Interview: Sharmaine Thérèsa Pretorius (SHARM.T. P)
Luca Curci talks with Sharmaine Thérèsa Pretorius (SHARM.T. P) during ALCHEMIC BODY 2021, at THE LINE Contemporary Art Space and during CONTEMPORARY VENICE 2021 – THE SECRET GARDEN, at Misericordia Archives.
Sharmaine Thérèsa Pretorius is called tongue-in-cheek the Susan Boyle of art. The artist’s work with kaleidoscopic software also led to the nickname queen of the kaleidoscope whilst generating photographic digital art of her original drawings. Artfacts.net ranks her as one of the foremost 100 000 artist in the world at present, though her exhibition details are not up to date yet. Sharmaine is a high- end, South African expat artist, who has been living in the Sultanate of Oman, deep inside the desert in Nizwa, an ancient, mystical Arabic city, for the past 11 years. Her intricate artistic drawings which include hidden puzzles and Chladni musical compositions, are her holographic memories copied from her vivid dreams. Pretorius gained international recognition as an emerging artist in 2017, particularly for her drawing named Mars Trojan – Elon – The Shroud (5517A) circling in low space orbit on the Asgardia 1 nanosat cube with another picture of her, the drawing called Change Yggdrasil. Highly gifted as an academic; she holds more than 600 continues educational credits, spread over safety and security, health, and emergency service fields, of which none includes art. The artist has exhibited at the CICA Museum in Seoul and LACDA Museum in Los Angeles, taking part in group exhibitions. Her second solo exhibition called Enclosure Fathom – Part 2, had its private opening event in Oman during December 2019 and is part of an ongoing, high-end art collectors virtual race, by invitation only. The artist’s work: “Nafurat Miah Alshurb” – The Fountain of Excellent Memories in Mother’s Eyes – “Ayin – Zayin” has recently been exhibited in New Mixed Media form at the Group Exhibition – Florence International Biennale of Contemporary Art and Design: XIII FB THEME 2021 – Eternal Feminine – Change. It is a mesmerizing Zoetrope, accompanied by world renowned soprano Maria-Elizabeth Bezuidenhout and oboe player John Rojas of Duo4Musicians’ interpretation of the African Lullaby called “Thula Baba”. Her work has also been seen in Northern Ireland at Pepney Gallery recently and her work the Zoetrope film titled: Oita Ikebana Sakura: The Precious Slipper – An Ode to Mizuki (008172) set to the music of Duo4Musicians’ “Heimwee” is currently on show at ALCHEMIC BODY | FIRE . AIR . WATER . EARTH 2021 – LONDON CONTEMPORARY ART FAIR (The Line – ITSLIQUID) – November 04 to November 25, 2021. Her work Ithaca – Frozen Race in An Iron Age – Zoetrope, New Media – Mixed Art, will be on show at the 9th Edition – of CONTEMPORARY VENICE 2021. THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space – November 15 to December 09, 2021 and Misericordia Archives – November 16 to December 09, 2021. She is well published in Times of Oman, Faces of Oman, Georgia Today, Freigeist-verlag, webzine – Life As A Human, The Week etc.
Luca Curci – What is art for you?
Sharmaine Thérèsa Pretorius (SHARM.T. P) – There is a vast difference between map and territory in life in general. To me art signals, “Know Your Enemy”. The beauty is most often in that which is absent. It is a saying derived from Sun Tzu’s book, The Art of War. If you Google the phrase, “Know Your Enemy” words like Rockit, Behind Enemy Lines, Green Day song, Rage Against the Machine, Morning Sci- Fi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex O.S.T. 3 or Ahimsa, a term meaning ”not to injure”, a primary virtue in Buddhism or St. Paul’s, “put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground” … appear, among others. To me art it is a wonderous place/space. As much swamp as oasis. An empire of the spirit, which combines the freedom, influences, lusts and virtues, every possible opposite noun you could think of – of what each human experiences here, and are at war with, inside themselves; since their conception and even before time exists, but it is also where I have found ‘my tribe’ Seth Godin style. Art is the arena where I can leave the tooth spurs at home and safely explore my own journey and experience of life’s bits and pieces I wish to share. Mostly, I share how and what others share about their journey here, wherever here is. All of us fight labels even before we appear in the womb. Growth and death start as parallel journeys when we are born physically, mentally and spiritually, in the race against time. When people create, even if it looks like just a simple doodle drawing, they are expressing an all encompassing download of intimate knowledge, in a moment, in time…already unraveling.There is a reason why people love pictures of cats, hugs, loving- mothers and fathers. It is by posting those that we signal that we “Know The Enemy”. Art symbolizes truth, however uncomfortable it may seem. It may be hidden or blind truth, but it is someone’s truth or perception of truth somewhere. Absence is a language. The Japanese and English tea culture and Middle Eastern Arabic coffee culture are sides of the same coin, the warrior working on the coolness of spirit, seeking equilibrium.
