Finweek English Edition
An alternative form of art
The imagery exhibited by Mammes is heavily laden with historical references, as well as references to unusual imagery.
Asmall coffee bar, situated on Jan Smuts Avenue, is stopping passers- by i n their tracks. With editing and production works at the back, a strik i ng mural i n t he coffee bar is drawing immense interest: a blackand- white painting with def i nite tattoo qualities that’s visible through the large window.
Vini Reyes, the Chilean barista, i s clearly i n his element with t his work. “I a m mad about t he oldschool feeling of t he painting,” he says and i mmediately refers to t he political connotation in the work, its directness and above all, the talent demonstrated by Peter Mammes, the artist who created it.
It ’s probably t he s a me f eel i ng that Ifthakaar Shaik, a shareholder i n Ngamla’s, t he cafeteria next to t he Linder auditorium on Wits’s education campus in Parktown, felt.
At t he re c ommendation of a friend, and after he saw Mammes’s work, he got t he ar t i s t to pa i nt murals in this eatery.
“His work has an authenticity that I have not seen before,” says Shaik. “It lies somewhere between simplicity and complexity. Every time you look at it, you see something new.”
I n t he ev e n i ng t he ca f e t e r i a , whic h is a ga t her i ng pl ac e f or s t udents du r i ng t he day, of fe r s l i quid ref reshments for audiences who attend orchestral performances or smaller musical concerts at t he Linder.
Mammes, 2 9, di d not st u d y ar t af ter school, but fol l owed his desire to paint after completing his schooling at t he National School of Arts ( NSA) i n Johannesburg i n 2004.
He did not complete his f irst year at university because “I did not have enough time to paint because of the time taken up by my studies”.
Painting i s what he does most days, at home in Johannesburg and when he travels. In fact, travel means he gets an opportunit y to go and
paint somewhere else, such as India and Russia.
At the end of last year, Mammes e x hibite d s ome of his works i n
Triumph Prosthetics for the People in the Nirox Project Space in Arts on Main in Johannesburg. It was an exhibition of works where he freely refers to his recent visits to these two countries.
The imagery exhibited by Mammes i s heav il y la den wit h histor ic a l references, as well as references to unusua l i mager y : pic tu r e s f r om medical l i braries i n India, li v i ng fossils such as coelacanths, creatures such as horseshoe crabs.
And together with these bizarre fi g u r e s , t he r e ar e a l way s lu s h patterns in the background. Patterns that he borrows from Indian f iligree and traditional Russian designs.
He says that patterns are important to him because t hey encapsulate a whole culture. “I do not believe there is something like an original pattern. Every person who paints a pattern builds on an existing pattern. It grows all the time.”
Mammes looks back on this latest exhibition, which was quite successful, f illed with peace. He f inds it strange, he says, that people easily fail to see a painting with all its small intricacies just to be highly enthralled by t he same painting when it is enlarged as a mural.
“My paintings i n Indian i nk on architectural paper and t he murals in black PVA are one and the same thing. Yet people f ind the larger scale more exciting. Personally, I believe murals sacrif ice control. This is why I always make a complete painting on paper of each mural. The rea l McCoy.”
There i s undoubtedly appeal i n Mammes’s murals. He simply has the power to captivate the eye.
But do not confuse his work with graffiti.
“I do not do graffiti. I do not like graff it i . It ’s i mportant for me to deliver the work people have asked for,” he says.
Yet he was i mpressed with t he street art he saw on his visits to India. They often have religious t hemes, sometimes quite contemporary, but a l ways beautif ul, as he found i n Jodpur, Jaipur, Bikaner and Varanasi.
In I ndia , he got people wit h deformities to pose for him. “India in all probability does not have a higher percentage of people with deformities than we do, but they are not hidden away.
“I’m captivated by the contradictions in our thinking. Our hypocrisy forces us to have room for only our own views, and we are blind to the paradigms around us. It is those very paradigms that I’m looking for: they are the source of the macabre art that I paint.”
When you are commissioned to do work – and this Mammes realises fully – the client can either accept or reject your proposals. Maybe this is why the Priest mural is such a lovely experience.
“Man, his work is ultimately ‘so in your face’,” says Reyes.
And this is precisely the vibe that Mammes wished to convey.
Says Reyes: “I cannot begin to tell you what fantastic publicity this man’s work is for our shop. And in turn, we believe we are promoting an alternative form of art.”
Vi si t Mammes’s we bs i t e a t www.patterndiscord.com.