Collection gets luxury objects down to an art

Luxury goods designers in South Africa are going places that most artists only read about when soaking up paint spills with last week’s news.

Thanks to a voracious international market for high-end design — particularly the sort that incorporates crafty, hand-made details — and to a few savvy local designmongers, the name Kerri Evans is more likely to become popular with rug connoisseurs than with painting pundits.

Evans, a painter by trade, is one of a handful of fine artists collaborating with local designers to create unique designer objects for a new collection curated and commissioned by local design gallery Southern Guild. As they say, if you can’t beat them, join them.

Thanks to support from steel producer ArcelorMittal, Trevyn and Julian McGowan, the founders and directors of Southern Guild, are launching a collection of South African design that aims to bridge the divide between fine art and luxury design.

Since its inception in 2008 Southern Guild has commissioned a new limited collection of South African-made designer goods each year and presented this handful of jewels to international design consumers. With a strong presence at the world’s top design fairs — Design Days Dubai and Design Miami — Southern Guild is streaks ahead of any other local ­contenders. And its success is injecting a very welcome flow of cash and interest in the local fine art and design industries.

The 2012 collection boasts eight artist-designer collaborations and solo forays into object design by career artists including Michael ­MacGarry, Bronwyn Lace, Wayne Barker and Brett Murray. All of this will be unveiled at an exclusive launch at Johannesburg’s Everard Read ­Gallery on August 2, after which the collection will be on show to the public.

Johannesburg’s best get its fix swiftly, though, because before you can say “cerulean”, that darling Conrad Botes shoe cabinet is going to retire to a walk-in closet with a view.

Kerri Evans and Paco

Paco Pakdoust’s hand-woven carpets are coveted not just by people with tiled floors. Hanging in the vast windows of his Greenside showroom, they look more like paintings or rare tapestries than rugs. They are certainly too good to walk on with shoes on your feet (which is why you will need the Botes shoe cabinet).

For Southern Guild’s 2012 collection, Pakdoust has teamed up with painter Evans to create a carpet based on one of her recent paintings, a reclining nude.

Evans is a painter who lives in Fransch­hoek and no stranger to the clientele of Everard Read. After many years spent living and working in India and sending her paintings back to South Africa through Everard Read, she returned home in 2008. Here, she quietly reigns in the discipline of figure painting. Her rendering of the human form, particularly nude flesh, is sublime, soft and luxuriant. Just like a Paco carpet.

Iranian by birth, Pakdoust is the founder and proprietor of Paco, whose shop front in Greenside is merely the end point of a long, highly specialised carpet-weaving operation that starts with sheep in the Tibetan highlands. Pakdoust manages the production of his rugs all the way from the wellbeing of his sheep to the meticulous hand-weaving of the carpets.

Pakdoust has worked with a range of designers and advisers for his contemporary collection, an ongoing range of carpets marrying traditional production methods with contemporary designs. He has in the past interpreted artists’ paintings for carpet designs, so his collaboration with Evans is not unexplored territory.

Visitors to the 2010 Joburg Art Fair may recall his collaboration with Botes on a rug version of Botes’s drawing Haunted, also ­commissioned by Southern Guild. It was by far the prize of the 2010 Southern Guild collection, and for 2012 Paco and Evans look set to take the limelight again.

Conrad Botes

Botes’s wife likes beautiful shoes. This, according to the artist, is the rationale for his contribution to the 2012 collection — a freestanding wooden shoe cabinet that resembles, as any girl knows it should, a fairytale princess’s jewellery box.

Made of laminated plywood, white oak and paint on glass, the ­cabinet is only 1.2m high. Its diminutive stature and the pink peep-toe sandal painted on the glass make it clear that this cabinet is only for the very best shoes, those show-stoppers that simply cannot afford to have a takkie tossed at them in the bottom of a closet.

Philemon Hlungwani and Pierre Cronje

The Tsitsikamma forest in the southern Cape is full of yellowwood trees that are hundreds of years old. People walk kilometres up steep, muddy gorges to see them and be photographed hugging them.

Anyone who has ever planted a yellowwood and hoped for it to graduate from shrub to tree in their lifetime will appreciate the South African law that prohibits the felling of yellowwood trees without a special permit. In this light, the yellowwood table that artist Philemon Hlungwani and furniture artisan Pierre Cronje have made together from a 400-year-old tree is obviously something special.

The long, narrow side table is made from a single slab of wood from a yellowwood tree felled in the Knysna forest. The knotted, gnarled tabletop is off-set by geometric black frames that serve as legs. This is Cronje’s handiwork. Hlungwani’s contribution is a delicate monochromatic image that spans the length of the table top.

The image, which depicts a thorny highveld landscape, is based on one of Hlungwani’s distinctive etchings and the translation on to a rough wooden surface of the complex marks made through various etching processes is a feat in its own right.

Born in 1975 in Giyani, Limpopo, Hlungwani honed his already fine drawing skills at the Artist Proof Studio in Newtown, where he studied printmaking under Kim Berman and Nhlanhla Xaba. Now he is a consummate printmaker and mentors younger artists through the gruelling journey from sketchbook to gallery wall.

His collaboration with Cronje’s ­furniture studio is his first venture in creating designer objects.

Daniella Mooney

Daniella Mooney may be a new name to some in the art scene — at least those who live further north than Cape Town’s Kimberley Hotel — but it won’t be for long. This recent Michaelis graduate is chipping away at bits of wood and crystal in her Cape Town studio, preparing a new collection of sculptures for her second solo exhibition at Whatiftheworld Gallery towards the end of 2013.

In between carving sculptures proper, she has made probably the most “art-like” design object for Southern Guild’s 2012 collection, a rigid parquet carpet.

