Thinking, Feeling, Head, Heart

4 December 2014 – 25 April 2015
Curated by Marilyn Martin


BILL AINSLIE | KEVIN ATKINSON | AVANT CAR GUARD | WALTER BATTISS | ZANDER BLOM | JAN-HENRI BOOYENS | DINEO SESHEE BOPAPE | WILLEM BOSHOFF | WIM BOTHA | CHRISTO COETZEE | BAREND DE WET | PAUL EDMUNDS | NEL ERASMUS | KENDELL GEERS | JARED GINSBURG | GEORGINA GRATRIX | IAN GROSE | DAN HALTER | NICHOLAS HLOBO | WOPKO JENSMA |  ERNEST MANCOBA | MAJA MARX | LOUIS MAQHUBELA | KYLE MORLAND | CHRISTIAN NERF |  SERGE ALAIN NITEGEKA | STANLEY PINKER | CAMERON PLATTER | GERDA SCHEEPERS | ROSENCLAIRE | ROSE SHAKINOVSKY | PENNY SIOPIS | MARY WAFER

 

THINKING, FEELING, HEAD, HEART

A neon sign is normally presented as something naming or advertising a brand. It is there to capture attention in a public space and social context. “Keep the medium but change the message” is a dictum we adhere to. In this way something quotidian that everyone can understand and access is able to carry a subverted message both within and without the art world.

The sign calls on artists, critics, curators and collectors to invest in the intangible, the ephemeral and the philosophical. An urgent refocusing and reassessing of the meaning and value of art production in the 21st century. It is a sign, a writing on the wall against the commodification and trafficking of art we have experienced over the past decade. We are proposing through the medium of language a post-linguistic signification, where the medium again loses its opacity and reveals something totally other and foreign to itself (Rosenclaire, personal communication 2014, September 22).

Prologue

Having access to and interpreting a private collection within a firm yet flexible curatorial concept, here it is abstraction, is both a rare privilege and a rewarding experiences for a curator. My intention with this exhibition about abstraction is to map affinities and connections that emerge between particular works and artists held in The New Church Museum collection. Every collection has absences; this is unavoidable. To this end, certain gaps have been filled through acquisition, and works by artists already represented in the collection have in certain instances also been loaned. The focus of this exhibition is, however, particular to the character of the collection. Of course, given my long-term interest in abstraction, my aim is nonetheless to reflect on wider trends; but, ultimately, ‘Thinking, Feeling, Head, Heart’ is a selective – not a representative – survey of abstraction in South Africa.

The title, ‘Thinking, Feeling, Head, Heart’, taken from a painting by Kevin Atkinson (1939-2007), sums up for me the broad directions and possibilities of abstract art, past and present. It is cerebral, rigorous and calculated, also visceral and expressionistic; at the same time, abstract art strives for the cosmic and metaphysical through archetypal form; it abstracts from nature and invents new and vital forms; abstract art is suffused with its own poetry or polemics.[i]

Rethinking abstraction in South African art is timely. With postmodernism now exhausted, there is renewed interest in modernism, in art and architecture.[ii] It is particularly fascinating to juxtapose and discuss the work of the precursors of modernism in the company of full-blown modernists and the ‘re-modernism’ (to use Terry Smith’s term, 2009:7) of some members of the new generation. ‘Thinking, Feeling, Head, Heart’ demonstrates that politics are seldom in the background in South Africa and that figuration is not the only means of engaging the ontology of the present, what it means to be in time and of one’s time (Smith, 2009:255).

Remembering the precursors

The ‘invention’ of abstraction predates the chronology of standard western art histories, which still ritually trace its origins to Kandinsky and the second decade of the twentieth century.[iii] In southern Africa, for example, abstract expression can be traced back to two pieces of engraved ochre, which are about 80,000 to 70,000 years old. Their meaning is not known, but the carefully and clearly incised diamond-shaped patterns on the Blombos Ochre may represent information, a form of communication or abstract symbolism, and they may be the oldest known artworks.[iv]

Abstraction – both as a practice and a principle – is an integral part of cultural production in Africa. Abstract symbols are found on the rock paintings and engravings of San people, the earliest hunter-gatherers in southern Africa. This art, created over thousands of years, focused on the spirit world journeys and experiences of their shamans. The Bantu people who migrated south brought with them rich traditions of mural painting, ornament on ceramic vessels and textiles, beadwork and the decoration of functional objects such as headrests and ceremonial staffs. The abstract roots and transcendental potentialities of this country’s art run deep:

Traditional art is not drawn from a naturalistic depiction of African life. It does not intend to be a photographic reproduction of African experience but, through its stylisation, it echoes African myths and beliefs. It is an integral part of African religion and it is spiritually empowering (Manaka, 1987:10).

