In 2009 Pierre le Riche made the transition from the interior design industry to the art world. Now, he works as an independent artist from his studio in Woodstock, Cape Town. He graduated with a Bachelor of Visual Arts at the University of South Africa in 2013, with plans to pursue his Master’s at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2015.
Earlier this year, Pierre took part in an artist-in-residence program at the Arteles Creative Centre in Haukijarvi, Finland. A series of works created individually and in collaboration with fellow Capetonian artist Paul Senyol (who attended the same residency as Pierre, a month later) is currently being exhibited at Salon 91 in a duo show titled Odd Traditions.
Pierre’s previous works include Broederbond, an installation created for his graduate exhibition; Op Hierdie Rots, which investigates the ways history has shaped post-apartheid Afrikaner masculinity; and Nwtwn, a personal response to the experience of stepping into Newtown for the first time.
Here, we find out more from the artist himself:
Growing up, was there ever any indication that you’d be doing what you are now?
I had many dream careers as a boy and all of them were quite unconventional for a young Afrikaans male: dancing, cooking, design, music…anything creative really. I was mostly set on interior design though, but after working as a student interior architect in London in 2007 I realised that the design industry did not bring out the best in me. I found myself becoming more and more fascinated with the arts and in 2009 I registered for a bachelor of visual arts at the University of South Africa and never looked back.
Tell us about your journey so far, and how you’ve come to be where you are today…
It was most definitely a mixture of hard work, taking risks and perhaps a bit of sheer luck. I was retrenched from my day job two years ago and rather than looking for a new job I decided to become a full-time artist. I found that since my art making went from being a hobby (or just part-time studies) to a profession the quality of my work has raised substantially, and so has the reception thereof.
How has your background in interior design continued to influence your approach as an artist?
The one thing I really enjoyed about being an interior designer was the space-planning element thereof. Whenever I get the opportunity to exhibit somewhere, whether it will be a range of sculptures or a large-scale installation, I will always ask for a floor plan and elevations to really try and see how I can maximize the effect of the art in the space.
How would you describe your style or aesthetic, and how has this developed since you first started out?
I wouldn’t say that I have a particular style or aesthetic to my work since each body of work is so visually different. One approach that I always maintain is minimalism and I think I have really refined this technique the last couple of years.
What are you influenced and inspired by?
Picasso once said that inspiration does exist, but it must find you working. I am most inspired when I am at work in my studio or just doodling in a coffee shop. I’m not too fond of turning to other artists’ work for inspiration as I feel it hinders my creative process, but on the other hand it is also hard not to be mesmerized by Do Ho Suh’s installations.
How important to you is the physical space you create in?
For me it is important to have a dedicated space to work in that is separate from where I live.
When did you first begin working with acrylic thread, and what draws you to this medium?
When I was designing my Rainbow Room back in 2012 I happened to come across acrylic thread by chance one day. It worked really well to create the optical illusion of transparent yet solid walls I wanted to create. It has been a favourite ever since.
The Rainbow Room is an installation created for your graduate exhibition, Broederbond, which juxtaposes the concept of homosexuality and masculinity. Could you tell us more about this?
Broederbond is a body of work that takes a look at Afrikaner masculine hegemony and how homosexuality is dealt with within this culture. When I think of Afrikaner masculinity I think rugby, and can’t help but think back to my childhood when simply playing or not playing rugby identified whether you were a ‘proper’ boy or not. The Rainbow Room is a large-scale installation based on a sitting room or voorkamer where the family would normally come together to watch rugby together. My version of this room is different. The sound of the rugby game (the 1995 Rugby World Cup final match) on the television is muted, the walls are transparent and the entire room, complete with 150 rugby balls and heritage furniture, is covered with colourful yarn-bombs in the colours of the gay pride flag. This colourful interference in this seemingly masculine environment creates juxtaposition of Afrikaner masculinity and homosexuality and questions the acceptance thereof in this conservative culture.
A collection titled Op hierdie Rots has its roots in Broederbond but this time, looks at the ways in which history has shaped post-apartheid Afrikaner masculinity as a whole. How did you approach the art-making process here?
I have to admit that Op hierdie Rots was the most challenging body of work that I have created to date. The concept in itself is extremely layered as it deals with political and social South African history, but also tries to pinpoint the status/identity of the Afrikaner male in post-apartheid South Africa. The challenge was to simplify all of this. During the experimentation phase I created concrete casts of rugby balls. They were incredibly beautifully detailed and fragile, but didn’t feel suitable to the concept so I smashed them up and cast them in layers of concrete and re-excavated them by chiselling and carving back into the concrete layers. The process was almost archaeological and creates a constant reference between the past and the future.
You recently exhibited a thread installation at the Turbine Art Fair called Nwtwn. What does this work explore?
Nwtwn was created for Assemblage’s Fresh Produce emerging artists group show and this show specifically called on artist to address the history of the Newtown and Brickfields area of Johannesburg. I visited Johannesburg for the first time in my life earlier this year and Nwtwn tells the story of how overwhelmed I was when I first set foot in this area. The work physically represents a slice of the façade of an Edwardian building found in Bree Street, Newtown that is distorted and wrapped around a cube. Once you step into the work you are flooded with vibrant colour, optical illusion and a distortion of space: almost as if you are stepping into Newtown for the first time.
Odd Traditions, your duo show with Paul Senyol, opened at Salon91 on 15 October. What are you exhibiting? How do you view the relationship between Paul’s paintings, and your installations?
Up until July Paul and I had never met, but earlier this year we took part in the same artist residency in Finland and the curator at Salon91 thought it would be a good idea for us to draw on this experience to create new works. I think the strongest relationship between our works is definitely found visually through the use of repetition and colour. Expect a colourful range of works including installation, sculpture, paintings, etchings and a few very interesting collaborative works.
Photos by Bryan Viljoen.
Op Hierdie Rots
Pierre recently won the Vuleka Art competition for his Kliftafel series.
Visit Pierre’s website for more: www.pierreleriche.co.za