23 Jul


A pencil and a dream can take you anywhere. It’s true. Ask the founders of The Pencil Art Foundation, and the hundreds of artists who benefit from that dream, writes Anne Schauffer.

A pencil, at first glance, is ordinary, even pedestrian, hardly collectible. But think about it, and it’s a fascinating little tool that’s been around for centuries, accessible to everyone. It’s the instrument via which iconic buildings have been designed, masterpieces sketched, great novels written, and inventions drawn. That little tool is a collaboration all on its own. In short, it’s a marvel.

So, too, is the Pencil Club, and its NPO, The Pencil Art Foundation, an initiative currently playing out on the walls of the top two stories of the residences’ building, at the very highest point of eThekwini. It’s not like anything else you’ve seen or been to. The Pencil Art Foundation comes from a good place in the hearts and minds of the Pencil Club and its founder, Renzo Scribante and director, Keegan Daniel (also general manager of the Pencil Club).

The vision for the members-only Pencil Club was about providing an exceptional platform for like-minded people to network – an exclusive, interactive series of spaces providing everything an exclusive private club should. From restaurants and conference rooms to small, quiet and private spaces, the Pencil Club is extraordinary. Nor is it static. As members join, new concepts develop, clubs within the Club become established – it’s constantly evolving.

And that’s how The Pencil Art Foundation was born. With a group of passionate individuals, banding together with the common interest in “making a difference to the surrounding community”. They decided the club needed to feature artwork, but in a more meaningful way than wall decor. By brainstorming and exploring different models, a unique concept for a foundation emerged, one which would uplift the community and indeed, the art world. The wealth of emerging and existing artistic talent in South Africa is beyond anything imaginable.

Michelle Davidson is the dynamic, young curator and the art director of The Pencil Art Foundation. She’s highly experienced in the art world and has worn hats of both artist and gallery owner. The philosophy behind the Foundation dovetails perfectly with her own: “I’m passionate about upliftment of artists, and finding ways to achieve that sustainably.” The gallery space evolved, to uplift and launch new artists, by displaying their works in a high-end space, with a discerning audience. QR brass codes accompany all paintings, providing information of the artist, the work, the price, and medium, with links to purchasing the said works.

The Pencil Art Foundation is about identifying upcoming artists, uplifting talented, often impoverished artists, and providing opportunities to grow. There’s an enormous generosity of spirit here, not only from the Foundation, but as Michelle explains, “From established artists too. There are a number of our well-known artists who actively assist or donate to ensure other deserving artist’s work can be seen. We’re about working together.”

One of the advantages for Michelle in her role, was the very long list of new artists with whom she came into contact: “The art world in South Africa is so vast, yet so small,” she laughs. “Many of these artists work in collaborative settings, studios or residencies, so word of mouth about the Foundation means I get about 100 emails from artists every week.”

Like The Pencil Club, the Foundation is a dynamic entity, constantly seeking innovative ways to promote the arts and artists. Renzo’s mom was passionate about the arts, and in her memory, he created the Corrie Scribante Gallery, a public forum of The Pencil, to display work, hold workshops, promote and sell art supplies to the public. Their workshops have been both successful and fully subscribed. A potential dream going forward, is to add bursaries, residencies, donation of art materials, and solo exhibitions. In other words, to find new ways to continue promoting the arts and the artists.

Currently, the Foundation has 78 artists exhibiting between the two spaces. Michelle has a portfolio of over 300 artists with whom she has worked, and at the opening exhibition, 284 pieces were installed. The Foundation does not only display the work of new artists, but established ones too – they also have an investment portfolio of artwork. What is so revolutionary here, is that newcomers can hang alongside Pierneefs, Gregoires, and Pemba. “Some established artists are wary as to whom they exhibit with – there’s the perception that artists of a similar standing should exhibit together. We’ve flipped that on its head.”

Shattered Ceilings is the upcoming exhibition at The Pencil, and although there are innumerable interpretations of this theme, the idea of shattering previous notions about how a gallery should be, and who should be next to whom, works well.

Walking into The Pencil Club, you’re instantly submerged in this stimulating space. The artworks are not part of the decor, deliberately so, and never match the wallpaper. One of the unexpected joys for Michelle, is how, increasingly, the members “own” the Foundation: “It’s become an integral part of being a member, whether you’re an art fundi or not. The art is now an ongoing conversation – new pieces are noticed, pointed out and talked about.” Much of the art is sold and leaves the gallery; other pieces are bought by members, but left in the club as their support for the artists.

The Pencil Art Foundation is an exhilarating concept, and an extraordinary experience for both artists and art lovers. Glorious art everywhere from the “Ladies” to the lobby – unknown artists rising and rubbing shoulders with well-known names, exhibitions, auctions, residencies … the Foundation is all about taking art to places it hasn’t been before.

Keegan, Michelle and their team, are excited to welcome new artists, invite local and national artists to participate in this space, and continue to uplift and stimulate a love for the arts in Durban and surrounds.


Michelle: 083 951 3747; michelle@thepencilartfoundation.com



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