Mooney’s “carpet" is a large square of parquet blocks stuck firmly together and moulded on one end to look as if the material is pliant and drapes over a chair. This is Mooney’s métier — whimsical, even magical situations that twist our expectations and knowledge of materials and surprise us.

In her piece we are reminded of a banal material arrangement — a soft carpet resting on a hard floor. In an ordinary situation, the carpet may be there to protect the floor, or to protect feet from the cold that rises through from the ground. In this case, the material properties of carpet and floor muddle into one another and it is as if, by some alchemy, the delicate Mooney can soothe the wood’s rigid fibres and make even the most unyielding ­surfaces soft.

It helps her cause that Mooney handles wood exceptionally well. Her treatment of the parquet blocks is satiny and flawless, which makes the gentle folds in the piece all the more sumptuous.

Laurie Wiid van Heerden and Atang

When I was a child, my mother repeatedly had to scold me for drawing on her furniture. An essential catalyst for my learning to spell words such as “attack”, “peach” and “table” was writing them, in ballpoint pen, on the undersides of tables, chairs and beds. It was the indelibility of what I was about to do that made me careful about my spelling.

On reflection, I was a would-be graffiti artist. I may have chosen more sanctioned avenues for my spelling prowess later in life, but the real graffiti artists — such as Atang, or Zabalaza, as his tag name goes — go largely unrecognised by the mainstream art and design producers and consumers.

In this light, there is something very satisfying in seeing his work in the 2012 Southern Guild collection and on a piece of furniture, no less. In a similar sort of collaboration to that of Hlungwani and Cronje, Atang has produced two benches with industrial designer Laurie Wiid van Heerden.

A graphic designer-turned-graffiti artist, Atang is a vital member of Cape Town’s vibrant street-art scene. Van Heerden’s urban aesthetic sensibilities and his boldness in juxtaposing unlikely materials make the perfect duet with Atang’s spontaneous approach to mark making.

The benches are minimalist designs made from black-and-white brushed steel, concrete and copper.

The seat surface on one of the benches is white and it is on this that Atang has drawn a stylised urban scene headed by the word “burg”.

Working photographs of the benches show them against a ­backdrop, also by Atang, that ­continues the scene drawn on the bench. Together the three are like brisket, Emmental and pickles in a Rueben: if you take one ingredient out, it’s just not a Rueben.

I sense a mural commission coming Atang’s way.

William Kentridge and Gregor Jenkin

Gregor Jenkin is a conceptually oriented furniture designer and entrepreneur based in Cape Town. William Kentridge needs no introduction. That is precisely why Jenkin and Kentridge’s collaboration for this year’s Southern Guild collection has been strictly under wraps. Even though no one has seen it yet, it is the jewel in the crown of the collection by virtue of the prestige that comes with Kentridge’s name. However, that is not to diminish Jenkin’s worthiness or the fuss around this work.

Kentridge and Jenkin are this year’s Southern Guild power couple. Readers will have to visit the Everard Read Gallery for the full scoop on their design collaboration, but what we do know is that the piece brings together Kentridge’s and Jenkin’s signature styles when it comes to three-dimensional objects. For Jenkin this means tables, chairs and steel, and for Kentridge torn pieces of paper. What this means for their Southern Guild collaboration is a modular set of tables and chairs built from pieces of steel made to look as if they are large torn scraps of paper. Think Kentridge and Gerard Marx’s Firewalker sculpture remixed as a dining-room suite.

Nkhensani Nkosi

It was a sad day when, a year or two ago, I visited the Zone in Rosebank to discover that Nkhensani Nkosi’s boutique store, Stoned Cherrie, had closed down. Admittedly, I only ever bought one garment there and it was on sale, but that was not for any lack of love for her designs. Stoned Cherrie redefined Afro-chic and breathed new life into shweshwe, the inexpensive patterned cotton fabric that she used in many of her tailored dresses with more luxurious fabrics such as silks and linens. Since Stoned Cherrie, shweshwe has become a staple of South African designer couture.

When something like this happens, good designers change course. Architects become fashion designers; fashion designers make tea sets. This is precisely what Nkosi has done for the Southern Guild collection. Working solo, Nkosi has designed a ceramic tea set comprising four cups and saucers, a teapot, a milk jug and a sugar bowl. Each piece is hand-painted in gloss black and white with a delicate heart motif. The idea, I am certain, was to make the discerning tea-drinker look every bit as good sipping as the discerning shopper does wearing a Stoned Cherrie dress.

Ardmore Ceramics

Southern Guild has expressed a special interest in ceramics in this year’s collection, an orientation that includes a large number of designers and product manufacturers in the collection that might ordinarily be left out of the high-design category. Ardmore Ceramics has long since established its place in these echelons, so much so that Christie’s in London calls Ardmore pieces “modern-day collectables”, an epithet reserved only for the finest objects and artworks.

Ardmore Ceramics is well known in South Africa as an art and craft education centre in Kwazulu-Natal that accommodated pupils and ­artists of all races when many more formal routes to art education were off limits to artists of colour because of apartheid education policies.

Founded in the mid-1980s by Fee Halsted and Bonnie Ntshali-ntshali, works produced by Ardmore ­Ceramics are now coveted by art and design collectors.

More than 50 artisans are now based at the Ardmore studio and some have worked at the studio since its inception.

For the Southern Guild collection, ceramicist Lovemore Sithole has made two lamp bases from white earthenware. The bases are modelled with leopard and bird decorations, which are beautifully painted and embellished by Sondelani Ntshalintshali in collaboration with Halsted.

The Southern Guild exhibition opens at the Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg on August 2 and runs for six weeks

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