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THE SOUTH AFRICAN
Includes: Artist’s feature supplement
The Incredible Grahamstown Group
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SANG’s reputation trashed for 2010 show “No expository thread pulls the show together. Riason Naidoo, the curator of the show, and director of the institution, has no thesis to propound, no argument to advance and no interpretation to propose”. Lloyd Pollak “Is there any method in this madness?” a seasoned critic enquired of me in a stentorian stage whisper at the 1910-2010: From Pierneef to Gugulective show on at The SA National Gallery (SANG), Cape Town. My answer was no, for the show - which occupies the entire SANG building, the first time in its history that any exhibition has done this – provides an overpoweringly overloaded visual experience unredeemed by any sense of curatorial direction. One is overwhelmed by the sheer glut of works on display, and astounded that no intellectual perspective has been provided in which to view them. No expository thread pulls the show together. Riason Naidoo, the curator of the show, and director of the institution, has no thesis to propound, no argument to advance and no interpretation to propose. A cardinal museological rule is that it is absolutely imperative that visitors be able to identify what they are looking at, but shamefully there are all too often no labels. Such a gross lack of professionalism is inexcusable. A neatly hand-written label would do for the time being. Even when labels do occur, they are often deficient, as they frequently fail to mention essential data such as the date of the relevant work. Over the years the National Gallery has built up precious reserves of curatorial expertise, and chalked up an enviable record of highly informative, illuminating exhibitions. None of this accumulated
skill is in evidence in this rambling shambles, and it is apparent that Naidoo, who has piteous little curatorial experience, is out of his depth. As none of his fellow curators have ever been responsible for a pratfall of this magnitude, one can only conclude that he refused to heed their advice, and consequently one entertains the gravest fears vis-à-vis the future of the gallery under the present incumbent. Naidoo correctly saw that the Fifa World Cup presented an unparalled opportunity to present South African art to the world, however he should have realized this months ago when he first took up his directorship, for the show which surveys a century of our art from Union in 1910 to the Cup in 2010, was simply far too ambitious to be mounted in the two and a half months in which it was thrown together. The frantic haste reveals itself in an intellectually indigestible barrage of painting, sculpture and photography divorced from the historical, stylistic and cultural matrix that brought it into being. No text-boards or catalogue place the exhibits in context. From Pierneef to Guglective is primarily designed for overseas visitors, and the first glaring error of judgment is the choice of title. From Pierneef to Gugulective will ring no bells in the mind of a foreigner to whom the name Pierneef and Gugulective will mean nothing. A dull title like A Century of South African Art, 1910-2010, would at least have provided a clear impression of what the visitor might expect from the exhibition. Continued on Page 3
Strijdom & DeBeers make largest local land artwork Emma Mildenhall reports from Springbok, Northern Cape : SA land artist Strijdom van der Merwe has teamed up with DeBeers and LEAP Living Edge of Africa Project (LEAP) to create am/pm Showlines at Koingnaas, Northern Cape. Strijdom van der Merwe’s design, am/pm Shadowlines, a 100 meter wide circle of ridges two meters high – engages the environment, changing throughout the day and the seasons as the sun and moon’s rays rise and set across its sculpted surface. am/pm Shadowlines is believed to be the first of hundreds of land art installations which will transform the Namaqualand landscape while drawing a new audience to this area, which has been off limits to the public since diamonds were discovered there in the 1920s. It is proposed by LEAP that they will develop an annual international art competition and festival that will create a growing land art collection. As a collection, LEAP LandArt will respond
to the scale and drama of the Diamond Coast and create an iconic image for the Northern Cape, put South Africa on the international land art map, and become a global ‘must see’. LEAP LandArt will serve as an attraction in tourism’s development as one component of the sustainable economic rehabilitation of Namaqualand Mines, where mining has been suspended while rehabilitation programmes and new industries are established. LEAP LandArt is a component of the Living Edge of Africa Project (LEAP), which will begin to transform a portion of Namaqualand Mines with an uncertain future, into an economic development zone that aims to create durable jobs while generating renewable power, producing an abundance of food and fresh water and restoring globally important biodiversity. See more on these websites: Conservation International (CI) www.conservation.org Strijdom van der Merwe : http://www.strijdom.co.za