LC – What’s your background?
STP – I am a spiritual time traveler, a world citizen with a fair bit of the Diogenes in myself. My nasal intonation also gives away my partial French roots. Vicenza, anciently known as Vicetia, a town in Venetia, capital of the province of Vicenza, is a place where some of my family had left their carbon footprint and more. My Irish grandfather and his side of the family had a love for and attraction to Africa, it is in our genes. My ancestors took journeys; whilst fleeing religious persecution as Huguenots, do business, visit family etc. and marry expats or indigenous men or women in the countries they’d visited and then their children would travel again. My DNA canvas thus ended up with ancestors from Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. My grandfather Hugh, on my mother’s side of our family, had great influence on my perceptions about people. He taught us that people are incapable of choosing their, race, parents, families they are born into, their sexual – biological orientation, their wealth and health and country born in or city, town or village where they are based and their exact circumstances. Disrespecting others for any of those reasons was a topic he often mentioned as a big no – no. He was a war veteran who believed that humanity had lost their way, totally out of touch with reality, with stark cognitive dissonance during and after World War 2. He greatly valued “common sense”. He also had a profound hatred of religion, but a great respect for the fact that there is a Higher Power he called on from time to time, someone he simply called his Creator, but felt insecure with. I come from families who accentuate the power of prayer very much. I grew up with grandmothers who got up daily to pray between 4 to 6am. I experienced ‘paying it forward’ via my grandmother on my mom’s side, long before I met with the definition. She grew herbs, orchids and the most beautiful flowers. Her house was the one house where everyone was welcome to a cup of something, cake and cookies or pies, free phone calls, money, hugs and prayers. She had a permanent roll of tissue paper, foil and a pair of scissors especially to cut fresh flowers for visitors. If I lived a 1000 years, I doubt if I could ever remotely even cast a partial shadow of that kind of tangible love and service. I live from the inside out, not the other way around. It is very hard for me to experience myself from an outer point-of-view. I put it down to having spent so much time with that grandmother and the auto-immune illness I had to come to terms with. That is my dysmorphia. It has always been present in my life, as well as a strange type of dyslexia. I was a super fit teenager between 16 and 18, addicted to ice skating, when I started to experience extreme tiredness and debilitating migraines. By the time I had reached 32, I got diagnosed with Secondary Sjogren syndrome with mixed tissue disorder and narrowly missed being permanently in a wheelchair during 2016. I suffered debilitating pain until approximately the age of 40 and by then had lost all my hair, regrown it, had lengthy chemotherapy and spent long times being bedridden and on corticosteroids and painkillers. Were it not for the giants in my life, I would not have managed to survive the onslaught of physical pain on a daily basis. I have used cortisone and pancreas enzymes for many years, forging some weight control but gave it up due to the debilitating side effects. Besides the physical aspects of the auto-immune problem, I feel very blessed and thankful for the people in my life and the support I have. My whole life changed after a visit to a cave in Turkey in old Antioch, where St. Paul and St. Peter and the disciples used to stay and pray. I was relieved from pain overnight. I had to taper off my pain medication in a very structured manner for some time after that, bit by bit. I felt tremendously free, after that. It was a very difficult situation for my immediate family, but they were a saving grace as well as my husband, Willem. At present my husband and I are forced to leave Oman as I am medically not allowed to take the Covid-19 vaccines, and the law here does not make provision for me in this regard. We never anticipated having to leave Oman on such short notice. Besides doing art I had completed a pilot study preparing prodigy students as young as 14 to enter a university in the U.S.A early, in keeping with their skill sets, over the last almost 2 years now.I am the CEO of a small startup in Bulgaria and we have a home/artist retreat in development over there in a tiny Bulgarian village. A dream took me there.
