The Michelangelo of Fire
It is true what they say about art: anything is possible. Even painting with fire. South African artist, Lioda Conrad, who has been considered as an “upcoming force with substantial value”, is one of the few artists in the country using an incredibly mesmerizing technique known as fumage – a surrealist art technique popularised by Wolfgang Paalen in the early 1930s. The method involves using the natural element of fire using trails of soot from a guided flame (usually a candle or kerosene lamp) to create images. The result is eerily striking and, thanks to Conrad’s innate flair for bringing emotion to life on canvas, a beautiful insight into the depths of the human condition is the result. Her portrait work, as well as her more abstract collections, reveal an expert handling of this unusual medium, as well as a deep understanding and love for expressing beauty in all its forms.
Born in Pretoria, Conrad grew up with dreams of a career in the performing arts as a prima ballerina and was trained by the renowned Ken Yates and Jillian Joubert. Her dreams were shattered during high school after a tragic accident left her unable to dance, but her unwavering passion and intrinsic creative ambition challenged and inspired her to explore alternative avenues. Having always had an affinity for art and drawing, Conrad went on to study graphic design and dabbled in a few creative endeavours. She moved to Cape Town quite suddenly 10 years ago to be closer to her aging father. Totally recreating her life, she immersed herself in the film industry, where she worked as a make-up artist, hair stylist and art director on large and smallscale productions both locally and abroad. “It was a big change for me, and a hard road at times,” she recalls. Whilst involved in the film industry, Conrad continued to paint and create beautiful, surreal artworks in her spare time. It wasn’t long before this need for outward expression led to the transition of her life into a full-time artist.
Her work – which ranges from highly stylised portraits, to more abstract expressionism pieces, and sometimes a merging of the two – sees her expertly employing watercolours, charcoal, pastel, acrylic, Conté crayons and, more recently, fumage, with skilful finesse and depth. After the success of her Fluidity of Identities collection – a set of striking watercolour portraits inspired by her travels throughout Africa – Conrad made a name for herself both in South Africa and abroad. On her recent return from New York, where she exhibited and auctioned a range of her work for charity, she started work on two new series of thought-provoking artworks.
The first of the two series, The Abstraction of Me, began as a purely emotional outlet for Conrad, who considers herself to be “a colourist at heart”. Using a range of mediums, from soft watercolours, acrylics and oils, to her signature fumage technique, the series soon became inspired by the political changes in South Africa and a subseries, My Country is: Blue was born as a quiet, artistic, revolutionary statement to the hurt felt around the country. “As artists we are the emotional guardians of society, and nothing is more purely emotional than abstract art. Art cannot lie. It will always reflect everything you need to know about the artist and also the viewer,” she explains.
Conrad’s second set of work – her Smoke Head Series and The Lollipop Life range – are an incredible journey into the wonderful world of fumage, or “painting with fire”. This enthralling technique, together with Conrad’s ability to reveal beauty in the dark and light aspects of the human condition, results in the most captivating, emotional and confrontational portraits and other abstract works. “We are all a like stick men walking around with heads filled with sweet dreams,” she explains. “We are so often squeezed and pulled or bent out of shape by life and things we experience, that we seldom get to fulfil those sweet dreams in our heads. But more than that we seem to forget too easily that every single person we encounter has their own head filled with sweet dreams and has, themselves, been deformed a little by life. We need to remember how incredibly alike we all are at the core.”
Conrad’s fumage portraits are truly special – h aunting, beautiful, with soft edges, delicate lines and the most striking eyes, full of depth and sentiment. I was
moved and quite emotional after spending time with each of them. “They represent the incredible delicacy that we contain as human beings and the delicacy and the beauty that we contain in our brokenness,” she explains. “People don’t seem to realise how incredibly beautiful our faults make us. The hurt that we carry with us in our souls. The dust that settles on our thoughts. That is what makes us each so different.”
The more I look, the more I start to see emotional layers. Layer upon layer that make up this incredibly intricate thing we call the human condition. Luminosity, a haunting beauty that our emotions contain. Conrad captures this all in a profound and beautiful way, completing the works with touches or acrylic and sometimes black tar paint. Each, a unique depiction of the complexities of what it is to be human in a broken society.
Inspired by her work with various charities, she is also focusing on strengthening her latest residency project, The Lioda Initiative, which will be funded by various grants and private art initiatives and collectors from around the world. During her latest show in New York, Conrad was interviewed by Fox News and B1, a local fashion and art magazine, regarding the motivations and workings of her residency project.
This year holds great things for Conrad with her Gallery Smash television series starting to shoot the pilot in New York towards the end of 2018. Her media partners, Untold Story and Color me Africa Fine Art SA, are very excited to bring her ideas to fruition, which will see her travel to London, Cape Town, and hopefully Paris. Amongst all the excitement, she quietly works away in her studio, toiling to achieve her goals of making art an exciting adventure again.
Lioda Conrad is an artist who represents what it means to stay true to what you feel and how you view the world and the people in it. Conrad’s artwork can be viewed at S|art Gallery in Hout Bay, Cape Town, and the new Artem Gallery in Sea Point.
Follow Lioda Conrad on Facebook @Liodaconradfineart or view her art online at www.saatchiart.com/liodaconrad.
Hidden in Plain Sight, (The Abstraction of Me series: My Country is Blue range), oil and tint on bord, 1.25 x 1.25 m, 2018
Wispy Girl, (Smoke Head Series: Lollipop Life range), Fumage and acrylic on paper, 59 x 42 cm, 2018