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New York Arts Magazine
DATE: September 2004
NY ARTS MAGAZINE, September / October Issue 2004

PlanetPaul draws Manhattan into its gravitational field when Paul du Toit, a rangy, affable South African artist who could be a movie stand-in for Ed Harris playing Jackson Pollock (one of the artist's heroes), beautifully installs his New York debut exhibition in the former Jack Tilton Gallery at 49 Greene Street in SoHo. Passers-by are drawn into the open space by the attractive "PlanetPaul" signage at the entrance, playful painted metal sculpture in the window, and winsome, bold paintings beyond. Observe the gallery go-ers who view his art, and you'll inevitably see smiles, the near-universal response to his work. The inhabitants of PlanetPaul are created by this self-taught artist who quips "Because I live in my head most of the time, I created this space or planet to which I can return and fill with images." In Paris, a notable art historian commented on the artist's works, that, "It is all in the line." Of previous paintings, a noted South African art writer stated, "If you really look at them, you see torture, obsession and repression . . . perhaps du Toit's work is more of a reflection of reality than most people imagine." When asked recently about the "dark side" of the works in this exhibition, the artist remarked that most of these images are "happy and uplifting" except possibly for the bronze-from-plasticine sculpture with black patina, "Still Standing," first formed with strips of canvas resembling bandages over an armature.

Taking an unconventional orbit that has drawn considerable attention, PlanetPaul is the brainchild of 38-year-old Paul du Toit, who as a teenager was confined to a wheelchair for approximately three years with symptoms of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. With an indomitable spirit that typifies how he deals with life's challenges, du Toit leapfrogged out of obscurity in Capetown with a brilliant strategy that was born of his combined backgrounds as a computer programmer, savvy-ness in utilizing the internet as a marketing tool, management skills of his very capable spouse Lorette, and the soul of a self-assured artist destined to create joyful work to share with the rest of the planet. Producing more than a hundred works per year, the artist participated in the notable traveling exhibition, "70 over 2000 on the Road to Meikle Seggie," the Firenze Biennale Dell'Arte Contemporanea 2001, was shortlisted for the South Africa DaimlerChrysler Sculpture 2002 Award, and also represented South Africa at the Toronto International Art Fair in 2002. His paintings and sculptures have been placed in major corporate and private collections and two artworks were successfully auctioned at Sotheby's, but PlanetPaul's trajectory has not been entirely smooth. Both he and his work have been lambasted by local critics and fellow artists. On the other hand, a popular South African website listed him as one of the most collectible South African artists along with Willie Bester, Norman Catherine, and William Kentridge. Using basic, primary color palettes with bold shapes and lines, Paul du Toit's paintings show a guileless spontaneous, and accessible visual vocabulary, a trait that his works share with certain members of the remarkable COBRA group.

The artist uses his paintings as blueprints for future sculptures. On a subliminal level, strong-featured paintings like "Face to Hide In" and "Primary Level" may well have appeal on the basis of image association and pattern recognition, in the way that some psychological testing deploys nurturing forms with rudimentary facial and body characteristics, in addition to ingrained visual cues from basic shapes that are encoded during child development. From a critical viewpoint, the current exhibition is a bit uneven, for several of the smaller paintings incorporating pieces of canvas from prior works and some of the dhow-inspired metal sculptures appear unresolved. However these impressions are tempered by alluring works like "Major Player," a large painting with an oversized green Sisyphusianly-balanced indeterminately-expressioned head and the delightful sculpture series typified by the colorfully painted work "Walk Unafraid" with its mismatched facial features and limbs devoid of symmetry; the torso sports a brilliantly-conceived mitochondria-like emblem.

PlanetPaul's close encounter with the Manhattan art world is an auspicious and solid first landing.

EXHIBITION: Paul du Toit @ Florence Biennale
REVIEW BY: Mike Behr - Sunday Argus
DATE: 9 December 2001

CAPE TOWN artist and sculptor Paul du Toit takes a major leap forward in his career this week when three of his sculptures go on display at the third Firenze Biennale Dell'Arte Contemporanea (Florence Biennale of Contemporary Art) which runs until December 16.

It is the first time a South African has been invited to the prestigious event. Widely regarded as one of the world's biggest exhibitions of contemporary art, the Florence Biennale provides a showcase for 600 artists from all over the world.

