Below are recent articles written about Diana Hyslop
The Transformation of Fear – Kari Collard – Good Taste Magazine – June 2011
A Thing of Beauty– Matthew Krouse – Mail and Guardian Oct 15 2010
An artist’s vision – Natalie Bosman – The Citizen 27 January 2010
A Fantastic World – Daniella Geo – Brazilian Curator – 2009
Every Day Is Magic: The Work of Diana Hyslop – Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum
The Transformation of Fear
Interview by Kari Collard – Good Taste Magazine – June 2011
What’s the message behind your artwork, “Why”?
It’s about how we give away our power to something or someone outside of ourselves in order to feel safe.
Where does the idea of powerlessness come from?
The sense, or lack of it, of being and feeling safe in Johannesburg. Because of all the talk about crime, I started feeling very vulnerable when my husband went away and I was alone in the house at night. This got me thinking about how people try to protect themselves: electric fences, dogs, and so on. There is a psychological feeling of safety when one is surrounded by one’s dogs, but unfortunately, what happens most of the time when animals sense danger is that they run as far away from it as possible.
I was trying to find a way to represent how we give away our power in order to feel safe. This particular artwork is part of a series called “The Protectors”.
What led you to this theme?
To confront my own fears I went on a ten-day Vision Quest workshop, a Native American ritual that helps you to confront and transcend what troubles you. This involved spending four days and nights on my own in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains with 20 litres of water, no food, and a sleeping bag. There were seven other participants in this ritual. We spread out across the mountains and our only means of communication was to leave a message at a designated point once a day for the closest neighbour, just to let them know we were safe. Being totally alone in the mountains at night was quit daunting, especially because there were so many baboons around. And where there are baboons there are leopards. By the time I woke up on the fifth morning, something had shifted in me. I knew if I could do this, I could do anything. Well, almost.
So the message you are communicating is…
The transformation of fear.
How has living in Johannesburg affected you as an artist?
In the nineties I spent almost a year working at the Santa Monica Fine Art Studios in Los Angeles. One day one of the artists mentioned to me that I’d been at the studio for nearly a year and that I was still painting images from South Africa, not what I was seeing and experiencing around me.
I am very rooted in Africa. It’s who I am and where I come from. I find living in Johannesburg really stimulating, I don’t know what it is about it, but Joburg has a creative energy that really pushes people, not only in the arts but in business as well.
How would you describe your painting style generally?
I tend towards magic realism.
What exactly is that?
The figures in my paintings are not located in real-world streets or in recognizable everyday architecture. Rather, they are suspended in abstract plains of non-referential colour. In much of my work I touch on the mystifying paradox between the poetic and prosaic that many of us encounter in everyday life. Magic realism allows me to take ideas out of the ordinary and imbue them with a more transcendent meaning. I take people out of their expected contexts, so that they no longer inhabit the social documentary realm but rather seem to float in the half-rooted, half-etheric realm of dreaming. By removing characters from their predictable environments, I find they often become emblematic of other states and feelings, rather than purely representational records of the seen and known.
Where do you ideas spring from?
My art is intuitive. It’s almost as if it chooses me and I suddenly find myself drawn to certain images and ideas, which I then develop.
Where did you study?
I studied at the Johannesburg Art Foundation under Bill Ainslie, and then I did a few years at Unisa.
How do you think your work has changed over the years?
When I joined the Bag Factory studios in Newtown in downtown Joburg in 2002 my work started changing. For me, working in a city environment has really been stimulating and exciting. Also working with a whole group of artists has helped bring about a change in the way I work.
Before I joined the studios I was creating painting of large planes of colour with one or two images in it, but once I moved to the Bag Factory my work changed and I became more interested in the narrative art. I also started experimenting with the interrelationship between photographic and ‘painterly’ representation.
If you could meet any artist, who would it be and why?
I’d like to meet Susan Rothenburg and her husband Bruce Nauman. I think they are both really interesting artists. Rothenburg Is one of the most important contemporary painters. She was initially well known for her paintings of outlined horses, often against a white background. What appeals to me is her nervous expressionist brushwork, and her indistinct, minimalist, mysterious images. Bruce Nauman, on the other hand, has explored a whole variety of mediums: from sculpture, photography, neon, videos to drawings and performances. Nauman once gave her 120 tubes of different red paints for her birthday. I think that’s pretty imaginative.
Matthew Krouse – Mail and Guardian Oct 15th 2010
Brooch a topic
Artist Diana Hyslop had what one could call a golden opportunity when Isa Gesseau of Schwartz Jewellery approached her to realise a work in precious metal and stones. Characteristically the artist whose work has included edgy themes of domesticity and security, chose a symbol of suburbia and our divided society – the household dog.
Of course, one can recall any number of old women and young girls wearing dog brooches on their lapels in past decades. But Hyslop’s Dog Star is not one of those. It borrows something from the craze for animals portrayed as humans in animation and decoration (think of Hello Kitty and Disney favourites) but it gives it a distinctly South African spin.
