Interviews with our “Sounds in Solitude” featured artists

As the butterfly intentionally finds its way out of the cocoon, its wings stronger than before, life bringing winged patterns of colour and vibrant splendour evolve, ready for flight as a new journey unfolds. Each and every one of us has endured and is still enduring, the cocoon of lockdown, and the challenges it has brought, every day providing another opportunity to embrace a new part of the journey.
The story began two years ago, when Karen Cullinan was approached by Ryan Illgner, CEO of Blacksmith Interior Inspiration, about the possibility of creating a new kind of gallery that embraced technology as an inherent part of its gallery model, which would be able to showcase contemporary African artwork in a way that would suit modern hotel interior trends and consumer behaviour.

Initially developed as a limited-edition print gallery, held its first exhibition at the Hi Hotel Montecasino in January 2020 featuring exciting African artists at various stages in their careers. The hotel gallery was designed to inspire guests with fresh and exciting contemporary artwork, taking the gallery out of the white box gallery model and into public spaces, where far more people had exposure to art and guests could purchase limited edition prints at affordable prices.

The gallery, designed to sit at the intersection between the 4th Industrial Revolution and the contemporary art collector and artist, had to reimagine itself as soon as lockdown caused the temporary closure of hotels due to the pandemic, and began to include both original artworks and as well as limited edition prints that would nurture and represent emerging and mid-career contemporary African artists.

Serendipitously, the move toward online exhibitions and art sales due to the pandemic and as more and more people began to trust online as a safe way to view and purchase art, the gallery’s significant investment in a fully commercialised digital platform before COVID 19 hit us, began to pay off.

In addition to the online platform, has invested in developing a modern contemporary gallery in the new Stanley Studios opposite the open-air iconic 44 Stanley Street complex in the creative hub of Milpark. The gallery was opened three days before the lockdown in March and so the butterfly continued to evolve under extraordinary circumstances.

Today, with lockdown having eased to level two, people are emerging from their homes to enjoy the Stanley Street vibe and the beautiful physical gallery space and are using the gallery’s online platform to make their purchases. With a strong e-commerce and social media marketing strategy, is emerging as a fresh face and welcome addition to the vibrant Johannesburg and African art scene. Able to deliver original artworks and limited edition prints anywhere in the world within ten working days, the gallery is becoming popular with local as well as international art collectors.

Having endured the cocoon of a strict lockdown and overcome the social-distancing challenges of the pandemic, has come out resplendent and flying, having curated four distinct and exceptional exhibitions by African artists who are making a name for themselves on the world stage.

The gallery’s current exhibition, “Sounds in Solitude”, is showcased at the Stanley Studio gallery, on the website and on Artsy, and features original artworks by rising stars Andrew Ntshabele and Daniel “Stompie” Selibe as well as renowned Ceramic artist Charmaine Haines.

Karen Cullinan, CEO of speaks to Andrew, Daniel, and Charmaine, to find out more about their individual artistic journeys, and what inspires their unique works.

In-studio with Andrew Ntshabele

Who has been your biggest influence?

My biggest influence was my Mother as she encouraged me to become a professional artist, to be patient and have a love for what I do and to pursue becoming a full-time artist. Artistically I would say Gerald Sekoto as he was one of the first major black African artists from South Africa to make a name for himself internationally. And I have always admired the works of the old Dutch masters particularly Caravaggio and Rembrandt.

How did you arrive at the current style that you are becoming well known for?

I first discovered this style of using mixed media in the third year of my visual art course at the University of Johannesburg, I began drawing with mixed mediums of watercolour charcoal and acrylic on newspaper. The subject matter I chose were portraits of waste collectors, street vendors, everyday people, and old buildings in the inner city, that I had photographed. Once I had mastered how to draw and paint with mixed media on to newspaper I stuck to the medium and it has become a medium that I never get bored of as it challenges me to think out of the box every time.

How has your artwork changed over time?

My artwork was at first serious as I was dealing with urbanisation within the inner-city of Johannesburg, which highlighted poverty and decay found in the inner city.

Although, I still express socio-political themes in my artwork, over time I have learned to look at the brighter side of life, as there is a good and joyous side to Johannesburg, from the friendly and sometimes comical ways street vendor go about selling their goods, the humourous interactions people have with each other in taxi ranks and on the streets, and the children playing on the streets and the high-rise flats they call home. So, I would say I balance out my work now with both the positives and the realities of the inner-city of Johannesburg. I would say this balance has bought balance to my work and has increased my passion and love for my work.

How has COVID 19 and Lockdown impacted you, and your artwork?

Covid-19 has been a blessing in disguise as it has pushed me to think outside of the box and has challenged me to get outside of my comfort zone creatively, it has also challenged me to create artworks not just for myself, but works that will bring joy, and that speak life. I believe Covid-19 has taught me to be more positive and even more resilient in my approach to life and the way away I approach my work. As Napoleon Hill states, “You are the sum total of your dominating or most prominent thoughts.”

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

There has been more than one highlight in my career, I would say winning the Thami Mnyele merit award in 2012 in my second year of studies at the University of Johannesburg.  I would say finally pursuing art as a full-time career from 2016.

What has been the greatest challenge of your career so far?

I would say the greatest challenge of my career so far, is getting out of my comfort zone, and mental blocks creatively. I am trying to unlearn somethings and at the same time trying to relearn certain things.

In what countries, can we find your artworks?

