Liza Grobler recently returned from installing ‘Honeydew’, a 2.6 x 5.15 m Half Square installation at Nando’s West Loop in Chicago’s Gallery District. This public art commission is a vibrant celebration of Nando’s commitment to sharing local art with a global audience in a highly accessible way. We chatted to Liza about reinterpreting a previous sculptural installation of hers to create a rainbow of ceramic tiles, what the process entailed and what she’ll be working on next.
The ‘Honeydew’ Half-Square ceramic installation is now permanently exhibited at the first Nando’s to open in Chicago, but began its life as a temporary winter installation in the Cradle of Humankind. Fill us in on this evolution?
The title ‘Honeydew’ is derived from a photograph that I took of my own temporary site-specific installation ‘Honey Drops‘ at the Nirox Sculpture Fair last year. ‘Honey Drops’ was constructed from 10 000 pipe cleaners. The form referenced bird nests, organic structures and the colours of the surrounding landscape in summer. Looking at the photograph, those structures looked like dewdrops or honey drops. Based on that I conceptualized a Half Square installation, and decided to call it ‘Honeydew’, which is a sweet sticky saccharin deposit excreted by some plants and certain insects and harvested by ants, bees and birds.
Tell us about the process involved in creating the ‘Honeydew’ Half Square panel.
I used my photograph as a starting point. From here the image was first simplified and then abstracted in Photoshop, before it was sent on to the Spier Arts Academy studio manager, Karen Kotzé, who then interpreted it further for the Half Square format. Because of the strong diagonal line of the Half Square triangle, the image doesn’t pixelate as it usually would and becomes abstracted in unexpected and interesting ways. After Karen had simplified the image to an exact Half Square pattern, we met at the ceramic studio and discussed the computer stylization in order to match each colour as closely as possible with the physical tiles. In some instances we omitted a colour and incorporated another selected colour instead. I’m very aware of the space in which an artwork will exist, and thought about the design of the Nando’s Chicago restaurant as I worked through the process, so that the artwork would relate to the space and visa versa.
All the selected tile colours were then handmade at the studio. Once tiles had been produced for the scale required (2.6 x 5.15 m) for the specific wall, the design was packed out on the studio floor. Assisted by the studio manager and staff from the ceramic studio, I then tweaked the outcome by making final manual changes. Over the course of two days, I stood on a ladder and directed them to move and change certain tiles, insert accents and finalise tile direction. The tiles were then ‘netted’ into larger tile sheets, much like the netting-backed mosaic tiles that one can buy. These netted tiles where then labeled, boxed and shipped to Chicago.
Who were the other collaborators involved in getting the installation from concept to completed artwork?
The Half Square unit was conceptualised by Yellowwoods Art director and Nando’s Art Initiative curator Jeanetta Blignaut. The project was executed by Spier Academy ceramic studio manager Karen Kotzé and her team. The tilers that installed the piece in Chicago were crucial. I didn’t know what to expect, but they did a sterling job!
Did you encounter any response from locals in Chicago while you were installing ‘Honeydew’ and after you’d finished?
Yes, we received quite a bit of feedback, and people were very interested in the installation process too.
What was your feeling about it once it was done?
It’s always a relief when it works out! One starts with an idea, and envisions an outcome, but you are never quite certain of the impact of the work until it is finally installed. Also, with a design like this, there are so many steps and variables that inevitably influence the initial idea. It worked out beautifully in the end.
Where else do you have Nando’s installations?
I have large pieces in various Nando’s restaurants in the UK, Australia and the US, and a mural at the new Nando’s Central Kitchen head office in Johannesburg. As far as Half Square artworks go – there’s a new one at the Nando’s at Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, which was recently revamped by Egg Design. There’s also a beautiful 20 square metre one on the outside wall of Nando’s Kloof Street in Cape Town that consists of over 6 000 half square tiles in over 100 custom colours and was part of Nando’s Accidental Art Project, which publically displayed local art in the streets and on the walls of the Mother City during its reign as World Design Capital in 2014.
What are you currently busy with? I’m in the second week of a two-week residency at mohair company SAMIL in Port Elizabeth working on project for an organisation called Social Fabrics. The aim is to familiarize oneself with the process and yarns, and then to experiment with what is there, and what can be imagined. The outcome of my experiments will then be presented to a group of designers, who will transform the creative exploration into marketable products. There are four of these initiatives with different textile companies in different parts of the country. (Paul Edmunds recently completed one with a felt company in Cape Town.) The team at SAMIL is very helpful and I am very excited about the possibilities!