CityLife Arts

Top ABSA banking executive Karin Mathebula gets to show her artistic side through a solo exhibition eventually

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

If  you visited ABSA Gallery right now on Absa Art Hot Spot, click here:Karin Mathebula Solo Exhibition | Virtual Gallery (absa.africa) , you would be greeted by amazing work, and this is the labour of love by a shy artist Karin Mathebula, who for years, kept her artistic side to herself and those close to her, such as family….”. She however in her private space used her gift of art to unwind from her demanding corporate duties by creating a body of work that in time she could no longer keep to herself and her close family. It is now in the open for all to see what Karin is made of artistically.

What happened to unmask this shy artist is that as it were, word spread around at ABSA Head Office in central Johannesburg that behind that high powered serious looking senior banking executive, lies an almost playful artist who connects with memories of her childhood environment through painting and drawing . In many ways in  fact, Mathebula is a reluctant artist.  However once the secret was out, she could not hide the artist in her anymore as the next thing she knew was that she was offered gallery space to exhibit her work that she has been working on quietly at home in her home studio.

Word about Mthebula’s almost secretive artistic activities reached Dr. Paul Baylisss Senor ABSA Gallery curator and who is also in charge of the banking group’s art collection eventually, and he got interested in seeing Karin’s art work. He was introduced to Mathebula in 2019 by Arrie Rautenbach, who heads the bank’s Retail and Business banking division, whilst attending Absa’s annual Champagne Festival. Bayliss s said to have immediately recognised the potential in her work and after paying a visit to her home studio, suggested the possibility of staging a solo exhibition.

“I was suitably impressed. The themes that run through Karin’s artwork capture the beauty and essence of the South African landscape. Karin has a very keen eye and her distinct use of colour, texture and shapes, bring her work to life,” he said. Despite challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, Bayliss and his team worked alongside Mathebula to curate her exhibition and realise her dream. 

 In a recent interview with me Karin  opened up that she enjoyed her banking career so much that the artist in her lay invisible for sometime , but would emerge  from time to time, fighting to come out and express itself through the several episodes of furiously creating work quietly in her home studio, and that way she found peace and harmony.

However as is often the case with many artists, art is art and cannot be hidden for ever, as that which makes one an artist has a tendency to want to come out into the public domain at one stage or another. Those who believe in the spiritual world, will tell you that art is like the spirit of a suppressed sangoma fighting to be recognized and will fight until it gets its way.

As far as how this executive and artist was outed by some of her colleagues, the story goes like this: 

Some among her colleagues knew all along that Mathebula, who heads Product, Sales and Service Enablement at Absa Relationship Banking, finds her inspiration in the South African landscape and explores this in her artistic endeavour as an amateur artist during her spare time.

During a recent virtual dialogue, hosted by Absa Senior Specialist Art Curator Dr Paul Bayliss, Mathebula shared her excitement about the new journey and mentioned that it has been a life-long dream of hers to be recognised as an artist.”I have been painting all my life. It’s a place I go to for refuge, to express myself and to see things in perspective,” she said. 

Her exhibition entitled Fusion of Hues is a collection thatwalks viewers through the landscapes of her youth, showcasing nature’s most brilliant and vivid colours. Juggling a challenging corporate career, Mathebula spent just over two years completing the 17 canvasses of her first art exhibition. 

With this exhibition, Mathebula explored the themes of still life, beach and mountains

Absa is committed to bringing possibility to life by celebrating visual artists of all levelsand backgrounds from across the African continent, Bayliss says, and he adds “With this exhibition, we are now also bringing Karin’s possibility to life, by recognising and celebrating her unique style and skill.”. 

CITYLIFE?ARTS curious about this banking executive and amateur artist had a word with Karin about her career.

CITYLIFE/ARTS Q&A with Karin Mathebula

CITYLIFE/ARTS:When did you discover that in fact you were an artist?

Well, I’ve never really considered myself an artist, rather have always just done creative stuff. Have been drawing and painting since I can remember.

CITYLIFE/ARTS: Did you follow that through with some form of training to polish your skills either through a formal training or mentorship/understudying an established artist?

KARIN: I would love to work under an established artist’s mentorship. I have not had that privilege. I studied art at school, spent 3 years at film school before changing direction, but prefer my own route to discovering what I can do. I love art history, and have studied individual artists whose work I like. I also enjoy architecture, food and music – there are so many parallels in any historical genre. 

CITYLIFE/ARTS: You seem to have postponed practising your art until now. Can you share with us the reasons behind the hesitancy or the delay and what has eventually made you decide let me go for it?

KARIN: Life got busy and got engulfed by my career and more serious things. I set aside my dream of becoming an artist .I started painting from my home studio about 10 years ago, and gave away my paintings to friends, until someone at Absa noticed my work and introduced me to Dr Paul Bayliss. I have everyone involved,  to thank for encouraging me to be myself, and paint again. And I have Paul to thank for giving me the confidence to walk this path. 

CITYLIFE/ARTS: You have worked on the 17 pieces that now constitute your debut exhibition. Can you share with us the process of creating this body of work?

KARIN: I am inspired by finding the simple shape, or colour or texture of things around me. Being a person who was raised in the shadows of the Drakensberg, I guess this is where the inspiration comes from. The subject matter for every piece resonates with me at a personal level, and it is that connection which inspires and drives the vision for every canvas. The process is exhausting, exhilarating and most fulfilling. Every canvas teaches me something new about the medium, technique and colour. It is truly amazing that a blank canvas can be transformed into anything. Like life, I guess.

CITYLIFE/ARTS: Working in the corporate sector as you do and at the same time nursing that silent voice that should keep on reminding you that you are an artist must be a unique experience, I can imagine. What was your experience, If any?

KARIN: I have not really ever thought about it too deeply. Creating art is part of who I am, irrespective of what else is going on. Most people did not even know that I nurtured a creative ability before this exhibition. There are days when I would much rather be in my studio. Equally, there are days in corporate which are so remarkable. I think being creative has helped me navigate the corporate sector, especially banking. Painting is my balance. The creative process and the outcome, reflect exactly who I am.

CITYLIFE/ARTS: From here where to for Karin, the artist?

KARIN: I hope to go from strength to strength , honing my skills and unleashing my creativity in order to fill the title, “artist”. I have thoroughly enjoyed the growth and privilege of preparing for a solo exhibition, daunting as it was to put my personal self out there. I am working on my next collection….very exciting.

The virtual exhibition runs until 25 August 2021.

To visit the Absa Art Hot Spot platform, click here.

To view Mathebula’s collection on the Absa Art Hot Spot, click here:Karin Mathebula Solo Exhibition | Virtual Gallery (absa.africa)

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