Participation is strictly limited by personal invitation which means artists get there only if their work gets the nod from the some of the leading figures in the art world. Du Toit was nominated by biennale director Professor John T Spike, a New York art historian and critic.

The result of three year of intense hard work and planning, Du Toit's arrival in Florence cements a long-held commitment. "It was in Florence nine years ago that I made a promise to myself to practise my art full-time," said Du toit, who was then a computer programmer by day and artist by night. "Florence with all its art gave me confidence, but I never dreamt of returning so soon to participate in such a prominent event."

Du Toit sees the exhibition as a stepping stone into the lucrative but highly competitive US art market. In New York alone there are around 15 000 painters and only 1 200 of them make in onto the art capital's annu al exhib ition circuit.

"All the important people in the US art world will be at the biennale," said Du Toit. He has a good idea of whom he wants to meet from a huge database of who's who in the art world, that he has been compiling for the last six years.

The first South African to personally market his work on the Internet, Du Toit used his computer background to network globally when he realized in the early 1990s that the SA art world was a closed shop tightly controlled by a clique who could make or break a new artist.

In contrast to consistent local rejection of Du Toit's work, which is reminiscent of Picasso and Miro, international galleries, buyers and critics have elevated his profile. In April a selection of Du Toit's paintings were displayed at the Holland Art Fair at the Netherlands Congress Centre in The Hague.

And in September he had two solo exhibitions, one at the Bell-Roberts Gallery in Cape Town which was 90% sold out, the other at Holland's Gallerie Plett in Zeist. The Bell-Roberts exhibition co-incided with Du Toit being nominated for the DaimlerChrysler Sculpture Award 2002.

A selection of his work is on tour around the world as part of the prestigious "70 over 2000 Exhibition" which celebrates the life and work of 70-year-old Professor Richard Demarco, chairman of the Demarco European Art Foundation. The travelling exhib ition was part of the fringe line-up at this year's Venice Biennale.

EXHIBITION: Paul du Toit @ Bell-Roberts Gallery
REVIEW BY: Stanley Hermans - Cape Times
DATE: 19th September 2001

This uncluttered exhibition of paintings and sculptures by Hout Bay artist, Paul du Toit, seems generally concerned with taking things apart then putting them back together differently. There is much juggling about of body parts. The human form suggests an anatomy of colour, shape, line and pattern: playthings in the sandbox of the artist's imagination. There's a whole lock-and-key thing going down that could be fun for the art sleuths to track down. Is it a case of one eye closed or one eye open? Or has the one eye left the building? The reader would be encouraged to go there and have a look-see, which does sound a bit like a Chinese clear soup. The mouths to these figures are a lot like prison cell windows. And, why have they swallowed Jackson Pollock? What is that thing that happens when the legs, arms and heads are attached to the bodies? Are they portraits or figments of the imagination that could refer to particular people? Is it a boat, or is it a plane? You tell me. The aesthetic gambols somewhere between Lego, Meccano, Tupperware, pick-up sticks and Potato Man. Like most serious artists, Du Toit has not inte ntion of ever growing up. Bully for him with bells on! Creativity and art-making are celebrated as playful processes. Imagination and personality tickle his inventions into form. Things are refreshingly un-intellectual. There's no arty angst or pretentious ideological flatulence. The only issue seems to be "what's right" and not - as is so often the case with high art - "what's wrong". They seem more concerned with how rather than why, a welcome change from artists who get lost in a labyrinth of introspection. The titles to the work invite speculation.

The freestanding and wall-mounted sculptures are generally of found objects fixed together and lacquered in mostly primary colours. They seem arrested in a moment of mechanical motion, a bit like their batteries have just run out. The smaller wall sculptures work well in series. The paintings vary in format and are of enamel or acrylic on board or canvas. Each work has a particular persona and attitude, often not unlike the teddy bear with one eye hanging on a thread. Bold black line on white configures an almost architectural compositional structure that had the Modernist painter Robert Motherwell pop into view for a second. I wonder what the artist would make of an extended palette that could allow for a fuller range of more nuanced expression. Does the entire surface have to be worked at the same pace, depth and volume, or could w e want to reveal a bit more about the layers between raw surface and finished painting? The larger paintings make impressive statements that would fit well into both domestic and corporate environments. Du Toit's initial career trajectory originated in the faux Picasso tilt to the figurative distortions. Perhaps he should put the whole Picasso parody thing behind him, since the work more than holds its own as itself. Most of the works were sold on opening night and just four are left.