Artist ls materials quality materia Artist quality made Africa South Africa in South made in www.dala.co.za www.dala.co.za
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Important Decorative & Fine Arts Auction Cape Town 1 & 2 June 2010
Viewing Friday 28 May 10am - 4pm Saturday 29 May 10am - 3pm
Sunday 30 May 10am - 5pm
Auction Tuesday 1 June 2010 at 10am, 2pm & 7pm Wednesday 2 June 2010 at 10am
Venue Old Mutual Conference & Exhibition Centre, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, Rhodes Drive, Newlands, Cape Town
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Edoardo Villa MAPOGGA MAN (detail) R450 000 - 550 000
South African Art Times May 2010
SANG’s reputation trashed for 2010 show : Continued
Confusion starts as soon as one enters the SANG and is immediately confronted by an independent exhibition of recent S.A. art by different curators. Many visitors will not realize that this is a separate show, and will ask why Naidoo begins at the end of his period, rather than the beginning. The exhibition could have rounded off From Pierneef to Gugulective, but to do this successfully, it should have occupied the final gallery, and not the first. Once one ventures into the exhibition proper, one realizes that
Naidoo’s approach is neither thematic nor chronological, but a batty combination of the two. In Room Two, which supposedly deals with the advent of modernism, we continually see extremely confusing throwbacks to the work of traditionalists working in premodernist idioms like Volschenk and Anton von Wouw because the theme of gold mining has been superimposed upon the subject of 20th century artistic development. Instead of carrying information, the gallery walls are emblazoned with tendentious quotes by trendy intellectual luminaries that provide a smokescreen behind which Naidoo
may have hoped to conceal his errors of judgment. Thus in Room Two, we read Edward Said’s pronouncement: “Stereotypes of the other have always been connected to political actualities of one sort or another, just as the truth of lived communal (or personal) experience has often been totally sublimated in official narratives ….” This leads one to expect clichéd and hostile images of the ethnic ‘other’, but Dorothy Kay’s dignified image of her cook, and Dumbleton’s portrait of a serious Cape Muslim boy, are entirely benign, even affectionate. In any case, the bulk of works seen here are images of township life by Pemba and Sekoto, scenes of the Cape flats by Peter Clarke and an Indian gentleman portrayed by Ibrahim Badsha. None of this work has anything remotely to do with the ‘other’. The frequent lack of connection between the meaning of the quotations and the content of the works, pitches the show into curatorial incoherence. This is not a comprehensive survey of South African art as the
director’s statement claims, for the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and the Free State are barely represented. Traditional tribal African art, the very thing so many overseas visitors will long to see, has been completely marginalized. The continuing production of ritual and ceremonial artifacts could have provided a background for the exhibition. However there are only three showcases of beadwork, and a few ceremonial staffs, and the fact that the former are displayed in showcases rather than on the wall, insulates them from the rest of the exhibition, and tends to identify them as craft, rather than art, thus perpetuating the myth of their inferior aesthetic status. The only merit of From Pierneef to Gugulective is that, because of extensive borrowing, it exposes us to many glorious images we may not have seen before. For the rest one can only lament that this opportunity to provide an enriching educational experience, deteriorated into a mindless essay in confusion.
R 225 000 Rautenbach bronze stolen from central Paarl garden Mary-Anne Gontsana (Cape Times) A valuable bronze sculpture by artist Stephan Rautenbach, worth R 225 000 has been stolen from central Paarl. Running Warthog was likely to be melted and sold as scrap, Paarl police spokeswoman Louise du Plessis said. It follows the theft a month ago of the memorial plaque of the Maria de la Quellerie statue from Cape Town’s Hans Strijdom intersection on the Foreshore. It was found in Mitchells Plain, cut into 12 pieces. A 65 –year old scrap dealer from Maitland was arrested. Running
Warthog weighs about 110 kg without its basee and was stolen from the garden of the Historium Conference Hall in the centre of Paarl. A case of theft has been opened and second hand dealers in the area have been asked to keep an eye out for the piece. Rautenbach said he could not believe his art has been stolen, adding: “It would have been better if they had stolen my car. Bronze is expensive and limited, and that is why I am so angry.” Anyone with information can contact Paarl Poloice at 021 807 4000/ 4139or ChrimeStop, anonymously at 08600 10111
South African Art Times May 2010
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Lawrence Lemaoana was one of the artists exhibiting at JAF. His work is all about challenging the traditional.
