Taking art public

I've been wondering what the taped up ‘men at work’ sign (below) is all about? The sign – between Parkhurst and Parktown North – is graphic and bold. Plus it highlights the idea of barriers and of warnings. Even the taped-over working man seems relevant, especially due to the sign’s location between two wealthy suburbs. But maybe someone just had some barrier tape, some time and an unstoppable urge to let their creativity shine...

And then Art South Africa posted something on Facebook about r1 – and I had a woohoo moment: this was the guy behind the ‘men at work’ sign! (I wrote about a similar yay moment before.)

Born in South Africa, r1 is a public artist (with a fine arts background) who works in the UK and locally. He does sculpture, street art murals and installations (I added images of his SA and UK installations below). Locations and materials, like the barrier tape, are specifically chosen for each piece. I love the ‘design’ of the pieces, how they’re quite pretty, even amusing and yet, make you think.

I wanted to know more and sent him some questions – and after seeing the considered answers, I became an even bigger fan (and even more motivated to spot his stuff)!

What does r1 mean?
‘r1’ is a personal abbreviation...; I can’t really give too much information about this... but what I can say is that r1 almost look like π  and I like pie.

Why the anonymity?
It’s usually the case for street artist not to give their real names. The streets belong to everyone and I believe one should be whoever one wants to be. Personally I like to stay anonymous to keep my freedom to intervene in the city – without boundaries or expectations. It just makes things less complicated.

What is the most interesting and/or challenging installation you’ve done in Joburg?
My piece ‘blue blow’ [title image] is one of the most inspirational work I’ve done lately. It was a good reminder of the importance of embracing the unexpected and ‘letting go’ in the creative process. I recently posted a short story specifically based on this random process via good.is.

When creating your works, what kind of dialogues do you hope to inspire?
We live bombarded by advertisement and media telling us what we should be and what we need; and we usually just accept things as they are, including the space around us. With my work I try to engage with my surroundings, free from expectations; each intervention leaves the viewer to decide what a meaningful outcome would be. I personally don’t want to create a dialogue about anything concrete. I try to find interesting ways of playing with the environment and raise questions using familiar materials and locations taken for granted. I like to create a conversation in the street with visual representation and use this combination of components to shape something new.

I believed that a larger percentage of art should be placed in the street; especially in a country like South Africa with such a rich variety of languages and cultures. It seems that people are detached and divided from common shared spaces and don’t have much to say. My works dialogue is relevant in South Africa with these visible and invisible boundaries we experience. I’m not sure if my work inspires people or not but I try to let the work have its exchange with the city to follow that journey.

What inspires you about Joburg at the moment?
I lived in England for several years and coming back to Joburg feels like an open play ground. There are just so many interesting spaces and locations one can do something with. In England, I was always confronted with so many obstacles before I could intervene with a city.

Joburg is raw, edgy and exciting; I feel there is something boiling beneath the surface.

* All images credited to r1. Learn more about him here.

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