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Date Minted: June 10, 2020

Artist Description: Contrast

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

Make no mistake, Thato is a sculptor. The Johannesburg-based artist is a masterful manufacturer of shapes, a keen utilizer of space and juxtaposition. One could imagine Thato’s work spread out through a sculpture garden, or dominating the landscape of one of these mega museums. This is deceptively simple art, and by that I mean the central figures are all relatively banal shapes. They’re placed in relatively banal positions, around each other, atop each other, balancing perfectly one against the other. But there’s a pull his pieces have. They’re not just pleasing to the eye, they’re satisfying in an almost spiritual way. The way they balance is perfect. The way they are smoothly composed is perfect. There is an otherworldly perfection —yes, that is the word— in Thato’s pieces, something which is so complete, so whole, so well-calibrated, it almost makes us feel likewise. A piece like Counterpoint, well, you could stare at it for ages; you could get permanently lost in the peace it provides; I’m not sure if I want to own it, walk around it or let it immerse me. But I’ll say this definitively: it’s a shame we can only experience this piece in two-dimensions. 

Virtual sculpture is simply not meant for the computer screen, for the flat display. And that’s profoundly pitiful, because Thato’s work, like Counterpoint, would have such enormous impact if we could see it in a fully-realized digital space. Give this thing some scope! Give it some size! Give us the ability to walk around it, climb atop, see it from all angles, and let the awe come in from all sides, because this piece is brilliantly composed, minimalist in all the right ways, i.e. minimalist without being soulless or underwhelming. It is very advanced in its use of contrasting color. It displays a savant’s ability to manipulate light and texture. And it does all this with only three shapes. 

There’s a thin cylinder made of what appears to be grey metal. And that cylinder stretches up from the ground to lean upon a black cone, constructed in color almost like the Dark Side of the Moon pyramid. At its zenith (or nadir, depending on your perspective) the cone rests upon a red sphere. All cast shadows upon a grey ground. All are arranged in balanced harmony. And all exist within the same great, grey space. But to describe a piece like Counterpoint is to misunderstand it.

Like the work of abstractionists and minimalists who preceded Thato, this work is easily distilled verbally into its simplest terms, but it’s not exactly what we see here that’s important, but the sensations we arrive at upon experiencing it. Look deeply for another moment at Counterpoint if you haven’t already. Do you also get a bit lost in it? I find my attention falling on the points of contact: where cylinder meets cone, where cone meets sphere, where sphere meets the ground, where one facet of the background wall meets another. These points are so precise. The cone, for instance, touches the sphere in the tiniest, most exact southern spot. It’s almost impossible to believe that it could balance atop the sphere from where it is, so we are left to assume, perhaps subconsciously, that the delicate balance of the cylinder on the cone has a steadying influence. That said, we can’t be sure if we’re looking at a piece in perpetual harmony, or if this is a fleeting moment of stability before the entire thing falls apart, three pieces with internal construction that defy balance, and yet here they are, balanced. It must be an illusion, right? 

The beauty of digital sculpture is there doesn't have to be a realistic solution to proposed impossibilities. Should this piece exist in real life, it may be accomplished by creative soldering of one surface to another, wood bolted to wood, metal welded to metal. Or if it were somehow to be balanced as such, so perfectly and carefully placed, then the environment in which this piece could exist would have to be specially tailored: god forbid there were a strong wind or an earthquake or a too-strong snowstorm; the whole thing would tumble away from itself.

But digital art can peddle in such impossibilities. Thato seems to recognize this inherently, seems to revel in their artistic ability to craft and present us with impossible things. What we’re seeing can’t exist. A sphere, by nature, can’t remain solitary in one place; too curved, unstable. The cone, by nature, can’t rest so easily upon its pointiest place. These are all curved surfaces, and what Thato has done is force them out of their nature, using whatever digital tools were at their disposal. We are seeing God’s touch upon an unstable world. The artist is invoking their own desires and designs upon pieces, changing the way they react within a space, in order to bring us this, the artist’s vision. And for that reason, the artist’s hand is visible, if not overtly apparent, the way some religious folks would see God’s hand in a majestic sunset or a wide vista. When viewing something so perfect as to be impossible (and I know, I’m reusing those words ad nauseum) we have no choice but to feel the artist’s presence with us, their mollifying effect, their stabilizing spirit. It’s like we’re seeing a miracle, something which shouldn’t be, but nevertheless is. And like most miracles, this one too feeds the soul. 

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