Sunday, May 03, 2009

Art Space Talk: Michael Drysdale (Part 1)

Michael Drysdale is a South African Fashion and Interior designer, motivational speaker, AIDS activist, humanitarian and community development consultant. Drysdale is a promoter of cultural diversity and an Anti Racism Campaigner-- a core of values that he brings into his work as a photographer and artist.

Michael Drysdale is also the founder of Pakedi South Africa, a design company that donates income from all sales to the Richmond Community Trust. Drysdale’s goal is to help improve skills development poverty alleviation in Richmond. He took the time to answer some questions about his project and his experiences in Richmond. For more information visit, or

Bone Weary by Michael Drysdale

Brian Sherwin: Michael, you have explored several mediums. You have created sculptures, fashion design, paintings, photography. can you discuss your work in general? Perhaps you can tell us about the different stages of your visual exploration?

Michael Drysdale: Life is a visual experience, and living in a magnificent country such as South Africa which is described as "A world in one country" I am constantly bombarded with changing images. Having been born a natural social worker (my family fight with me constantly about actually giving away the clothes from my back) I have moved through different communities throughout my life, and during the Apartheid years I was constantly in trouble for being "on the other side of the tracks" But this has led to my visual growth as I have been exposed to different vistas of my country as a landscape as well as the different vistas of life, form the wealthiest to the poorest of the poor. And seeing these constantly changing images I've always tried to capture them and preserve them.

As a child I grew up under my grandmother's feet and she was always busy making things, if not on the sewing machine then it was in the kitchen where her pantry was an Alladin's cave for a child. She was instrumental in encouraging me to do things with my hands, and thus I started making things, going to school I had a wonderful Art teacher Nelly Byrne, who encouraged me to paint, I was surprised to see 35 years after I had done a painting in grade one of a tree, she still had it framed in her house, so I began capturing images of nature as a child.
My riding instructor, was a brilliant artist and sculptor Antoinette Markus and she encouraged me to sculpt, here I started to capture the magnificent beasts and to really capture both the strength and the gentleness in these creatures.

After school I did veterinary nursing, but the fashion bug bit and I packed my bags and went to Iceland where I did an apprenticeship in fashion design, once again capturing the beauty of movement in fabrics and learning to create 3 dimentional masterpieces, culminating in my dressing miss world Linda Petursdottir and several of the European beauty queens, this all as a very young and immature individual.

Coming back to South Africa, I was totally taken back by the poverty, after having evidence enormous wealth in Europe, and decided to use my creativity and my skills to make a difference in the lives of others. but I began this stage of my life also as a young inexperienced individual, eleven years later and I have finally grown up, with a few thousand miles under my belt and a wealth of experience.

I have discovered myself through the poverty stricken people that I have been teaching, I have been forced to evolve on a daily basis, and push my talents to the limit, which I feel I still haven't even opened yet. Working in the cholera epidemic that shook South Africa to it's roots was the spark to my photography, I had so many images, of people dying and desperately ill, in the magnificently beautiful surroundings of the Kwazulu-Natal countryside, I was constantly asking my self "It's so beautiful here, how can these people be dying?" So I bought a cheap camera and started to capture images, most of which were awful, but I began my journey of "Painting with Light" (Which is the definition of photography)
Street Kid by Michael Drysdale

BS: You are no stranger to fighting for good causes-- you are a motivational speaker, AIDS activist, and you have actively promoted cultural diversity and an anti-racism campaign. With that in mind, my understanding is that at the heart of your work is the idea that great change can be spurred by means of creativity. How can artists and the work that they do help to support the type of change that you have strived for?

MD: It's a difficult question to answer, but I think that the simplest answer here, is that artists have a captive audience, an artwork is constantly on display, and if it can carry a message, albeit to just highlight an image which will make the viewer think about the subject, they will have succeeded. I try to highlight images around me, the beautiful and the ugly, sometimes I try to capture something terribly ugly in a beautiful way, in the hopes that people may think.

On my web-site is a poem called "Imagine" which I wrote about a beautiful young girl in the slums of Hillbrow whom I used to visit, I think this poetry writing was a beginning to my journey into photography, instead of verbalising the vision, I have begun to capture it with a lens. Here in Richmond where I have come to work at alleviating the most terrible poverty I have started to capture the decline of the community by photographing their homes that are disintegrating, I must admit that I haven't yet the courage to photograph the people, but as I get to know them I will do that too, with their permission.
Townhouse by Michael Drysdale

BS: I understand that you recently returned from a trip to The Karroo, a semi-desert region of South Africa. You were invited to help people living in abject poverty in the town of Richmond. You have since decided to move into the community? Correct? What has that been like?

MD: Yes I've packed up my home, my studio, my grandson whom I have been raising since his birth and my animals in Johannesburg to come here, it's been quite earth shattering, more for my family than me, as they have gone through many emotions in that I have litteraly come to the back end of the world, as The Karoo is South Africa's version of the Australian Outback, it is the middle of nowhere.

It's strange moving into a new community, especially a small one like this, where it is very closed, so making friends is harder than moving into a big city, and my grandson doesn't speak the local language so he has a lot moreadjusting to do, but, I always adapt to my surroundings, as the key to community development is not to just dump aid onto the community but to become a part of the community, to share their troubles as well as their joys, and I have always been the sort of person who just "Jells".

To read Part 2 of my interview with Michael Drysdale click, HERE

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
Myartspace Blog on Twitter

1 comment:

Nelly said...

Darling Michael,

I thought I lost you forever! What a wonderful surprise when Derick phoned me from London, where he is visiting Brendan, to tell me about your website!

Thank you for the kind words re art! I only wish Antoinette was alive to read the wonderful and positive things you said about sculpting.

Hopefully you will have time to respond to my note.

I am so proud of you! A true and sincere artist as all your creations prove!

Tons of love,