Lady Skollie, also known as Laura Windvogel, is an artist from Cape Town who currently lives and works in Johannesburg. Her contribution to the art world is in the creation of visually striking works using ink, watercolour, crayon and woodcut printing. Lady Skollie is known for art that vividly depicts sexuality, emotionality, identity, and explorations or questionings of the intricate workings of society and history.
Lady Skollie has exhibited works at art galleries in different cities of the world. Some of these exhibitions are Skattie Celebrates Laura Windvogel (2014) at the Association for Visual Arts Gallery in Cape Town, SEX (2016) at Stevenson Gallery, Bound (2020) and A prediction (2021) at Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg, and Lust Politics (2017) at Tyburn Gallery in London.
In 2020, she won the prestigious FNB Art Prize. That same year, she was cast in the first South African Netflix series Queen Sono as Safiya Sono, who is the mother of Queen Sono. Two years later, she claimed yet another coveted award – the 2022 Standard Bank Young Artist Award that saw the birth of her GROOT GAT exhibition, currently showing at the Standard Bank Art Gallery until 15 December 2023.
At the IQOQO Sessions, which took place in August 2023, Lady Skollie shared insights into her career and the process of building a public persona as an artist.
Lady Skollie: I have dedicated very large portions of my free time to establishing the brand of Lady Skollie – the no-nonsense, evil stomping, myth-busting, aloof babble mouth, revenge taking, debating and fighting. It takes a lot of energy to be known as the angry painter and I’ve laid the foundations so deeply that I now have the freedom to show you my fanciful side without coming off as soft.
Since, I guess, birth I have been fanciful. I remember showing a rough exterior just to be able to do the Whitney Houston medley for the other children at preschool. Being chosen at 8 to go to Peter Clarke Art Centre and acting like Professor X had reached out and I was about to save the world one drawing at a time. An art X-man of sorts.
Determined to pursue a career as an artist, Lady Skollie applied to the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town.
Lady Skollie: Or deciding that if I didn’t get into the art school I wanted then I wouldn’t go AT ALL. Waiting for weeks for the letter in the e-mail. Being told I didn’t get in. Being sad about that then making peace with my destiny.
Then another letter in the email; it had been an administrative error and I DID get in.
Being told at art school that I wasn’t very good at drawing.
But I knew clearly the devil was just using these poor lecturers to be an obstacle in my path, HALLELUJAH Jesus, I defeated their opinions by dropping out…
And here I stand before you: the 2022 Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year for Visual Art. Something I somehow told my parents I’d win when I was in grade 7.
After a U-turn into fashion design, Lady Skollie returned to visual arts, using her practice to explore her identity.
Lady Skollie: I love when they mix media of exhibition openings, art fairs, money laundering, identity-crisis-solving, sparkling-wine-drinking elements of the art world. I love everything about the visual arts; it has a certain flavour to it that I just cannot describe.
It serves as the perfect backdrop for me trying to explain to you, the audience, who I am through the use of crayons and ink on Fabriano.
Because that’s really what art is for me, an introduction to my insides.
For my National Arts Festival contribution, I asked about what it means to be defined by not-knowing. Collectively forgetting things because it would be too painful to remember. How do you say who you are if you’ve been forced to forget?
GROOT GAT asked the question:
If I jump into this hole and I hold my breath long enough, will the reward be remembering and what if remembering is the start of my undoing?
I imagined a world where Plato’s Allegory of the Cave applied to me and I was like: what if I am the chosen Bushman to somehow escape out of the cave and my drawings are just cave drawings but like on the dome of TIME.
Or something like that.
Lady Skollie’s art evokes a spirit of curiosity, leading viewers to question the status quo as they join her on a journey in and for the self.
Lady Skollie: I think living a fanciful life and seeing the mystery in everything and being curious about most things has led me into this labyrinth where I’m constantly seeking to be stimulated by new knowing, whether it be gossip or information of ‘historical importance’.
In my Coloured experience, Ratanga Junction is also a part of Coloured heritage so I built a cave reminiscent of Ratanga Junction and the Kango Caves set depicting a San family circled around a fire made from cellophane, bulbs and a fan pointing upwards. I projected animations of my work moving around the cave like some kind of Khoi cinema, a short film on erasure.
