has taken some work to peel away the layers of ideology that come with those advantages (and the work is continuing).

I have never related to my masculinity in a straight-forward way, and have always found there to be a distance between what I am and what I should, apparently, be. I suppose I am both trying to emancipate myself from the racist patriarchy, and understand the world I am in.

Tell us about the use of humour and irony in your works.

I think play and laughter are wonderful and can be so powerful. One of my favourite quotes is Emma Goldman’s, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution”. When I was still studying in Pretoria I became interested in irony as a way of subverting meaning, or toying with it, and looked quite a bit at Marcel Duchamp, who I think had a fantastic sense of humour. I think being playful allows one to avoid being didactic and can help open up a work to modes other than sermonising.

Discuss the realm where spirituality and politics intersect and why it interests you.

I am fascinated and a bit terrified by the wide-ranging repercussions that an individual’s often quite idiosyncratic viewpoints can have. Spirituality, although often public, can also be a very private realm. It can form either a conduit for resistance to dominant ideologies, or a space where dangerous ideas can fester. Either way, these ideas on what God may or may not be will have a political dimension (i.e. whether God exists, or is male or female), and consequently those dimensions are expressed in values (what is to be held sacred, what is to be cast out as dirty).

For my last show, I was researching David Beresford Pratt (the man who almost managed to kill H.F. Verwoerd) and I was struck by how his private convictions, amplified by epilepsy, led him to act on such a large social scale. It seems to me that these private, mystical ideas most people have can either lead to very positive or very dangerous outcomes.

Self-portrait as David Beresford Pratt 1, 2019, acrylic ink and acrylic paint on canvas, 140 x 70 cm

Describe the space in which you create your art.

I work from home, which is a flat in the Cape Town CBD. From my window, I look over the ceilings of the buildings next to mine and get just a glimpse of Signal Hill. I like being close to the paintings when I make them and often work at odd times, so it’s great that they are at hand.

Where can people purchase your works?

In Cape Town, you can purchase my work from 99 Loop Gallery. In Johannesburg, you can contact Dawid Ras.

Are you participating in any current/upcoming exhibitions?

I just had a solo at 99 Loop Gallery called Crepuscular, and at the moment I have work up in a group show at Dawid Ras Gallery called Back to the Future I.

What’s next for you?

I‘m excited to see the results of a collaboration I did with local fashion brand Sitting Pretty; I designed a print for them and can’t wait for the launch, which will be very soon. As for next year, I am looking forward to the Cape Town Art Fair, where I will be exhibiting with 99 Loop Gallery.

Find more of Colijn’s work on his website and follow him on Instagram (@colijn_strydom).