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Monday, January 6, 2014


(“Procession – Exodus” by Clinton de Menezes)

Virginia MacKenny mourns the tragic death of friend and colleague, artist Clinton de Menezes, who was shot in Durban in the early hours of the morning of December 31, 2013.

Clinton De Menezes was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1970. After gaining his B-Tech in Fine Art at the then Technikon Natal, he went on to achieve his Masters Degree in Fine Art from the Durban Institute of Technology in 2004 under the supervision of Tony Starkey.

In his early years as a young artist, he exhibited regularly, participating in the FLAT Gallery, which provided a literal and intellectual home for many young artists in Durban who went on to make a name for themselves internationally. He also exhibited at the KZNSA Gallery and the Durban Art Gallery.

Deeply involved in the art life of Durban during this period, he served on the exhibitions committee for Durban’s innovative Red Eye Art Collective 1998-2002 and the KwaZulu-Natal Society of the Arts (KZNSA) from 2003 to 2004. Always keen to share his love of art, he was the co-founder of The Art and Sculpture Studio where he co-ordinated and facilitated drawing and painting workshops for adult learners. He also provided an alternative space for artists as curator of The Cupboard Gallery.

 Unlike many artists who veer off into other industries in order to survive, de Menezes resolutely stayed with his practice sharing his knowledge, exhibiting and seeking commissions. In 2004, de Menezes founded Alchemy Studios, a company established to fabricate artwork for private and public spaces. In 2007, he relocated to the United Kingdom to actively market Alchemy Studios and to pursue his career in Fine Art in a larger arena.

Primarily a landscape painter, de Menezes was fascinated by the way history was held in, and below, the surface of the visible terrain. Visiting the battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal where the Anglo-Zulu War and the South African War between the Boers and the British played themselves out, he became highly cognisant of the politics of land contestation in South Africa. In response he developed a vocabulary of archetypal figures that included the soldier and the traveller and a working method of embedding objects in and on his paintings. Allusions to conflict, burial and excavation on both a socio-political and personal level came to typify his work.

De Menezes’ practice expanded from painting and drawing to performance, installation and altered photography. Gradually he built his reputation exhibiting in the UK, Germany and the US. In 2010 he exhibited Procession (Exodus) in the exhibition Hearts and Minds curated by Thomas Dry Barry for the Savannah School of Art and Design at the Africa on My Mind symposium. De Menezes’s Procession renders the broad trek of human history in numerous small model figures that implacably track across the ash-covered walls of the gallery. The work’s miniaturisation of form reminds one that the ‘pageant’ of history enacts itself in both grand events and quotidian moments. He was invited to reinstall the work in the contemporary galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, for a year. The loan was later extended by another year.

Following on from Procession, in 2011 he won the tender for a major commission for the new offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers designed by Norman Foster in More London. De Menezes created a giant world map in tiny figures on the PwC walls.

Describing his broad concerns De Menezes states on his website ( that he is “interested in the processes of regeneration and degeneration as conceptual and physical forces that affect space.” He also notes a “contemporary preoccupation with apocalypse in popular culture, individual and collective identity” with his work providing him a field for seeking resolution in a world in crisis.”

De Menezes’ most recent ongoing production Erasure Series consists of landscape photographs taken by the artist over the last 20 years that were gradually erased with steel wool and turpentine. The resulting images, where the erasure reads as some sublime light in the landscape, is reminiscent of Northern Romantic landscape painting. In the light of his death they almost seem prescient and point to a transcendent spirit that reigns throughout his work.

Many remember De Menezes as a gentle man with great generosity of spirit and an ebullient response to life. Rarely provoked to anger De Menezes was unabashedly a Romantic whose vision of the world was manifest early in his work in the image of the hero with the broken sword.

His imaginative identification with such figures played itself out in his life where his last act was in the giving of his life to defend and protect his family against intruders invading the home of his friends where they were staying. He had returned to South Africa to celebrate his first wedding anniversary.'

Long may we celebrate his endeavour.

De Menezes leaves behind his wife, Nicola Saward, and daughter Eva.

A memorial for Clinton will be held at Durban University of Technology, on Thursday January 9, 2014, at 10h00 – Virginia MacKenny
(Virginia MacKenny is a practising artist and Associate Professor in Painting at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town, South Africa)