EXHIBITION: Paul du Toit @ Bell-Roberts Gallery
REVIEW BY: Chris Roper - Mail & Guardian
DATE: 19th September 2001

For artist Paul du Toit the sweet smell of success is tainted by an industry of sour grapes, writes Chris Roper - The ostensible reason for this interview is clear. Paul du Toit is one of the nominees for the 2002 DaimlerChrysler Sculpture Award. He has a show - a sold-out show, I might add - that is currently running at the Bell-Roberts Contemporary gallery. He has just participated in the 70 over 2000 exhibition celebrating the life of Professor Richard Demarco, which is travelling to 14 countries, and he's soon off to the Florence Biennale. An impressive list and I could add to it by reeling off a string of overseas shows that Du Toit has featured in. But this is just success and we shouldn't find success too interesti ng. Oh, sure, it's nice to see a local boy make good, to trace his route from a wheelchair-bound 12 -year-old suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, to an obsessive, incredibly well-selling, self-trained artist who produces 150 to 200 works a year, most of them colourful variations of the same contorted, grinning face, over and over again.

Nice, but not that interesting. And, of course, it's instructive to hear how Du Toit has fashioned that trajectory, with his mantra that "the only way to determine your future is to try and create it yourself". The early, imaginative use of the Internet as a sales and gallery medium helped, as did Du Toit's extensive research into the international market. We don't really need this instruction, though, and frankly I'm tired of hearing it. When I first interviewed Du Toit about four years ago I was told the same story - "This is how I got people interested in my art ? this is how I used my experience as a computer programmer to push my stuff on the Net ? this is how I turned my art into a business ? " Do we really care about that? Does Du Toit? No. He cares only about art, and we care only about his art. The focus on the marketing and dissemination is a mask, to avoid having to talk about the quality of his work - or the lack thereof. Many people don't like his paintings - many people hate his paintings - and, as Du Toit says, this is as it shoul d be. They avoid saying so, however, and instead choose the oblique route of lauding his commercial success. I don't want to fall into that easy rhetorical gesture. I do like his paintings. I wrote the following in a catalogue essay: "Pleasure is the driving force behind Paul du Toit's art, the very engine of its bright being. It's impossible to look at his multicoloured portraits and not feel this. Happiness is worked into the texture of the canvas, slashed into it with a variety of homemade tools that remind one of a Faustian toymaker's toolbox." This is what Du Toit talks about when I ask him that most irritating of questions: why do you create art? He says he does it because he can't imagine doing anything else and because he enjoys it. Is that an obvious answer? Perhaps, but why should we expect any other? It's clear that, for Du Toit, your only duty as an artist is to make art.

When I ask him what artists he admires, he names Robert Slingsby, because "he is the last true artist left in South Africa. That's all he does, paints every single day of his life until he falls asleep. He's a genius." So far, this all sounds very jolly and idyllic, but it's not always like that. Du Toit's work is often criticised and there's a part of the art community who delight in writing him off as a hack. This seems to hurt him. "It does affect me. It's good to have criticism, but I just wish the y'd put a bit more investigation into it before they label my work as decorative. It's funny, in the beginning they used to say it was too different, now they say it's too easy on the eye, too easy to sell. If I had to take seriously what people have said about my work - well, I've learned to be about as sensitive as a second-hand car salesman." It's a minor mystery why Du Toit is vilified by some fellow artists. As with any artist, there are several salient weaknesses you could legitimately point to in Du Toit's work, but it's almost as if they're irritated by his success, rather than impressed by his talent. Still, this is an uninteresting avenue to pursue. In truth, such robust criticism is not unusual in the local art world. Ironically, though, Du Toit seems to be the antithesis of this, a man who longs for artists to present a unified front. "I want to be part of the art community, because they've all got so much to share. But they pull in so many directions and instead of building the industry up they attack each other. But if one artist does well, we all do well. It can be done, it's been done everywhere else." It's an appropriate note to end the interview on, a note echoed by the bright paintings on the gallery walls. If you look at them, you see pleasure, gaiety and colour. If you really look at them, you see torture, obsession and repression. Perhaps Du Toit's work is more of a ref lection of reality than most people imagine.

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