Grace Kotze

We kick off 2013 with an interview with the experienced painter, curator and teacher, Grace Kotze. We find out what keeps her going after 23 years of creating and ask her about narcissism in using the artist as the subject and what she hopes to communicate with her work.


DIY: Where would say you fit in the Durban art scene?

Grace: I embrace it as an exhibitor and part time curator yet prefer to steer clear of the politics, a phenomena that is present in any creative community. I love Durban and admire so many of its artists who compile a very innovative and strong creative body. When I need fresh eyes for feedback I am fortunate in having artists friends in the city to which I can turn for input. Durban is a home for me and a place where I feel extremely grounded. Such stability is very conducive to painting as it provides stillness from which to create.

I am exhibiting more frequently in other cities yet always feel a bit empty when works are not viewed in Durban. I have been trying to disconnect from my attachment to showing in Durban as I need to grow and feel intact while showing in other cities and countries.

 It felt magical in how decisive I was with their making yet how little I understood

DIY: You have been a practising artist for the last 23 years, what drives you to wake up every morning and create? Does teaching play a significant role in fueling your inspiration juices?

Grace: Creating is my way of navigating my world. It is how I speak, grow and love. Creating is a very exciting journey and I often wake up really early with butterflies in my stomach as I am so excited to start working. The fact that painting grounds me is a huge motivating factor to paint. In order to function as decent individuals we all have ways of gaining insights and guidance. Painting is my way of doing just that.

Not directly but it has taught me certain communication skills which have inadvertently led to better self-knowledge and subsequently painting with added direction and clarity.
I do find many of my students and their creative journeys inspirational which can only energise my own journey. I have also learnt from student’s knowledge of paint and colour which always benefits my creative tools.



DIY: Do you think art that includes a depiction of the artist as the main subject could be seen as narcissistic? How do you combat that perception or is it something you encourage?

Grace: I think the creative journey as a whole is about the self and therefore one of narcissism. To produce works of substance I believe they have to come from a personal and sincere vision. Using one’s own image makes this journey of the self far more direct. It is often less sentimental as when one paints oneself it is far easier to paint with honesty as the audience of the subject is removed from the creative equation.

I am not particularly concerned if I am viewed as a narcissist as my process of using my own image has resulted in me living a far healthier personal life. My last solo show was only of my own body. I needed to explore certain emotions that were very poignant to me and in order to do so it was far more direct using my own image. While the photographer took the photos I became very aware how the positions I was assuming spoke to me emotionally and I moved my body accordingly. This direct link to myself enabled me to grapple with very important issues that helped a healing process.



DIY: What communication do you hope to encourage through self-portraiture? Does it create a platform for the viewer to access the artist’s thoughts on a personal level?

Well that depends on my emotional state at the time. I have explored many emotions from deep anguish to a lightness of self.

I have found that my works while using my own body were the works where the audience were able to access their own emotions directly. I have never had so many approach me with their own emotional stories. As with movies where we cry and laugh along with the characters so do we experience emotions that are poignant to the artist yet part of our makeup.



DIY: What was the concept behind Internal Markings? It seems to be heavily influenced by graffiti & rancid thoughts?

Grace: I love text, I love the fact that words that have literal meaning when constructed in certain styles convey their own emotions. The fact that the construct of a letter has a visual vocabulary of its own is a beautiful reality. This alternative communicative tool of text is used in many media such as advertising, film, book covers etc. These works take that communicative power of the construct of text further and leave behind the literal language. I needed to disregard words as I was working directly with emotional and visual issues. Words would have been just too restricting.

As far as being rancid, well that’s open to interpretation, your way of interpreting is relevant as is any spectator. I haven’t learnt to put words to the marks yet, they are just so personal.  I used a point of departure in myself that I am yet to understand. Yet I made this point of pure emotion guide the practical application of shape, tone and colour of the marks. It felt magical in how decisive I was with their making yet how little I understood.

My initial motivation behind the works was one of wanting to paint an abstract similar to how I paint the background of my figures. But as I painted those marks were not enough for me and subsequently my paint application became almost “worded”. I am dyslexic and it felt like I could finally read and write with a fully engaged brain. It was so liberating. For the first time “words” and their construct felt perfectly comfortable. Painting these abstracts was a very cathartic experience.



DIY: Do you see being an artist as a job, a vocation or a bit of both? If you weren’t doing what you are now, what could you see yourself doing?

Grace: For me it is a vocation which I approach with an attitude of dedication as one would do a very responsible and extremely demanding job.


DIY: How would you define success, in terms of being an artist?

Grace: To paint with sincerity and intelligence.


DIY: The year is about to come to an end, any major plans for 2013?

Grace: I have many small projects planned but two major shows. Firstly I have a solo show planned but the location is still to be confirmed. I am also curating a show at the KZNSA gallery centring round the human form and the individuals passion with the subject. A subject close to my heart and to have a number of artists who share that love exhibiting together is a very exciting prospect.



You can keep up to date with what Grace is doing and enquire about learning from her on her website.

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