One of South Africa’s earliest and leading abstractionists was Ernest Methuen Mancoba (1904-2002). He left South Africa for Paris in 1938 and became a prominent member of CoBrA, an avant-garde group of abstract painters from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam active from 1948 to 1951. Despite his pioneering contributions to the development of post-war European abstraction, his achievements have not been acknowledged in standard histories.

Analysing Mancoba’s Composition of 1940, painter and theorist Rasheed Araeen (2004) concludes that his work was “a precursor or forerunner of what emerged a few years later: abstract expressionism – even though he did not influence the movement. What I am suggesting is that Mancoba’s work may represent an historical breakthrough within the mainstream modernism”.[v]

This argument significantly reframes art historian Olu Oguibe’s position regarding Mancoba’s role in African modernism:

The new strategy, evident in the work of Ernest Mancoba from the mid-1930s, involved a redefinition of African modernism by electing classical African art as its model. It displaced the iconography of the European Enlightenment and chose African sculpture and forms as the source of inspiration, the point of departure and yet, the frame of reference. Its intent was a new aesthetic. Conceptually, this new aesthetic also effectively conflated European and African modernisms by writing African art as a common frame and subtext of all modernisms (Oguibe, (2002:45).

Like many of Mancoba’s works, Untitled is inspired by Kota reliquary sculpture from West Africa; he analyses the original until he finds its essence and then re-interprets it in his characteristic free and dynamic marks and a rich palette. There is neither background nor foreground, only the personal calligraphy and colours that occupy the picture surface in a variety of ways. Mancoba entices the spectator to look carefully, thereby becoming part of the energy that emanates from his work.

For Araeen, Mancoba is

not only Africa’s most original modern artist, but, more importantly, he enters the space of modernism formed and perpetuated by the colonial myth of white racial supremacy and superiority and demolishes it from within. He thus rejects the view that the colonised had no choice but to mimic (Araeen, 2008:5).

Mancoba’s drawings find echoes in works as divergent as Nel Erasmus’ (1928-) Space Dance II and Whirlwind, Wim Botha’s (1974-) Drawing IV and Nicholas Hlobo’s (1975-) meandering Andilibali Okwendlovu.

Mancoba had much in common with artist and teacher Walter Battiss (1906-1982), another important precursor figure, in preparing the way for an art that no longer had as its sole purpose the imitation of nature. Inspired by San rock art, Battiss exhibited abstract works as early as 1937, albeit under a pseudonym (Schoonraad 1976:12). His many statements on art provide – with those of Atkinson, Bill Ainslie (1934-1989), and Ricky Burnett (1949-) – a theoretical basis for figurative and non-figurative abstraction in South Africa.

Battiss described his approach to painting as “intuitive” and reliant on meditation, yet he was clear on the artist’s responsibility: “Art very definitely exposes the guilt of the onlooker … I actually think it is one of the duties of the dedicated artist to face society with its crimes and reveal guilt.”[vi]

Battiss’ presence in all three exhibitions that have delved into The New Church Museum collection affirms that works from the past can speak powerfully to the present. His personal calligraphy and the characteristic openness of many of his compositions are evident in Abstract on a blue & white background, while in Abstract the symbols and signs of San rock art are transposed into organic shapes and rendered in thick, juicy paint.

Great exponents

Abstract art gained ground internationally and became fashionable from the 1950s, but at first the South African public, art institutions and critics did not readily embrace it. Artists responded differently: some dabbled in abstraction; others went on to become leading proponents and exponents. Some outstanding talents of this earlier generation are represented in this collection.[vii]

Alexis Preller (1911-1975) is not known as an abstractionist, but in the early 1960s he created a series of abstract works in paint and gilding. His Impression d’Or is an arresting avalanche of gold that seems to separate itself from the dark background and move towards the viewer. It is as if the artist were capturing the process of creation itself.

