Selwyn Steyn • Studies from the In-between
Studies from the In-between – Artist’s Statement
The light in Gauteng is of a particular quality. Something between gold (like that which is extracted) and yellow (like the extraction’s detritus). Something between aurum and uranium. Treasure and toxicity. This is particularly so of the winter light, which is a potpourri of dust and carbon and altitude and veld and gold.
But light is only registered when it falls on a substrate. In this case, the light bleaches and warms the surface. But what is the surface? In Gauteng it is an environment that has been turned and exploited, built up and beneficiated. Designed for utility and function. Pragmatically machined into a form that best suits the predominant activities of work and labour.
It’s true the other way, too: the (natural) environment finds its way into the substrate on which the light falls. Concrete, for example, comprises gravel, sand and cement. We produce the first ingredient (cement), the land produces the rest – sand gathered from pits and dongas, aggregate from crushed Rustenburg granite (the same stone that clads the Reserve Bank), water taken from the Vaal River. And so the natural environment percolates into every building. Then the dryness of winter, with its concomitant stillness of air, powders the concrete with the ferruginous sienna of a highveld dust.
But these aspects of environment and light remain largely unread and unscrutinised. Rem Koolhaas critiques a selective perception in the process of designing a building. He posits that architecture is not only found in the halls,
entrances, atriums and facades, but in the fire escapes, service yards and elevators, too. In a similar way, light and land are overlooked in Gauteng because Gauteng is for work. It is a metropolis made with productivity in mind. A locale optimized for the shortest journey from the unbearably harsh present to an unattainable future, it is a machine of endeavour, a conduit for material outcomes. Infrastructural to the bone.
So in one sense, these paintings are a search for the visual equivalent of atmospheric music. A Brian-Eno-like evocation of a visual language that sits shallowly in the South African psyche. Shadow studies of what is there where our attention seldom ventures.
In a different but complementary sense, they are a response to a gauntlet laid down in a conversation between Zander Blom and Callan Grecia, in which they discuss the unfamiliarity of European painting, such as the work of Tuymans and Sasnal. Blom and Grecia asserted that a South African visual grammar has not yet been brought to full fruition.
And in a final, more personal, autobiographical sense, these paintings are a response to my upbringing in this environment; to my education, which has shifted attention to my environment; and to an uncertain disposition clinging to what feels primary and true.
More about Selwyn, the artist
what he is drawn to.
- on his architectural training for his artistic articulations.
- a body of documentarian snapshots of buildings at a moment in time.
- and breaks and experiments and learns with different materials, and loves being covered in paint, sawdust, concrete splats…
- the way built environments hold meaning, and the way that meaning fluctuates over time.
- how built environments serve as a latent register of the past when more impermanent artifacts have been relegated or destroyed.
- the way space and light evoke emotion.
- that “painting is a primordial practice that seems more part of being human than almost anything else.”
- that “art is deployed best as a series of uncertain ruminations rather than directly stated propositions.”
- that “a coat of workshop filth is the proudest uniform.”
- Bachelor’s degrees in architecture from the University of Pretoria, and a Master’s degree in architecture from the University of Cape Town.
- participated in more than a dozen group exhibitions throughout South Africa.
- produced many public projects across South Africa.
- won several awards for design, art and digital media.