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Paper Monster Sculpture Edition

This series of seven bronze sculptures dubbed Paper Monsters epitomises Paul Du Toit’s curiosity and flair for experimentation. For him, art is something one throws-drags-pushes around, it is muscular, animistic, playful, quirky, funny. The Paper Monsters remind us that life is never only a functional enterprise – things contain unforeseen trajectories.

The energy these artworks generate is palpable

Paper Monsters are relief works, more 2-D than 3-D, that read as slivers of feeling, cut-ups and cut-outs. Stick-men poised on thin plinths, they are wildly gestural, bountifully expressive and achingly funny. What they do – what Du Toit has always done – is spoof the seriousness of art. Irreverence is his MO, fantasy his killing field.

Five Paper Monsters were created in 2008, two in 2012. They are unique and rare. Lorette du Toit, the artist’s widow, has since bought back one of the figures and recast it into a series of ten. This is an inspired decision which does not diminish the individual work’s pedigree, but extends its accessibility. A once solitary fantasy, sequestered in a private home, is finally back on display.

A deliciously jagged vision

Created as one-offs, the sculptures typify his singular approach to the generic and ubiquitous cardboard box. The volume a box contains – the object as container – is flipped. Instead, it is its ephemerality, its non-functionality, that counts. Paul’s world has an endless supply of recyclable and transformable material. He is not exercised by Lao Tzu’s notion that substance requires a void in the way that a box or a cup requires volume to be useful. On the contrary, Du Toit, ever the artist, delights in a magical inutility – art for art’s sake.

His vision of life, the stories he tells, are always rollickingly topsy-turvy – jagged, stark, rambunctious. If his sculptural and painted forms are the signatures of a fertile unconscious realm, the colours he clothes them in are fluorescent. The figments of his imagination carry a nuclear radioactive glow. For Du Toit, colour is akin to a shrieking noise.

A sting in the tale

Lorette du Toit is reminded of Calder’s sculptures, and, certainly, Calder is a key inspiration. However, in my view, Du Toit’s structural experiments resist Calder’s cool rectilinearity. There’s a scuffed roughness to the way Du Toit makes things, a throwaway effortlessness that contains a sting. Because, of course, his Paper Monsters are works in bronze, anything but ephemeral or biodegradable. His whimsy lasts forever.

This paradox lies at the heart of the man, what he made, and why. If Du Toit was struck by ephemera, he was as committed to durability. But it is the intersection of these contrary passions that defines the whole. The figure on display at Graham Modern and Contemporary in Johannesburg – reprised in a limited edition of ten – sums up this paradox. More applique than sculpture, more shred than thing, hollowed out and agape, this Paper Monster is as primitive as it is modern – it perfectly encapsulates the artist as a Modern Primitive.

Visit Paul du Toit for more information.

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