The influence of French Tachisme and Art Informel on Christo Coetzee (1929-2000) is apparent in the three works on exhibition: the heavy impasto, accretions and density of form in Abstract Composition; the extravagant imagery and relentless formal probing in Tubular Baroque; and the deceptively spontaneous combination of structure, tenacity of drawing and pronounced marks in Afrika, which resonates wonderfully with Cameron Platter’s (1978-) Stain (Orange Rain) and Barend de Wet’s (1958-) Maximal Knitting III, a multi-layered ‘painting’ in acrylic wool.

Nel Erasmus was an influential figure, both as director of the Johannesburg Art Gallery (1966-1977) and as one of the earliest abstract painters. Her words open our eyes and thoughts to Space Dance II and Whirlwind, both characterised by brightly coloured forms in flux: “The time bound object dissolves and reshapes itself into symbols, images and signs, which it actually and secretly contains within itself. These signs can point more directly towards the essence of a thing, its energy; its relatedness to things other than itself.”[viii]

Wopko Jensma (1939-c.1994) has attracted many defining labels, including “ambidextrous slang poet, graphic artist and vernacular conceptualist” (O’Toole, 2013). His watercolour Large Abstract (after Kline)

is unusual in his oeuvre; it is both ecstatic and anguished, and given form in broad black brushstrokes that overwhelm yet shape the colour beneath.[ix]

Like Mancoba, Louis Khehla Maqhubela (1939-) developed an enduring love for African art and wished for the cultural experiences of Africa and the West to come together. After a prize-winning trip abroad in 1967, Maqhubela embraced a new direction, which meant the end of figurative expressionism and the beginning of a personal engagement with modernist abstraction, accompanied by the development of an artistic language and iconography inspired by his quest for spiritual growth.

Maqhubela’s Untitled is generally abstract, with floating shapes creating a feeling of boundlessness, while a dark disk emerges from the ineffable hues and translucent paint. The oil is scratched and scraped to reveal under-painting and add texture; line configures and unifies. Its luminosity and evanescence are echoed in Ian Grose’s (1985-) Lux Nova 1.

Reflecting on the relationship between black artists and abstraction, particularly in the face of a market that preferred figurative descriptions of township life, Maqhubela has said:

Even abstract art by a black practitioner was a declaration of war against being stereotyped, bearing in mind that abstraction has, for centuries, always been Africa’s premier form of expression. Why would our ancestral form of expression suddenly be deemed to be “foreign” to the black man of the twentieth century? (personal communication 2010, February 3).

Maturing visions

Gradually a taste for abstract art was established in South Africa, and by the mid to late 1960s it was the dominant style. But times were changing, especially in apartheid South Africa. In the wake of the 1976 student uprising, followed in the 1980s by nationwide resistance to apartheid – and ever-increasing state repression with it – abstract art began to fall out of favour. There was no room for art born of spirituality, subjectivity and intuition. Socially engaged art was equated with figuration; abstraction was viewed as rear guard.[x]

Reputations waned as the pendulum swung from abstraction to figuration, prompting some artists to change direction. But some persisted, often at their peril. Bill Ainslie was one of the most influential teachers and artists. In his mixed media Untitled the emphasis is on plasticity; the subtle layers and muted colours draw the spectator deep into this work.

Although better known as a painter and printmaker, Kevin Atkinson experimented with sculpture, installation, land and performance art. Whatever his medium, Atkinson remained an abstractionist and intermittent conceptualist till the end. He was one of the few South African artists who took to hard-edge painting, winning the Gold Medal with his acrylic on canvas, Aqua-A-Blast, at the 1966 South African Breweries Biennale.[xi] Thinking, Feeling, Head, Heart (c. 1976) is a representative work from a series of monochromatic masterworks by the artist. Atkinson translates psychic energies into a visual language, with the volumetric hearts and a triangle emerging from a painterly abstract field. Each centimetre of the canvas is laden with pictorial feeling, while a bright, contrasting splash of Yves Klein blue asserts the flatness of the picture surface.

