By Shannon Latimer
Peter Pharoah hasn’t always been taking things slow along the Garden Route. He used to be involved in the very fast-paced advertising world, in the early 90s. Imagine a time when the full potential of computers hadn’t been realised yet. All presentation material had to be done by hand. This is where illustration played a vital role. Here Peter learned the ins and outs of advertising, from concept to final production.
“Back then, the Internet was in its infancy and I think the ad industry took a while to adapt to computer generated graphics. Programmes like Photoshop and Illustrator were less common. Artists who could produce work quickly and in a variety of styles and mediums were in high demand. Typography was a challenge. Your spelling had to be spot on as we still used Letraset to lay down headlines,” says Peter.
As computers began to influence the design process, many illustrators found they needed to adapt to a more computerised environment.
“I still believe traditional illustration methods convey a lot more warmth and emotion than an enhanced digital image, which can seem cold and impersonal, even unrealistic. Think of a perfectly photoshopped model on a magazine cover,” says Peter.
The client had to be shown a mock-up of the concept whether it was a billboard, print ad or TV campaign. And so illustrators had to be comfortable with all mediums—from pastels to markers, to airbrushes, watercolours or oils.
“You had to be super speedy, disciplined, and available at the drop of a hat. Deadlines could be harsh, which often meant working throughout the night—mostly doing storyboards for TV commercials or finished art for a campaign. As an illustrator, you needed to be able to get into the art director’s head to be able to create their vision; otherwise no pay cheque.
“It was a fun and fast-paced industry of busy, motivated and ambitious people who loved the thrill of a creative but deadline-driven environment. We burned the midnight oil and loved to party any chance we had, and for any excuse,” says Peter.
‘We don’t always see how we’re going to get through adversity. But the process of renewal allows us to rediscover ourselves and celebrate our ability to adapt and endure’
Looking through Peter’s vast range of work, it is obvious Africa has captured his attention. “Africa is, and always will be my passion. I have been fortunate to travel to many places but Africa—and its unique diversity of subject, culture and landscape—ignites my passion for creating artworks that encompass the warmth of the land and its people. The wildlife, traditional culture, the smell of the bushveld after a thunderstorm, the heat and dust, the big skies and incomparable sunsets, and even the veldfires, inspire me,” says Peter.
Peter is currently working on a series of African portraits. “I have always enjoyed painting portraits and have found there is a unique beauty in the powerful bone structure and bold, generous features of African women. These features seem to hold a deep connection to the harsh yet delicate balance of our land.
“The sense of joy and positivity in the aftermath of the new dispensation is something I like to encompass by marrying colour and style in my pieces. Incorporating elements that hint at traditional culture and the spirit of Ubuntu in our rainbow nation.”
Colour plays an important role in Peter’s pieces. He uses exotic, rich colours that are completely alien to the realistic and more-subtle hues usually associated with portraits. The colours portray the person and the “moment” as opposed to rendering a perfect, realistic face. Peter says contrast, texture and the balance of abstraction to realism is a constant challenge. It’s this challenge that keeps him striving to push the limits and brings him back to the studio to create new pieces.
“My new artworks symbolise not only my transformation as an artist but also the vibrant change taking place in Africa and the rest of the world,” says Peter.
In 2010 Peter faced a horrible obstacle. The Pharoah Gallery was destroyed along with his entire collection of original paintings and prints.
“It was a huge shock and everything that had been really important the day before suddenly evaporated into nothing. My entire life was connected to the gallery. Not only did I lose all the artworks and prints housed in the gallery at the time, but all the admin stuff—both personal and business—as well as the computers and backup drives containing a record of all my artworks from day one. These were all destroyed along with the historic building which had to be demolished.”
Following an extensive police investigation, the most plausible scenario for the cause of the fire was that vagrants had broken in and used matches to find their way around in the dark. The gallery had a thatch roof and was completely gutted within about 15 minutes.
“Surprisingly, after only a couple of months the shock of losing everything began to wear off. And the entire experience became liberating for me as an artist—almost like a spring clean. Out with the old and in with the new—a chance to transform and reinvent myself without restriction or limits.”
Peter found himself facing each day with renewed passion and enthusiasm—inspired to try new approaches, subjects and styles. One of the first and most obvious changes was an eagerness to explore a more diverse and rich palette of colours.
“I embraced the opportunity to reinvent myself with no holds barred. I rediscovered my passion for experimentation and took advantage of the opportunity to create with a looser style and technique. We don’t always see how we’re going to get through adversity. But the process of renewal allows us to rediscover ourselves and celebrate our ability to adapt and endure.”
This is certainly something everyone can identify with.