An Interview with Theresa-Anne Mackintosh (and Carine Zaayman)

C: You are returning to the fine art platform of a solo show in a gallery after a long stint in the commercial field. What has made you decide to launch a solo exhibition now? And, how have the experiences influenced these works?
T-A: I have always considered myself to be primarily an artist. First, as a painter, but then just as an artist utilising different media. At the time of my entry into commercial practices, I had a special interest in motion graphics and experimental animation. This was a terrain where I could explore these interests and learn more about the commercial and advertising industry. It was good to view the ‘goings on’ of the fine art world from the outside, as a silent observer for a while. I think the time is right to show again. I feel that artists have more opportunities available to them today. The world has opened up to South African artists. I feel that the current fine art dynamic in South Africa is less insular. As regards my recent endeavours, I think there is a definite crossover between my commercial practices and skills learnt in this terrain, combined with my fine art sensibility. I like to think, a new visual language has manifested in some or other way.

C: You have chosen to work with prints (“digital paintings”), sculpture and video for this show. Why do you use these different media? And, how do you see the relationship between the appearances of characters on these different platforms.
T-A: In addition to the above-mentioned media, I’m also exhibiting paintings. I enjoy the diverse nature of various media, I enjoy seeing how my iconography translates and mutates on different platforms. So the nature of output changes and the visual makeup is distinct to each medium, but the essence and undercurrents remains intact.
I have a special love of digital media, I enjoy its process. As regards still graphic work, it is immediate and clean, these works tend to be rather graphic. On the animation front I enjoy the directing component, the role of the director as a mini god, for want of a better description, deciding what is seen when to prompt an envisaged sensibility, it’s a powerful position to be in. The process by which digital imagery is produced, happens differently to the way it occurs in the plastic arts, it seems to be constructed in more of a montage manner (and I’m speaking of a time dynamic as opposed to the practice) it’s less sequentially constrained, the idea of time juxtaposition comes into play, a bit like an edit. I must confess, I also have great respect for the tactility of paint and hand made things like the process of making a sculpture from start to finish. The fact that paint needs to dry is completely contrary to the process of digital work. Its process seems to be more linear. I feel comfortable on all platforms. All of these media traits feed off each other in obscure ways and a new amalgamated aesthetic is created.

C: In the animation ‘Jackie the Kid’, we follow a character you call ‘Tina’ from her apartment to the pharmacy and back. Tina also appears as a sculpture in the show. What is her significance to you?
T-A: It’s rather amusing, from the onset of her creation, when she started out as a crude drawing, and then a plasticine maquette, she seems to have taken on an autonomous personality. People wouldn’t ask “how is the production process of your sculpture progressing? They would ask “How is Tina”, referring to her in the third person. She has even infiltrated people’s dreams! ‘Tina’ represents many things. I like to think of her as a sort of Susan Sarandon/Florence Nightingale/The little prince mutation. She is head-strong, tenacious and independent. She is also sensitive and compassionate and petite in stature. She has a will of her own. Tina finds herself in an unusual situation. She could be chastised by society, but this does not phase her. She is a bit of a freak herself really, if you look at her! but a beautiful, unique, angelic freak. She offers hope, I like to believe.

C: Also, in reference to ‘Jackie the Kid’, the film focuses on what seems to be the inner thoughts, fantasies or memories of different characters. Yet, these thoughts are hidden from other characters. In that sense, the film seems to be almost voyeuristically revealing private mental spaces of the people. But the film does not really expose the thoughts to the viewer, as they remain somewhat obscure. Why do you maintain this ambiguity?
T-A: I like the open-ended option. I also like miss-interpretation as a possible theme, it leaves for more possibilities. Like someone mistranslating something completely. It offers multiple options. What you read into something is perhaps not what I had in mind at all! I like that idea. Perhaps voyeuristic practices also touch conscious nerves. People’s private thoughts are exactly that, unless they are shared or exposed. So these dreamscapes are quick reveals, merely snippets, an inkling of something, maybe if you stayed for the ‘whole’ dream, the facts would be different and your opinion would be altered?