Patricia Pierce-Atkinson’s (1942-1994) untitled work of 1972 captures early hard-edge painting in spirit and letter – it is not a picture of anything but an object in its own right, drained of all extraneous, allusive or symbolic references. Perfectly composed and executed, the flat, solid shapes of undifferentiated colour contrast with thin, ethereal layers of colour; all is held in unstable equilibrium. Paul Edmunds’ ephemeral pencil drawings come close to stimulating an analogous response in the viewer, that of savouring the care, craftsmanship and beauty of such art.

Abstract with qualification [xii]

Subject matter and figuration are not necessarily excluded from abstraction, and for some artists it is impossible to fully decouple the abstract from the concrete. Stanley Pinker (1924-2012) imbued nature and things observed with appearances that are at the same time familiar and unusual. In Window on District Six, the square Victorian window, with its brightly-coloured glass, is set on point and re-presented as a stained glass window through and around which the emptiness of a once vibrant world is seen. Pinker’s work is rooted in art history, yet deeply engaged with the political landscape and folly of apartheid South Africa; here the illusionistically painted nail in Georges Braque’s (1882-1963) Cubist Violin and Jug of 1910, becomes the real nail in the coffin of a community.

Kendell Geers (1968-) speaks to South Africa today with Age of Iron XX. A geometric configuration of stencilled razor blades lies on top of washes of rust, the blood of violence.

Forced migration, dislocation and survival are the themes of Serge Alain Nitegeka’s (1983-) sculptures and paintings on wood, works in which he seeks to capture and communicate the liminal spaces experienced and inhabited by refugees and asylum seekers.

Mary Wafer (1975-) investigates everyday spaces – corridors, parking basements – lit but devoid of activity. The softness and broken geometry of her monotype and drypoint Basement VI are cancelled out by strong light and shadows; the eeriness is exacerbated by the dead-end that marks the space.

In Medium and Modality Piece [Speak Easy] Gerda Scheepers (1979-) challenges – and reconciles – the binaries of figuration/abstraction by means of an unusual mix of media. The beautifully crafted wood and glass chair-like structure and unadulterated blue paint counter the added bits of textile and the informality of the back of the canvas.

Dineo Seshee Bopape (1981-) also uses fabric, but to different ends. Uncontested Metaphor comprises a black cloth with irregularly cut shapes that resonate with the ghostly, printed shadow-self-portrait above.

A mesmerising process – from figuration to abstraction and back again – unfolds in Jared Ginsburg’s (1985-) Film of Drawing. Before the eye can settle on words or images, the pen or brush moves on, constructing, obliterating and transforming.

The pendulum swings – again

In 2008 I was invited by Art South Africa magazine to revisit my conference paper and journal article of 1990, in effect to assess the possibilities of painterly abstraction in a post-apartheid context. I concluded that little was happening. Painting itself had become unfashionable and had been eclipsed by lens-based media. I could refer to only a few artists.[xiii] Six years later, much has changed.

Penny Siopis (1953-) first emerged on the South African art scene in the early 1980s with her luscious “cake” paintings. She moved through a series of monumental “history” paintings and then on to video, photo-based media and installation, returning to painting in the early 2000s with the abstracted but still figurative Pinky Pinky and Shame series. Siopis’ practice is marked by certain constants: materiality as a concept as much as a means to constructing aesthetic value; the assertive and sensual aspects of paint; finding the metaphysical through the physical.

A child frightened by a bloom is an example of more recent directions in her painting. Executed in ink and glue on canvas, it is a virtuoso experiment in fields of colour. Drips and dribbles of viscous glue add to the tangibility of the surface. The tiny, ghostly child is disgorged from a vast eruption of mauves, purples and blues – the result of both chance and control. The medium is seductive, but there is a strong sense of dissonance and individual helplessness in the face of natural and psychic forces.

In Post Linguistic (Diptych) Rose Shakinovsky (1953-) engages Michel Eugène Chevreul’s (1786-1889) theory of simultaneous contrast, where a perceived colour is influenced and altered by other surrounding colours. This has both political and philosophical implications – the exact same thing seen in a different context alters one’s perception of it. Shakinovsky stresses “the difference between the pre linguistic (untrained, naïf, deranged, idiosyncratic) and my concept of the post linguistic as something transformative and poetic that language can only point to but never capture or describe (personal communication, 2014, September 22)”.[xiv]

Shakinovsky’s means could not be more humble: two large rectangles of paper, differently coloured, are placed side by side and framed together; to them are added identical bits of oil paint, paper and tape that undergo subtle changes against the diverse backgrounds. Colour theory is rendered contemplative and spiritual, while preconceived notions of art production are challenged.