Why African art is having a renaissance Inside the Johannesburg Art Fair which showcases the continent’s rising stars (First published on CNN) -- African art has long been about more than just tribal masks and traditional carvings, and now contemporary African artists are being recognized globally. The Johannesburg Art Fair recently showcased the works of 400 African contemporary artists, attracting more than 10,000 visitors. Organizer Ross Douglas told CNN there had been an explosion of interest in African art in recent years. “Africa has always had a strong tribal art and a strong craft component, and that will always stay, he said. “But that doesn’t mean there can’t be a contemporary market existing alongside that, and if you look in South Africa at the contemporary market in the last four or five years, it’s absolutely exploded. “If you look at the number of young black artists doing well, making a living, it’s extraordinary. Five years ago it just didn’t exist.”
AUDREY ANDERSON The best thing since spilt milk 5 - 29 May 2010
WEMBLEY A PROJECT ROOM FOR CONTEMPORARY ART
Wembley Square, Gardens, Cape Town +27 (0) 21 424 5150 / firstname.lastname@example.org / www.iart.co.za
But the attention being bestowed on contemporary African art is a relatively new phenomenon. Auction house Bonhams says its New York sale last month was the first commercial auction dedicated solely to contemporary African art in the United States, and it says the UK’s first auction only took place last year. While auction house Phillips de Pury’s Africa art sale and exhibition will take place on May 15 in New York. The sale will include works of contemporary art, photographs, design and editions which reflect the spirit of the continent. Giles Peppiatt, director of African art at Bonhams, said these kinds of sales were still too rare. “In some ways it’s remarkable -- here we are in 2010 and this is the first auction of its type in New York,” he told CNN. “It’s never been done before. Actually I was very surprised by that,” But he says he’s not surprised by the growing interest in African art. Bonhams says the auction
has generated considerable buzz. Prince Yemisi Shyllon, who has an extensive collection of Nigerian art, was one of those in attendance. Shyllon told CNN, “I don’t promote Nigerian art in terms of the value. I promote in terms of the benefits and the joy it can confer to the world.” But monetary value is unavoidable at an art auction. About half of the 140 pieces at the Bonhams auction sold, with prices ranging from $1,000 to $92,000. The value of African art could increase as international interest develops and the buying pool expands. “At the moment the majority of the collectors are people who have an interest or contact with Africa,” said Peppiatt. “We aren’t yet seeing these people buying these works without that connection. “Look at the other markets -- no one buys a van Gogh because he’s Dutch or because the buyer’s Dutch. It doesn’t matter where the artist was born or what nationality he was. But I think with the African
art it still does matter. It hasn’t yet broken into the international market.” While the rest of the world is catching up with African art, the artists themselves continue to push artistic boundaries. South African Lawrence Lemaoana was one of the artists exhibiting at last month’s Johannesburg Art Fair. His work is all about challenging the traditional. “I look at the ideas of stereotypes, and the idea of men sewing and the idea of how that’s a feminine activity ... [and ask] how do we subvert that into something that’s really not feminine? So I am sewing and I am making artwork that’s quite edgy,” Lemaoana told CNN. “Artists are not limited to painting and traditional ways of making art. There are other possibilities of speaking a language and finding new and innovative ways of communicating.” Nkepile Mabuse, Isha Sesay and Mark Tutton contributed to this report
South African Art Times May 2010
Artist’s exhibition destroyed at ABSA KKNK Art Festival Artist, educator and curator Gordon Froud had his entire curated exhibition, commissioned for the streets of Oudtshoorn, destroyed on this year’s KKNK 2010 Froud had been commissioned to construct 4 large footballs that would serve as a nod to the world cup and become an outdoor exhibition of works by B Tech students from the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Visual Art Department. The notion behind the pieces was to take art to the streets thereby removing the ‘elitist’ preconception of the white cube gallery. This backfired spectacularly at what is termed a ‘cultural festival’ namely the Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees (KKNK). The structures and drawings took more than 200 hours to be made over the past month. They were transported to Oudtshoorn as panels and were then constructed on site in Baron Von Reede Street outside the Queens hotel on the busiest thoroughfare in the town. The installation process took Froud and his assistants 18 hours to complete during which time they works garnered much support and
