Aggressive strokes of vivid orange slash across the canvas, standing in stark contrast to the cold figure peering out at the viewer. His expression is calm, his gaze confident – revealing a sense of consciousness and intellect that begs an excursion into the seemingly tranquil façade. Standing still amid the chaotic energy of brushstrokes, it almost seems as though the figure is struggling to come to terms with his dual nature. Every man has a dark side, the title reads, and I reflect on the implication of artist Johannes du Plessis’ words while gazing fixedly at the face in the centre. It is deep and eerie, but then so is most Neo-Expressionism – the highly personal, emotionally charged style with which Du Plessis identifies. “It’s the free, vigorous application – the ability to create emotional intensity using colours – that attracted me,” he explains.
Du Plessis has been involved in art for as long as he can remember, finally establishing himself as a well-known figure in the field. He has exhibited both locally and internationally (with great success) for over 30 years, and his work can be found in private collections all over the globe.
“Growing up on a farm in the Eastern Cape gave me the opportunity to explore nature in all its varied aspects. The Karoo, with its open spaces, vastness and rocky hills, had a fundamental and conscious impact on my intuition,”
he explains of his background and influences. The prolific artist’s formal foundation was established during his studies in fine art, with his Higher National Diploma in sculpting and drawing signalling the start of his success. “When you start your art education, you become aware of so many different styles. I searched for one with which I could identify, and went through various stages, from Impressionism to the freedom and vitality of Expressionist art, finally identifying myself as a Neo-Expressionist.” Du Plessis is, however, not entirely comfortable with these categories, arguing that an artist’s style is merely a tool for expressing his vision.
“I refuse to accept a specific category – a label for who I am and what I do. Every collection I create may differ from the previous. My art is a playground of fulfilment.” This search for fulfilment has led Du Plessis to an exploration of many different mediums.
While he has certainly mastered painting and sculpting, he has also dabbled in a number of others, and can see himself pursuing etching in the future. The hardest part about creating a masterpiece, in any medium? “The beginning – not knowing where to start until it unfolds. A blank canvas is very intimidating. So I start by painting it black, to create the first note in the orchestra of my work.” Du Plessis remembers the very first creation to come from his hands – drawings of ostriches and ortoises – adding that he is often inspired by nature due to its profound influence on his artistic development. He stresses, however, that he does not pursue particular themes, but is open rather to all possibilities.
“My imagination takes me on a journey – it’s like a prelude or overture to an opera full of mysteries and intrigues. The final ending is a symphony with a dramatic signature.”
I ask him about his work and the meaning behind some of the pieces that most captivate me, and he responds in true
Expressionist style. “Within my work, you’ll find all sorts of elements, faces and figures – I cannot tell you what to see. My work stimulates and evokes emotion, so that viewers can discover whatever they are looking for, whatever they want to see. My creations have infinite possibilities.”
His favourite work is Procreation, which he completed in 2011. Vigorous brushstrokes give life to a mass of colourful, distorted figures represented in a manner that stirs up Cubist connotations. Thick streaks of vivid yellow contribute to the vibrancy of the work, and bright hues of cyan suggest health and vitality. “This work is the one that most satisfies my senses, perhaps because of its cartoon-like immediacy. It pulses with vitality – the jostling, tumbling forms containing furiously compressed energies,” he explains. For Du Plessis, the most rewarding thing about being an artist is the appreciation of his work.
“Being an artist is not an easy career path to follow – the arts in our country is still in the grip of development.
My motivation comes from within. It is my passion for creativity that drives my soul