Artist maps his way forward

ON COURSE : One of the pieces cartographic artist John Phalane's will exhibit.
ON COURSE : One of the pieces cartographic artist John Phalane's will exhibit.

CARTOGRAPHIC artist John Phalane is presenting his dynamic art pieces at the Art on Paper in Johannesburg.

Born in Malete, Tzaneen, he is introducing art collectors to something new and exciting. With everyone used to art pieces that are dominated by the figures of people, or landscapes for that matter, the Limpopo artist is doing something unique. He is drawing maps.

Phalane usually uses coloured pencils to draw maps of his native Limpopo and of the streets and suburbs of Johannesburg, where he worked for a brief period.

His maps are artful, providing routes into and out of the unknown. But he also uses maps as shorthand for such ready metaphors as seeking location and experiencing dislocation, bringing order to chaos, exploring rations of scale, and charting new terrain.

The nature of his map art transcends the purely diagrammatic or semiotic.

Like many cartographers Phalane knows that adorning maps with artistic elements can enhance their effect, making them more compelling through sheer visual creativity.

But as an artist he has swung around the relationship between maps and art. He uses maps to further his own artistic purposes.

"Cartography provides me with a rich vein of concepts and imagery to mine, exploit and upend. "Conventional maps can do no more than point the way to unpredictable, individual experience."

Phalane intuitively understands what cartographer Claudius Ptolemy of ancient times meant when he defined geography as a representation in pictures of the whole known world together with the phenomena.

"My art maps assume a virtual metaphysical element. Each map represents a personal, visionary experience of a particular stretch of road. It does not only represent the land from above, but sideways and upwards as well.

"This can be seen in the novel way in which I portray the sky."

Phalane, who started his career as a driver in Johannesburg, says his passion for art started in 2004.

His works are done from memory and imagination of when At that stage he traversed Limpopo and was intimate with all its highways and back roads. He was in a perfect position to map this part of South Africa with its mountains and hills and its tarred and dirt roads, dams and lakes through his art.

Like most visual artists who grew up in the villages he did not take up any formal art lessons or go to an art school. But reading books on people like Winston Churchill opened his mind. Churchill, a self-taught artist once set up his easel on a shelled farm that was one of his front-line headquarters and painted the shelling of the village.

Phalane's exhibition is on until January 28.

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