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Q&A with Paul Duncan, author of SOUTH AFRICAN ARTISTS AT HOME

Paul Duncan

1. What inspired you to begin researching and writing your book 'South African Artists at Home'?

It's an area of life that's completely uncharted. There's an incredible world of contemporary art in South Africa and yet for the most part we're only ever on the outside looking in. The book is a chance to be a part of it. Don't we all want to know where our artists live, how they live and what their homes look like?

2. 'Home' is a very personal concept, what constitutes a home to you?

It's the one place in which you do absolutely whatever you want without being judged or found wanting. It's literally the place you retreat to where you should feel comfortable, unthreatened, secure.

3. How did you go about choosing artists and researching the book?

There were obvious choices and there were some more difficult ones. There had to be something to shoot as well, something interesting that provided a window onto the artist's work in some way. Some artists are very private people; many I approached weren't comfortable about the idea of being put into a book and said no don't come. Others loved the idea and were friendly and welcoming. All the artists in this book were accommodating and verbose and helpful even when my dictaphone broke down or when I tripped myself up and lost the plot when my questions seemed trite or irrelevant. Various gallery owners helped me hugely – Baylon Sandri of SMAC, for example, and Elana Brundyn of Brundyn+, Heidi Erdmann of Erdmann Contemporary, Joao Ferriera and the team at Whatiftheworld. I couldn't have done this without any of them.

4. What was your favourite moment in the research and interview stage of the book?

All the interviews were varied and captivating. I sat in Kate Gottgens's kitchen for hours drinking coffee and chatting; we discovered similar backgrounds and lots of common experience. Barend de Wet and I chatted in the man cave under his house – me bent almost double because the roof was so low. It couldn't really have been any other way. Johann Louw and I wandered around his house at dawn – with a bottle of white wine and no glasses, and then went and baked in his studio in a tin shed on a nearby hill. Brett Murray and Sanell Aggenbach and I chatted for hours again, as with Kate, in the kitchen drinking coffee, chewing the cud. There hasn't been a 'favourite moment' – although the exquisite repartee with Hylton Nel amongst his collection of books, ceramics and objects provided a rare glimpse into the life and times of an exceptional aesthete who chooses the rough and tumble of the Karoo as his background.

5. Which South African artist's home or studio inspired you the most and why?

I was never inspired by any of them. I was fascinated by them and by the context their homes provided to their work, the layers of meaning I discovered inherent in their surroundings which always allowed me to take another look at their oeuvre and imbibe something new – this, over and again. I'm not an art critic or an art historian. I'm somebody who responds viscerally to art and I appreciated the opportunity to be able engage with people who, mostly leaders in their respective fields, sometimes present a façade that's daunting. Or it is to me anyway.

6. Why do you think the public is fascinated with the intimate lives of artists?

This book isn't about intimate lives. However many of these people are public figures and how they live and eat and cook, where they sit to read or paint, what books they have on their shelves and so on provide illuminating entry points into lives led in circumstances that are often excluding.

7. In what ways does each artist's work reflect on their design choices in their home?

You can read more about this in the book's introduction. It's one of the major tenets of the book. It's not so much a reflection of design choices as it is a mirror of their colour preferences, the meaning with which they imbue the objects they surround themselves with and so on. And these interiors are alive because of the people that inhabit them, never despite them – which is the case with a house that's designed by a decorator.

8. You've worked extensively in lifestyle journalism; did you observe a main interior design trend for 2015 in the homes of South Africa's most noted artists?

No. It's almost as if the word 'trends' is anathema to my subjects. If there's been a so-called 'trend' it's been towards comfortable, unselfconscious living where the home is a place for children, cooking, display of art (theirs and their friends and contemporaries) and a bulwark against a noisy outside world. Some of the homes were in themselves artworks.

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