Arts/Culture: People: South African Artist Paul du Toit
South African Artist Paul du Toit
A few years ago, Cape Town -based artist Paul du Toit (www.pauldutoit.com), received a call inviting him to work with South African icon Nelson Mandela. “It was an incredible honor,” says du Toit who works in painting, sculpture, paper and mixed media, and who ended up casting Mandela’s hands and creating a moving realistic sculpture.
This year, du Toit is back at work in collaboration with 46664, a non-profit named for Mandela’s prison number, as well as the former president’s foundation, which are hosting a series of special events in New York City this July. There will be an auction of another du Toit sandstone sculpture, as well as various performances and lectures. For more information about the Mandela Day Concert, on July 18 at Madison Square Garden, which features an impressive line-up of South African musicians and performers, visit www.mandeladay.com.
Du Toit recently hosted a group of journalists, including Indagare’s Simone Girner, for lunch in the impressive wine cellar of his Hout Bay atelier, which can be visited by appointment. He spoke about his work and South Africa’s burgeoning contemporary art scene.
Can you speak about your inspiration and what you are working on?
I live in my head a lot and have developed this method of scanning and retaining only elements that fit into how I see the world. I am always looking for a new line. In the desert and mountain ranges in South Africa, I look at cave drawings and petroglyphs for inspiration and ancient writing systems. In cities, I look at graffiti or people writing and making marks, especially children. How they draw is very inspiring. Currently I am working on the third project with Nelson Mandela, this time the project is all about leaving imprints and I am taking imprints of his hands. This will all build up to Mandela day, to be held in New York on July 18.
What do you find most encouraging/discouraging when you look at how the contemporary art scene has developed in South Africa in the last decade?
Encouraging is how everything opened up after 1994, and with the help of the Internet we can get our work exposed as artists. I see this when we travel abroad. The interest in what else is out there in South Africa comes through strongly. Discouraging is how little support there is for the arts in South Africa.
What did it mean to be chosen to work with Nelson Mandela?
What an honor to work with the Nelson Mandela, and repeatedly on top of it. He has made the world and especially South Africa a better place to live in, for me and my children. I look and think of things differently now that I have met him. Life is effort, and I try to instill that in my kids now.
What is your most vivid memory of meeting Mandela?
The way he touches everyone he meets. The first time I met him, it took him a while to get out of the car; he was almost ninety and he had some trouble getting to stand up straight. He said something in Xhosa when he saw me. Asked what he meant, he translated the saying in English: ‘You must first allow yourself to be a dwarf in order to let yourself grow.’ That stuck with me. It is an amazing thing meeting your hero and one of the world’s biggest icons.
What are some of the galleries you like in Cape Town and Johannesburg?
In Cape Town, I like 34 Long Street Gallery, because they position themselves outside of the local art politics. In Johannesburg, Graham Fine Art Gallery. Both of these galleries are totally committed to art 24/7, which is rare in South Africa
What are your top five must-sees in Cape Town for first-time visitors?
The penguins at Boulders Beach, because they are such funny creatures. Cape Point. The desert just north of Cape Town (in Richtersveldt); it is such an amazing thing to be 100 miles from nowhere and feel so insignificant. Underneath the top layer of sand, you can find 4000-year-old beads as well as rock engravings dating back further. The Misty Cliffs, which are great for surfing and windsurfing. And Table Mountain, of course.
What are your favorite restaurants in Cape Town?
Willoughby & Co (Shop 6132 Lower Level, Victoria Wharf, V&A Waterfront) for Sushi. The chef is one of the best in the world and reinvents dishes all the time. We now also have a Nobu, and all I can say is that it’s rare to experience new tastes as an adult, since you have tried most things. But at Nobu, it happens.
What are some great activities to do with kids in and around Cape Town?
For my family, it’s watersports, because the ocean is so accessible. Anything to do with the wind, because we have so much of it (windsurfing, kiteboarding). Skateboarding has made a huge comeback. We are also spoiled with nature and try and enjoy it is much as possible.
What do you love the most about Cape Town?
When I travel, I measure a place by seeing how many of my senses get attacked. In South Africa, it’s all of them: the smell of local cuisine, sounds of people and music, unique beauty and sights, textures and color. So many things are unique and different. I find it to be unlike anyplace else on earth.
What are some other favorite places you like to visit in South Africa?
You can drive in any direction for a different experience. I like the secluded, unspoiled beaches closer to the southern tip of South Africa. Also the desert is very special and truly undiscovered (how many places like that do you still find in the world?). Small towns are scattered around the country that have a rich history and colorful people that keep things interesting.
Studio visits to Paul’s Houk Bay studio can be arranged. Contact Indagare for an introduction.
Read Paul’s top things not to miss when visiting Cape Town
Read Indagare’s Cape Town destination report
Read a chef’s insider picks on what to see and do in Cape Town— Simone Girner 06/05/2009