ART met nature at ZULU LULU ART HOUSE GALLERY this July in an exciting month-long exhibition titled ‘In Full Flight’. This collection of porcelain and paperclay ceramic sculpture has become the signature of zoologist-turned-sculptor Lindy Rodwell van Hasselt whose previous exhibitions have been sensational in the artists’ understanding and sensitivity to both her subject and craft.
We asked Chairperson of Ceramics Southern Africa Gauteng, Colleen Lehmkuhl to pose a few questions to this dynamic conservationist about her thought-provoking works..
Colleen: What is your main impetus for your work, whatever the subject?
Lindy: My passion and fascination with the natural world – its beauty and complexity but also the fragility. We seem to have lost touch with how interconnected everything is. We consider ourselves as separate or apart from nature whereas we are in fact a part of it – and unthinkingly can have a terribly negative impact. I like to think my work portrays the beauty but also sends a message of warning and sometimes hope.
Colleen: How important is art as a tool to drive a conservation agenda?
Lindy: The images and information around an art exhibition can be very powerful—even disturbing, You can make statements and drive conservation agendas, even be politically incorrect, which you can’t do when you’re heading up a conservation programme where diplomacy and tact are paramount.
Colleen: What message do you hope to convey with your Carmine bee-eater sculptures?
Lindy: Nothing is quite as iconic as the sight of a colony of carmine bee-eaters on the edge of the Zambezi River. Seeing hundreds of these brilliant crimson birds tucked close together on a branch, or taking off like a hundred crimson arrows, takes my breath away. With numbers declining across Africa, this sculpture portrays how colourless the African landscape would be without them.
Colleen: The Blue Swallow is Critically Endangered in South Africa. Is this a key awareness you’re hoping to create with your pieces?
Lindy: I am. This little known living treasure prompted me to compare the value we place on the similarly coloured Delft Blue pottery. Made in the Netherlands from the 16th Century, it is highly prized by collectors and copied by artists all over the world. Yet the Blue Swallow, designed, created and perfected thousands of years ago – is undervalued and ignored. The reason for its decline, the destruction of its grassland catchment habitat, is not being adequately addressed even as we experience the worst water shortages in decades. The work is asking at what point will we come to value our natural heritage and award these flagship species at the same level as we do our cultural heritage?
Colleen: We know you’re deeply familiar with the KZN Midlands through past work here. What do you think of the region and will this be your first exhibition here, and at ZULU LULU?
Lindy: One of the pioneering crane conservation groups is based in the Midlands and I spent a lot of time here when I was heading up the South African Crane Working Group. I love the Midlands with its green, misty, wetland washed landscapes. And the fact that I am having my first KZN-based exhibition near Howick at ZULU LULU is symbolic for me as my first conservation job was with WESSA at the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve just outside Howick. Life comes full circle. I am also delighted it is at ZULU LULU as the gallery has a wonderful relationship with The Pottery Studio where I am based in Johannesburg. It has a reputation for promoting and supporting ceramists from across the country and I am very honoured to be asked to exhibit alongside the likes of John Shirley, Colleen Lehmkuhl, Michelle Legg, Sandy Godwin and others.
Colleen: Have you always wanted to work with clay?
Lindy: Yes. I attended private classes while at Varsity and learned all the basic techniques of coiling, pinching and throwing on the wheel. The classes were very structured, which didn’t appeal to me at all! I wanted to do my own thing and was a little bored.
Colleen: What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
Lindy: After training as a Zoologist I entered a 1 year internship in the USA at the International Crane Foundation. Back in SA, I became involved in the World of Birds in Cape Town. I worked in the bird park and was involved in bird breeding. I then moved to Plettenberg Bay and started a small ceramic business. On glaze was the rage at the time and we painted birds in bought white ware. Feathers Gallery supported us and bought most of our work. After 18 months I moved the business to Addo and then to Joburg. While in Joburg I was contacted by George Archibald, CEO of the Crane Foundation in the USA. He persuaded me to take a volunteer position at the Endangered Wildlife Trust. In the next 10 years, I continued working at EWT, sold y ceramic business, got married and moved to the UK. While in the UK I won the Whitley Award for Crane Conservation and returned to SA to extend the crane program into Africa. In 2000 I won the Rolex Award, also for Crane Conservation. In 2013 I finally started doing sculpture at The Pottery Studio in Bryanston.
Colleen: Where do you think your creativity comes from? How long has it taken you to get your work to where it is today?
Lindy: Although my father was a medical Doctor and did not pursue a creative career, he was incredibly creative. He could play music and was very artistic – I think I inherited it from him.
Colleen: What/Who inspires you?
Lindy: I am inspired by the creativity of other people, craft workers, designers and artists. I love old things and was inspired when I visited the Getty Museum in LA recently. I love beautiful photos and often get ideas while reading books.
Colleen: Tell us more about your working methods and the creation process.
Lindy: My working methods are definitely more experimental than technical. I like to break the rules. It’s very iterative – I learn and adapt and go along with what happens to the clay. I accept mistakes and realised long ago that you can’t plan every part of the process, you need to have realistic expectations. I throw a lot away. I love the process and push boundaries all the time. In doing so, I find new ways of doing things.
Colleen: What is an artistic outlook on life?
Lindy: We look at things differently in terms of colour, shapes and themes. We break things up into segments to find something beautiful in everything. Being creative is not necessarily being artistic. My work has to have a meaning.
Colleen: What are your thoughts on being an artist in today’s world and what role does the artist have in society?
Lindy: Art has a huge role to play in society. There is an appreciation for the hand made. To move forward, we need creatives, who have often been under appreciated in the past. Artists receive no payment for all the research & development that goes into creating work, customers only pay for the finished piece. In the manufacture of new medicines, customers understand that the high prices reflect all the R&D that went into developing the drug but somehow the same people don’t make the same connection with hand made art.
Colleen: If there was one artist that you could hang out with for a day, who would that be?
Lindy: William Kentridge! His work is so diverse and off the wall. I like the way he thinks and how he moved fluidly between one type of project, and another. He is the ultimate ‘Creative’. And he’s a South African that made it really big – I admire that.
Colleen: Name something you love, and why.
Lindy: My son Hugh. It was such a battle to have him and he is the most precious gift in my life.
Colleen: What is your dream project?
Lindy: I’d like to build a 6* (6 Star) green house in Prince Albert on our 2 hectare plot. We’d have a ‘Babylonstoren’ garden and a sculpture garden. I’d have my studio and be surrounded by various other working artists. My husband James would have a magnificent kitchen and he’d make fabulous food for everyone. It would be a vibrant artist community.
Colleen: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Lindy: Stop worrying about trying to persuade other people as to why you are all doing the same thing. As long as you are all working towards the same end goal, that’s all that counts. Everyone has different ways of doing things.
Colleen: Who is your biggest critic?
Lindy: My husband James is both my biggest supporter and my most honest critic. It takes a special kind of love to get both of these from the same person.
Colleen: Describe the most important aspect of your work in one word.
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