LC – What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
STP – There are actually 5
1.During 2007 my husband Willem and I were living in a small town in South Korea. In order to work at a job, even part time, I had to present my academic papers. The main university in South Africa, where I had studied years before, informed me that they had never heard of me. It took 6 months and threats of a lawyer getting involved to get the records and information from them. At the same time we opened a business so that I could work remotely on projects. The company register officers had major administration problems and we could not even solve them by traveling more than 120000 kilometers, to sort out simple problems. That was when my husband Willem came home one day with paint and cubes made from pressed wood and offered them to me to paint. I literally had my computer, a Wi-Fi connection, the cubes and paint. Later he brought some koki pens, paper and rulers.
2.When I was about 13 I discovered that I could play any music by ear. I am a syn-esthete trying to incorporate my different experiences in order to live as normal a life as possible and could not keep my relationship with sound, space and flight, out of my works of art. I often think I am an untrained musician masquerading as a fine artist. Ernst Florens Friedrich Chladni was a German physicist and musician. I feel a strange kinship to him as he did not just stop at the theoretics. He studied meteorites, took Hook’s experiment who observed the nodal patterns associated with the vibrations of glass plates after he had run a violin bow along the edge of a plate covered with flour etc. Hans Jenny, a physician, the one who coined cymatics in order to describe the acoustic effects of sound wave phenomena – he saved me a bit from the world.
3.My whole life changed during 2008 in Japan. I went to attend a conference and also to see the work of Dr. Masaru Emoto. I was working at a college at the time. He claimed that human consciousness could affect the molecular structure of water, firsthand. His 2004 book ,”The Hidden Messages in Water” was a New York Times best seller. “Emoto said that water was a “blueprint for our reality” and that emotional “energies” and “vibrations” could change its physical structure. His water crystal experiments consisted of exposing water in glasses to various words, pictures, or music, then freezing it and examining the ice crystals’ aesthetic properties with microscopic photography. He claimed that water exposed to positive speech and thoughts created visually “pleasing” ice crystals, and that negative intentions yielded “ugly” ice formations.” I realized, what I was drawing were my dreams and the crystal patterns of people’s thoughts, etc. I see holographic pillars when I meet up with people, which surround them, and that are like free-flowing screens containing their experiences, I guess over time. If I spend too much time with them, or sometimes very little time, I start dreaming the details of what I experienced. It is very useful as a tool during psych counseling sessions, but could be most uncomfortable to most people spending a bit of time with me.
4.I have spent a fair amount of time in correspondence on Instagram, connecting with art collectors and other artists. I realized at some point that as I was creating and or drawing my art, that was not posted on Instagram at the time, that one of the art collectors and one of the artists started to post items which came so close to what I was doing at the time, that I worked out that they could either see in the spiritual realm like I do, or that I somehow got in some quantum-like spiritual entanglement with them, or that we were just all copying a matrix hanging suspended somewhere in the spiritual word – a little internet somewhere of some particular fashion. Either way, it is something I still find deeply fascinating to this day.
5.It took me years to have enough self belief to actually have my work photographed properly to have it cataloged. Someone introduced me to advocate Ben Ewing of CMS Law (Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang LLP) in Muscat. My husband Willem and I met with him and a colleague at a coffee shop next to the sea. Ben is a very spiritually intuitive, intelligent person. I felt very silly. I had my drawings inside a black suitcase- styled concertina file. I took some of my work out and showed it to him and then put it back in the file. He is very well traveled and in touch with the business social-art world. He listened very attentively and kept quiet for a very long time. He said he would see it as a great privilege to represent me. Leaning forward he said, ‘but only if you own your art.’ It took me a long, long time to do that. I did not think of myself as an artist. Whatever it was that I was busy creating, being an actual artist, never crossed my mind, not even ONCE. I then started to believe that perhaps there were people out there, who may enjoy seeing what I create.
