Trans­for­ma­tive Art

Premier Magazine (South AFrica) - - Contents - Text: Bernie Hellberg Im­ages © Munro

The leg­end of artis­tic reclu­sive­ness holds an al­lure for those who ap­pre­ci­ate fine art, and who be­lieve in the no­tion that an artist is an or­a­cle whose ge­nius must be pro­tected from the world. As the bound­aries of mod­ern pri­vate life dis­solve, and the space for soli­tary re­flec­tion shrinks, the nat­u­ral vul­ner­a­bil­ity of the artist is pro­jected onto can­vas.

Vis­ual artists are un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure to un­der­stand that be­ing re­moved from the world, in an era in which even Banksy is on Twit­ter, is an un­com­mon lux­ury that few can af­ford. How­ever, some seem to tran­scend the pres­sures of as­pir­ing to com­mer­cial suc­cess to cap­ture each mo­ment of in­spi­ra­tion in their work. Renowned con­tem­po­rary artist, Munro, is one such artist whose work raises an un­feigned mir­ror to in­no­cently re­flect an anx­ious jour­ney from Bushveld boy­hood to cre­ative ge­nius.

Of­fi­cially, Munro’s story be­gan in 1998 when a mo­ment of di­vine in­spi­ra­tion steered him in a new di­rec­tion and pro­vided him with a new name. In re­al­ity, how­ever, art and artis­tic ex­pres­sion were a part of Munro’s life from an early age, and he found his ex­pres­sive­ness in many var­ied forms. “My life as an artist be­gan when I was young, when I started ex­per­i­ment­ing with wood, clay, and dried or­ganic ma­te­ri­als, be­fore pro­gress­ing to colour on can­vas,” Munro says. “Grow­ing up in the home I did gave me lit­tle to no scope in any artis­tic di­rec­tion, and it looked like my life was set out for me from the start. Most of my grow­ing up hap­pened in the then small town of El­lis­ras, now Lepha­lale, at the far north­ern end of South Africa, sur­rounded by end­less bushveld and all that came with it. An­gry men and ro­bust tan­nies were the or­der of those days, and find­ing a kind heart big enough to nurture a ten­der soul seemed be­yond rea­son.”

In­spired by one of his teach­ers, whom the artist de­scribes as hav­ing “nur­tured back a dy­ing twig to a liv­ing branch”, Munro says that he of­ten won­ders what his life would have been like with­out her kind­ness. Of in­spi­ra­tion for his works, he ex­plains that he is “en­tirely driven by love”. He con­tin­ues, “I want to make some­thing beau­ti­ful and pleas­ing and mind­ful of our times. I want to steal away pain and sor­row and evil thoughts, and re­place them with some­thing trans­for­ma­tive. My paint­ings are there to make peace between ages and races, to speak some­thing uni­ver­sal to ev­ery lan­guage and skin tone. I am in­spired by rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, by open­ness, and a spirit of for­give­ness. We will al­ways have haters and vil­lains amongst us, but for now, I want peo­ple to stand shoul­der to shoul­der and en­joy the colours of my cre­ations to­gether.”

Hav­ing es­caped the small town that he grew up in, and fol­low­ing a dis­as­trous

ex­pe­ri­ence at univer­sity, Munro joined the army. There he spent “two wasted years” in a sys­tem that cared lit­tle for life, and even less for artis­tic ex­pres­sion. This ex­pe­ri­ence brought se­vere in­tro­spec­tion, and a re­ju­ve­nated de­sire to be cre­ative. Ex­pres­sion now ar­rived in the form of sculp­ture, with var­i­ous met­als be­ing Munro’s cho­sen medium. “I started play­ing with paint on can­vas and even­tu­ally, after de­cid­ing to quit us­ing brushes al­to­gether, came the new name and the use of build­ing trow­els as ap­pli­ca­tors. This caused a flurry of in­ter­est and trans­fig­ured me from an un­known strug­gling artist into a house­hold name, vir­tu­ally overnight.”

As the art mar­ket slowly yet ir­re­versibly be­gan fall­ing in love with Munro’s work, he had to work much harder than be­fore to keep up with the de­mand. In 2005, a Munro fig­ure study sold at a Matla A Bana char­ity auc­tion for R100,000, high­light­ing the in­vest­ment value of his art and caus­ing a sharp in­crease in the over­all prices of Munro paint­ings. It was an in­spir­ing time for the young artist, a time that would have a per­ma­nent ef­fect on his life.

“When I re­alised the re­spon­si­bil­ity of suc­cess it al­tered my state of be­ing en­tirely. Be­fore I knew what I know now, I lived with­out a con­science. I did what I wanted and said what I pleased. But it slowly dawned on me that some­thing was miss­ing, and I started search­ing very hard to find the miss­ing com­po­nent. I be­came se­verely con­scious of my role here. For some, fi­nan­cial free­dom is a key to he­do­nism, but after a while, it be­came my ve­hi­cle away from self-grat­i­fi­ca­tion. In­stead, I am here to be­come bet­ter and [to be­come] com­plete.”

Al­though Munro of­fi­cially re­tired from be­ing a full-time artist in 2009, he has “grad­u­ally re­sumed be­ing that again”, he re­veals. “Life with­out a job is life­less. I need to work un­til I die. We need pur­pose and the means to do good, for those who can­not work.”

The artist cur­rently works from his beach­front stu­dio in Melk­bosstrand on the Cape West Coast, but also has stu­dios in Port Owen and Pre­to­ria. To date, al­most 12,000 Munro paint­ings have been sold, and there is no in­di­ca­tion yet that this enig­matic artist will be slow­ing down any­time soon.

For more info about Munro and his work, visit www.munro­munro­

Vis­ual artists are un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure to un­der­stand that be­ing re­moved from the world, in an era in which even Banksy is on Twit­ter, is an un­com­mon lux­ury that few can af­ford.

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