"Robert Slingsbly is truly an artist of our time and beyond his time; his career has spanned over three decades in which he has constantly worked to find the truth in the world he has evolved in through his paintings and sculpture.
To understand Robert's work, he invites his audience to trace their roots back to the ancients and even further, to the beginning of man and their first engravings on rocks. He has documented these original symbols and geometric spiral depictions by recording their history and the mystery behind them in his powerful paintings. Robert's work is full of energy, and was originally portrayed in his blatant use of colour and thickness of paint, allowing the surface to be engraved, so that every line led you into the depth of his painting, asking you to explore the mystery behind the conception of the geometric spirals and brutal but ever evolving beautiful Africa, which he loves so much.
Having worked with Robert Slingsby over a number of years, it has been an academic journey watching his work take its rightful place on the World Art Stage. His current paintings continue along the same path, but have advanced in subject, style and technique."
Sandie Lowry, Square One Gallery, London
Robert Slingsby - An Overview
Cape Town artist, Robert Slingsby’s career has spanned more than three decades, in which subject, style and technique have undergone significant changes and advances.
But, underlying it all has been his obsessive fascination with the ancient rock paintings or petroglyphs; those mysterious, non-figurative images to be found in the Richtersveld (near the Orange River, on South Africa’s north-western border) and other world sites. Although his work has evolved as he has developed his own alphabet of petroglyphs, the core of the inspiration behind his works remains the story on the rocks – a sub-text that informs his extensive and dynamic oevre of paintings and sculpture.
In Comic Affair, a highly charged painting done in 2007, Slingsby alludes to the current climate of global insecurity - resulting from terrorist threats- that has seen the emergence of a paranoid society. On his frequent travels last year to attend a number of his international exhibitions, he felt confronted by the constant surveillance at airports and in the streets, as well as by the feeling of being exposed and intimidated by ‘big brother’ threats, real or perceived. The presence of female nudes in this work expresses feelings of invasion of privacy and vulnerability, of being absorbed into a way of life that is beyond our control. The imagery includes familiar objects such as aeroplanes, suitcases and nudes in a setting in the midst of conveyor belts, satellites and surveillance equipment – all superimposed over a substructure of images inspired by the petroglyphs.
Slingsby’s latest body.of work, produced in 2008, has been influenced by a recent visit to China.‘ The visual discourse lies in emulating the Chinese ability to reflect that which is personal in their art – where a place can become an experience, and an experience a place’, comments the artist.
In these new works – such as Take A Ride - his signature technique dictates the quintessentially linear style of his painting: his preoccupation with line as found in the geometric shapes of the rock art of the Richtersveld.
After thirty years of being an artist, there are few who can rival his focus, dedication and dynamism in the production of art. The story starts decades ago, when Robert discovered, as a small child, both his talent for drawing and his affinity for Africa in the form of rock-art and artefacts.
By the time Robert left school, he was ready to have his first solo exhibition at a prestigious gallery. Against a background of disturbing politics and a need to further his art education, he left for Holland, to study at the Vrije Akademie in Den Haag for five years. Although these were not easy years for a South African in Holland due to the total cultural boycott of South Africa, Robert nevertheless managed to carve out the beginnings of a highly successful career there and returned to South Africa after over twenty solo exhibitions to his credit in the art-literate European society. Despite the odds, he managed to further what was now clearly the beginning of a long career as an artist.
Over the decades, various phases in his art can be recognised. Initially he may have been regarded as a surrealist, inspired by the likes of Salvador Dali. Following that was a period of hyperrealism, where he was acknowledged as being one of Holland's top "Fyn-schilders". The subject matter at this time included a Slingsby character called a ballman. This character was used to portray the greed and vulgarity of mankind. The ballman evolved into his compartmentalised face period. Inspired by Picasso, it can actually be identified as a feature of his art that is always present in some way or another.
Back in South Africa, Robert was able to rekindle his love of the African desert and rock art. He embarked on the beginning of what was to be countless field trips where he photographically recorded the rock art of the Richtersveld. It was inevitable that some day it would intrude into his work. This point in time was reached virtually overnight, probably the most dramatic swing from one period to the next. For many years, Robert's art was devoted to the petroglyph images, rendered as he imagined the mind of the ancients may have seen these images in altered states of consciousness. Just as it was inevitable his art would encompass this art form, so it was inevitable that he would seek an explanation for these mysterious non-figurative engravings that so cunningly always avoided the obvious in their design.
This led him on a journey that would last his lifetime. Although his work has evolved as he has developed his own alphabet of petroglyphs through his immense knowledge of the subject, the core of the inspiration behind his works remains the story on the rocks. In order to understand, he has travelled to many parts of the world, looking at other rock engravings. He has also taken this journey much further through his research by voracious reading on the subject. The journey has included not just images on rocks, but ancient texts and their various interpretations. As literature by different authors becomes available, so his understanding deepens and grows.
The dynamism and depth of his art has led him to be recognised by academics and gallerists worldwide. He has been invited to participate in exhibitions as far afield as the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Hong Kong and many parts of Europe. His work has proved to be a dialogue that is universally accepted. Besides the important exhibitions that Slingsby has participated in over the years, there have been other significant markers in his career. He is included in the current textbook that is part of the curriculum for all school art students. He is acknowledged in numerous academic books on Southern African rock art for his contribution in the recording of rock-art and its influence in his art. An enormous petroglyph painting forms a permanent, main display at the William Humphries Museum in Kimberley. He has facilitated many workshops in both painting and sculpting techniques for local NGO's. He has raised the one of highest figures ever attained by a living South African artist through the auction of an artwork of his for the benefit of the Nelson Mandela Mocambique Flood Fund. He has forged international ties with the European Art Foundation through Sir Richard Demarco and his personal interest in Robert's art. This has led to opportunities such as being the first South African artist in twenty-seven years to be invited to hold a solo exhibition at the Edinburgh Festival.
Robert is an articulate, colourful and knowledgeable man, whose creative courage has even influenced the style of everything he surrounds himself with. This has made him and his home and studio a sought-after subject, and he has consequently featured in many home-décor magazines and television programmes such as CNN Arts club and features by the French photojournalist Solvi dos Santos.
Robert's work is also represented world-wide in both public and private collections, including the personal collection of the famous American family of Wyeth artists.
© 2012 All rights reserved. Origination by Di Conradie