HOME IS WHERE THE ART IS

Artist Joni Bren­ner’s sun-splashed Joburg apart­ment is a per­fect can­vas for her own work and that of other cre­atives

House and Leisure (South Africa) - - Contents - TEXT LAYLA LEIMAN PHO­TOGRAPHS ELSA YOUNG

On en­ter­ing artist Joni Bren­ner and her hus­band Scott Hazel­hurst’s top-floor apart­ment in Houghton, Jo­han­nes­burg, you’re met by two large sculp­tures of ab­stracted hu­man skulls rest­ing calmly on the floor in the en­trance hall.

As your eye tra­verses the open-plan liv­ing area, it finds art­works from Joni’s prac­tice scat­tered through­out the space like arte­facts at an arche­o­log­i­cal dig. Monochro­matic im­pasto paint­ings are dis­played in cases on the walls or in­con­spic­u­ously placed on book­shelves, while small neb­u­lous sculp­tures nes­tle among beaded mats and wooden bowls on the din­ingroom ta­ble and other sur­faces. In fact, every­where you look, there are traces of her im­mensely con­tem­pla­tive art ra­di­at­ing out from her home stu­dio, which is like the beat­ing heart of this abode.

Joni’s work is fo­cused on por­trai­ture. Over the years, she has be­come less in­ter­ested in no­tions of like­ness in favour of ex­plor­ing the com­pos­ite and frag­mented view that a por­trait of a per­son presents, as well as the ephemeral re­la­tion­ship be­tween the artist and model. For al­most 20 years, she painted the same in­di­vid­ual each week un­til his death in 2010. While in stu­dio with a model, Joni says she is com­pletely im­mersed in the mo­ment and the act of paint­ing in re­sponse to the body be­fore her. It is only af­ter­wards that she re­views her work, pro­cesses what she’s cre­ated and con­tem­plates its suc­cess or short­falls. ‘ You re­ally get to know your work, liv­ing with it,’ she says, ex­plain­ing that this helps her tell whether a piece is fin­ished or re­quires more at­ten­tion.

A principal tu­tor of art his­tory at the Wits School of Arts, Joni says hav­ing her stu­dio at home keeps her grounded and con­nected to her own art mak­ing. ‘ When I’m teach­ing a lot, it be­comes re­ally im­por­tant for me to be able to come in here and just paint a few brush strokes in the morn­ing and a few more in the evening. It feels a bit like re­mem­ber­ing who I am.’

The other project tak­ing up much of Joni’s time be­gan as a side ven­ture and has mush­roomed into some­thing be­yond any­one’s ex­pec­ta­tions – least of all her own. In 2011 she be­gan work­ing with the Marigold co­op­er­a­tive in Bu­l­awayo, Zim­babwe, which spe­cialises in loomed bead­work. She sup­plied the bead­ers with re­fined de­signs and in­tro­duced the prin­ci­ple of small de­sign shifts. The re­sults of this col­lab­o­ra­tion are su­perbly sim­ple, cov­etable beaded neck­laces that sit com­fort­ably at the in­ter­sec­tion of art, de­sign and fash­ion.

As in­tro­spec­tive as her art is, Joni con­sid­ers their apart­ment an open house, and en­joys hav­ing a range of peo­ple visit and pass through it. She says sell­ing the Marigold neck­laces from her home ‘ brings an amaz­ing num­ber of peo­ple into the flat who recog­nise and ap­pre­ci­ate beauty’.

There’s no dead space here. Each cor­ner is lived in and func­tional. It was through the Marigold project that one prob­lem­atic cor­ner of the flat fi­nally found a use: the sun­room on the east­ern side of the din­ing-cum-liv­ing space was con­verted into a shop nook with the ad­di­tion of flat shelves and Per­spex dis­play units.

When she and Scott moved into the apart­ment in 2013, they set about restor­ing it to its orig­i­nal state. Work­ing with ar­chi­tect Briget Grosskopff of GLH & As­so­ciates (a univer­sity friend of Joni’s), they ob­tained the ini­tial plans for the flat and set about un­do­ing the kitchen and bath­room ren­o­va­tions that had been added by pre­vi­ous own­ers.

In the kitchen, the ser­vice door was de­com­mis­sioned and con­verted into hor­i­zon­tal win­dows to al­low a breeze to flow into the north­east-fac­ing apart­ment, a cool re­lief in hot sum­mer months. The ce­ramic tiles in the bath­rooms were lifted to re­veal gor­geous Ital­ian ter­razzo floors. Us­ing these as a point of fo­cus, the rest of the bath­room was pared back to sim­ple fit­tings that al­low for a sense of space and am­plify the orig­i­nal charm of the build­ing.

An­other in­ter­est­ing fea­ture of Joni and Scott’s home is the way in which art is dis­played. In the liv­ing room and bed­room, art­works are stacked along a wooden shelf, made by Henry War­bur­ton of Jig­saw Join­ery, above the skirt­ing board. This en­ables her to move art around fre­quently with­out hav­ing to com­mit to a per­ma­nent hang­ing dis­play.

Bathed in warm light through­out the day, with syn­co­pated shadow pat­terns cast on the walls by plan­ta­tion shut­ters, the apart­ment is a refuge of quiet and calm away from the bustling world out­side. It is a trove of beau­ti­ful ob­jects for the eye to take in – Joni’s own art­works, those of her con­tem­po­raries and craft pieces take pride of place in ev­ery room. Ev­ery­thing is con­sid­ered, thought­fully and lov­ingly placed, which means the apart­ment is homely rather than gallery-like. Mus­ing on the idea of home, Joni says that for her it’s a soft, invit­ing and com­fort­able space. Just like this one. joni­bren­ner.com

T HIS SPR EA D The home of Artist Joni Bren­ner and Scott Hazel­hurst in Houghton, Jo­han­nes­burg, is a trove of art, de­sign and craft ob­jets that have been col­lected over the years. Her own art­works, those of her con­tem­po­raries and craft pieces are thought­fully and lov­ingly placed through­out the apart­ment. It’s a con­sid­ered space, and re­mains homely rather than gallery-like. In the din­ing room, Joni’s clay sculp­tures and im­pasto paint­ings nes­tle among her li­brary of art and de­sign books, on book­shelves cre­ated by Henry War­bur­ton of Jig­saw Join­ery ( jig­sawjoin­ery.co.za). To the left is a con­verted sun­room that now func­tions as a show­room and store for Marigold bead neck­laces (marigold­beads.com).

OP­PO­SITE PAGE Hang­ing in the en­trance hall is ‘Arago’s era­sure’ by Karel Nel – long­time men­tor and friend, and one of Joni’s co-au­thors for the book Life of Bone. The large skull paint­ing is by Joni, and is one of in­nu­mer­able stud­ies she has done on this sub­ject.

T HIS PAGE, F ROM TOP Two of Joni’s oils on stone are dis­played along­side a ce­ramic ves­sel by Ian Napier on the din­ing room ta­ble (avail­able from Digby Hoets’ stu­dio in Midrand); Joni Bren­ner stands be­side a pair of her own skull sculp­tures in the en­trance hall.

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