The Michelan­gelo of Fire

SLOW Magazine - - Contents - Text: Julie Gra­ham Im­ages © Ryan Ab­bott | TCB Me­dia

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 at­o­da­con­rad.

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

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