Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Art Space Talk: Dolfi Stoki

Wildlife art has yet to be covered on the blog. Thus, I contacted Mr. Dolfi Stoki. Mr. Stoki is the Chief Professional Guide and Wildlife Training Officer at Palahala Camp in the Katavi National Park in Tanzania. He is also an artist.

Mr. Stoki paints scenes that depict the wildlife of Africa. He is known for his unique style in this area of artistic creation.This is due to his experience working with the very animals that he captures on canvas. Dolfi is a strong supporter of wildlife protection and has did work for the WWF wildlife auction at Christies gallery in London.

Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

A. "It wasnt so much as discovering - both my parents are artists, so you just grow up with it. As far back as I can remember, I have been surrounded by brushes and paint etc. Its kind of ingrained into me, everything I look at or observe, is with a critical eye."

Q. How has creating art shaped you professionally and personally?

A. "It teaches you a lot about yourself, what your limits are etc. Most importantly, it teaches you to focus, to "see" and to have dedication. When I am not painting, I am taking people out on walking safaris in Africa... I always go out into the bush with a curious mind and eye, and if I can get my clients to see an animal through a different perspective then I am happy. I am always pointing out things that people miss, or getting them to focus on something - teaching them to observe I guess. To be patient, curious, dedicated and humble - slot into both professions, if I didnt paint, I think my outlook of nature on a safari would be totally different."

Q. What are your artistic influences? Has anyone inspired you?

A. "My parents really. I draw a lot of ideas from both my parents, they have two distinct and unique styles. There is so much work out there online these days that you can get lost in it and lose direction. Photographically speaking, Richard Beard has really influenced me - he has a rather raw - tongue in cheek genius approach to his work that is unique and refreshing."

Q. Tell me a little about your background. Are your past experiences reflected in the work you do today? If so, how?

A. "I was born and raised in Africa - after highschool, I passed up a full scholarship in civil engineering to work in the bush. From the age of 18 I have been involved in the safari industry. Spending this amount of time with wildlife has no doubt influenced my work to a certain degree. I am surrounded by the unbridled majesty of nature, and it is this magic that I try and capture in my work."

Q. How long have you been a working artist?

A. "I was painting before I could even write my name - though safaris have been the main bread winner, I have never passed up an opportunity to paint or photograph."

Q. If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be?

A. "Thats a good question. I find mostly people that have experienced Africa in some way or another - they can relate to the pieces I do. They can see something in my paintings that they have experienced first hand so it becomes a little more personal for them... It rekindles memorable moments on safari."

Q. Discuss one of your pieces. What were you thinking when you created it?

A. (image above) "I was working in a National Park in Zimbabwe which has huge numbers of elephants. I was looking at unique and different ways of protraying elephants. I remember laying under a log at the edge of a popular waterhole surrounded by breeding herds, camera and sketch pad in hand! Looking out in front of me was this "forest of legs", and inbetween these massive pillars were the young elephant calves playing around in the water. You had 200 tons of beast milling about and crashing in the water, yet they always took the utmost care not to trip over their young... You cant forget moments like that - and I had to put that on canvas. The painting was tricky, elephant have the most amazing feet, the textures and wrinkles are phenominal. There were many times when I just wanted to scrap that painting, but I perservered on and finished it. I really enjoy that painting, its totally different to what people would expect of a typical elephant painting."

Q. What is your artistic process?

A. "I work mainly with oils on canvas. I spend a fair amount of time capturing wildlife on film, and any free moment I have, my sketch pad is out and I am capturing posture, locomotion etc. Armed with all of this, I will head back to the studio and sift through it and come up with an idea or theme. My canvas's are big - the smallest size would be 1 yard x 1.8 yards, typically I will work bigger then that. Nature is larger then life, to work small just doesnt do it any justice in my opinion. I will prime the canvas with a base colour, then paint the animal on using a dark midtone, then basically build the animal up using different layers of paint with hard bristled brushes. Finishing work requires fine sable haired paint brushes and translucent layers of paint and linseed oil to soften and graduate the tones."

