Cameron Platter is a fine artist from South Africa. He makes painstakingly detailed pencil drawings, collages, stories and objects that document contemporary morality. Platter’s work is often a mash of violent colours and language is appropriated from advertising, struggle art aesthetics juxtaposed with consumerist irreverence. Platter has recently exhibited solo at Paris’ Galerie Hussenot and Cape Town’s WHATIFTHEWORD. His work has also been included in group exhibitions at The Centre Pompidou, Haus Der Kultur and MOMA. His first UK exhibition, Everyday Apocalypse, a selection of his bright and unwieldy documentary drawings is showing at the Jack Bell Gallery until Saturday (20th April).
Osei Bonsu talked to the artist once described as “the delinquent love child of Quentin Tarantino and Dr Seuss” about history, heritage and activism in his art.
You have described your pencil-on-paper works as “Nomadic Murals”. What do you mean by this and what significance do murals have for you personally?
I think the works are drawn from the immediate – like signs or advertisements. Something you can read, rather than engage with in other ways. In that way they take things from outdoors, which are a part of everyday life. Oddly enough, I hadn’t done any mural painting before and this series of works led me to become involved in that. The murals I make are not completely different from other works, but they blend into their environments a lot more.
Are the experiences of showing on walls in streets and inside in galleries related?
Obviously, it’s completely different. I see drawings as performance works, since I am performing in the studio as I making these. The murals bring the work to a far larger audience, so I was instantly attracted to that dimension of it. I recently did something in downtown Johannesburg, which involved taking three classified ads from a newspaper and blowing them up, you literally missed them as artwork
How do you begin creating?
There is no formula for making the work. It might be a shape or design that leads the process. With collage, I am scavenging as I go along, so there are no hard and fast sources that I draw from. I wish I was an abstract painter, but I can’t bring myself to do that – inside these things are naïve appreciations on some shapes and how things related to each other.
I would describe anything I make as collage. I am trying to chase that high of a young kid an art class, engaged in something for a couple of hours. I’m searching for that kind of engagement. But things get in the way, society gets in the way, it’s really important for me to try and document what I do – like a diary.
Unity in Diversity, 2013
In your works words are used often, they are symbols, and have a number of definitions…
In Unity in Diversity, 2013 the message reads “NEED MONEY MONEY”. It was lifted from a loan shark ad, the repetition of the word MONEY provides a cadence and it becomes poetic, which sounds pathetic, but its true.
There is poetry in everyday language that we are often desensitized from. Which words carry most meaning for you?
A lot of the words I’m using in these works are, in the first instance, very personal. Works are often designed digitally; I might see an advertisement on a rubbish bin and it relates to another thing I’ve been looking at. For example, here we have “ADD HOPE”, which is the strapline of KFC’s charity. They encourage the consumer to add two round to their meal deal, money that goes to their charity. This is corrupt on so many levels, but having said that I am in awe of that – as a radical statement. Messages in Add Hope II, 2013 also include “OUR LIFE IS OUR WORK”, a slogan for a pharmaceutical company, and “DUAL MAGIC PROBE”, which is an anal probe from the California exotics sex company.
Add Hope, 2013
As an artist with messages in your art do you find yourself implicated as an activist?
I feel I have both no responsibility and at the same time all responsibility. I think these works immediately reference printmaking, which is a political medium and always has been. I have strangely become an activist artist without even knowing it – but it’s about having things to react to. I’m not trying to establish a moral stance in my work, I just want to take it in and put it back out again.
I want people to be able to digest things instantly, but they should also be able to access them on different levels…
To what extent is the what you create related to your South African heritage?
I am of the opinion that work should reflect a time and a place and a situation. Through circumstance I am South African. That is the lens through which I view the work. Although these works are shown around the world, I would like them to be rooted in a South African context.
So ultimately, the work is about ideas that transcend South Africa…
But conversely, if I was to work somewhere else in the world I would want to be part of a broader conversation about the themes I am looking at in South Africa, in that way it would always be rooted. I haven’t actually worked anywhere else. I’d say I would probably be engaged with the same issues but on a broader more global scale.
B.U.T.W.A II, 2012
You are exhibiting at the 55th Venice Biennale - Imaginary Fact: South African Art and the Archive. How do you feel about its focus on South Africa’s history and the impact that history has had on the world?
I can understand the issue of the archive, but I am not really thinking of that consciously. What I want to do with this larger scale series of a hundred is make documentary pictures that hopefully will be finished in about ten years or so – each being some sort of chronicle of the times. The work shown in Venice will particularly be referencing Namibian Linocut printmaking, by artists like John Muafangejo. He is a big presence in what I’ve done. His works were documentary narratives in their nature; you can get a sense of his time through his work. In that way, by appropriating his works, I want to create some sort of picture of what I’m living through or the times.
If you are an activist, perhaps your protest is one against forgetting…
Perhaps. I am not very eloquent in tapping into what it is I’m doing. I struggle to see what I am actually working with. I like that distance; I wish I had the luxury and the time to analyze it more.
Osei Bonsu is a writer and curator living in London and Accra, Ghana. He blogs at A Field of Islands