A chat with Paul

What is the fund all about?
The Lunchbox Fund is dedicated to providing a daily meal to underprivileged high school children in South African townships. I was selected, along with other artists, celebrities and news makers, to create a one-of-a-kind artist book. The book was auctioned off for more than R85 000 in New York recently.

What’s special about the book?
I made sure I put an African stamp on the book by creating wood cuts and putting them on a flat wood surface. I then painted some ink on them and pressed them on to paper to get a reverse effect.

What was Tutu’s contribution?
He wrote quotes about his thoughts on humanity, which I had to read and then illustrate in the book. I suppose I could’ve just done simple drawings, but that’s not what a true collaboration is all about. The more effort put into it, the more the story is built up and gives the idea weight. It’s not simply a project, it’s also working with history.

It’s not your first time working with a person of stature in South Africa. You also created the bronze cast of Nelson Mandela’s right hand to mark the former president’s 90th birthday in 2008, didn’t you?

That was an incredible honour. When I was painting his hand to get the imprint, I told him I was very nervous and he replied that he felt the same. Then he told me if the painting didn’t come off, he’d sue. That was a funny moment and helped me relax. The second time we met, Zelda (Le Grange) asked him, ‘Do you remember Paul?’, he replied, ‘Yes, but does he remember me?’

How did you create that hand?
I had to plunge Madiba’s hand into a bucket of dental silicone for the original impression. The ‘boxing hand’, as he calls it, was auctioned off in London for about $3.5 million in an audience filled with celebrities such as Robert De Niro, Sir Richard Branson, Sol Kerzner and Roman Abramovich.

How would you describe your art?
It’s a linear, phantasmic world I have created from my mind and experiences. I’m fortunate that I can pretty much paint and sculpt what I like, and I don’t have to rely on commissions. I don’t have to conform to a certain style that I know will be profitable for me.

Have you always loved what you do?
I was born in Mayfair, Johannesburg, and spent most of my youth hanging out at my aunt’s house. I’ve always been very curious about art and wanted to learn everything about it.

What about sculpting; how did that come about?
I also spent time at my father’s workshop creating little sculptures out of electrical gadgets.

You sound like you were a handy little boy…

Funny you mention that. When I was 11 years old, I contracted juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and spent three years in and out of hospital. I did some crude drawings as part of my art therapy.

Is that where you nurtured your love for art?

Partly during one of my hospital stays, my aunt went to Europe and brought back some art books about Spanish Catalan artist Joan Miró, French painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet and Picasso, which have influenced my painting style.

Du Toit is due to launch his own gallery in New York next month

Mokgadi Seabi

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