The Half Square project, directed by Yellowwoods Art, aims to connect local artists and designers with skilled ceramic artisans to design and produce beautifully impressive large-scale ceramic installations made up of their signature handmade, hand coloured triangular tiles. So far the Half Square team have collaborated with Heather Moore, Doreen Southwood, Laduma Ngxokolo, Swain Hoogervorst and Matty Roodt to create impressive ceramic works of art which can be seen in shops and studios around Cape Town.
At the moment they are working on their largest mural yet. This 20 square meter piece, designed by local artist Liza Grobler, consists of over 6000 half square tiles in over 100 custom colours. They’re also making a handful of limited edition gold coloured tiles especially, and the end results can easily pass as the real deal. This mural will go up outside Nando’s on Kloof Street in Cape Town as part of the Nando’s Accidental Art initiative, which aims to display local art in the streets and on the walls of the Mother City during its reign as World Design Capital in 2014. Being part of this project has been one of the highlights for the Half Square team as they say “opportunities for public art installations are quite rare”.
We chat to the Half Square team – made up of a ceramic specialist, an architect and an engineer – about their production process, past collaborations and the massive Accidental Art mural they’re working on at the moment:
How did the Half Square project come about? What inspired the idea and how did you go about making it a reality?
This project was born out of collaboration between fine artists and ceramic artisans. It came about as a result of experimentation in the ceramic studio, and in response to the universal appeal of relief ceramics. Ceramic tiles represent a (literally) enduring tradition and have a wonderfully versatile aesthetic – suited to architectural-scale artworks but also with the potential for a variety of other applications.
Modular formats, like square grids, are relatively common in the translation and up-scaling of designs to new mediums. But what we found with the Half Square format (literally a square divided diagonally), was that the addition of diagonals opens up a whole new design dimension. More movement is created, injecting an otherwise static grid with dynamism, and the possibility of tonal variation is dramatically increased.
Once the format had been defined, the ceramic studio spent six months developing the concept; manufacturing ceramic samples and refining a texture and colour palette in preparation for the project. Custom ceramic colours were created through numerous combinations of glazes and pigments, to produce a vast palette with the finest of nuances and gradations possible.
Tell us about some of the projects Half Square has done so far? How do you choose which local creatives to collaborate with and what have they produced so far?
We invite artists from a range of creative disciplines, who have proved their mettle in their respective fields. Each one of them bring a unique angle to the Half Square format. The inaugural Half Square range launched in May this year and comprised four Artist Panels measuring 2.1m x 1.4m each. These panels boasted the designs of four prominent creatives:
Illustrator / Designer Heather Moore at Skinny laMinx
Fashion Designer and Fine Artist Doreen Southwood at MeMeMe
Knitwear Designer Laduma Ngxokolo at Robert Sherwood Design
Fine Artist Swain Hoogervorst at the AVA Gallery
When and how did your partnership with Nando’s come about?
Yellowwoods Art has a longstanding relationship with Nando’s. Their Global Art Initiative was started in 2001 and centres on a partnership with Yellowwoods Art, whereby we source original art for their restaurant and office spaces through a number of innovative programmes. This initiative has resulted in beautiful and meaningful spaces for guests and employees, and in turn, supports artists’ careers through regular income and global exposure.
The most recent partnership project, the Accidental Art initiative, takes the Nando’s vision even further – onto the streets – making visible art and creative expression. The project also communicates Nando’s commitment to the local art scene – a commitment that is significant and enduring, yet largely unknown to the general South African public.
Tell us about the process behind the Accidental Art installation in Kloof Street. How do you go about turning Liza’s design into a ceramic mural?
Liza Grobler is very interested in the site-specificity of artwork, and so began her creative process from this perspective, visiting the city bowl restaurant to document the architectural structure and environment of the space. The particular site of Nando’s Kloof Street is very busy, day and night, and passed by a varied group of people – from students to professionals.
While the area is urban, the ubiquitous mountains are in close proximity, and visible as a backdrop to the site. Liza wanted to draw in these iconic natural landmarks, pulling them from behind the building into the foreground, thus creating a play between the fore- and background, and urban and natural environments.
Her design is based on a rich Fynbos landscape and echoes the silhouette of Signal Hill, which is located directly behind the Nando’s restaurant. A photograph was used as a reference basis to render a Half Square grid overlay, after which a glaze colour was assigned to each Half Square module (the design consists of over 6000 Half Squares).
The triangular shape of a Half Square is hand cut from stoneware clay, after which the bisqued (once fired) Half Squares are individually dipped into glaze, and fired for a second round in the ceramic kiln at a temperature of 1200 degrees Celsius for 12 hours. Once glazed, fired and finished, Half Squares are installed on fibre cement panels that are fixed to the building facade within a structural steel frame.
Collaboration was key to the project, and together with artist Liza Grobler, it required the specialist input of a ceramic specialist, architect and engineer to ensure the successful production and installation of the artwork.
What are some of the challenges when working with ceramics and how did this specific piece challenge your approach?
The first challenge was the modular, fixed-unit format of Half Square. The pronounced variation of Fynbos in the original photograph is abstracted when applied to this format, but the sense of texture is still conveyed due to the wonderful range of over 100 colours and gradations of the Half Square units, as well as the dynamic triangular format.
This solution demonstrates the full potential of the Half Square aesthetic – it is somehow simultaneously fixed and organic, because the triangles’ diagonal lines add movement to an otherwise static grid. In addition, the triangles allow a wide range of tonal variation.
The second consideration was the ceramic medium, specifically with regards to colour. Because glazing tiles usually results in more muted colour, Liza worked closely with the Yellowwoods Ceramic Studio to devise a way of enhancing colour as much as possible, selecting a number of tiles to be hand painted to achieve stronger hues.
What are your thoughts on public art and how do you see this mural affecting the people who pass by the site?
This public art project aims to draw attention to creativity and the way in which we use the urban environment; encouraging passersby to think, reflect and communicate – to engage with the art itself, the artists and city spaces in which we live and work. Besides supporting the expression of creative thought, the project aims to inject new life into the public realm by beautifying and improving the urban environment.
This Accidental Art intervention is a departure of sorts from Grobler’s usual public pieces, which are normally temporary. Because of this piece’s permanence, she opted for a more open-ended design, to encourage discussion and public engagement rather than impose a specific point of view.
What’s next for Half Square?
The Matty Roodt Artist Panel will shortly be installed at Nando’s Central Kitchen, Johannesburg.
Half Square’s commercial ranges will be available for purchase towards the end of 2014.
During this interim, Half Square will be open for large-scale commissions as well as general enquiries.
The Accidental Art Half Square installation takes place from 25 August 2014. Watch out for our interview with artist Liza Grobler who designed this mural.