Daniel ‘Stompie’ Selibe is a musician, artist and art counsellor, all of which he weaves into an emotional response to his life and times. It was Nhlanhla Xaba of Artist Proof Studios, where Selibe worked for several years, first as a student and later as a printmaker, who introduced the young artist to the idea of using abstraction as a means of expressing himself. The two discussed ‘how to fuse the confusion that you’re living with in your daily life… how to find material to express that,’ recalls Selibe. ‘For me it was through using paint, spray paint, charcoal, to just explore what [that confusion] means. These’ – he indicates some of his works, surrounding him in his studio – ‘are the outcomes of the scream, the loudness of the city, the loudness of our politics currently.’
Selibe’s work is intense in both its expressive quality, and in the range of his experimentation. Newspapers, sheet music, paint, charcoal, and spray paint all make their way into his mix, overwritten with scribblings, drips, softly delicate line drawings and wildly expressive brush marks, comprising a kind of visual jamming, an intuitive process of discovery. ‘It’s a form of improvisation,’ he explains. ‘When you improvise something with different melodies… at some point as you’re playing, it eventually comes together… And it’s something that you do, but you can’t repeat it. It’s the same with my visual art; so all my images are different, they have a different emotion, a different expression.’ This intuitive approach makes it difficult for the artist to talk about his work, to explain the whys and wherefores behind his subject matter and inspirations, beyond the fact that he expresses ‘the challenges I face as an individual… and then people say, “no, there has to be a story”. I say, “sometimes there is no story”. And sometimes people say, “put a title”, and I say, “there isn’t any title”. And they say, “but it feels empty”; I say, “well it feels empty to you, but to me, it’s not.” If I call it, for example, Oh what a journey of life then I have to say more about ‘a journey of life’, I have to give more content, but I don’t have that. What I have is a feeling, an emotion. I can tell you more about that.’
Selibe is fascinated by the metaphor of the shadow, the darkness trailing each person through the city. ‘I wanted to work with that… we’re living in the shadow world, things aren’t so clear… I feel like there is this shadow that people are living with – there’s so much dishonesty, there’s so much anger, so much violence, violence against women. I feel that there’s this sadness in this country… you walk in downtown Johannesburg and somebody’s been robbed, or somebody’s been beaten up really badly, and those things stay with you. People who see that – how do they deal with it? I feel like we [as artists] have such a privilege, that we can deal with it. I can
deal with that anger, I found [art and music offer] a healing process, even if it doesn’t go away.’
Selibe has been represented by Candice Berman Fine Art Gallery since 2013, and will exhibit work at the Turbine Art Fair under the gallery’s auspices; Berman’s enthusiasm and excitement regarding his work have served as a great confidence boost. Selibe has undertaken several international residencies for both visual art and music (he plays a number of indigenous instruments, and has researched and recorded indigenous music in several countries). One of the his earliest artist residencies was at Boston Brandeis University in 2003, followed by a residency in New York in 2007. Here he encountered the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, while trawling through the city’s museums. Basquiat’s work struck an emotional chord with Selibe, who counts him among his greatest influences: ‘I was moved by his work, and the story behind it. As an individual who was really struggling emotionally, trying to find himself, his identity in New York. He was really powerful in terms of art making,’ says Selibe.
Selibe’s work is both fascinating, powerful, and sometimes disturbing in the undercurrent of pain that runs through it. And yet, he himself finds happiness and peace in the studio: ‘At this moment, I’m so happy, because I’m so loose in terms of expressing myself visually. It took me so many years to get where I am now; sometimes you can get stuck, drawing something for days and days, months and months, and then you realise you only did two paintings in a year. I feel really content and very happy. There are challenges, but when I’m in this space – I got what I needed,’ he says.