”Written byKerryn Hopkinson
The magical, the mystical, and the mundane.
When one takes a stroll through the world created by David Griessel’s illustrations, you’re instantly transported to a place that evokes the kind of feelings many of us haven’t felt since we were children. I can only speak from my own experience with his art but his work makes me strangely nostalgic. There’s this quality to his work that makes me ache for that kind of childhood whimsy and imagination that I have since largely lost. Though his work brings me back to the fantasy lands of childhood, a lot of it is also dark enough to resonate with the heartache and dilapidation that has stained the world of adulthood. Like a sort of dark psychedelic trip
Griessel’s art resides within this in-between space. It is fantastical and whimsical. Whilst also being psychological and serious. This world of in-between captures whoever happens to glance at it. This is the world that David has dubbed, Duskland. Duskland is the fictional place in which his artistic narratives take place. And like much of what David Griessel does, the inspiration for this was taken from literature – Griessel’s beloved authors (such as Tolkien, Neil German, and Ursula Le Guin) all base their stories within worlds that they created. However, his world is not one that has lore or languages, no, it’s simply a place for his characters to thrive. “The characters in it are more like metaphors of mental states or of abstract feelings, basically playful content.”
We search for some sort of escapism that allows us to catch our breaths and take a break from the world that surrounds us. However, with social media and the constant influx of creation, escapism can be addictive and we can drown within the world’s that we’re trying to live in. David’s work feels different.
And the viewer is able to see many of these mental states within his work. Much of which can be interpreted as very dark. I asked David Griessel if creating art with these themes ever takes a toll on him and his response surprised me. The act of drawing is extremely relaxing for David no matter how psychological the subject matter. Once he’s got the idea, even if it is sad or dark, the physical drawing becomes more of a mechanical task and technical challenge. “And I find that very soothing. It actually takes me out of my mind and out of thinking analytically about anything. If I’m not drawing, then I get depressed and restless.” And if you follow David’s work, you’ll know he’s drawing almost all of the time. He’s been drawing his entire life and as long as he’s drawing, he’s happy. Which is why his annual project of 100 days/100 drawings is so successful. It’s not exactly a challenge for him, in fact, he’s in his comfort zone whilst he’s doing that.
When it comes to his artistic challenges, it’s his sculptures that force him into a place far from his comfort zone. “I’m thinking in 3D. I can draw with my eyes closed on a flat space or a flat plane. The moment I have to think in three dimensions, then it changes my whole thought process.” His sculptures bring to life the whimsy of Duskland into our own, everyday existence. You can see his sculptures around Cape Town, including his most famous The Travelling Hermit which is currently in the Silo District at the V&A Waterfront (in front of David’s representing gallery, Art at Africa).
His sculptures allow for us to get a touch of other mystical worlds within our own. They spark the match of imagination and creativity whilst being in the middle of the “real world” which can often be perceived as dull when we’re not paying attention. We search for some sort of escapism that allows us to catch our breaths and take a break from the world that surrounds us. However, with social media and the constant influx of creation, escapism can be addictive and we can drown within the worlds that we’re trying to live in. David’s work feels different. It’s the kind of escapism that we made use of when we were children. Purer and more story-like. Whimsy and make-believe. David’s focus is to balance strolling through the world of Duskland whilst also remembering to walk through real life. Which he does twice a day.
“I go for walks twice a day. That’s kind of part of my ritual. Once in the morning and once late in the evening. And I do just enjoy taking in the mundane world that often inspires almost sometimes indirectly. If I just draw all the time, then my brain feels muddled.” Like all of us, he needs a break from constant work, even if his work is adding notes of whimsy to our lives. And when he rejoins the real world, that’s where he finds so much of his inspiration – simply hidden within the everyday. “If I walk in the evening, for instance, and see something as simple as an old lady walking a dog. It’s kind of dusky and I see silhouettes with maybe, red clouds in the background. It does evoke this type of mystical feeling and I really enjoy the mystical and the mundane combined together.” David Griessel takes real-life situations and turns them into magic – fantasy from reality.
“I would like to be a springboard for other people’s imagination. That’s why I write stories for my works. But often when I exhibit them, I exclude the narratives because I like to see people make their own stories and people often do, especially children. They come and they’re like little story engines.
Griessel’s goal when it comes to his art is for people to create their own stories. Much of his work has very narrative qualities. “I would like to be a springboard for other people’s imagination. That’s why I write stories for my works. But often when I exhibit them, I exclude the narratives because I like to see people make their own stories and people often do, especially children. They come and they’re like little story engines. They just start making up these things, which is so cool to see.” His work enables people to create stories and their own worlds. His art also sometimes gives people a visual of what they’re feeling or the type of emotions they’re dealing with. Trauma counselors and psychiatrists have bought his work to help their patients process their emotions and their trauma.
The journey through his world is beautiful and illuminating. His art contains inspiration from literature. And characters from the real world. It represents some dark spaces and can force us to both confront feelings and take a break from reality. And most of all, it contains a little bit of magic that I truly believe we need more of in our lives. The smell of a cup of coffee, the laughter of a stranger, the feeling of icy air hitting one’s lungs, the beauty of the sky’s ever-changing colour palette. Normal, everyday things. However, if someone can take these and use them as the starting point for fantastical creation (like David Griessel does) – then that’s truly art.
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