Artist Interview: Pholile Hlongwane – Coiled Capacity, Or All Fired Up

July 10, 2022


Pholile Hlongwane is an Unearthed Artist at this year’s Turbine Art Fair, running from 21-24 July at Oxford Parks.


What sort of training have you received and how important do you thing it is to seek training (in terms of learning first principles and refining technique)?

I grew up doing arts and crafts and I went on to improve my skills at the Vaal University of Technology. I obtained a degree in fine art. The training helped me to grow, find myself, gain more skills and to know what is going on in the art industry. The theoretical side of my degree allowed me to put my work into context, explaining my influences, the thought behind my choices and themes and why I used certain materials and techniques. I have found ways to approach the medium and themes I am working on.


What is your principal medium and why did you choose it?

I am a ceramist sculptor. From as young as I can remember, I always loved to play with clay. I would create little creatures using clay from dongas. The interest started there. So when I get to the art class at VUT I was connected to my inner child and memories. I loved the medium for its suppleness and flexibility and the permanence it has after firing. It also contains the four foundation of life, air, water, fire and earth. In explaining about my conceptual work, the medium plays an important role in terms of metaphors I used.


Describe the techniques you use most? How complicated are your methods and why is each step necessary?

I use the coil technique. It helps to obtain the desired sculptural shape in any size. It allows me to create a variety of sculptural forms and it saves time when I start to use two-inch flat coils instead of small round coils. I normally work in series. I build up four to six rows of coil works on several bats at one time. so by the time I am about to finish with the last one I start adding coils again on the first ones. I let the first ones strengthen to ‘leather dry’ so that they will hold the weight of additional coils, then once the lower portion is leather dry and strong, I wrap it with a plastic so that it does not dry out. Each of these steps are necessary, especially when I create a big sculpture.


What technological tools do you use in your work?

I use clay modelling tools, rollers and the kiln. As I do both carving and adding when I am sculpting, modelling tools like wood trimming, needle and loop tools are important. I am also using them to create textures on the surface.


Who is the single other artist whose style you most admire, and why?

I look at Pascale Lehmann’s work. Her work reveal a close dialogue with the complex textures of organic landscapes. I like the details and the way she keeps the clay natural by using earth colors that give life. I love the textures and the forms that speak of earth.


Galleries and other traditional means are one way of marketing art. What do you believe are the most important other routes, and what is the most important insight you have gained in that area in your career?

I believe social media is another important route. I was not happy when I started using it, because I use to only get two, three or four likes. I told myself that I would build my page until I get more followers. I use it to sell my work and I also get commissions.


Why do you create? What are your stated goals in producing art?

I create art because it has always been something that has brought balance to my life. I have always loved to create, from beaded work to crotcheting and plaiting hair – it makes me relax and release emotions. Art is something I am good at – at all the forms of creating. My goal is to make a living doing something I love and use it as a tool to communicate with and inspire others.