At first glance Georgina Gratrix’s (1982-) Olympia (Stripe Painting) appears to be in line with modernist hard-edge geometric abstraction, but the differences are profound, for it is not about the making of an autonomous object. In her Women Wallpaper Series (2008), Gratrix reduced three masterpieces of art history to a series of stripes in order to explore myths of representation, the Greenbergian dictate of the flatness and integrity of the picture surface, and the unassailable genius of Édouard Manet (1832-1883), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Willem de Kooning (1904-1997).[xv] The size and medium of Manet’s oil on canvas Olympia (1863) are intact and the colours are ‘true’ if deconstructed, but the subjects are no more.

Geometry and well-defined edges are also given new inflections in Christian Nerf’s (1970-) delicately drawn and folded hexagonal In and of itself, as well as Dan Halter’s (1977-) inkjet prints. Fabrication 3 originated in the Chinese-made plastic-weave bags that have come to symbolise immigrants and refugees in Africa: in 2010, while on a residency in Scotland, Halter approached Johnstons of Elgin, a well-known manufacturer of tartan, to translate the weave into a high-end tartan fabric, which he has described as “refugee or immigrant tartan”.[xvi]

In my article (Martin, 2008:75) I described Jan-Henri Booyens’ (1980-) first solo show, ‘The Matt Sparkle’, as “unabashedly modernist in intention and execution” and noted that his reliance on intuition rather than a predetermined outcome was reminiscent of the modus operandi of many abstract painters of the past.

His paintings sometimes appear spontaneous, fluid and automatic, and at other times more deliberate, but they have in common the articulation of pictorial depth on a flat surface. This is achieved through varied brushstrokes, textures and colours combined with lines – personal, prominent calligraphic signs that lie on top or weave in and out of the painted surface. Booyens has a deep awareness of the nature of material and a concern for the actual process as the prime instruments of expression; at the same time his work delves into art history (Joseph Beuys is ‘n leuenaar), the intangible and the very nature of being (Die aard van wese).

Vacillation between depth and picture plane also characterises Zander Blom’s (1982-) drawings, paintings and photographs on this exhibition. Two photo-based works depict corners of rooms in the artist’s Johannesburg home, and the viewer can delight in the minimalist serenity of The Black Hole Universe or the restive tension of amorphous tendrils against a pressed steel ceiling in The Drain of Progress.

Blom incorporates geometric and expressionist trends found in twentieth-century art, but questions the tenets and characteristics of both: the unconscious impulse and intense mark-making associated with the former are contradicted by the ruler-drawn, straight lines of the latter, while any possibility of optical illusion is undermined by the marks and stains lying firmly on top of the lines, as in Untitled (1.87). In Untitled (1.45), Blom anchors the dynamic paint application with three solid archetypal circles that bleed onto the unprimed linen.[xvii]

Raw canvas also supports Maja Marx’s (1977-) Black Block. Black notebooks are depicted face down, closed, but not quite – some of the elastic bands that secure them have slipped and tantalising glimpses of white paper are revealed. But we will never know what secrets they hold and what truths they withhold.

Willem Boshoff’s (1951-) City Book is closed for this exhibition – the contents of the ‘book’, an abstracted city, will not be unfolded, thereby remaining unrealised and enigmatic.

Where are we and where might we go? 

When I sat down to think about the current meaning and future of abstraction six years ago, the picture was rather bleak; I concluded:

If painterly abstraction is to get a new lease on life it will have to be rescued from interior design and the anodyne repetitiveness that killed it in the 1980s. It has to be revitalised and contemporised by its practitioners, who would do well to learn the lessons of the past (Martin, 2008:77).

Today we are witnessing a profound artistic paradigm shift abroad and in South Africa. I hope that my engagement with specific works in The New Church collection has articulated this and that the range of attributes that define abstraction’s possibilities, which I suggested at the outset of this essay, are evident in many of the examples discussed. The juxtapositions of works on the exhibition by, for example, Mancoba and Hlobo, Atkinson and Booyens, Coetzee and Siopis, Pierce-Atkinson and Gratrix, and Battiss and Blom have reminded me of the power of historical abstraction and revealed new trajectories for the present generation.