“I did a series of works at the beginning of the year about being safe in Jo’burg” Hyslop says “and I painted this small dog figure. It has a little girl’s body and a wolf’s face. It’s about how everybody thinks they are completely safe with their dogs around – but it’s not the outer safeness but an inner safeness you have got to find.
“Anyway” Hyslop says “if someone arrives at one’s house, the dogs normally run away to the top of the garden.”
The brooch this week went on exhibition at Johannesburg’s prestigious Standard Bank Gallery as part of a new show, Translations: Art into Jewellery. The exhibition was engineered by Schwartz Jewellers and translates powerful, local visual art masterpieces into coveted items.
The brooch is a long as a finger, Hyslop says, and is based on the acrylic painting she did earlier this year, The Protector. In it, the dog-like figure, with a human body, stands before a row of passing cars.
But Hyslop’s jewelled brooch has been realised as a friendlier dog. “For this piece I thought I’d make the dog into more of a celestial protector. I was inspired by the dog star, Sirius – one of the closest stars to Earth. It has got a blue-white light, not yellow light like so many other stars. There is plenty of mythology about Sirius – the Dogon of Mali think their ancestors come from Sirius and they are very connected to it.”
For the blue-white light Hyslop ordered a halo of blue topaz and for the eyes and hear of the dog she, naturally, wanted diamonds. The work is on sale for about R110,000.
Other artists on exhibition are Walter Oltmann, Senzeni Marasela and Marco Cianfanelli.
Natalie Bosman – The Citizen 27 January 2010
The seven paintings that Diana Hyslop has contributed to the group exhibition currently on at Arts on Main’s Studio 23 are very much the products of the various different exciting career paths she’s taken in life.
First and foremost is her work as a director’s assistant at Transworld Features and Marvel Comics in London. “I went over to London in my twenties and somehow landed this fantastic job” reminisces Hyslop about an experience that has influenced her work ever since.
After that, she returned to South Africa try her hand at photography and films.
Not surprisingly, all of these directions have added something to her artistic oeuvre. “A lot of my art is in sequences, which I think is from the influence of working at Marvel Comics as well as in film,” Hyslop explains. “I always like having that sort of storyline in it.”
Today much of Hyslop’s art revolves – in some way or another – around the idea of transcendence and transformation. I am very interested in transforming things. “Art is amazing, because when you’re doing it, you’re thinking of many different things”, Hyslop says. “You think about what’s going on in the world quite a lot, and as you work through things, you somehow transform what’s going on, in yourself and in the world, and come to conclusions “, she says. “It’s like a macrocosm/microcosm for me when I work”
The artwork currently on display in the group exhibition are no exception. They are all about living in Johannesburg, a city which often becomes an interchangeable metaphor in her paintings. “I love Johannesburg, it’s where my heart is”, she says. “I’ve done the numerology of Johannesburg, and it’s a very powerful, lucky number – number 27. “It’s a very creative centre, but it’s also like living in a bubble. You feel like you’re in heaven, but it’s got this other side, that is so hectic and violent”, Hyslop says. “You’re very alive in Joburg, but you have to be very streetwise. And because you’re living like that, you want to transcend the fear.”
With a city as endlessly full of inspiration as Joburg, Hyslop’s muse never runs dry. In her colourful studio at the Fordsburg Artist Studios in Newtown, the beginnings of a new people-focused series of works are already under way. “I am painting all these people, documenting them, and I don’t know why” she says. “When I’m starting a new body of work, I take photographs and start putting different images together, playing in a way, and then suddenly things start to work and a new series begins. It all seems to come together unconsciously. Sometimes I can often only understand why I did something about a year or two later”, Hyslop says.
Daniella Geo, Brazilian Curator, 2009
Some may think it is a fantastic world… and they’d be right. Flirting with a cartoon-like aesthetic, Diana Hyslop’s paintings portray a universe of possibilities in which unexpected combinations are viable, co-exist and where everything can happen at once.
The scenario is condensed yet a potential narrative seems to rise – albeit with puzzling associations, as in a dream that we try to interpret; but, like dreams, they have no real answers to our quests. Rather they reflect a multiplicity of experiences, lived or imagined, in which every element – animals, objects, buildings, people – pays obeisance to the others.
These elements are sometimes depicted apart, yet appear superimposed, intertwined or somewhat absorbed in and by each other. Paradoxically, the background is frequently de-contextualized. Combining the use of different scales, and with shadows going in various directions, the neutral setting emphasizes, on the one hand, the idea of parallel times and spaces in a state of suspension while, on the other, it’s sense of void creates the notion of separate lives. But void is either emptiness and obstruction, or an opening to new meanings and connectedness.
Johannesburg is not explicitly represented – nevertheless its specificities of an urban centre in propinquity to the wild are undeniably of great influence on the artist’s way of seeing. Hyslop is interested in the duality of existence, a solitary/social phenomenon through which an eminent encounter can sometimes determine our pathways. And go beyond it.
