Humour and cyanide, with icing sugar to taste

Frank van Reenen’s solo show On a Day opened at Niroxprojects in Maboneng last week. It’s the artist’s first solo show in Johannesburg for a long time, and comprises candy-pop-coloured canvases and black-and-gold sculptures. Van Reenen’s work is an extension of himself — his imagination, characterised by a wicked wit and absurd sense of humour. 
On a Day transforms the space into a kitsch dreamscape. 

The iconic Sleeping Dog sculpture gets a coating of gold leaf, and a silicon cast of the same squish-nosed sleeping pup breathes against your palm. Small bronze figures are clustered in groups that inspire bizarre micro-narratives, and pink-blue-and-green canvases colour the setting. The characters in this dream are naive and childlike, yet simultaneously teeter on the verge of nightmarish.

You’ve described your work in the past as “icing sugar mixed with cyanide”. Does this description still fit?  

Yes, I gravitate towards themes where a dual meaning is pertinent. 

You work across many mediums and seem to adapt your style to fit, or rather explore, each one. What appeals to you about this broad practice?  


If it is going poorly with the one medium it might go better with another. Also I guess the different mediums feed each other. A concept might start as an animation and then evolve into a sculptural piece. I like it when work evolves. I was in a situation where I had to remake the same sculpture three times. It turned out to be a great learning experience. 

Earlier this year we saw your  specially commissioned work, The Giant, made for the  Winter Sculpture Fair.  

With a title like The Giant, well, it had to be big. The figure is looking up to maybe an even bigger giant — stuck in a loop forever with the figures getting bigger and bigger. 

You reference pop-culture a lot of your work. What influences and inspires your work?   

I grew up on comics and I watch a lot of cartoons with my daughter so I guess that filters down into what I do. 

Humour is another recurring element in your work. What’s so important about having a laugh?  

Humour and duality seem to walk hand in hand. I once read something, it was like a cat poster: “It’s an artist’s job to propose an alternative reality.” I thought, yeah, that makes sense. As the real reality we live in kind of sucks, let’s make one that is vaguely amusing. 

What can visitors expect to see at your exhibition?  

Sculptures and paintings. A lot of black. Black is the new pink. (Not really.)

What’s next for you?  

Making stuff in silicone. And an animated story.

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