Jean Du Plessis Slow Magazine

Slow Magazine May 2016

“I am fascinated with the beauty that arises when things are damaged or decayed. I celebrate the process of damage as a way of revealing the inner life of the given material in my art.” – Jean du Plessis

Cape Town artist Jean du Plessis stays true to the nature of the Abstract Expressionism art movement and its potential to excite spectators with bold brushstrokes and spontaneity. His work is a burst of energy, and his use of stark contrasts, monochromatic colours, and texture portray his own vision of beauty. His larger-than-life, contemporary, abstract paintings are incredibly striking, with the artist taking inspiration from his personal life experiences. Du Plessis challenges spectators to form their own conversations around his work, as opposed to defining it as one particular thing. I meet du Plessis in Cape Town’s Paarden Eiland at his expansive loft space and new home of CAAM Gallery, where he paints and exhibits his impressive work. The space is enormous and very industrial looking, perfectly complementing the captivating black and white art pieces.

Du Plessis has been surrounded by art his whole life. “My parents were creative,” he says. “My mom loved to paint and my dad had a terrific eye, especially in terms of design and interiors. So I was always amongst art.” Creativity is in his blood, and it is evident in the seamless way he constructs his work. Each piece is a testament to a memory that Du Plessis holds dear, but, at the same time, accessible to spectators as being completely open to interpretation. He detests pretences and wants his art to appeal to individuals and spark conversations around the complexities of life, both beautiful and damaging.

About Hazard Gallery

Hazard Gallery is a contemporary art gallery set in the heart of Johannesburg's Maboneng Precinct and which presents a highly curated programme of emerging Pan-African artists alongside strong exhibitions by established international artists.

Established in May 2015 by Jonathan Freemantle and Daniel Liebmann, the gallery is expanding to encompass a new building, The Cosmopolitan, in July 2016. The Cosmopolitan is a heritage building, built in 1899 and situated directly opposite The Museum of African Design (MOAD) on Albrecht Street.

Inspired by the likes of Dover Street Market (London) and 10 Corso Como (Milan), The Cosmopolitan will bring together international and Pan-African luxury brands, artisanal food and an award-winning bar team and restaurateur to create a cultural oasis within the vibrant Johannesburg CBD. All the brands involved are exquisitely curated to create a one of a kind luxury experience in the city.

Jean du Plessis’ solo exhibition will run from 19 May to 19 June at Hazard. He will also feature in the inaugural group exhibition at The Cosmopolitan, which opens on 1 July and runs for three months.

jean hazard gallery

After his father passed away in 1989, the Du Plessis family embarked on a business venture. “We went into wine farming and bought a farm in Stellenbosch, but after a while, I knew I had to start pursuing my own thing – my passion. That’s when I started getting into art seriously. For myself.” He moved to Italy, since Du Plessis reveres and draws inspiration from the country’s rich history and aesthetic splendour. “I started painting houses over there. I’ve always had a real love for paint. I did my art as well, and supplied art to very prominent people in Milan and the south of Italy where I lived, near Salento.” One noteworthy project du Plessis worked on was for the interiors of Roberto Cavalli’s restaurant, Just Cavalli Restaurant and Club, in Milan. Du Plessis spent 10 years in Italy, and was exposed to a number of painters and designers, all of whom had a huge impact on both him and his work.

As he takes me through his gallery, I notice that his work is truly awe-inspiring, and the sheer size of the canvases as well as the contrasting use of black and white, texture, and the occasional use of text create a seamless unity of simplicity and complexity. On his return to South Africa, du Plessis was more inspired than ever, causing him to paint with passion and fervour.

Using oil, acrylic, and gypsum plaster to create texture, he combines mediums according to what his mood dictates at the time. There is no one structure that he sticks to, and he prefers this spontaneity to reflect a sense of originality. “If you stay true to your eye, to your thing, that is true style. That is individuality. As far as I am concerned, people don’t always understand the term style. Style is totally individualistic,” he explains. I ask him about the decision to make his work mostly monochromatic. “Black and white are my favourite colours, and they’re rather challenging to use, as black is not considered a colour. My black has many shadows: the blackness of the night, the dark of the universe, the back soil in the south of Italy. As for my white, it’s never pure, it’s real. In works like **Si Evero**, the white is on its way to black, worn out by powers of nature.

This year, Du Plessis will be showcasing his work in Mykonos, Greece, as well as back in Milan, Italy, a city which he believes to be the most difficult art market in the world, because the art scene there is abuzz. “It’s like standing at a salt factory and taking a bunch of salt in your pockets, and then going to the gate of the factory and trying to sell it. That’s Milan.” He is also very excited about his upcoming exhibition at Hazard gallery in the Maboneng Precinct, in Johannesburg. “The stuff that is happening in Johannesburg, and particularly in places like Maboneng and Braamfontein, is truly unbelievable, and I can’t wait to take my art work there.” 

Reflecting moments that are significant to him, Du Plessis’ paintings capture past thoughts and emotions. “When I have inspiration from memories in time, I find that I am in the ideal space to create something beautiful. I feel that the universe is on my side,” he says. “I don’t think about an audience. Instead, I always think of the spectator. My work is from an individual, to an individual, and I am happy if it makes an impact on just one person.”

It certainly has made an impact on me and, as we walk through the gallery together admiring his art, I am truly inspired. The very real decision to steer clear of pretences and allow the work to make an impact in an organic way makes it accessible to the individual. The striking nature of his use of mediums and his intrinsic bold personality that is reflected on the canvas is breathtaking – Du Plessis is definitely an artist to watch closely as he continues to the push the boundaries of style.