‘None of my works have titles’

Canvas on the floor. Paint, fabric, scissors, paintbrushes, anything else being flung around. Inside. Outside. Inside again. Grabbing whatever is at hand. Back outside. Grabbing anything and everything in sight. Taking it back inside. To the untitled canvas on the floor.

This is the creation of an artwork that will not be named. “None of my works have titles.”

The artwork sits on the floor. It is a work in progress. She enjoys to “throw things around,” and “work back and forth from inside to outside, using whatever is at hand”. Because none of her artworks have titles, it is difficult for her to identify her favourite piece.

She likes “to see action in the artwork”. She is less interested in meaning behind artworks. Her art seldom has meaning to be taken from the works. She creates art in response to daily experiences, sensory and otherwise. But there is no hidden meaning or underlying message. “People in this country are conditioned to look at something to take meaning from it.”

Judy Conway was born in Maryland, United States of America. Judy’s mother grew roses. A fact that was insignificant for a large part of her life.

She took a leave of absence and travelled with a friend to Kyoto, Japan. It was the same friend who found a workshop on chigit-ie, the art of paper tearing. He found this “not considering [she] didn’t speak Japanese”.

The art of paper tearing is a technique that Judy still uses when working with paper. “I use dull scissors to pull it apart.”

“In Kenya, if you stick anything in the soil it will grow.” This was how Judy realised her passion for gardening. Her mother’s roses now a faint memory.

From Kyoto to Nairobi. Judy lived in Kenya for ten years. She designed gardens for private clients as well as furniture for a large manufacturing company. She also created items for the tourist trade. She made inventory from wooden, metal and cloth objects obtained from the many Indian dressmakers.

In contrast to Nairobi, where anything grows, her garden in Hout Bay was slightly different in the beginning. It is named Bustani la Mawe, which means garden of rocks in Swahili. The garden was given this name, as when Judy and her husband moved to their house in Cape Town, the garden was just rocks. Her husband spoke Swahili, and named it garden of rocks.

Judy uses art in her garden. “I paint my garden. I use colours rather than the actual plant. I look at the leaf.”

The art that is her garden of rocks is a prize winning indigenous garden. The majority of the rocks have been cleared, but some still do feature.

In her artworks, some of which are abstracts of her garden, Judy uses collages. She “collages intimate pieces of fabric mixed with different paint mediums to create bold new imagery.”

She began making collages during her time in Nairobi. She used the Japanese technique that she had learnt many years earlier.

“I make images in response to colour, fabric, paper, canvas. Materials that I come into contact with daily or that I have collected.”

“I have travelled a great deal.” She has lived in a number of countries, on a number of continents, and travelled to even more. Her favourite travel destination was Antarctica. She said it without hesitation. “It has a landscape like no other.”

Despite her wide travels, Judy works “without reference to the outside world, creating a sanctuary for [herself] to explore visual memory, tactile stimuli and interaction with colour and surface.”

Judy doesn’t always listen to music when she works. If she is working at a workshop she might. If that is the case she likes to “work on a surface”. If the music is playing, one tends to “move to the speed of the music”.

Between her time in Kyoto and Nairobi, Judy lived in London for three years.

Sophia Neves, the managing director of Salesian Life Choices, is a friend of Judy’s. Someone who Judy admires. “Sophia is quite special”. Salesian Life Choices is a project that Judy is very excited to be a part of, and she is more than “happy to help”.

“We need leaders,” Judy said. Perhaps there are some leaders in the Life Choices group. Judy has met some of the kids and says without hesitation, that they are a “great bunch”.

However, knowing the value of the project is one thing, Judy is humble. “It’s not about the artist”. She doesn’t want to be the centre of attention. It is about the “great bunch” of kids, excelling in the face of so much hardship. –  Tom Stapylton-Smith