Kurt Pio: Shining bright like a diamond at Graanmarkt 13
While diamonds are a girl’s best friend, they’ve been Kurt Pio’s muse for his latest pieces of art. Cut and painted in Cape Town, they are now shining bright with two other of his collections at Graanmarkt 13 till the 10th of October. TIA was invited to the opening of the exhibition. With a glass of white cava in one hand and my recorder in the other I got to meet the most humble and charming painter, known for using his home town as main source for his oeuvre.
TIA: So these Diamonds you’ve painted… I bet it’s not a coincidence that you’re exhibiting them in Antwerp, the city of diamonds?
Kurt: It’s indeed because of the diamonds that I’m here but it’s thanks to a friend of mine that I got here. Every two years or so we meet and end up talking about doing a project together. We always come up with the greatest ideas and concepts but somehow we never elaborate on them. Until recently. By the time I finished the diamond paintings, my friend settled down in Antwerp. He kind of made this exhibition happen as he’s the one who connected the dots. He was like “you’ve painted diamonds, Antwerp is the diamond capital of the world, we should do an exhibition for you in Antwerp”. And so we did.
TIA: Is this your first visit to Antwerp?
Kurt: Yes, and it’s also my first international exhibition.
TIA: Really? That actually surprises me as you’ve already been noticed worldwide by international magazines such as GQ, Wallpaper and Elle Decoration.
Kurt: (Smiles) Really. I’ve only done solo exhibitions and group shows at Cape Town and other places in South Africa, but this is the first time I’ve decided to exhibit outside of my comfort zone. I’ve been painting for eleven and a half years now. I’m self-taught. I’ve never studied to become a painter. So up until now, I’m kind of always winging it to go with whatever I feel like doing.
TIA: You’re known for taking inspiration out of your home town. Do you think that after your visit in Antwerp, this city might as well be added to your list of inspiring places?
Kurt: Yes definitely! That’s exactly the thing I love about travelling. It’s very inspiring for my work. I get to meet amazing people like diamond dealers with a keen interest in cutting diamonds. One of them actually helped me out with cutting the forms for my diamond paintings. None of them are symmetrical but each of them are precisionally cut with a modest polishing. Being from South Africa where things aren’t always about precision, but more about mixing, you simply make things with what you’ve got and be optimistic about it. So what I learn during these encounters will be inspiring for other projects. Next time when I’ll paint a diamond, I’ll probably paint with a more subtle color trace.
TIA: Does that mean that we can expect a sequel to your diamonds collection?
Kurt: I’ve been painting them for over a while now and to be totally honest I’ve gotten a bit bored. However, I felt the same way about my Aloes. I’ve been painting them for years and I’ve gotten to a point that I couldn’t paint them anymore. I stopped for a moment until a famous South African architect asked me to paint them on a wall for an interior he designed. I didn’t want to do this commission at first, but in the process of painting, I fell in love with them again. The steps came so naturally, it even made me question why I wanted to take a break from them. But that’s exactly what I want to do now. Taking a break from these diamonds and maybe continue on them later.
TIA: What’s this thing you have with diamonds?
Kurt: It’s one of my connections with South Africa. We have major diamond mines. One of them is located at Kimberley. I’ve got an uncle and cousins living there. I would go there often as a kid and be fascinated by this big man-made hole. There’s this museum where you have a see-through floor and you can just look down into this crazy sized mine. I guess I instantly fell in love with it. But then again my work has always something to do with my home country. The Aloe for example is a specific plant that grows indigenously. It’s quite a specimen that everybody in South Africa is very proud of. There has also been a trend in terms of facets and triangles and things that are less organic and more hard lines and those kind of things fascinated me as well and that’s why I went along this trail.
TIA: So each of your paintings share a connection with South Africa, what’s the connection between your country and the “Boys” paintings?
Kurt: The “Boys” collection is a very personal one as it reflects on the boys from my past. I knew every single one of them, shared a special bond with them and wanted to celebrate that by making their portrait. Some of them I painted out of my memory and some of them are based on photo’s I found on Facebook. I decided to give them masks to disguise them. It’s a sort of a shadow, pointing out that it’s something out of my past, but not necessarily my history as some of them are still special to me. I painted all of this before 2012 and never exhibited them before. I never told them neither until recently. Now that I’m so far away from home, I’m totally fine with it to show them in this gallery. So I finally posted a message on Facebook to announce that I did a few portraits, and if one of these paintings had someone’s name on it and they know me and lived in Cape Town before 2012, that I most likely painted them.
TIA: Cape Town is often used as your source of inspiration, aren’t you afraid that at a certain point there’s nothing more left inspiring about it?
Kurt: No, never at all. Cape Town is super diverse. We have an incredible mix of cultures that continually come together. It’s a never exhausting source of inspiration and I will always want to call it home. I told you earlier that I love to travel because every time I do, I get to experience Cape Town in a different way. I get to compare my city with other cities and that makes me want to celebrate my own city even more. It makes me look at things differently and appreciate what’s special about it while others get blasé about it. As I’m constantly seeing South Africa in a new way, this source of inspiration will never die.
TIA: Would your work be different if you would have lived somewhere else?
Kurt: It would definitely be different. I’m totally influenced by my surroundings, the people I have around me and all other things happening around me. I’m very sensitive and pick up on different things easily. I’d want to learn from people, to be on a similar level, but also be unique and myself. If I’d be living in Europe, I think I’d work more on Belgian linen and with oil paint of the best quality. But I’m in South Africa, I can paint with acrylic on a canvas that is cheap, because that’s what I have laying around me and it doesn’t really matter. I’m winging it.
More diamonds? More Pio?
Kurt Pio: www.kurtpio.co.za
Pio exhibition at Graanmarkt 13:
Graanmarkt13 :: Antwerp
Open Monday to Saturday
10.30 am - 6.30 pm
until 10th of October 2015
art gallery Lifeisart
Sint Jorispoort 20 :: 2000 Antwerp