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.munromunromunro.com.
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.