It’s been a pleasure trying to mend generational trauma and solve my identity crises in public. Going forward, I wish to explore more of the ‘who am I’, ‘what am I’ levels of this art world.
While her work is now celebrated in South Africa, that wasn’t always the case.
Lady Skollie: I have quite a big following overseas. There is a saying about how one will only be acknowledged at home once you have made it away from home, and that was really the case for me. I was represented for almost four years overseas, in Europe, before any South African gallery even looked at me. That has taught me a lot, like sometimes you get appreciated somewhere else first. A lot of my buyers are still very much overseas, but a lot of them are here [in South Africa], too.
After dropping out of her fine arts degree, Lady Skollie graduated with a BA in Dutch Literature and Art History. She also has a diploma in Business Acumen for Artists.
Lady Skollie: It is important because from the art schools to the art world, there are people that benefit from you not understanding certain things. I think if there is a course that can teach you something like taxes, then maybe you should take it. If you have the chance to understand how to stretch your reach, how to be able to make money overseas and not get flagged, and all of those things, then it is a yes.
With courses like this, does that mean that artists should forego gallery representation and instead sell their work directly to the public?
Lady Skollie: It all depends on your temperament. Are you okay with haggling with people for yourself? I am absolutely not. Being in the art world is not like Woolworths, people don’t just put their card on the counter. It is a perceived value system. People will always want to know, “why?” If a gallery tells them how much to pay, they will pay it. With you, they will always try to get it cheaper, and that messes with your perceived value.
You should always stay consistent with your pricing and your growth. People always ask me why my work is still a certain price, because I’ve only inflated it about 5% since 2017, and it’s because I’m going for the long haul. I think that is also a tool that galleries use to eradicate certain types of artists out of their depths. If your work isn’t on a certain level, they will tell you to sign for an inflated price, so that maybe four people will buy for that price, and then you just implode. Then you see on auction that your work is a different amount of money, and wonder how that happened.
So I think there are things to know, like with all industries, regarding what is good for you. It is not the type of place where you can just do discounts because, with fine art, it’s all about appearances. So people will say, “I got that Lady Skollie painting from the studio at about so and so.” We all know that the art world’s foundations are gossip and wine. Someone will always spill that they got something cheaper from you. It’s better to stay consistent and make those tough decisions.
Lady Skollie was as unwavering about the gallery that represents her, as she was about pursuing her career – and it has paid off.
Lady Skollie: I am represented by the oldest commercial gallery on the African continent and that has taught me a lot. I also used to work in a shop before so I always feel like people sometimes forget that in fine art, everything is retail and I’ve always been obsessed with how other people perceive me.
Finally getting good representation in South Africa has allowed South Africans to see my work on a scale that I wasn’t willing to compromise on. Even further, I didn’t want to always be thinking about framing costs and things like that, I wanted to be with an organisation powerful enough to not ask me if I can take my car to pick up a painting. I wanted a gallery with a van!
A transformational moment in Lady Skollie’s career came in 2019, when she was asked to design a R5 coin to celebrate 25 years of democracy in South Africa.
Lady Skollie: There’s a very famous Bushman artist that I have looked up to for many years. Joe Leshoka Legate, who used to assist her many years ago, noticed. I have known him for many years and then later on, he asked if I knew Dada [Coex’ae Qgam]. I said that I don’t know Dada. He said, “Everything about you is so similar to Dada that it’s so creepy to me.” Dada designed the first class seats on British Airways, she was part of the Kuru Art Project, and she spoke Naro. The more I started looking into her work, the more I saw parallels between our works.
She created an artwork that people look over because it’s just a seat cover to them. When I tell people I designed a coin, I can see in their eyes that it doesn’t sink in until they actually see the coin. It’s an object that you hold in your hand that takes everyone’s energy and that people use for different things – the closest thing to witchcraft you will ever find. So many people tag me who have seen the coin and it stayed on their mind. There are only one million of them in South Africa and there are fifty million South Africans. I did that four years ago and people still message me about it. It’s like I printed a million business cards made out of metal. It’s amazing. It changed my life.