Tony-Gum

Tony Gum

MINI Living speaks to South African artist Tony Gum about the new generation of emerging artistry.

 

“I believe our role as artists is to understand the present, envision the future and remember the past.”


Every so often an artist will come along that embodies the zeitgeist so fully that they instantly capture the attention of an audience. So it was with Tony Gum, whose rapid rise from Instagram personality to commercially successful artist can only be explained by her being so in tune with her time. Something the art-loving public can be thankful for – because were it up to the traditional art trajectory “rules” (gallery representation, trying to land an exhibition, aiming for a solo), her work might never have found the public it so resonates with.

“It’s a new generation of artistry. And I try to learn from traditional and non-traditional artists. I believe our role as artists is to understand the present, envision the future and remember the past,” Tony comments. This platform has also allowed her to take her career into her own hands. “Now we can claim our artistry, and level the hierarchy system. It puts the collector and the artist in better communication and fosters a sense of collaboration rather than being at the mercy of institutions.”

Generation art

Having created this very distinctive trademark – portraiture where her own image is the vehicle for the message – one wonders where to next for Tony, when her work has become so recognisable in its current incarnation. She has plans to branch out – the next step will see her experimenting with other mediums, sculpture and film specifically.

Tony studied film at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and wants to explore it further. “Motion picture is the most powerful form of communication,” but being an artist in pursuit of perfection, she wants to hone her craft and study it further before producing something. ‘‘What you see in your head is so clear that you want to be able to do that vision justice.”

“The main reason I use myself in my work is that it’s congruent with my message and my personal exploration as an African woman, a Xhosa woman, and a woman in general.”
“Pin Up” and “Bunny Girl” from Tony Gum’s Black Coca-Cola series.

“True art appreciators would never want to stunt someone’s growth and will always welcome change.”


Understanding change

When asked if she thinks her audience and followers will be receptive to a departure in style, she says: “True art appreciators would never want to stunt someone’s growth and will always welcome change.” And this departure won’t change the message, she assures, because if the principles of the artist remain the same, it will be an extension of who they are. “The medium or manifestation doesn’t matter – as long as there is integrity.”

Refreshingly unsure of her own path forward, her audience will no doubt be part of that exploration. “I’m scared to share an incomplete journey,” she acknowledges. But wherever it leads, she’ll be digging deeper into the themes she’s established in her now almost iconic work. Themes of womanhood and identity. Themes that run so strongly and consistently through her work because she herself is grappling with them, as an artist and as an African woman.