Working in a variety of mediums, South African-born Christiaan Conradie likens his artistic process to that of CPR saying “the moment I feel like I’ve breathed enough life into a piece I leave it to live on its own.” This is most visible in his portraits, which are often presented in various stages of completion – while certain sections are painted in lifelike detail, others are left entirely up to the viewer’s imagination. Here, we speak to Christiaan about his creative roots, aesthetic development and approach to making art.
Tell us a bit more about yourself…
I’m an artist from Cape Town although I’m currently based in Mexico. My favourite things in the world are surfing, music and sitting comfortably in a bar having a pint with friends. I’m also grateful that you’re interested in talking to me.
What is your creative or artistic background?
I’d have to say that it started with having had Andrew Putter as an art and design teacher at school, it was him who first introduced me to the idea of wanting to create things for a living. I then studied art direction and design at Red and Yellow and after two (long) years in the advertising industry I quit and started painting full-time. Soon after leaving my job behind I started attending Julia Teale’s life drawing classes at Spencer Street Studios and she’s had a huge positive influence on the way I’m developing as an artist, especially in the first few years.
When did you realise that you wanted to pursue a career as an artist?
I’d always wanted to be an artist and the decision not to study fine art was a very deliberate one. I figured at the time that I’d have to compromise what it was I was doing creatively in order to sell work which is something I’ve never wanted to do. The plan I had then was to continue to paint without having to rely on selling work in order to generate an income. I subsequently realised however, that one doesn’t necessarily have to compromise what it is you do creatively and secondly that, in order to be the type of artist that I wanted to be I had to entirely give myself over to painting.
What mediums to you work with/in?
Predominantly in oil, although most works would be considered mixed medium pieces. I frequently incorporate watercolour, ink, aerosol, pencil, crayons etc. into one piece.
How has your style developed since you first started out?
My aesthetic is continually evolving. When I first started out I had to improve my technique and I had to learn how to handle paint, so for the first few years although I was trying to make work that was “my own” and interesting I was aware of the fact that I was very much in training. At the moment I feel that I’m occupying my own little space in the terms of what it means to be a painter. Something that has always been very important to me, is that my style was born out of honest process. I wasn’t at any point trying to do something just for the sake of it or for its visual appeal. Different elements of what I was doing abstractly, in drawing and on the street has all somehow seemed merge together.
Looking at your portraits, some sections are incredibly detailed and realistic while other parts are purposefully left unfinished. How, and why, do you make combined use of these two seemingly opposing approaches?
Working with Julia Teale I was drawing a lot, and I had developed my own kind of way of interpreting the body, whether it was a mark-making response to certain textures of the body or to the varying temperatures of the skin. Through working this way I think I developed a way of interpreting the essence of what it is I’m trying to capture. So in my paintings I tend to only paint what I consider necessary, be it a fold in some cloth or part of a face. Part of what I enjoy about working like this is that I leave room for working intuitively so often times I do what feels right. I often use the example of giving a person CPR, the moment I feel like I’ve breathed enough life into a piece I leave it to live on its own.
What are you influenced and inspired by?
Lots of things. Rubens, Rembrandt, Rothko, Cy Twombly, Cocorosie, Bright Eyes and Bob Dylan. It varies from artists to musicians to photographers. I’d say I’m inspired by seeing/ or listening to someone else create an amazing version of whatever it is they’re doing. It motivates me to create the best version of what I’m busy with.
Are there any themes which seem to reoccur in your work?
I think the most recurrent theme would probably be the emotional content of the pieces, if that makes sense. In other words, the mood of the work or the type of feeling that it provokes within the viewer.
What is the most rewarding part of what you do? Alternately, what do you find challenging?
The most rewarding part of painting or being an artist to me, is that it feels like I’m doing something worthwhile. And I mean that on a personal level. Simply put, it’s a really fulfilling way for me to be spending my days. Aside from that I also just plainly love painting and creating things and having paint on my hands and thinking of new compositions and new ideas etc. Also, even though most of my days are spent painting in the studio it’s liberating to know that if I want to do something or go somewhere, I have the freedom to do so without having to check in with anybody.
In terms of what I find challenging, it would have to be the marketing of my own work. I’m terrible at selling work and at talking about what I do in an eloquent way.
Is your process spontaneous, well thought out, or perhaps a combination of the two?
I’d say a combination of the two for sure. Sometimes I have a very clear idea of what it is I want to do, and other times I’ll start with one element which will lead to the next. Mostly though, I have a fairly clear idea of what it is I´m going to attempt, at the very least.
To what extent does the space in which you work contribute to the final result?
Space in terms of the actual studio space is important as far as being comfortable and having natural light and a nice wall and things like that is concerned, but having now spent time working in Mexico as well as in Spain, I’d definitely say location has a way of influencing the work. In my case it’s quite subtle, and often things that only reveal themselves over time but I personally feel that my work is richer for having had these experiences and for having been exposed to these cultures.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m finishing off a few pieces for my solo show, ´This is the wind, and this is the breeze’, which opens in Mexico City September 4th. I also have a collaborative project coming up with David Lopez from Along surfboards and skateboards in New York and then with the help of Melissa Williams who you spoke to a few weeks ago and RVCA I have a solo show booked in San Francisco opening in July of next year.
What are you currently looking at/reading/listening to?
Recently, while painting I’ve been listening to/watching lots of documentaries, on varying subjects, ranging from the Aztecs to black holes to string theory. I’ve also recently subscribed to ArtReview magazine but I’m still waiting for the first issue to arrive.
Keep up to date with Christiaan on Instagram.