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Diving deeper into the sublime | The hybrid painting practice of Andrea du Plessis

Supernature: Simulacra is the solo exhibition of the 2021 Sasol New Signatures Winner, Andrea du Plessis. The exhibition is a deepening of her research into the sublime experience, and our complex relationship with nature in an age marked by technological augmentation and simulation.

2021 Sasol New SIgnatures Winner Andrea du Plessis 2022 solo exhibition
Andrea du Plessis, New Seeds, 2022, oil on canvas, 101 x 76cm

As an extension of the Supernature series Du Plessis began in 2020, her work will feature an exploration of emerging technologies in combination with traditional oil painting to create interactive, immersive realms as well as an encyclopaedia of hybrid lifeforms. Supernature: Simulacra aims to offer the viewer an opportunity to consider our interconnectivity with the natural world, and examines the possibility of reconnecting to nature via technology.

Ahead of Supernature: Simulacra’s opening this 25 August, we caught up with the multi-disciplinary artist about the future of art and technology, the state of the natural world, and what it means for a South African artist to win a competition like Sasol New Signatures.

Hi Andrea. Congratulations once again on your 2021 win. Ahead of your solo exhibition, can you catch us up on what you’ve been busy with since we last spoke?

2021 Sasol New SIgnatures Winner Andrea du Plessis 2022 solo exhibition
Andrea du Plessis, The Wanderer, 2022, oil on canvas, 101 x 76cm

Thank you very much! It has been a very busy time indeed. I’ve been putting all my time and energy into creating artworks for the solo, leaving enough time for some experimentation with virtual reality – a medium that’s completely new to me, but fun to explore!

Engaging with your works, one can’t help but think of the current state of the natural world and the impact of climate change. What’s being put forward by your work in this regard? Is it an optimistic view towards the future or a representation of what’s been lost?

In popular culture today there certainly is no shortage of dystopian images of the future. Our planet is changing, without a doubt. My work is less of a representation of what has been lost, and more of a utopian vision. With all the new scientific research being done in fields such as Biomimicry for example, I would like to offer a new vision for the future – one in which our relationship with nature is more symbiotic, using all the new technologies and research at our disposal to restore balance and create awareness.

What have been some of the most interesting and challenging aspects of combining traditional painting techniques with emerging technologies?

Animating the oil paintings, in particular the use of a 3D camera to add depth to the scene, required a different approach to the oil painting process. I have to keep in mind that the painting needs to be separated into layers and individual elements (trees, flowers, etc) for animation. The paintings are done from background to foreground, each layer being painted and photographed separately before painting the next layer on top. Other interesting and fun things I’ve been experimenting with are the use of AI (artificial intelligence) platforms that generate sound in response to an image of my painting, which I then use in my video artworks.

2021 Sasol New SIgnatures Winner Andrea du Plessis 2022 solo exhibition

Is your work with ‘the technological sublime’ something you’ll be continuing to develop? How are you hoping to further explore this hybrid art-making practice?

Yes, definitely. I truly believe that we need a revival of the sublime experience. I would like to take my research into the sublime much further and collaborate with engineers, developers, scientists and other new media artists to create immersive installations.

How has winning the 2021 Sasol New Signatures Art Competition impacted your career or your approach to art-making?

Winning the award has certainly added some pressure to create something amazing. Which is a good thing! It has given me the confirmation that I’m on the right track. It’s pushing me to keep exploring new mediums and to dive deeper into the sublime.

Who are some of the old masters as well as the contemporary artists who most inspire you?

2021 Sasol New SIgnatures Winner Andrea du Plessis 2022 solo exhibition
Andrea du Plessis, AI004-XGÚ, AI generated image, 2022

To me Leonardo da Vinci was the ultimate interdisciplinary artist amongst the old masters. My love for eighteenth and nineteenth century landscapes naturally means that I have many favourites, but since I work with the sublime, I find the atmosphere of Caspar David Friedrich’s work captivating. I also really love the work of Martin Johnson Heade and Asher Brown Durand.

As for new media artists I hugely admire Memo Akten, Anna Ridler, and Refik Anadol.

Lastly, any advice for aspirant or emerging South African artists?

Find the thing you are most passionate about and ask yourself why you’re interested in it. Why does it mean so much to you? As you do the work, keep asking yourself why this theme, why this medium, why this format, why these colours, etc. Connect with people who can guide and mentor you. Make use of opportunities such as the Sasol New Signatures art competition. I have faced many challenges and failures on my journey, but the most important thing is to keep going. Diamonds are made under the weight of mountains.

You can view Supernature: Simulacra at the Pretoria Art Museum from 25 August until 2 October 2022.

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