Karl Gustav Sevenster is a South African artist who lives and works in Johannesburg. His digital works http://www.karlgustav.co.za/ seem to celebrate the spirit of some great modern artists. Yet Karl makes modern contemporary with application of high tech touches and materials. Here’s our cool chat …
MICHAEL: Hey Karl, Dude, your work is sick! The images are hip, slick and sophisticated. Very contemporary. What do you do exactly? Do you create digital paintings and then transfer them onto canvas? Why do you do this?
KARL: I am a digital artist and also a qualified computer programmer and part philosopher. I create original artworks with a graphic tablet, infrared pen, adobe creative suite, etc. I do lots of line drawing and custom brush strokes. I work out concepts on paper, decide about subject matter and maybe reference material and then move to my Mac where this artistic vision takes shape in different forms. I scan in some of my own drawings, maybe start with a particular background or "canvas" that I have created before and then gradually build my image until I am satisfied with the outcome. The final image will then determine the size of the ONCE ONLY digital print as well as the material. I decide to print the image double-sided on 10mm plexiglass with some white isolation, mount the plexiglass on duck cotton canvas to complete the image and then frame. At the moment I also print on Dibond FOREX material after a relief engraving of the work has been done. I worked a lot on canvas in the early days, but at the moment, prefer plexiglass for the variety of depth impressions it allows. I also do light sculptural work which consists of a few layers of plexiglass with some print and engraving mounted on a base with LED lights
That’s it in a nutshell. Oh yes, I do this because I am a child of the time and am obsessed with digital media and tools.
MICHAEL: I love plexiglass. What makes it such a good material for you?
KARL: Plexiglass does not shatter like glass and it is often preferred because of its moderate properties, easy handling and processing and low cost. I prefer plexiglass because I have easy access to ordering the exact sizes and thickness of the material. The color fastness and printing quality on plexiglass is excellent and it is a great conductor of light. It is also easy to engrave images on and then catch some light reflection in the preferred way. It is also environmentally friendly and 100% recyclable.
MICHAEL: I love the way that you create somewhat abstract form and shapes with such vivid color. Those pieces are very hip and contemporary. What's the inspiration behind those works? What are you thinking while you're creating them?
KARL: I have always in a way been inspired by the abstract expressionists like Pollock, Masson and Ernst and with a keen interest in Surrealism as well. I tend to sometimes gravitate toward some post-abstract expressionism and pre-surrealist interpretations of my environment (Miro is a great example of this period) It’s less intellectual and more spontaneous. I call this series “Beyond Borders.” In the current context, I have fun with freehand, linear drawings in layers with enough transparency to communicate with the corresponding layer. Given my working with plexiglass, some of these layers appear on the front of 10mm plexi and some on the back thereof, giving it transparency and depth or dimension. Borders or boundaries are getting "fused together" although retaining its individuality. It relates to the experience of freedom to express.
MICHAEL: You're in South Africa. What was life like growing up there? How were you influenced by art? Do you come from an artistic family?
KARL: Growing up in South Africa was a wonderful experience, close to the earth, the openness of the African landscapes, the harshness of summer, midday sun with strong colours always present. As an artist living in Africa, it seems to allow a "freshness" in our approach to art in a way removed from the intense pressures of the rest of the world. No, I come from an agricultural family, but we have always been very musical and creative. We’ve always made our own music, designed our own stuff, etc.
MICHAEL: You're working on a new exhibition as we speak. What's it like working on an exhibition? Is it fun? Creative? Do you feel pressure? What's going through your mind? What's this show about?
KARL: I am currently working on an exhibition with another artist on the theme of the human body or body parts (the narrative is still a work in progress). It is very exciting to work on a new exhibition as it forces you to focus on and delve into a specific topic. This for me involves a particular style that I am busy with at the moment, some poetry that encapsulates the essence of the work, as well as creating a sense of cohesion between the different works. I always find this a great opportunity to introduce some new technical touches that I have been experimenting with. This exhibition involves 3D printing, light sculpture, digital engraving, some video as well as traditional drawing, a serious juxtapositioning of very contemporary techniques against very natural and flowing images - some almost Renaissance-like. I tend to think very holistic and spend a lot of time narrowing my thoughts down do the specifics. I do find some sleepless nights with all of these images milling about in my subconscious mind, and there is always a new technical issue or challenge that needs to be resolved. For this exhibition, we are also introducing some performance art/music to complete the show, resulting in, apart from the exhibition, detailed documentation of the process which I sometimes find even more exciting than only the final output.
MICHAEL: Cool. Back to South Africa for a moment. From your perspective, where is the country now with regard to race relations? Also, here in America, we hear about South Africa being such a beautiful country, but we also hear about high crime and other issues.
KARL: One lesson I have learned is to stay out of politics so I will skip your question about race. In terms of crime, well, it is ever present, whether in New York, Paris or Johannesburg, it just fluctuates.
MICHAEL: Karl, we don't necessarily have to discuss politics, but should good fortune and history work in your favor as an artist, you and your work will undoubtedly be mentioned in the historical context of life in South Africa after apartheid. I'm here to challenge you to dig deep into your process and figure out how circumstances and your environment influence you and your work. I find it hard to believe that you have not been influenced by what has happened there. Do you not have any feelings or thoughts about this that you can express?
KARL: I grew up in the tail end of the apartheid era and my generation was quite rebellious against it, although I was never involved in politics. I think due to all of the abuse, firstly the apartheid abuse, and then, post-apartheid abuse of the topic … that just to score from it never sat well with me and encouraged me to be the ultimate futurist. We are here now, we have a great future ahead of us and let us focus on that. In the pre-apartheid era, color difference was pushed down our throats and in the post apartheid era, racism gets the blame for everything, including government incompetence, so I am more interested in the human condition without colour.
MICHAEL: Finally Karl, when people look at your work, what do you want them to see? And what's the point of art anyway? Most people don't even care about art. Why should we?
KARL: Difficult question Michael, since it is all in the eye of the beholder I guess. I want them to see honesty, curiosity, elements of interpretation that excite them, maybe a new application of a well-known vocabulary. Art for me is a visual expression of my experiences and I hope it allows people to get lost in a bit of a fantasy world of subconscious awareness.
MICHAEL: Thanks Karl. Nice chat.
Check out Karl Gustav Sevenster at http://www.karlgustav.co.za/.