One of the artists to be showcased at a new exhibition in Johannesburg titled The Wonders of the Universe Vol.1, Cape Town-based Rikus Ferreira is a virtuoso of tiny details and teeming irony; crafting universes that linger comically between fiction and truth. Amidst his endearing penchant for otherworldly creatures and imagery, Ferreira’s art speaks with a profound sense of ‘the real’: it begs you to look a little deeper, and then leaves you with a smile and a few internal questions. His work is akin to reading Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince: bursts of magic, beauty and bizarre narratives… yet very much rooted in the Now, and pure in its search for the truth. See our interview with Ferreira below.
In a Wonderland they lie
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summer die.
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Do you remember the first illustration you drew?
I can’t remember the very first picture I drew, but I remember the first one that I liked – it was of a detailed strange-looking bird that was eating these worm-like things. It was quite graphic and in a sense cruel.
Tell me about what you took away from your time spent doing the residency in Paris. Where did you stay and what did you get up to?
I stayed at the Cite Des Arts in Paris, with a whole bunch of other artists – painters, video artists, poets, ballet dancers, and composers. Each artist has a little flat and a studio in this big ’60s-style building on the Seine River. Apart from just being in Paris, the inspiration I got from the people I met there was invaluable.
Do you ever feel like running away?
Yes of course. But what happens if you find out there is no such thing as ‘greener grass’ anywhere?
What have you learned about yourself, life and art this year?
That no matter how impossible it seems, it’s definitely possible if you try. (This kind of contradicts my answer to the previous question…?)
Can one make a proper living as an artist in South Africa?
I think it’s hard. Especially if you want to do the kind of thing you believe in. The market for art is strange in South Africa to a large extent, althought I think it’s improving at a steady pace.
Are you still creating books? Tell us a bit about this unique process…
I try to, when I get the time. It is an ongoing project of mine – I buy these old textbooks/storybooks, and then I paint over the pages. I am interested in the really old books with the thick pages, where you can see the indentation detail of the small text on the uncoated paper. I then leave some of the original words to go with my pictures, which then creates a new narrative altogether. I like that books have their own stories… Where do they come from? In which libraries did they belong? How many people were touched, disgusted or moved by them?
I am intrigued by how one can keep that rich history, almost like a secret code, but then create a new layer of meaning over these existing ones. Of course there’s also the idea of how text becomes visual in the readers’ imagination, or how something visual gets translated into words. I like that type of image-word play.
When it comes to ‘art’, you’ve involved (and excelled) in two highly diverse spheres: from the fluorescent lifestyle of a top creative in an agency to standing as a leader in front of a class full of hope…
I was always involved with the University of Stellenbosch Art Department part time – I would go for external crit sessions, or be on their final year judging/marking panel. I also loved doing seminars and workshops – it’s great to see how students grasp a concept, and then improve. It’s a very satisfying feeling to know that you are helping someone become better.
What are you doing now?
I’ve just started running my own design studio called The Places You’ll Go. I’m partnering with an advertising agency in Cape Town called Singh&Sons, they are old friends of mine. It’s a great opportunity and I’m enjoying the challenge.
Do you see Cape Town as a leader in world design? Does it honour its title as World Design Capital 2014
I definitely do, without a doubt. But you have to know where to look – Capetonians are notorious for having blinkers on and not seeing the beauty around them. Every day I am amazed by what happens here – not only in Cape Town but everywhere in South Africa. I love interesting graffiti, obscure signs/words and other visual accidents. I love handmade/handwritten stuff.
Things that are real, not digital – things with faded colour, texture, and smell.
Where/when did you last witness true beauty?
About two days ago when I rode my motorbike through the Baviaanskloof in the Eastern Cape… between ominously high mountains riddled with pre-historic caves and age-old secrets. The peace and almost tangible sense of history and ‘being human’ was mind-blowing.
The soundtrack to your life so far?
The older I get the more I realise how little I know. So, I would say two songs: ‘My Delirium’ by Ladyhawke, and ‘There’s No Leaving Now’ by Tallest Man on Earth.
Join Rikus on his journey between reality and fiction, here