My artworks can be found in North America, Europe, Middle East, And Asia. It is difficult to name all countries as I have been fortunate to have art buyers and collectors purchasing my work from all over the world. Currently, I am on exhibition with in Johannesburg, as well as I have a Solo exhibition, which forms part of a group pop up exhibition at The Kunst Sommer KPM Quartier in Berlin.

As it is written

Mixed media on  vintage postcards

There is room for hope 1

Mixed media on Vintage Music Score

There is room for hope 2

Mixed Media n Vintage Maps

There is room for hope 3

Mixed Media on Newsprint

In-studio with Daniel “Stompie” Selibe

How did you arrive at the current style that you are becoming well known for?

Music played an essential part in the inspiration and creation of a piece of art, it begins by me listening to music and using the process of musical theatre improvisation was that is free-spirited and without boundaries that allows the possibility to both play and express myself.

Who has been your biggest influence?

Influence of mentors. Stompie Manana and Dennis Nene have been mentors to me, they have shown me a way to look at myself and taught me a way to form myself as a young person. They really taught me the role of values in my work and in life, they taught as well as embodied, ethics in practice, the ethics of what one does.   Both of them were concerned with the development of young people, they were friends as well as spiritual guides, they taught and showed me the value of harmony, of peaceful change, of doing good, they showed how important it is to be guided in life by values and ethics and to seek out and build communities of people who share in these values.

Has COVID 19 and lockdown impacted you and your artworks?

My work is a representation of what the lockdown has been for me, it has sheltered me as well as meant that in my deepest thoughts and feelings I have felt deep wells of missing, of loss. The isolation has meant living more with my own, and our own, shadows as well as with our own imaginations and our ideas of new possibilities. COVID 19 has highlighted for me how we need to find new ways of living life together, of leaving our deepest shadows and fears behind us. All of us need to learn to change what we know, to make new possibilities, new creations of our shared world and our own worlds within that. The work represents a new beauty within, to see the opportunity to have a life as making art, making new meaning about ourselves and our lives together and exploring how to work, live and create together as a people.

What current exhibitions are you participating in?

Turbine Art Fair 2020 and

Before the War

Mixed media on Wood

Dance Mama

Mixed Media on wood

In Between

Mixed Media on Canvas

In studio with Charmaine Haines

What is your earliest recollection of clay?

The Grahamstown Pottery, later known as Drosdty used to be across the road from my grandparents. As a child, I remember looking down into the pottery through these windows that were below street level. There would be these light bulbs burning inside moulds to dry out the slipware. I went to the convent there and the nuns would often take us on walks past these kaolin clay deposits up on the hillside. We would often scoop some up and take it back with us to model something on our return. I recognised then that this was no ordinary ground but that it was a special material with interesting properties. Today, fifty years later I am using this very same white kaolin to slip cast my ceramic pieces.

Who has been your biggest influence?            

I was extremely fortunate to study under the renowned ceramic artist Hylton Nel. Besides the focus on ceramics he instilled in me an appreciation for objects from a bygone era encouraging me to start my own collections of objet d’art even if it meant skipping a lecture to attend an auction which was the case when I was after my first Clarice Cliff bowl. This clearly ignited my interest in and ongoing fascination for Ancient Cultures, African Artifacts and Medieval Iconic Art which embodies a broad interest in the history of art and craft from ancient to industrial times.

How did you arrive at the current style that you are becoming well known for?

Ceramics is such a broad field. There are so many options of different clays, techniques, and surface finishes. All of which involve many processes and steps where in turn many things can go wrong.

Over time one eliminates certain materials and techniques more so these days where perhaps high temperatures are required given the situation of electricity in our country. I am fortunate that the white clay body I have chosen because it shows up the colours that I use is also easily recycled which saves time and fires at a lower temperature.

How have your ceramic sculptures changed over time?

Yes, they have but one often finds yourself returning to previous forms but with a new approach.

A new environment can influence the surface, but the underlying form has similar bones. I do like to work with multiples of the same form and make a series of the same shapes but varying the surface decoration. In this way one can focus just on the surface and not have to solve the form itself as it is a familiar one. It is like taking a sketchbook and drawing on the blank pages, all the same size and format that one doesn’t have to think about.

The natural Karoo environment plays an integral part in my day to day source of inspiration. It continues to be a place of extremes where the weather has a major influence creating an awareness of both life and death where small things matter.

I am surrounded by the evidence that the Karoo was once an ancient sea. Fish and birds have always been part of my iconography. Together with my portraits, they have become autobiographical design elements that repeat themselves throughout my work adding both a narrative and mythical presence to the forms.

Has COVID 19 and Lockdown impacted you, and your artwork?

Living where I do in the middle of the Karoo, I would say I have been working in isolation for the past twenty years. I would not say COVID has impacted on my artwork directly, but it has clarified what I would like to focus on in the future moving forward.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

In 2010 I was made a Fellow of the Ceramics Southern Africa Association in recognition of my contribution to Ceramics in South Africa.

In what countries, can we find your artworks?

Africa, Europe, and the US

Totem Figure with Fish Vessel

Abstract Portrait Fluted Neck Vessel

Abstract Portrait with Bird Vessel

Sounds in Solitude runs until 30 September 2020. is situated at Stanley Studios, in the creative hub of Milpark, Johannesburg. We are open Mondays 9am to 5pm, and Saturday 10am to 4pm. Why not pop in and have a look at the exhibition?

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