Strauss Louw • Slowly over time, photography overrode drawing and quickly became an obsession
When did you know you were going to be an artist?
I suppose most artists have a similar story, but I remember when I was around 9 years old I used to tell my mom that I am going to be an artist when I grow up. Yes, total cliché, but at least I had a sensible back up plan if the whole artist thing didn't work out - archeologist (I absolutely loved dinosaurs and used to go looking for fossils in the Karoo as a boy). So the idea of being an artist was there from a young age, but it wasn't until my late teens that I uncovered a deep passion for making, at that stage through drawing. Slowly over time, photography overrode drawing and quickly became an obsession throughout my undergraduate studies in fine arts.
How do you start your creative process?
Photography serves as the foundation of my artistic practice and continues to drive my interest in making and love of process. I like to say that I am a languid photographer, by this I don't mean to create the impression that I am lazy, but it's a word that beautifully captures my approach to photographing - I rarely plan to make photographs or set up situations/things to photograph. Rather, my photography is a response to my life, my relationships, myself and the places I find myself in. I have learnt that I cannot force my photography and as such go through life with a heightened sense for anticipating the intent to photograph. Through this process I have and continue to build a personal archive of images from which I make selections to make work with.
My studio practice is quite experimental. I play with analogue photographic processes and materials, some of which date back to the 19th century, and I like to find new ways of working with them. I treat photography (images and processes) as a material and am interested in how photographs function as objects.
About my work on glass with imitation gold leaf:
Usually I start with one image or I try to make connections to other images and play around with different compositional possibilities (most of this is imagined or figured out along the way). I decide on scale and from there I head to the darkroom where I enlarge fractions of the negative at a time - resulting in a disjointed collection of unique prints. After hand processing in various chemicals, these prints are sequenced, collaged and matched to form the composition. I then cut into the prints to remove any dust/hair/scratches impressed in the image and then bring the whole composition together by mounting the individual pieces to glass. After the mounting has cured, I guild the work with imitation gold leaf from the back.
What messages or emotions would you like to convey?
I don't consciously try to embed specific messages into any of my work, but it is my hope that when people view it they sense or understand that it is made in/with/from great intimacy. Intimacy that is rooted in love and desire and passion for those in the images and the processes I engage in my art practice.
Do you draw inspiration from anything in particular?
I am inspired by the processes of photography. They serve as continuous motivation to make and for finding new ways of making. I also find inspiration in my collection of negatives. It's one thing to photograph and get really excited by the images you are making in that moment, but usually there is some time (weeks/months) that goes by before I develop the exposed film. Every time I do so, it's like having those experiences again, seeing images I can't remember taking. I find this enormously motivating and helpful to my practice.
Does living in Cape Town and/or South Africa have any influence on your work?
To an extent my work does have a sense of being placeless, even though the majority of the landscapes/places contained in my artworks come from South Africa, I could almost make work somewhere else. But what is important to me, the way I work, and is a direct influence on my practice is the light in the Cape. I get to know it better year after year, so much so that I like to thinks of it as similar to a relationship. The more you become familiar, the greater your understanding and the more sensitive you become to its subtleties - it's a form of intimacy.
What influence does modern culture have on your work?
None that I can say. I'm mostly influenced by the work of photographers/artists from the past like Herbert List, George Platt Lynes, David Hockney as well as Wilhelm von Gloeden from time to time.
What's your favourite title of an artwork?My own? I'd say it's for a piece I made in 2017, called Creepy Noodle. It makes me giggle every time. Theres nothing special about it though. I called it that because the work contains an image of a pool noodle and creepy-crawly in a pool. It just seemed appropriate at the time.