However, considering my broader interest in and more than three decades of research on abstraction, questions – for which I have no answers in this unresolved present – arise. What might the current swing of the pendulum mean in and for art in this country? Twenty years after the first democratic elections artists have the possibility of embracing another kind of liberation, without necessarily being either apolitical or disinterested in the many challenges that face our country. Painting in general and abstraction in particular are being reconsidered and re-interpreted by longstanding practitioners, as well as a post-apartheid generation, and in the wake of this resurgence follow exhibitions and articles.[xviii]

Philosopher Paul Crowther reminds us that it is not only about painting:

Postmodern abstraction does not have the radical innovative power of early modernism, but it does find new, and aesthetically hugely rewarding ways of engaging with the technology of its own times. It shows, allusively – with different emphases determined by the individual stylistic achievement of the particular artist – how technology and nature interchange values in the postmodern era. Abstraction vivant (2012:239). [xix]

An abstraction that is living and of its time is crucial, for the danger of many jumping on the bandwagon – artists, curators, collectors –  in an unthinking and opportunistic way already lurks in this moment of excitement and promise. Avant Car Guard’s R12 000.00, with its seemingly facile and rapid marks and the price tag incorporated into the work, sounds a cautionary note about the sudden interest in and proliferation of modernist-inspired abstract art in South Africa. This is, however, not without irony. Avant Car Guard dissolved in 2012 and the collective’s three members, Zander Blom, Jan-Henri Booyens and Michael MacGarry (1978-), who once critiqued and ridiculed the art world and its institutions, have been wholly taken in and up by the commercial gallery system. It has not gone unnoticed[xx]

Will South African artists expand the parameters of the genre and show that there are many ways of arriving at abstraction in the twenty-first century, both technically and conceptually, or will a veneer of abstraction settle in, again? Are we witnessing radical transformation or a rehearsal and a retread of art history that will serve to feed personal ambition and a voracious art market? Time will tell. 

Marilyn Martin

Notes

[i] I have chosen to use ‘abstract’ rather than ‘non-figurative’ and ‘non-objective’ as it most widely used and understood and in line with titles of major exhibitions, conferences and publications. Referring to the terms ‘non-figurative’ and ‘non-objective’, Crowther and Wünsche (2012:8) note that “these imply that abstraction is meaningful, mainly, as an abandonment of traditional representational idioms. Of course, gestures of, as it were, pictorial refusal have influenced abstraction at various points, but its development … has been based, mainly, on more positive considerations. “Abstract art” as a term, allows this affirmatory dimension to be acknowledged”. I have also avoided the term ‘formalism’, as it has become somewhat of an umbrella and derogatory label for much of abstract art. For more on the application of the term to South African art, see Proud, 2011:164-187.

[ii]  See, for example, Karmel, 2013: 66-73 for an extensive list of recent exhibitions on abstraction and an overview of international trends.

[iii]  For example, the comprehensive ‘Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925’ at the MoMA in New York (2012).

[iv] They were discovered in 1991 by Professor Chris Henshilwood, under whose direction the Blombos Cave, situated in a limestone cliff on the southern Cape coast, was excavated and housed in the Iziko South African Museum. See: http://www.wits.ac.za/academic/research/ihe/archaeology/blombos/7106/blomboscave.html

[v] In his article Araeen draws an interesting comparison between Pablo Picasso moving from Spain and Ernest Mancoba from South Africa.

[vi] For statements by Battiss, see Skawran, K. and M. Macnamara, eds. 1985:11-19.

[vii] See Stevenson, M. 2003. “Aspects of Abstraction in South African Art History” in Stevenson, M. and A. Rosholt. 2003; it offers a wealth of information and references to documentation about a time and approaches to art making that remain largely under-researched and un-published.

Since 2006 substantial contributions to the recapitulation of this history have come from the Stellenbosch Modern and Contemporary (SMAC) Art Gallery, which has presented a number of review exhibitions and retrospectives, accompanied by publications, which focussed on historical South African abstraction.

[viii] For more on the artist see http://www.nelerasmus.com/ [2014, September 14]

[ix] Franz Kline (1910-1962) was an American Abstract Expressionist.