Not rarely the artist paints a situation seen far from above, as if from a high window or flying in the sky. This empyreal, God’s-eye perspective generates the impression of omniscience, the ability to observe all at once, to witness every possible journey and explicate any relations that might be forged.
For the artist this angle relates as well to birds, for their capacity to fly away and survive the most inhospitable situations. Birds had a great effect on Hyslop’s early years and since then she has perceived them as messengers of a transcendent life – they are recurrent in her works.
Indeed, both distance and superior viewpoint offer a detached perception that turns most issues minor, and only the certainty of life’s evanescence, and everlasting cyclical transformations, stands victorious.
It truly is a fantastic world.
Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum
In his collection of essays titled Mythologies, French lexicologist and social commentator Roland Barthes devotes some thought to how myth and processes of mythology are constantly giving meaning to our most mundane and every-day experiences. Everything from ‘Soap-Powders and Detergents,’ and ‘Steak and Chips,’ to ‘Margarine,’ and ‘The World of Wrestling’ are, according to Barthes, vessels for mythological experiences in which we, the every-day heroes, become protagonists. Though Barthes posits that it is the insidious workings of an ever-present culture of consumption that manufactures the mythological aura for these commonplace objects and concepts, I find myself deliberately missing his point in order to imagine that we may actually live in a universe that is still filled with myth. Surely, it only requires a couple of good eye-blinks to gain a re-focused view of the city around us in order to remember, even if briefly, that all of this is quite a miracle. We are, each of us, the centres of an infinite story-cycle that is powered by our very beating hearts.
This is, by no means, the view of a naïve romantic. I am not overlooking the filth, and stink, and poverty, and violence that are often at the forefront of our daily operations as Johannesburg urbanites. True myth casts the heroes down into the darkest of human places. The deep darkness is represented in Greek mythology by the Underworld of Hades, in Maori mythology as the bottomless ocean, for the Dakota Indians it is the smoky darkness of the sweat lodge, and for the Tswana it is the murky waters at the river bed. In these places, the heroes quash their deepest fears, and then emerge into the magic and triumph of their own light.
I think about these heroes when I visit the studio of Diana Hyslop. The space is adorned by clippings from the every-day that, through their loving preservation, are charged with the magic of myth and meaning. They are the trophies and talismans of the heroes that occupy many of her large, lusciously coloured, narrative paintings. Describing her own work as “magical realism,” Diana’s paintings are—in the magical sense of the word – enchanting. “Living in a Bubble,” a work on paper from the same-titled 2010 series of paintings, reads much like a little spell. A red-faced woman nonchalantly blows bubble gum as she surveys the suggestion of a Johannesburg skyline. She is undeterred by the threat of a hyena who edges in from the periphery. But we are not to be fooled by her serenity– if her headgear of shark’s teeth is anything to go by, this woman is fiercely protected.
The notion of protection is a recurring concept in Diana’s work. In an interview with “Good Taste Magazine,” Diana refers to “the sense, or lack of it, of feeling safe in Johannesburg.” She had been thinking about the ways in which we protect ourselves from our fears—electric fences, alarm systems, guard dogs – and recognised that these things create “a psychological feeling of safety.” She realised, however, the falseness of this sense of security and began thinking about the ways we give our power away in order to feel safe. What resulted was a series of paintings titled “The Protectors.” In “Run Rabbit Run,” Diana uses harsh compositional cropping to create a visual rhythm akin to the frantic relationship between fear and protection. A wide-eyed rabbit-person occupies a fleshy field of red and pink. The field is separated by a horizon line that is at once the top of a barb-wired wall or the floor skirting of a living room thus creating a marvellously ambiguous space that is simultaneously an exterior and interior one. By embedding figures into uniform grounds of colour, Diana is perhaps alluding to the isolation that often accompanies tactics of protection.
There is, however, humour here as well. Diana seems to reward those viewers who take time to decode the subtleties and nuances of meaning that are at the heart of her work. A first glance at the painted photo prints from her “Newtown Series” will make you smile. Spending time with “Loan Shark”– a cropped figure of a business-suited man holding a shark against a city cross walk– and “Lone Shark” – a solitary shark swimming across a photograph of Museum Africa– causes the smile to melt into laughter. Diana has an uncanny ability to pack her paintings with symbolic allusions while still keeping them feeling fresh and uncluttered: Against a crisp white ground, dozens of anonymous city shoppers mill about until one reveals itself as having a single bird wing, while another has dissolved into nothing but its own red shadow. Suddenly, the entire painting has shifted and you find yourself tumbling around with these figures, inspecting them one-by-one, seeing the bits and pieces of magic that each one is carrying.
You come away from Diana’s paintings with a strange need to maintain this new way of seeing. You look for red in the shadows of passers-by. You check for rabbit ears under the hats of the people you encounter. Suddenly graffiti scrawling and hand painted shop signs become philosophical. But most inspiringly, you come away from her paintings with a deep desire to keep on tumbling with the lives of this city in the hopes of discovering more traces of its every-day magic.