engagement from the public. There was a buzz in the street around the structures and the images by the 8 young artists from UJ. On the first evening, there were already signs that the balls would be in for a rough time as most passers by instinctively tried to roll them around (despite being attached to the road surface with concrete nails). One or two panels had been kicked through and were repaired by Froud the next morning in time for the official opening of the festival. By the afternoon more damage had occurred, this in spite of being in full public view and under guard by Festival security. By the evening three of the balls had been structurally damaged and many of the panels kicked through. Froud made a decision to come back the next morning with the intention of saving the panels and constructing one representative ball within the ‘safe’ environment of the Prince
Vincent Building where the rest of the festival artists are on show. Returning to the site at midnight after a function, he found absolute destruction of the balls and the existing panels in the process of being jumped on, kicked around and further destroyed. “The brazenness of the perpetrators was perhaps the most disturbing aspect’’ Froud said. When he questioned their actions, the response was that the works were in public and therefore it seemed normal that they would be destroyed, there was no sense of shame or embarrassment or even remorse. Festival artist Lukas Thobejane who witnessed the wanton destruction was heard to say that he had not expected this kind of destruction by middle-aged white people. When Froud arrived at the site on Good Friday morning to rescue the materials and drawings, he found a nice clean street with no traces
of the carnage or the balls at all. On enquiring, he was told that the municipality has sent a truck and removed all of the debris. At the time of writing this, there is no indication of where the works are, how safe they are or whether Froud and his students will even get the works back. This raises questions around Public art or art in Public spaces and suggests that South Africa is not ready for works to be shown in public and that a retreat to the elitist gallery is the only answer. This would probably alienate the broader public but would allow the artworks to be seen by the willing and shown the necessary respect. The festival organisers and sponsors expressed horror and embarrassment at the incidents, even though it was not of their doing. This experience has left a stain on what is otherwise a very tightly curated art festival.
The Great South African Masters Series
THE GRAHAMSTOWN GROUP Researched and written by Jeanne Wright | Commissioned by The SA Art Times
Robert Brooks Baviaans Kloof NMMAM
“Since the roots of our development belong to Grahamstown South Africa - The Albany Museum is more important than the Tate Gallery - The Bundu is more important than the Albany Museum - The Bundu is hostile With Life - Pacifist–Periodicals of International-Art have no Vitalism - Art symbolises Indigenous culture – the Only Culture
Brian Bradshaw, Celeste Biggs, Jannie Van Heerden, Jeff Chandler, Jennifer Crooks, John Kirkwood, Noel Hodnett, Vivienne Prestwich, Joss Nell, Kate Harvey, Margie Britz, Marguerite Gauche, Maureen Bradshaw, Anton Chapman, Eloff Snyman, Michael Hallier, Patricia Wood,Penny Siopis, Robert Brooks,Chris Till, Steve Pratt, Hilary Graham, Tom Matthews, Rosemary Hepburn, Annette Kileff, Dot Clark, Chris Thomas, Glynnis MacKenzie, Cleone Cull, David Champion, Anne Louwrens, Neil Rodger
THE GRAHAMSTOWN GROUP The first of two parts regarding the group’s influence on South African Art. Part two follows in the June edition of The SA Art Times
Brian Bradshaw opening RB’s photographic exhibition 69
Brian Bradshaw founded the Grahamstown Group at Rhodes University in May of 1964 It was a closed group of selected students and staff members and participation was by invitation only. Its character was kept consistent by a constant review of its membership which was not automatic once invited. It worked within the confines of the Rhodes Art School developing a distinctive style which was dominated by Bradshaw’s powerful personality until he left the university in 1978 when the group then formally disbanded. It was continued at an informal level well into the 1980’s. In order to understand the dynamics of the group which was described at the time as “bold, vigorous, powerful, with its uncompromising character making a unique influence on the art of South Africa’” (catalogue RU Annual exhibition 1974), it is necessary to understand the background and philosophical and intellectual approach of its instigator, Brian Bradshaw.