[x] In 1990 I posed a question at conferences of the South African Association of Art Historians and the annual meeting of the African Studies Association in Baltimore, Maryland. My query, published in the journal de arte the following year, was captured in the title: “Is There a Place for Black Abstract Painters in South Africa?” I expressed optimism for the possibilities of painterly abstraction in a post-1990, post-apartheid, post-struggle context – with a plea that it be given due consideration and that writers and curators support and engage with abstract art so that artists would be encouraged in their efforts to reinvent and broaden the language of abstraction.

[xi] Hannatjie van der Wat and Trevor Coleman are major exponents of hard-edge geometric painting in South Africa. For insight into Atkinson’s writings, see The Yearbook of the Staff of the Michaelis School of Fine Art. 1989 1.

[xii] A term borrowed from Crowther and Wünsche, 2012:238.

[xiii] See Martin, M. 2008:68-79.  This catalogue essay represents in some ways an update of reflections then.

[xiv] What Shakinovksy describes as the pre linguistic was very much in evidence in Massimiliano Gioni’s ‘The Encyclopedic Palace’ at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013.

[xv] Willem de Kooning’s Woman V (1952-53) and Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907).

[xvi] The middle panel is woven from a combination of the two outer panels.

See http://danhalter.com/author/dan-halter/ for more information [2014, June 18].

[xvii] While his approach has shifted in more recent work, Blom continues to acknowledge his indebtedness to and appropriation of some great modern artists. See Blom, Z. 2014. http://www.stevenson.info/exhibitions/blom/index2014.html [2014, September 1].

[xviii] SMAC presented ‘Back to the Future – Abstract Art in South Africa Past and Present’, in 2013, in which it tracked the shifts and developments in recent years.

[xix] This is happening in South Africa, Halter’s inkjet prints being examples. Thomas Mulcaire uses a range of technologies to replicate the picture plane, and to create vast canvasses that appear to be meticulous hard-edge paintings, but are in fact digitally produced and evenly coated with saturated Ultrachrome ink. Liberty Battson won the 2014 ABSA L’Atelier Art Competition with Odds of an Artist Like Me, a diptych created by using 2K automotive paint.

[xx] See Corrigal, M. 2013. Itinerant studio 33,  http://leaderlesssystems.blogspot.com/ for comments on and insights into the contemporary art scene in general and Christian Nerf in particular [2014, September 13], and Blackman, M. 2014. Kant’s Blom and Wallpaper, http://www.artthrob.co.za/Reviews/M_Blackman_reviews_New_Paintings_by_Zander_Blom_at_STEVENSON_in_Cape_Town.aspx [2014, September 30].

References

Araeen, R. 2004. A challenge for Africa: an open letter to African thinkers, theorists and art historians, Artthrob 87, http://www.artthrob.co.za [2004, September 3].

Araeen, R. 2008. Return to the source. Unpublished keynote address at the 24th Annual Conference of the South African Visual Arts Historians (SAVAH), University of Stellenbosch, 4-6 September 2008. In Van Robbroeck 2011:131.

Crowther, P and I Wünsche, eds. 2012. Meanings of Abstract Art Between nature and Theory. New York & London: Routledge.

Dickerman, L. ed. 2012. Inventing Abstraction 1910-1925 How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art. New York: The Museum of Modern Art.

Karmel, P. 2013. The Golden Age of Abstraction: Right Now. ARTnews. April 2013:66-73

Manaka., M. 1987. Echoes of African Art. Cape Town & Johannesburg: Skotaville.

Martin, M. 1991. Is there a place for Black Abstract Painters in South Africa? de arte 44:25-39. The Cape Town conference paper was published in Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Conference of the S.A. Association of Art Historians, July 11-13, 1990:154-159.

Martin, M. 2008. At the threshold of seeing, Art South Africa 7(2):68-79.

Oguibe. O. 2002. In The Third Test Reader on Art, Culture and Theory, eds.  In Araeen, R., S. Cubitt and Z. Sardar, 45. London: Continuum, 2002.

O’Toole, S. 2010. Freeing the Image. Art South Africa  8(4):76.

O’Toole, S. 2013. What happened to Wopko Jensma? Mail & Guardian,

http://mg.co.za/article/2013-04-19-what-happened-to-wopko-jensma [2014, September 9].

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Skawran, K and M. Macnamara, eds. 1985. Walter Battiss. Cape Town: AD. Donker.

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