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Artistic Revolution against the Dark Socio-Politics of 80’s SA

Erin Paviour-Smith

Latest posts by Erin Paviour-Smith (see all)

Robert Jennings

Robert Jennings

Revolutionary Flamboyance

Artists’ Corner: Robert Jennings

Photography courtesy of the artist

Revered as a fine artist, Robert Jennings candidly admits that his drive to be a professional in this vocation emerged from excelling in art in his school days. Residents and visitors alike may have witnessed his live performances in the BVI, presenting acrylic on canvas art shows at Trellis Bay’s Full Moon Parties or in March at Bamboushay Lounge in an exclusive evening, held by the popular nightspot.

“The live art started in clubs and raves in Central America and then it went more mainstream for charity events and black tie events in Toronto and Los Angeles,” said Jennings in discussing the origins of this mode of publicity.

“What one achieves as an artist when you paint live is completely different to the studio environment,” he continued. “You can achieve very dynamic and expressive brush strokes that jump off the canvas, creating an extremely expressive and energetic moment, capturing in time a complete contrast to very specific concentration in the studio.”

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A live art exhibit

Born during the political and social turmoil in South Africa (SA) of the late 80’s and early 90’s, Jennings credits his creativity to the desire to contrast the contemporary art he was surrounded by at the time.

“I do believe my need for a colourful and purely aesthetic art was derived from the ever dark socio political works of the time in SA – I just wanted to feel inspired and enjoy art instead of being reminded of the injustice around us.”

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Desert Flower

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Rooted in this, the vibrancy and assembly of colours conceived in his work, clearly exhibit success in his aim – he confesses to his obsession with colour and its ability to permit experimentation with light, tone and form in his pieces.

“I mainly work in charcoal and acrylic – acrylic for my live painting and charcoal for my studio works,” he said in reference to his chosen artistic forms. “I also use a special fabric paint to do the clothing and watercolour and oil, but specifically charcoal is what I’m focusing on right now.”

Attending the esteemed Michaelis School of Fine Arts at the University of Cape Town between 1989 and 1992, his graduation saw that he met success in the SA art scene and by 21, he was invited by the SA Association of the Arts—100 of the country’s top artists—to showcase his works.

Hosting exhibitions in galleries all over the world spanning Cape Town in South Africa to Miami, USA to right here in the British Virgin Islands, he is currently working from his two studios in the BVI and Puerto Vallarta Mexico, fashioning pieces that explore his newly focused efforts in charcoal styled work.

“I’ve always been doing charcoal,” he said, clarifying that it is not necessarily new to him, but a segment of art where he’s increased his attention. “It’s always sold really well and the reception I get from my agent is that it’s my strongest medium.”

South African Consul General opening live art event sponsored by Steinway Pianos

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Art Dress-13

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Saguaro Cactus

Represented by Melissa Morgan in Palm Springs, California where a lot of his works are on display, it is evident that the locations where Rob has been—California and the BVI to name a couple from the huge list—inspire his ingenuity and artistic vision.

“In every university art degree, you start with the six major separable subjects – print making, drawing, sculpture, photography, design and painting,” he stated about the initiation of his passion and his move toward charcoal.” I started focusing on hyper-realistic and photo-realistic charcoal in my fourth year of university.”

Oil-Painting-Jonkershuis-1992 - one of Rob's favs
Oil-Painting-Kiek-Inn-II-1992

Influenced by impressionists like Matisse and 70’s New York Photo Realism, Jennings’ talents rose from his perspective on flowers that he believes represent the most natural form of colour in the world.

Regarding the events he has hosted worldwide, one particular occasion remains as an extremely vivid memory to him: “Well I think one major highlight I had was working with Pat McDonagh in Toronto when we did the Rolls Royce Show during Toronto Fashion Week. She is Canada’s grand dame of fashion design and such a genius,” said Jennings in response to his notable achievement of painting the Rolls Royce Phantom. “Also, I really enjoyed painting live on Good Morning Canada the TV show and at the Winter Music Conference in Miami.”

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RR Wrap

Scanning through his vast and varied works, it is easy to see why he has met the great success he has. In consideration of his ambitions in the future, Rob simply said: “I will just keep on painting.”

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