Recounting The River: Louis Minnaar and Maaike Bakker talk about collaboration, illustration and sloths

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Louis Minnaar

Illustrators Louis Minnaar and Maaike Bakker collaborated with storyteller Jaco van der Merwe to create a walk-in storybook in Cape Town’s Salon 91 art gallery. The exhibition, entitled The River, featured illustrations by Maaike and Louis, as well as the text for the story written by Jaco. The artists spoke to Bibi Slippers about creating the work for this show.

Hi Maaike and Louis. Could you tell me a bit more about the genesis of your exhibition The River? How did it come to be that you decided to collaborate on this specific project?

Louis: I was sitting around end of last year thinking of anything cool to do in the new year, and seeing that I’ve always wanted to collaborate with Maaike it just came to mind. I also immediately knew that we wouldn’t want to do just another illustration show, so we thought about incorporating a storytelling element in the show so that the whole gallery becomes a storybook.

Louis Minnaar

The whole exhibition consists of artworks/illustrations based on a story by Jaco van der Merwe. Did the story come first, or did you ask Jaco to create a story for you to work around?

Maaike: Louis and I sat down together and came up with a brief outline for the story. We developed the plot, came up with the characters and then realised that we needed someone with more literary expertise to help us with the writing. The story just didn’t have the right flow and we found it important for it to also have a sort of rhythm to it, which at that point it lacked. That is when we decided we need to rope our friend Jaco in. So, as soon as Jaco did what he does so well, we used his final version of the story as a guideline for our illustrations.

Maaike Bakker

I was very impressed by the way you adapted your individual artistic styles to each other’s in this exhibition. Did you decide on a specific look and feel for the illustrations, or did your style develop along more organic lines?

Louis: This kind of just happened. As we started working on the pieces we sent previews to each other of our progress and I think this was contagious. Our lines and forms then just started complementing each other from there on out. All in all I think this style was a first for us both.

The works reminded me of woodcuts I had seen while travelling in Polynesia, and also older Asian woodcuts from art history books. Were there any specific influences that you are aware of, or did the story dictate the look of these works?

Maaike: Not really. As Louis said, the style of the show developed from sending each other previews and then building on that. I think the story just called for that specific style, so we went with it.

Most of the works on sale are giclée prints. How did you go about creating the original artworks? Are they digital works or did you also use traditional media?

Louis: Most of the works we created are digital illustrations using drawing tablets and so on. It was important for us to do more of a print show so that editions are available which just makes it easier to share the work.
That said, some of the works include drawing and painting as well.

Maaike Bakker

Did you find it more difficult to work with a story as guiding principle for these works? Is it very different from creating work with nothing but a blank page to get you started?

Maaike: I found it to be a bit of a challenge. I have previously avoided working with narratives because I usually find inspiration in one-liners in lyrics or titles, so it proved to be an exciting challenge. I think Louis has a good grip on working with narratives because it is something he is more familiar with. He has created successful animations and usually features narratives in his music videos. However, I think the nature of the story was something new for both of us.

The main character in Jaco's story is a sloth. I loved seeing the way you each had quite a different take on the appearance of the sloth. Have either of you actually seen a real live sloth? And as a rule, do you work from visual references or do you draw from memory?

Louis: No, haven’t seen one, and no rules about references. I think we both used elements from what we have seen of real sloths and then just adapted that as we thought would best fit the character using our brain powers.

What other projects do you have in the pipeline at the moment?

Maaike: Nothing specific. Hopefully we’ll both have some exhibitions again soon, but for now we are both occupied mostly with freelance work.

Some of the prints from this exhibition are still available for sale. Contact Monique du Preez (Curator & Gallery Director) at Salon91 Contemporary Art Collection. Email: [email protected] or call 082 679 3906 or 021 424 6930. Visit Salon91 online.


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