Odette Graskie is a visual artist whose art aims to explore emotional experiences and storytelling. She aims to create work that celebrates humanity and the essence of being human, while facing everyday dilemmas such as grief and loss. Balancing this loss and making art about it is a process of healing, and focusing on the beauty of something beyond oneself becomes healing in itself. Her drawings and immersive installation artworks made with fabric are a fresh breath of air as you walk into a room. Her latest body of work, The Sorrows, is an exploration of the way that pain can sometimes be the only factor that reminds us that we are alive. We had the opportunity to learn a little more about her and her journey in the contemporary visual art industry.
How do you define yourself as a visual artist and what inspired you to become one?
I have always loved art. When I was a kid my mom had a book about 2000 visual artworks that changed the world and I always paged through it. Sometimes I think the actual decision to study art came down to the movie Pleasantville. One of the characters introduces painting to the black and white world of Pleasantville and they all are so moved by the painting that they are forever changed into colourful fully-rounded people. As an artist myself I feel like if I can have such an effect on one person’s mind in the slightest, that is a success. I want people to feel things that adulthood sometimes deny us like playfulness, joyfulness, or other times acknowledging our dark side, these are my favourite things to strive towards.
What makes your art unique?
I think I have a very emotional connection to my process, and when you work like that it is almost about transcribing a part of your being, or giving a piece of yourself to viewers. When artists trust their intuition, beautiful things can happen. My work consists of two parts – work on paper and installation. My installations are about making people pay attention. When they enter an installation space, it’s about their visceral reactions, how they actually put down their phone for a second and take part in something that’s beyond their everyday while also focussing on something very everyday – such as the experience of a memory or trauma that they don’t always want to acknowledge, or even just becoming playful and acknowledging their inner child. I’m still pretty new to the medium but I learn more every day. In terms of drawing, I like to focus on the people I interact with, or sometimes just pass in the streets. It’s my turn to pay attention. I capture something, whether it’s their overall impression, or a cute nose, or the way they set their mouths; and pay attention to people in a way that no stranger ever really does for them. It’s quite a learning experience, watching people for the two minutes it might take to jot down something about them. And then I go and put them in situations together, sometimes in a composition a kid from a restaurant will stare at a man from the grocery store, and in all likelihood they will never meet, but they are now linked by my artwork. I like playing with stories and how we tell ourselves things about others and ourselves.
What creative projects are you currently working on?
My fellow artist, Chrisel van der Merwe, and I have just opened a show we curated at the Project Space, in Victoria Yards, called Artybollocks! We were both interested in curatorship and started our own little collaboration called Bland and Boring. This is our first real show. Artybollocks! is a show about the online artist statement generator http://www.artybollocks.com. We asked 27 artists to create work based on a randomly generated artist statement, and this show is a culmination of that. It’s been very eye opening to hear about the artists’ experiences during the show (we both also made a work). The show runs until 15 May.
Other than that, I have a few group shows coming up and am working on a new body of work which is quite a challenge for me. I’m very excited about where it’s going, but I don’t really know how to talk about it yet.
Group shows coming up: Bag Factory Salon, Jan Celliers Fund Raiser, En-Trance at Ellis House with the Dead Bunny Society. I’m possibly working on a duo show with Olivia Botha soon, which will incorporate a theatrical aspect written by Lara Lourens.
What do you feel the next step should be for the contemporary art industry in South Africa?
South Africa is so vibrant, there is so much excitement going on. I think one of our biggest issues is aligning buyers’ views with our own contemporary vision. At the end of the day, most buyers want something they can live with in their home, preferably on the wall. It limits the lengths that artists can make a lot, especially young artists. I think a lot of people find themselves bowing to the pressures of making something sellable just to survive, which is fine, but limits our goals. There isn’t enough investment for us to grow in that sense yet. I don’t have enough experience on how to change that, though. (I think it often comes down to education and brewing a love for art in all citizens). I’d also love to see Joburg (or South Africa) getting a biennale again. The southern hemisphere is starting to make its name in a contemporary way, so much is happening all over Africa. It’s a great time to be from Africa!
Personally I’m also very invested in other emerging artists, specially female artists. I think women in Africa are playing a big role in shaping the vision of African art.
What would you say to upcoming visual artists to inspire them?
Be yourself, don’t make the art you think people want you to make. There is only one you, so make whatever your soul inspires you to make – it’s much more important to be honest with yourself in that way. Eventually you’ll find a language you want to share with others. Also, I think putting yourself out there and taking chances is vital, don’t wait around for opportunity to come your way. Make opportunity happen for yourself and be professional.
Follow Odette on:
Instagram – @ohdette