For our seventh collection, 'Lighting Momentum', we approached Johannesburg-based artist, Khotso Motsoeneng, to collaborate on our Artist's Sweater. We chatted to him about growing up around artists, working with FIELDS and looking beyond the surface...Do you recall what first sparked your interest in art - and the moment you decided to pursue art professionally?
Growing up I was surrounded by artists (my uncle a print-maker and my brother who is really good with drawing). I grew up with an interest to make, but for me it appeared as a talent one is born with and I never considered myself to be one of the lucky ones. I guess seeing them make stirred up an urge in me to pursue something that would allow me to be creative. I sort of stumbled upon the arts as a profession, all thanks to pursuing my studies in photography which took me to a space where I realised that art is actually broader than I had imagined it to be.
You’re a self-taught painter and printmaker - what are some of the challenges and advantages of being self-taught?
A challenge I mostly face is finding a way to navigate the art space as a career artist. It’s a small world that looks big from outside and at the same time I am learning the skills of making an income from the passion - and the advantage is that you don’t know the rules so it’s easy to break them and create with freedom and there’s no brief it’s solely what you feel and see in your minds’ eye.
Synchronised Touch, 2022, Acrylic and puff-paint on unstretched canvas
How does your background in photography inform your artistic practice? Photography taught me how to see, look beyond just what is there but how it is situated, what it might mean and how much of it will be different tomorrow, because every day we have our eyes open - but how much do we really see and take in? So when I paint patterns, mostly borrowed from wood grain and plant leaves, I try find meaning in the patterns and shapes, which is mostly about what I feel and see, while I borrow the patterns and reuse them for my own conversations between me, myself and I.
A recurring motif in your work is wood grain - could you talk a little bit about the significance of that?
The wood grain has a story of the tree embedded into it showing growth rings, these patterns I see as a trace for natural processes, they change as time passes which is a process the sweater will go through as well. We see the wood grain so often and most of the time we see it we don’t really take in the patterns, we see it as something we already know - so adding colour to these patterns invites the viewer to look at where they know these patterns from and start engaging with the piece by trying to find a specific image from the patterns.
How did you interpret the fundamental message of ‘Lighting Momentum’ for this collaboration with FIELDS?
My interpretation stems from being on land which has changing seasons - from a sunny season to a cloudy season - surrounded by water that is reflecting the blue sky, which in turn creates this infinite blue space with parts resembling wood grain or even islands depending on how the colours make you feel.
What do you hope the wearer feels when putting your work on their body?
Infinite possibilities if it can be viewed as a state of feeling or emotion… A happy state of mind, with the blue as the main colour I’m trying to send feelings of calmness, stability and reliability – rather than the blue referring to sadness.
How do you feel about your work being translated into a wearable piece?
Mostly its excitement, the piece has this infinite feel around it, which I observe as a reflection of the sky on a seascape, it has this feel that there’s more of the patterns if you just add a pair of trousers, a tote and bucket hat to the attire.
Tribute to Fela Kuti (Sorrow Tears and Blood), 2020, Acrylic on canvas
I’m working on some research for my first solo show, which will take place sometime next year - so keep an eye out for those vibes.
What does fashion mean to you?
Ok, I did not expect this one… not sure what it means to me, I think it’s mostly feelings and emotions which make us decide what we deem as fashionable as individuals, so it’s a subjective vibe.
Untitled, 2021, Oil pastel on paper
Favourite city in the world?
All-time favourite artist?
What would you never wear?
Your favourite piece from the FIELDS collection?
The Weekend Trousers in Cotton Denim.
Being an artist in South Africa is…
It’s a mission and a privilege at the same time.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Group Theory: Black Music By Tumi Mogorosi.
What are you binge-watching at the moment?
The Sandman on Netflix.
What are you reading at the moment?
Indaba My Children By Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa
This interview has been edited for clarity. All artwork images are courtesy of Khotso Motsoeneng, via artsy.net.