“It’s such a lovely part of the world,” says the artist Lucinda Mudge over a long lunch in the Guggenheim Bilbao where she’s now exhibiting. “We live in a natural dune forest in Keurboomstrand outside Plettenberg Bay. We designed and built our own house. We are surrounded by trees and dense indigenous bush. It is an extremely attractive place to live.” That’s the beautiful side of living in rural South Africa. But there’s a darker, more sinister side. “When my husband is abroad working, and it’s just me and the children, I’m aware of how isolated we are and how susceptible to burglary or violent crime. I go through this checklist before I go to bed: lock the doors, turn on my walkie talkie as there’s poor cell reception, keep the landline near the bed, and so on.”
This dichotomy directly translates into Lucinda’s art. Take ‘Doors.Locked’, one of 26 ceramic vases from her show ‘The White Tiger and Other Stories’ at Knysna Art Gallery. On one side it’s a beautiful black and gold object “decorated with the sort of thing a magpie would collect”. She laughs, “I make glitzy vases. They’re quite bling!” But the other side menacingly has her security checklist inscribed into the clay and painted with a honey glaze. ‘I Will Kill You And Then I Will Eat You’ reads another piece. “I incorporate headlines and quotes from local news stories into my vases.” She sees what she hears. She makes what she sees. Duality of experience. “I like playing off the two.” Beauty | Ugliness. Reticence | Confrontation. Abstract | Message.
Like all the best ideas, Lavender’s Blue for one, the inspiration for Ms Mudge’s vases has roots in Battersea, south London. “My husband and I moved to London straight after getting married in South Africa,” she relates. “I managed to secure a contract as a photographer to Ralph Lauren and I worked for him on a freelance basis for the four years we lived in Battersea. I joined an evening class in pottery – next door to Edmund de Waal but I never met him – and it was there that I learned about using slip as a means to decorate.” Lucinda had previously studied fine art at the University of Cape Town.
“I was not exhibiting in London,” Lucinda recalls. “In retrospect I can see I was internalising a lot, and absorbing a wealth of information. My time in London helped me to see more clearly when we returned to live in South Africa again. I saw inequality in a new and ugly way. I think that when one lives in a country where generally speaking people are pretty well looked after, such as the UK, it is hard to conceive the reality of the lives of underprivileged people elsewhere in the world.” Aut Visum Aut Non.
No doubt her vase ‘If I Ever Had to Run For My Life I Would Probably Die’ has a story to tell. Hard hitting stuff, yes, but much of it’s delivered with humour. Her piece ‘How Glorious To Be Filthy Stinking Rich’ features a middle finger provocatively pointing upwards. There’s an underlying satire – jokes with a jag. As lunch draws to a close late afternoon, Lucinda confides she did experience the dreaded home invasion only recently. “I was upstairs when I heard someone prowling around below inside the house. Filled with trepidation, I ran to the top of the stairs and came face to face with the intruder. It was a baboon! They’re scared of male humans but not females, so I growled in a deep voice and did my best male impression!” The baboon, a beautiful but potentially dangerous creature, fled. Life in Keurboomstrand continues for the artist Lucinda Mudge, ever vigilant, ever observing, ever commenting through her rather wonderful art.