Stitch Stitch Sizzle Sizzle

Hey diddle diddle,
Stitch stitch sizzle sizzle
The collagist, the needle, the loom
Smitten, the art world jumped over the moon.

The artist Simphiwe Ndzube

Simphiwe Ndzube Goddess Nanana

Simphiwe Ndzube “Goddess Nanana”, 2018  Acrylic, spray paint and collage on linen 78 8/10 x 94 9/10 “Uncharted Lands and Trackless Seas” Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

It’s a novel thing in the life of this writer when a famous artist leaves a note on one‘s instagram account reporting that he delighted in an epigram of my making to the point of laughing and farting at the same time. But then again, this is Simphiwe Ndzube, – a creative who delivers surprise after indelicate surprise.

Indeed, the element of surprise is a constant for this raconteur as storytelling takes a South African accent. While the inclusion of fabric and found object in collage are nothing new, we find a visionary who redefines the medium and elevates it to sights unseen.

Simphiwe Ndzube untitled

Left: “Untitled” 2018 Watercolor, pencil and collage on paper 25.75 x 22.5 in./ Right: “Untitled” 2018 Watercolor, pencil and collage on paper 25.75 x 22.5 in. from “Our Lady of the Flowers”.

A New Visual Vocabulary

One is immediately struck by a universe where figures defy categorization. Shortcut visual cues abound for an artist who references anatomy by the quick placement of a glove or mop of hair. There’s no need for anatomical correctness when a stand-in will do.

Protagonists lie in a state of repose or hustle. Some face left, right, perform a somersault or speak through a megaphone. Others rest on a tree limb or float on a cement block. Breasts sprout where least expected and limbs, like tentacles, shoot forth like root vegetables. Where one expects to find a hand, one instead, finds a shoe. There’s something reminiscent of Dr. Seuss in a world where figures carry astounding girth but prance around on pin-prick ankles. The picture plane is effaced as painted figures converse with sculpted figures who defy the borders of canvas.

Rife in his paintings and installations is the dynamic placement of contradictory juxtapositions. He draws from a larger toolbox – the found object. When asked of its’ significance, he replied:

“Found objects have the potential to tell stories beyond what I can sometimes do; their residue use and and their patina often reveal a whole history of culture exchange and how much more interconnected our world is than we may think..” (from GNYP “Simphiwe Ndzube” Marta Gnyp for Zoo #54 March 2017).

“Found objects have the potential to tell stories beyond what I can sometimes do; their residue use and and their patina often reveal a whole history of culture exchange and how much more interconnected our world is than we may think..” (from GNYP “Simphiwe Ndzube” Marta Gnyp for Zoo #54 March 2017).

The artist fluently incorporates traffic cones, snake skins, umbrellas, men’s clothing, wigs and cast-off gloves and shoes. Traffic signs in Bhabharosi 2017, dot the “landscape with a transitory barricade…monitoring where and how far [fantastical figures could go].”  In last years’ ”The Rain Prayers” (Oaxaca de Juarez, Mexico),  the artist elaborates on process and the part that found object played:

Holding onto the Child Within

In an interview given two years ago, Simphiwe credited the lack of restraints placed upon him as a child and the dominance of imagination as a strong point in his practice:

“When I was a kid, I was already drawing before I started going to school…we made our own toys and miniature furniture from clay. No one knew what we were doing but we made our toys from wire, discarded boxes, and broken toys. Imagination was really at play at the time…We didn’t have paper and paints so we would use sticks to engrave different types of games on the street…We had no limitations…” (from GNYP “Simphiwe Ndzube” Marta Gnyp for Zoo #54 March 2017).

“When I was a kid, I was already drawing before I started going to school…we made our own toys and miniature furniture from clay. No one knew what we were doing but we made our toys from wire, discarded boxes, and broken toys. Imagination was really at play at the time…We didn’t have paper and paints so we would use sticks to engrave different types of games on the street…We had no limitations…” (from GNYP “Simphiwe Ndzube” Marta Gnyp for Zoo #54 March 2017).

There were no limitations in the recentUncharted Lands and Trackless Seas” (Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town).   In the aptly named “Echoes of the First Stories”, beings journey through a fabricated “Mine Moon” –  a resplendent landscape effused with ginger-like cloudbanks, rivers, spiked plants and enigmatic figures.  Simphiwe masterly weaves in color – olive, pea green, crimson, baby blue, electric blue, violet and pink. The interjection of pattern, curlicues and speckled mark-making keep the eye in play. The effect is mesmerizing.  Consider “Mpunguzo: Chief of the Spirit People”; the protagonist sports a cosmic patterned shirt, striped trousers and a wide-brimmed sun hat. His countenance resembles a purple tufted pelt. Could it be Mongolian fur? The shock of a canary-yellow kitchen glove gives a change in palette. A similar free-standing figure “Bhazuka: Michael Jackson of Mine Moon” arches as if in mid-dance. Could he be performing the moonwalk? Ndzube stated, ‘We begin in the real world and through interaction with the work enter a fabulist tale in progress. I’ve attempted to create the genesis of a cosmology that [found] itself in the “uncharted lands and trackless seas” I [called] the Mine Moon. It emerges from the tradition of magical realism and is expanding to points currently unknown.”

Slide 1:A Visit to a Mine Moon” 2018 Acrylic, spray paint and found objects on linen, diptych 220 x 340 x 30 cm. Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa Slide 2: Installation view of “Bhabharosi, Nicodin Gallery, Los Angeles. 2017 Slide 3: “Mpunguzo: Chief of the Spirit People”, 2018 Acrylic, spray paint and collage on linen 51 ⅖ x 39 x ⅖ in. Slide 4: “Bhazuka: Michael Jackson of Mine Moon”, 2018 Mixed Media 53 1/10 x 43 3/10 x 27 ⅗ in.

Destination: Points Unknown

The last year has seen Simphiwe’s star rise to the moon and there is no predicting what he is capable of. We await his next journey. Where will he navigate next? I am confident that his new band of moonwalkers will be resplendent of texture, luminosity and play and transport us to a much anticipated planet. By the way, Mr. Ndzube, here’s another nursery rhyme:

Hey diddle diddle,
The artist composed a riddle,
A dandy, a boat, a broom
Electrified, the art world took notice and mistook all for cartoon.