Monday, October 19, 2009

Kagiso Pat Mautloa


Kagiso Pat Mautloa has a penchant for old spades. He likes them worn, rusted and weather-beaten. To find spades at this phase of their life cycle, he pokes around in dumps. He also looks in people's yards in Alex. To persuade folk to part with their old gardening implements, he offers to replace them with new ones. Mostly, he draws puzzled looks. For those familiar with his art, it comes as no surprise: these objects that are embedded in his abstract paintings or are fashioned into sculptures are essential to his aesthetic, which articulates conceptual narratives centred on degradation, renewal and transcendence.
In the context of these themes, aged spades prove a useful leitmotif.
"They are man's tool for reconstruction," observes Mautloa, in his modest studio in the Bag Factory, a disused industrial space a stone's throw from the Oriental Plaza. There aren't any canvases in his studio. Apart from a poster advertising his solo exhibition at the Goodman Gallery last year, titled Other Presences, there aren't any indicators that this is the studio of a prominent artist. Papers, files and books cover his desk making his studio look more like an unkempt office than a place of creative contemplation.

Mautloa evinces an understated intelligence; perhaps, after decades of interest from the press, he is no longer in a rush to relay his artistic ethos. Now in his late fifties, a degree of nostalgia for his youth has set in. Not an overt sense of longing; nothing that Mautloa does is overstated. Even the socio-political subject-matter in his art is subtly addressed. Instead of depicting the dispossessed, he shows their tools of toil; the green-matted patina operating as a metaphor for the scars of time and the constant battle to survive.

Mautloa associates spades with hardship and toil, but he also associates these prosaic objects with his childhood. Back to a time when he used to roam the township looking for a "bob a job". (A "bob" was a shilling, then about 10 cents.) Now Mautloa only picks up a spade when it is no longer fit for any purpose. "I like to get them at that point because one can read the history from them."
He is intrigued that these mass produced objects take on individualised qualities as they age.
"We can all buy the same pair of shoes, but they take on a different look depending on how often each person wears them and how they walk in them."