Q. Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?

A. "I work a variety of mediums, but I really enjoy the challenges of oil painting. Its not everyones cup of tea. It can be very forgiving if you pay attention to the basic rules, and it can also bite you if you are not careful."

Q. Do you have a degree or do you plan to attend school for art? If so, how has it helped your art career?

A. "My degrees are all wildlife orientated... I remember thinking about going to art college. I opted against it however, because I was worried that it may have influenced my outlook on painting - Had I gone to art college there is no question in my mind that I would have gone a different direction in my painting. For better or for worse is a very debatable question... I honestly cant tell you that answer."

Q. What can you tell us about the art department that you attended?

A. "We never had an art class at highschool, I did my GSCE's and A level art, in the first two years of highschool. Typically the GSCE should be done at the age of 16 and my A levels at the age of 18. I did both in the first two years of high school by myself. I remember the examination board telling me that I couldnt do it, that I needed a teacher etc I got a distinction in both exams. That was my art schooling!"

Q. Where can we see more of your art?

A. "At the moment I have been building up a collection over the years to have a big exhibition. I have done various illustrations etc for the publishing media, but my big stuff I am saving. I am looking at getting some international exposure next year in the USA and Europe."

Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?

A. "I have only started applying now to galleries. Its tough to market yourself when you live in Africa. The challenge is to get your foot in the door. I look at some of the work thats out there, and I know that I have something special, its just trying to convince people that ha ha ha. Once its in, you are on your way."

Q. What galleries have you exhibited in?

A. "I have done some work for the WWF wildlife auction at Christies gallery in London. I was pretty successful there, and am considering sending more pieces through for their next exhibitions. I have done a few successful one man shows in Southern Africa, but really, I need to get out of Africa and into the American and European market."

Q. What trends do you see in the 'art world'?

A. "It changes the whole time. In this consumer driven society today you could be king today, and pauper tomorrow. The trends chop and change too quickly. Though having said that there are general themes that will always remain more popular then others."

Q. Has your work ever been censored? If so, how did you deal with it?

A. "I did some portrait work a few years back, and the gallery that I was exhibiting in were not too comfortable about the composition. They said that one of the paintings was to sexually suggestive. I remember the piece; it was of a woman covering her breasts. The curator of the gallery was a little worried about the expression on her face, if I can remember correctly he said "It looks as though the lady in your painting is in the throws of an extatic orgasm!"That painting was the first to be sold, and I could have sold it about 6 times over that night ha ha ha!"

Q. What was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?

A. "Mmm, I think you constantly working to stay afloat - you are always treading water. Very few artists can sit back and say "well I made it, so now I can rest on my laurels". Everyone has at some point in their life hit rock bottom, what defines you as a person, is whether you can pick yourself up and use those lessons to better yourself."

Q. In one sentence... why do you create art?

A. "Its a release, its pleasure, its challenging, its love, its about expressing yourself..."

Q. What can you tell our readers about the art scene in your area?

A. "There are a number of talented artists in Africa. South Africa in particular have this thriving art community with some awesome stuff on the market. Its a shame that there is so little international exposure. People outside of Africa have this idea that everyone here is living in the dark ages - thats television for you! You would be amazed at some of the pieces that people are producing."

Q. Has politics ever entered your art?

A. "I played around with a few ideas - and then got a warning from a government official. In Zimbabwe, you say the wrong thing and you can disappear. People have no rights there at the moment unfortunately. I still plan to do something one day, but with the current regime, I will only set myself and my family up to be a target."

Q. Does your cultural background play a part in your work?

A. "I try and avoid bringing your typical African cliched culture bit into paintings - I have done some pieces with Khoisan bushmen, and Matabele children. In East Africa the art world is a buzz with Massai this and Massai that... It gets boring after a while when you live out here."

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the 'art world'?

A. "I hope that I can bring some of magic I see everyday into your world. The wildlife in Africa is changing - for the better but unfortunately largely for the worse. My paintings are glimpse of Africa through my eyes..."

I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Dolfi Stoki. Feel free to critique or discuss his work.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

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