The Munchies Art Club introduces the contemporary South African artist JP Meyer in our featured artist section.
We were lucky to discover JP Meyer on Instagram and have been fans ever since.
We were delighted he accepted our invitation to do a feature for the Munchies art club, sharing his story and his work with us and our viewers.
Who is JP Meyer?
Please introduce yourself:
Hi, my name is JP Meyer. I am from South Africa, I was born in 1960 and I live and work in a small town close to Cape Town.
Like most South African kids, I had very little exposure to art at school but I was always drawing and painting and making things.
I visited an art museum for the first time when I was back-packing through Europe at age 20.
You were over 30 when you started to study art, what did you do before?
At that time I was studying Architecture.
I loved the creative/design aspect of the course but I hated building science, technology, physics and maths.
On the flight back from my European trip, I spoke to the flight attendants and decided to leave university and join South African Airways as flight attendant.
I loved the job and it was a wonderful opportunity to travel; something I already knew that I wanted to do as a kid.
For the next 15 years I worked mostly on the International routes and had the chance to visit many countries and some of the famous cities and museums of the world.
When and how did it become clear that you wanted to become an artist?
I am not sure exactly when and how that happened.
I sensed that my career with SAA was coming to an end and becoming an artist was sort of the most obvious next thing to do.
I knew very little about art but was very interested and was spending more and more time visiting museums and shows.
I found contemporary art and the art scene both fascinating and confusing (it was the era of the YBA’s).
Although I was not making any “art” nor had any meaningful portfolio, I applied at The Foundation School of Art in Cape Town in 1996 and was accepted.
I became a full-time art student at the age of 36 and four years later in 1999 I completed a Diploma in Fine Art (Painting) cum laude.
Was your surrounding supportive?
I arranged my life so it could be supportive.
I bought a smaller property, paid off my car, worked as a waiter at night and went to college during the day.
Anyone else in your family an artist?
Could you explain the main themes behind your work?
Soon after graduation I entered my fourties with an increasing awareness of my own mortality.
My work became personal and biographical and even changed from figurative to abstraction and back to figuration as I contemplated existential questions.
Art was a vehicle which helped me through this very interesting period.
Then in 2018 I thought “OK, enough”. I packed away my projector, personal references and fotos and swapped my oils for acrylics (“the lesser medium” LOL!).
I collected references from classical and world mythology, contemporary culture, ancient manuscripts, comic strips and social and printed media which I now use.
The main theme behind my work is now kind of the work itself.
I use references and images and end up with narrative paintings but it is the process itself that I am more interested in; the layering and application of the medium, it’s restrictions, possibilities and challenges, being more spontaneous, impulsive, unselfconsciously using colour and composition.
I continuously apply, erase, over-paint, cover-up, destroy and re-apply colours, marks and forms until I am satisfied with a painting.
The combination of elements are never pre-determined but emerge through the process. I love that.
Where do you work? What is you studio like?
I work from home.
My studio is separate from my house and only 15 meters away from my backdoor.
It is a beautiful, contemporary building with lots of windows, natural light and surrounded by a garden with mostly water-wise, indigenous plants and trees.
Do you listen to music? Latest songs you have listened too?
I love working in silence so I never listen to music in the studio.
But, I do love very rhythmic, repetitive, electronic music and listening to artists like Nicholas Jaar or Be Svendsen gives me immense pleasure.
Could you walk us through the process when creating. Where and when do you get inspired? Do you sketch? Do you work on more than one piece at a time?
I am in the studio most days from 9-5 during which I take lots of coffee breaks, I read, contemplate, surf the internet and paint.
The actual painting happens quickly and haphazardly.
I work on a number of paintings at the same time.
The colours, shapes and forms of one work often suggest possibilities for another.
I enjoy resolving a work on the canvas rather than carefully planning it before so the painting is constructed with layers and traces of colours and ideas that came before.
I rely very little on inspiration to get working.
The more I work, the more ideas come and the more inspired I am.
I have had a “work-book” since college days in which I write down quotes, thoughts and ideas; I use it for simple drawings and I stick all kinds of things in it.
It is a great reference when I am fishing for ideas. I have piles of A3 printing paper which I use for quick sketches which always end up in the rubbish bin.
Could you tell us about this piece?
It is called “Nightcrawler”, acrylic on canvas and quite small … 35 x 35cm.
Medieval manuscripts often depict snails combatting knights or being ridden etc. and there is no clear explanation for these images.
I think it was just the artists having a bit of fun.
The painting evolved from a small medieval drawing of a person riding a snail .
It was quite uninteresting so I gave her some wings and dressed her in a red cat-suit.
I like primary colours and black really makes them zing, so it became a night-time painting which then needed a moon.
The image emerged spontaneously through the process of painting and was not preempted at all.
Have you tried other mediums than painting?
Yes, I have a small etching press which I use mainly for monotypes.
Sculpture is really something I would like to explore more.
I am making a few ceramic sculptures for a show later in 2022.
Do you feel that the pandemic left a mark on our work?
No, not at all. If anything, the lockdowns gave me more time in the studio.
How important is social media in your work?
It is very important. Wonderful opportunities like residencies, exhibitions, invitations and a lot of sales now happen because of social media.
If it wasn’t for social media, we would not have connected and I would not have been responding to your interview right now. THANK YOU!
The best thing about social media is the networking, sharing of ideas and the instant access one has to what is happening in the global art world!
Where do you presently live? What is the art scene like there?
I live in Porterville, a small town about an hour and a half from Cape Town.
There are a growing number of artists and crafter settling here and an annual event, the PORTERVILLE OPEN STUDIO weekend is slowly gaining traction.
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