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A serpentine affair

Exclusive Q&A with visual artist David Brits

By Gugulethu Mkhabela | July 19, 2019 | Design

Multi-disciplinary artist, David Brits has been putting in the work and has made a name for himself in just a short space of time. He is renowned for creating beguiling masterpieces that embrace arrangements of simple yet complex, serpentine curves. His work explores shape, scale and symmetry.

The Cape-based artist recently created customised murals for Cape Town’s new super chic hotel, The Gorgeous George. And just a few months ago, he unveiled his very first public sculpture at the new state-of-the-art Aerobiology TB Research Facility for the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, in Masiphumelele, Cape Town.

The eye-catching Ouroboros (Red Edge), is ‘comprised of an unfolding series of dynamic curves that urge the spectator onward to a new and different viewpoint until a circuit is completed. The form embodies the patterns that govern both the human body and the natural world - simultaneously evoking the symbolic AIDS ribbon and the double-helix structure of DNA,’ explains David. The title of the artwork refers to the Ouroboros, the ancient symbol of a snake devouring its tail.

We catch-up with this remarkable visual artist to find out more about the meaning behind his work, his thoughts on the art space in Africa, and what he is currently working on.

What is it about snakes and serpentine curves that have become a recurring theme in your work? (Even your clothes and shirts, the love is clearly deep...tell us more)

My grandfather was one of South Africa’s foremost reptile experts and snake catchers. He was also my neighbour. Both as a child and a young man, his life and his fascination with serpents had a profound influence on me. When he passed away five years ago, I hosted a solo exhibition which paid homage to my grandfather and his life. In this exhibition, my work began to focus on the curves and shapes of snakes which I have now transformed across a variety of mediums. But I felt I needed to challenge both myself and my work in the most radical way possible. I have, therefore, over the past three years, devoted my studio practice solely to formal investigations in public-scale sculpture.

The Ouroboros (Red Edge) is your very first public sculpture, how did this opportunity come about and how do you feel about it?

My first public commission was a watershed moment in my art career. After two years of prototyping and research, my first public sculpture launched alongside the new TB research centre at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation in Masiphumelele. It is a community very close to my heart and in an area close to where I grew up. The building was opened by one of South Africa's most inspiring women, the Vice-Chancellor of UCT, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng. To have my work included in a ground-breaking research centre and to see the way it transformed and enhanced the public space, really brought home to me the unique power of pubic sculpture. After such a long road, it was a sweet feeling indeed.

David Brits with UCT Vice-Chancellor, Prof Mamokgethi Pakheng.

Please share the creative freedom you had when creating this feature, what materials you use, the process and how long it took to create it.

My sculpture practice lies at the intersection between art, 3D technology and breakthroughs in modern material processes. This artwork is the culmination of three years of artistic exploration, prototyping and research in which strove to transform a series of drawings into sculpture. To arrive at these forms, in a process which is difficult to explain but which operates with a cool kind of logic, I scan two-dimensional motifs into 3D design software, giving the outlined shapes three dimensions. These shapes are then extruded and manipulated to create complex endless loops which I sculpt in advanced composite materials such as polyethene tubing and carbon fibre.

How do you work to create a space for the viewer or consumer of your art?

Seeing pattern is something which happens in the mind - you can see things with your mind that you cannot see with your eyes alone. Constantly recreating itself, this particular sculpture goes to the essence of what it means to see and perceive. It makes us aware of the great patterns of which we are part of.

Would you say you've reached a level in your career where work, projects, collaborations come easy?

After many years of mostly unforgiving hard work, I am starting to feel signs of spring. It is my expressed wish to be based locally and operate globally. The international stage is my next frontier.

Your current state of mind on the art scene and space in Africa?

African art is on the rise. Artists from the continent are setting record prices in auction houses around the world. With the recent opening of three major arts institutions in Cape Town a little over a year ago; the Zeitz MOCAA, the Norval Foundation and the A4 Arts Foundation—the global cultural eye has it’s gaze firmly on this city, our country and the continent at large. These are exciting times.

What are you currently working on?

I'm currently working on a large-scale sculpture that will be exhibited at the Joburg Art Fair at the Sandton Convention Centre from 13-15 September with SMITH Gallery.