Michal Kruger’s work explores themes of masculinity and heritage within a larger theme of identity, especially related to his South African upbringing. He’s about to head off to The Netherlands to pursue a Masters, and we chat about his work so far, and what ideas he’s planning to explore more!
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I was born and raised in South Africa and am currently working from my studio in Cape Town. I graduated in 2016 with a BFA from Rhodes University in a small town called Grahamstown (there were donkeys and cows that roamed the streets). Since graduating I’ve been trying to get my art into as many areas as possible and have been exhibited in some galleries. I have also recently been accepted in a Master’s of Painting program at Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen, Netherlands.
What are you hoping that the Masters program will guide you toward, or are you hoping to explore anything in particular related to your work?
I think with all research endeavours it will most likely change a lot as the process goes along, however I do have a general interest and direction that I hope to explore. I hope to continue exploring the white Afrikaner as an identity but now with regards to the roots it finds in Dutch heritage. Afrikaans as a language and Afrikaners as people descend from Dutch settlers and therefore I find myself in a tricky situation of going to my place of ‘origin’ even though I have no connection to the culture of the Netherlands. I want to explore this privileged sense of diaspora where as a white Afrikaner I am too ‘European’ to be considered ‘African’ but simultaneously have no emotional tie to my European heritage. I want to explore what it means to be a progressive white South African Afrikaner who struggles to place their identity geographically.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
Since I was a child I was always loved art and especially drawing. Art was always my favourite subject at school and the one I worked the hardest in but I never thought I would actually end up studying it and trying to become a professional artist. It always seemed like an impossible dream until one day someone very simply told me that I should apply to the art school at a university I had never heard of. I haven’t looked back since and am determined to create a career for myself through my art.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
In my graduating exhibition I had a very controlled and in depth look at the identity of the white Afrikaner male as a problematised character in the South African landscape. My work was very concerned with the issues of gender and socially constructed behaviours. In the last year I have tried to create work more organically and have the meaning of the images infer themselves through the process of creation. I am currently very influenced by internet culture and creating images which distort the picture plain to the bare elements of line and colour. By doing this I hope to create a snapshot of reality and project the dualistic nature of certain subjects. I attempt to highlight tensions of disturbing and twee qualities in my work to question the viewer and create a shift in expectation.
Can you tell me a bit more about your graduating project relating to Afrikaner male identity?
My graduating project culminated in an exhibition titled ‘TJANK’ which translates from Afrikaans to whimper.
Here is an excerpt from my artist statement for ‘TJANK’:
“TJANK is a body of work that explores my relationship to the constructed figure of the iconic white Afrikaner male through the subversion of the exclusionary masculinised practice of rugby. The exhibition is situated in a site specific location of a sports field bathroom in order to evoke the exclusive spaces in which traditional constructed masculinities exist. Through the process of dissecting the space, and critiquing the associations that are attached with it, my work shifts the expected narrative that permeates through the confines of the bathroom by forcibly situating myself into a masculinity of which I have not been able to gain access to.”
What is your process like?
My work is often very process driven and organic in approach. I enjoy making paintings quickly and then considering them for days afterwards whilst making minor adjustments to elements that bother me. I don’t like spending more than an hour at a time on a particular painting as I feel this runs the risk of over working the surface. My paintings usually start with an idea of a colour that I would like to work with and then I start looking for images on social media or in my proximity. I enjoy looking for unconventional images that showcase certain awkwardness’s.
Do you do any sort of research, or base your work on personal experience?
My work often involves a combination of research and personal experience. I like to draw from personal experiences to speak about larger issues. I believe that the personal is inherently political and using yourself as a reference point can create very interesting dimensions to your research.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
I always struggling being confident in my art and would often self deprecate my work or hide it away. One day somebody told me that there are many great artists out there that don’t become successful because they didn’t believe in their work or project confidence and there are many artists who aren’t good but are successful because they make sure to show the world how much they believe in their work. Being humble and being self deprecating are two different things. You cannot expect people to believe in your art when your actions and words are telling them not to.
What is your studio like?
At the moment I work in a smallish space which is an old room in my parent’s house that I have converted into my studio.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
To keep believing in your work when it feels like nobody else does. It’s very disheartening to receive rejection on your work when it is such a personal expression of yourself. It’s very easy to start doubting your abilities and question your entire future career but it is important to sustain the belief in what you do.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I am working on a drawing project called 99 PROBLEMS 99 PEOPLE. I recently started an Instagram account (@99problems99people) where I ask my followers to send me photos of people whom they are angry at, annoyed by or just generally dislike. I hope to bring some catharsis for people and satisfaction for people.
Find more on Instagram @michalkruger!