C: Are you trying to frame the film in a dream space itself? Does this dream space have a subjective consciousness, i.e. is it inside the mind/dream of a specific person/character, or is it more collective than that?
T-A: I think it focuses on the collective experience. The main focus of the story isn’t the dreamscapes at all, but rather Tina and her experience. The dreamscapes are just things going on around her that may involve her or not, consciously or not. It’s not the specifics of the actual dreamscapes that are important either, it’s more the idea that human vulnerability and self importance is a democratic characteristic. You may be focused on getting something done or thinking your own thoughts while things may be going on around you that you are oblivious to. Everyone has something going on, something private. Your own concerns seem to be of primary concern, but under the surface there is a lot going on. That’s a humbling thought.

C: The “digital paintings” feature mostly the heads of different figures. Why do you focus so heavily on faces?
T-A: That’s an interesting observation. I used to focus quite a lot on hands when I was a student which brings me to something Shigeo Fukuda said at the Design Indaba in CT when he commented on working with feet, by saying that he uses them as an element in his work as they do not show emotion like hands do. Faces show a lot of emotion or shielded emotion. Perhaps being a little older I’ve upgraded from hands to faces! I suppose my work is psychologically charged and human beings are at the core of emotions, faces particularly.

C: The “digital paintings” also remind one of slightly child-like or naïve drawings. There is, of course, also the sense of simple lines and shapes, bright colours, and uncomplicated composition, which supports such a sense. How do you feel about such a comparison?
T-A: I don’t particularly mind it. Perhaps it’s about reduction, essence, simplicity, cutting away the frayed ends and you’re left with…

C: If the above comparison holds, it is of course one that you subvert through the dark undertones of frustration and absurdity that have definite adult overtones. Perhaps the sadness of the characters, lack of mouths, unseeing or empty eyes, and almost absent bodies communicate this most strongly. Is there a conscious juxtaposition of form and subject matter at work in these images? How do you see the child-like and gloomy elements working together?
T-A: I think subversion manifests through vehicles of irony and dark humour perhaps, you can sometimes say more through the undertones, working in the shadows. The two seemingly opposed elements compliment each other. So it’s the reduced mass with an injection of amphetamines!

C: There seems to be an interest in the “digital paintings” on graphically exploring different ways in which the features of your characters/portrait subjects can be figured. There is no stock image for eyes, noses or hair. What is at the heart of this exploration?
T-A: There isn’t mackintosh stock footage commercially available, but there
is a definite library that has been built up in my head. I’m not sure how the dots are connected, but they are certainly connected in a specific way. I don’t like to think about that too much!

C: The bright colours and seemingly simple drawing style reminds one of the kinds of images we find in contemporary animation. Is there such an influence? Are you making reference to popular culture?
T-A: I am certainly aware of popular culture, it infiltrates my work both consciously and subconsciously. I don’t think I try to emulate a contemporary ‘look’ on purpose though.

C: In contemporary Japanese art, such as in the work of Takashi Murakami, the use of beautiful flat and decorative colour is a conscious reference to the integration of popular culture consumption and so-called high art. Does your style suggest a reference to these Japanese artists, and do you position your work to support the notion of such integration?
T-A: Maybe my work forms part of the contemporary mainstream makeup by reason that it exists and is created now, as simple as that. I do acknowledge the similarities. I definitely relate to the fact that boundary lines between high art and popular culture are blurred and move all the time. Toy design, music videos, fashion illustration, art, it’s often all the same. Perhaps the flatness extends past a literal graphic sensibility and is speaking some global language? I don’t know.

C: You work with digital media a lot in this show. Do you see yourself as being part of the new media group in this country? What is your position on the role of new media in South African art?
T-A: One is always careful to pigeonhole oneself. I like to think of new media as merely a medium, the end. For me it denotes work existing on digital platforms, or made with or for digital media, so I guess part of my work can be categorised as such. Maybe next time we meet, I’m gluing toothpicks to paper napkins. I think the main focus of work should be its content, if you’re saying it with film or drawing or installation it doesn’t matter.