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‘I’ve always been fascinated by how Johannesburg has changed’ | Kagiso ‘Pat’ Mautloa talks about art and the city

Kagiso ‘Pat’ Mautloa is an artist who is keenly invested in the study of contemporary urban life. His work is largely drawn from the urban spaces of Johannesburg – spaces he walks through and works in frequently – and rendered in painting, drawing, sculpture and printmaking. Mautloa also makes innovative use of found objects in the city, re-interpreting and re-purposing them through his work.

Pat Mautloa Q&A interview exhibition Joburg UJ Gallery
Jazz vibes (2021)

Currently on exhibition at the University of Johannesburg’s Art Gallery, Mautloa’s solo body of work, Urban Soundscapes – Crafting Spaces of Belonging, sees the artist once again studying these urban spaces, although this time in order to explore contemporary relationships of power in the city.

We spoke with Mautloa about the themes at play in the exhibition, how he began working with found objects, what draws him to the people, places and materials of urban spaces, and how the city has changed over the years.

You are focussing on the dynamic and complex atmosphere of urban spaces and the city for this exhibition. What draws you to this subject?

The city is a complex and multifaceted space that is constantly evolving and mutating as new elements are introduced. As an artist that has transcended through, and practiced within the city, I have always been fascinated by how Johannesburg has changed over the past three decades. This fascination and the unpredictability of happenings has fueled my artistic process, the interrogation of found objects; and engagements with the people that have moved in and out of the city. As my practice is not static, it is constantly evolving and built on past bodies of work; and my interactions within the city continue to find shape within the forever alternating shape and vibrancy of the city’s sounds and atmosphere.

Urban spaces are in a constant state of flux. People come and go, socio-economic currents shifts and flow. How do you represent or engage with this shifting state in your work?

Urban spaces are temporal spaces. There is a fluidity that exists within my artworks, viewers are invited to interpret and engage with the socio-political themes that are present in the works. Mining, Unemployment, Immigration, Migration and Social Disconcert are some of the themes within my artworks, these are important socio-political factors that alter the city’s atmosphere and economics, and as such they need to be captured and communicated in my works. The artworks that are presented in my current solo-exhibition at the UJ Art Gallery, build on these multiple themes that I have been exploring in my work over the years.

Pat Mautloa Q&A interview exhibition Joburg UJ Gallery
Comment (2000)

You work primarily with the medium of painting, but you also work with found objects and materials occasionally. What does working with found objects help you to achieve or communicate that painting perhaps cannot?

My art making process started from my childhood. While growing up I used to make wire cars, crayon drawings, and other toys with found objects. This was the first time, that I would say that I started working with found objects. The practice was simply distilled and refined as my artistic process evolved. Painting came later in my age, and I only started taking art seriously as a teenager.

Found objects allow me the opportunity to re-interpret and re-present the objects in a different manner. Working with found objects allows me to configure my abstractions in 3D form whereas painting works are flat like a plain picture. In my work I take and repurpose polystyrene, plastics, metals, and bottles, exploiting their shape and forms. Thereby giving them a renewed purpose and shifting them away from being regarded as waste.

There are also a number of your sculptures included in this exhibition. Can you tell us a little about your interest in and process of working with sculpture?  

Through a series of new works in various forms and mediums; my sculptures are made from discarded objects of daily use – polystyrene or plastic bottles as a core structure and later reinforced with cement material. They are inspired by the beats and rhythms of urban spaces and the figures that reside within them.

You’ve spent a great number of your years as an artist walking and engaging with the streets of Johannesburg city, something you continue to do from your studio in The Bag Factory. Looking back, how has your experience of traversing the city changed over the years?

It remains an ever-continuous journey of my curiosity about the city. Over the past three decades, the city has evolved. The modes of trading and navigating around the city have changed; however, the space continues to entertain and encourage comradery. Those who would have previously not been able to access urban spaces, are now able to access and benefit from the space.

Urban Soundscapes – Crafting Spaces of Belonging runs until 30 September 2022. Find out more about the exhibition here

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