LC – Did your technique change over the years? In which way?
STP – During May 2013 I did a forensic workshop about digital photography and digital enhancements via RTI International. I realized then that digital art on my extended hard discs lost pixels daily. I started using master files for my digital art. I would keep one file of each picture and never open it, so as to protect the quality of it. The storing technique really seemed to make a difference in the quality, especially after some years. I also started to use thicker paper, which I very much dislike, and added a wool element to my work. I started to use some watercolor and did one oil and acrylic work on a bigger canvas. I found it addictive. I met up with Dr. Maria-Elizabeth Bezuidenhout,a soprano, and her husband John Rojas, an oboe player, on Instagram. We started collaborating on work – my work – set like a Zoetrope to some of their songs and music. It is a wonderful experience to see how it comes together.
LC – What is your creative process like?
STP – I usually dream a fixed blueprint of a picture of some sorts. I usually feel like a 1984 computer stalling after a 2GB data upload – freezing for a week or so. I try to draw as fast as possible afterwards. I have had dreams where it took me two years to download a picture from a dream in order to remember the details when I am awake. None are simple, as they contain music notes, maths, physics, etc. I then color in the drawings and then photograph them and then put them through kaleidoscopic, computer software. After some time, groups and topics make themselves known and I do a lot of research, about what it is that I saw in my dreams – the broader significance of it perhaps.
LC – What is the most challenging part about creating your artworks?
STP – Time. I am usually drawing somewhere traveling in a car, sitting in an awkward position doing it etc. Other than that, I just experience the purest joy doing it, but it takes intense concentration.
LC – Are your artworks focused on a specific theme?
STP – Though it covers different topics it seems to be Origen-like in theme more often than not and reflects more systematically on the theme of discernment. Origen viewed it as an operation of the higher part of the soul (νους), whereby the soul opens itself to its spirit. As such it is able to accept divine guidance from the Holy Spirit and the Logos in order to assess the movements of the soul and to manage these correctly so that the soul may preserve what is good and continue to strive for better things. As the “intelligence” is created after the image of God, the Logos, its fulfillment lies in a cooperative movement with the Logos towards ever greater likeness with God. Progress in virtue, knowledge and happiness are an ever more intense participation in the Logos who himself is every virtue, all wisdom and love. As a result of this participation, the “intelligence” becomes ever more “like” the Logos, and therefore becomes ever more capable of understanding and discerning. I would say ultimately, the theme is, “There is no religion higher than the TRUTH”. I love finding the truth about what matters most in life. I’d say to many, art is like their religion.
LC – Did your style change over the years? In which way?
STP – I explored more digital techniques and started to anticipate the outcome of working with kaleidoscopic software more and more after years of practicing. I can manipulate the outcomes more and I am not just getting random results. Though I know that I can do it now, I still do not know; how I do it. That is still very intuitive.
LC – What do you think about ITSLIQUID Platform?
STP – At first glance I have found it to be very user friendly with larger than average call buttons plus text and the intentional positioning of split screens. I found the background details to the places where exhibitions take place informative and enlightening. It is visually very attractive and alluring.
LC – Do you think ITSLIQUID GROUP can represent an opportunity for artists?
STP – Absolutely. Many galleries invite artists to exhibit with them but do not post gallery pictures or have their tech updated regularly so that their details and that of the artists, which they represent, could show up on internet search engines. ITSLIQUID GROUP regularly updates their social media and their admin support system which ranks superbly. Galleries sometimes receive work from artists with glaring spelling mistakes or incorrect use of language and they just let it through. As an artist making use of their services, I can’t be more complimentary, about my personal experience. They are definitely superior in terms of both administration as well as social media presence and marketing. They have excellent exposure for artists and at affordable rates.