SENTIENT by Ashraf Jamal.
The African principle of Ubuntu – we are whom we are because of others – finds its cognate in the Western world through an ‘empathic revolution’. Against the pandemic of narcissism, a disease and a culture epitomised by the ‘Selfie’, artists such as Andre Stead are asking us to return to a more ‘sentient’, intuitive, compassionate worldview. Preoccupied with the ‘ability to feel and to assimilate people, ideas or culture’, Stead has, as a consequence, transformed sculpture into an osmotic metaphor. His figures achieve this by allowing for transparency and letting the viewer’s eye literally pass through the sculpture’s body. In this way, Stead reminds us that self-possession and self-containment is an ego-driven and rational conceit. For example, the female figure entitled ‘Sentient’ is carved from an assembled block made of ‘one hundred tapered modular parts’. By carving this assemblage, thereby breaking the form yet again, Stead reminds us that we are composites, or porous conglomerates. While Stead’s approach is technical, his mind-set is metaphysical. The sculptures are ‘designed so that when the viewer is directly in front of the artwork, at an intimate conversational distance, the negative spaces align, allowing the viewer to see through the artwork’. Stead’s reflection here is curious. His sculptures are not three dimensional Apollonian ideals but, because they are perforated and therefore as much a thing of air as of substance, evocations of a more open-ended, more fluidly inter-connective ideal. ‘The transparent nature of the artwork is a symbol of our ability to be aligned with others in such a way that we can understand their pain or joy as if it were our own’, says Stead. A view at stark odds to that typically associated with sculpture – that it is a thing to be looked at and revered at a distance – Stead reminds art that art need not be reverential, that its beauty can and must also reside in its connectivity. And in this regard, his sentiment powerfully echoes that of Martin Buber’s I and Thou.
Stead’s understanding of transparency does not suppose a seamlessly aerated bond but the struggle to truly understand others. His sculptures of men and women are the avatars or mediums for this great humane idea. His most powerful work, in which the human form is wholly abstracted – a blob atop a fretwork of legs – forcefully reminds us that human understanding is not reducible to the cognitively perceptible; that the human is the embodiment of a greater idea and not merely the sum of rational transaction and a balancing act of opposed forces, but, all the more, the enigmatic sum of a far deeper synergy. It is curious that Stead should attach this belief to a form, sculpture, which notoriously has shunned such an ideal. But then, contra the rational view of humankind, it is our atomic, porous, and boundless nature which, for Stead, matters the more. For him, human connection is not only possible by reaching outward into the world, it is all the more profoundly possible by turning inward and finding a universe of possibility within ourselves. It is for this reason that I regard Stead as a sculptor of the ethical heart and mind.
An immersion in online platforms revealed to the artist the astonishing ease with which human beings disclose their deepest secrets and longings. And in this regard it is worth noting, after Tom Chatfield, that ‘contrary to popular belief, “sex” is not the most searched-for term on the internet. If you ask Google about “sex”, it will offer just under two and a half billion results: enough to beat most enquiries but, charmingly, still less than a third of the more than seven billion results for “love”’. And it is love – the love of oneself and the love for others – which, equally charmingly, has inspired the sculptor Andre Stead.
Born in Evander, 1975. Lives and works in Cape Town. Andre attended the Pro Arte School of arts in Pretoria (1989 – 1993) where he majored in painting and graphics. He flourished at art from an early age and won various merits and awards, including work being selected for the Iscor Permanent Art Collection. Andre studied in several artistic disciplines including painting, sculpture, jewellery making, graphic and packaging design. In 1994 he moved to Cape Town where he trained in metal work (forging, welding and metallurgical theory) under the direction of John Allesandri. While working at the Doyle Art Foundry (1997-1998) he became familiar with the moulding and bronze casting process. During 2001 he started to work at the Bronze Age Art Foundry where he became efficient in all the various stages of the lost-wax casting process (cire perdue) over the next few years. Within three years he become a partner at the Bronze Age Art Foundry (2004 – 2007) and excelled in the production and business aspects of bronze sculpture. Andre played an integral part in the arranging and execution of various art exhibitions and trade shows. He worked with renowned artists such as Maureen Quin (friend and mentor), Keith Calder, Dylan Lewis, Donald Greig and Beezy Bailey, which helped refine his technical and artistic approach. To encourage bronze sculpturing as an art form he developed a foundry sculpture course, which taught students all the various aspects of bronze sculpture production. During 2007 Andre was commissioned to create nine large bronze relief panels to be laid into marble floors of the Burj Dubai Development in Dubai (tallest man-made structure in the world). He also assisted Maureen Quin on a four metre Arabian stallion, commissioned for the same development. In 2008 Stead created a series of figurative studies of the female form. In 2009 Stead showcased the Female series (realistic bronze figures) in two solo exhibitions in Cape Town and Johannesburg. During 2010 works from the female series were exhibited in various group shows in South Africa. In 2010 Stead started working on the Anamorphic series. He is currently working towards a solo exhibition for August 2011 in Franschhoek at IS ART gallery. His latest work focuses on pure form derived from the female figure and has already drawn significant attention from art dealers and collectors alike. Andre is also currently working on a large sculptural installation (Flight of the swallows) for the Indochine restaurant at The Delaire Graff Wine Estate in Stellenbosch.