Joe Turpin in the depths of art through historical narratives, semiotics and the expansion of his painting practice
oe Turpin is a young South African artist exploring the depths of art through historical narratives, semiotics and the expansion of his painting practice. He is drawn to the politics of positionality; investigating what it means to be a young white man, an African, an emerging artist —often drawing on his Jewish heritage to explore concepts of migration and persecution, identity and cultural paradigms.
Turpin graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Fine Art. He currently works and lives in the city of Johannesburg.
The interview below is one of multiple interviews I have conducted with the artist as I have followed his artistic practice though a number of years.
Nkgopoleng Moloi (NM): How has your degree prepared you for the art world (if at all)?
Joe Turpin (JT): I think my degree has prepared me in the amount of information and learning I was able to access, as well as the people and places I met and found out about. I definitely feel like I would be behind had I not studied. The skills taught are also valuable to my practice.
NM: How are you thinking of framing your practice now that you are outside a formal structure – in terms of time, concepts etc?
JT: Well, I think that I make work when I have the time, and I try to do that as often as I can, and when I have the materials. But there are freedoms and constraints… I no longer have a studio space, which I had a year ago, but I also don’t make work for art school deadlines anymore. I have my own deadlines.
I am also finding myself less worried about people’s attitudes towards my work. My concepts and interests simultaneously evolve and stay the same in a sense —a keen interest in mythology and in history.
NM: I want to find out your thoughts on the concept of time —given that so much of your work deals with history and trying to understand that history?
JT: I have understood for a while that time is not linear, but this is simply how people (including myself) perceive it. I believe time moves in cycles as we change and grow. From an early age I understood this construct, as we would celebrate Jewish holidays under the lunisolar calendar, which tells me that the year is now 5779 ( and not 2019 as per the Gregorian Calendar). I sometimes feel it —during certain times of the year, seasons when the light looks the same as a memory I had in that same season (previously)… the people around me at that time or smells are evoked again. It means that the passage of time has repeated and reached me again. Only now the people are gone and I am older, and hopefully wiser.
NM: Can you tell me about your process of naming works?
JT: I name my works according to the moments that are depicted within them. It is similar to how a musician decides to name a song, or an author to name a book.
What is a fitting description, and what do I think of or see when I imagine the work?
If the painting is about a myth, then the myth’s name, or the characters, or the exact angle or moment I paint —All of these might surface in the name. Some of the works are untitled. It is not a long or stringed process. I always document the names. Naming is power.
NM: Your practice spans various mediums, what is the medium you keep being drawn to & why do you think that is?
JT: I am constantly drawn to painting, but I love working with whatever I need to. Sometimes a work will demand a medium from me. That’s another area where art school really helped me —I previously saw myself as a painter but now my work is broader; I have done video, installation, photography, a combination……..but I return to painting. It’s my passion, what I fell in love with, and it’s where I think I have so much more growing to do. I’m harder on myself when I paint. But it’s meditative, it’s soothing, controlling and yet very freeing.
I’m a writer and photographer based in Johannesburg. I am interested in the spaces we occupy and navigate through and how these influence the people we become. Writing is a tool I use to understand the world around me and to explore the things I am excited and intrigued by, particularly history, art, language and architecture. I am fascinated by cities; their complexities and their potential.