Brian Bradshaw He was born in Bolton in Lancashire in England in 1923. By the time he was 18, he had a three year qualification in drawing and design from the local Municipal art school. In 1939, War was declared and he enlisted and served 5 ½ years with the 8th Army in North Africa and Sicily, with the 1st Canadian forces in the European war theatre and with the Army of Occupation in Germany. On demobilisation, he won a three year scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London. Early on in his career, Bradshaw developed a keen interest in architecture. Whilst a student in London, he had immersed himself in drawing more specifically Palladian forms in English architecture. Graduating with several major awards, he was elected to the Royal society of Painters-etchers and Engravers (ARE) and then won the coveted Prix de Rome – a prize for outstanding etching ability. He was to spend a further two years study based at the Academia Britannica in Rome. This gave him the opportunity to indulge in architectural drawing, illustrating classical Augustan architecture where he developed an impeccable sense of underlying structure in both buildings and landscape. He interspersed
Brian Bradshaw and the Grahamstown Group preparing for 1971
Brian Bradshaw Baobab in a landscape 1990
study with travel in Greece, Spain, France and Germany, living off the land with gypsies and working alongside labourers. In 1953 on returning to Britain, he married his first wife, Maureen, and moved to live in a remote cottage near Capel Curig in Wales. Throughout his life, no matter where he has lived, both here and in Britain, Bradshaw has sought out rural locations like the original ‘Waen Hir’ cottage in northern Wales. In Grahamstown, he lived on a smallholding called ‘Waterloo’ which was within walking distance of the University. He currently lives in a small town in the Western Cape. This deliberate adherence to a code of living a simple rural life style pitched as contrapuntal foil for the intellectual life has remained a constant element in Bradshaw’s creative philosophy. Of the initial group of students who he taught in the early days of his tenure, many, like master ceramist Hylton Nel, painters Hilary Graham, Michael Hallier and Joss Nell live in remote or smaller places from preference, believing that a tranquil life style with easy access to nature and landscape fosters the ambience necessary to the important issues which surround the making of art (for oneself). Wales struck a deep chord with the incipient gothic in Bradshaw’s personality. He immersed himself in drawing in the landscape and soaked up Welsh literature and legend. Deeply romantic resonances like R S Thomas, poet and priest, and the work of Jonathan Swift informed his reading, his painting and his poetry. However, it also proved to be an apostasy in that he side-lined etching for painting. Here he taught himself to paint in oils, translating sketches from a pocket note-book to canvas in the studio. The structure of Welsh landscape with its complicated folding hills became a signature approach to his work. To supplement his income, Bradshaw taught in Manchester in the evenings. Many of the images he made at this time reflect factories buildings pitched against landscape – the linear pitched against arabesque, a signature device which was to stamp its mark on the ‘style’ of the Grahamstown Group later. Bradshaw also became an art critic, writing for the Bolton Evening News, an activity which gave him access to an influential circle of artists and writers. Articulate, incisive and highly critical, his controversial reviews tackled major issues and he fearlessly deconstructed the work of major contemporary British artists like Graham Sutherland, Ivon Hitchens, Francis Bacon and Victor Passmore in a way which few provincial critics
dared, garnering him hate mail as well as an appreciative readership of cognoscenti. He also presented his first one-man exhibition in 1953, earning acknowledgement as a painter of some merit. He was to present 8 one-man exhibitions between 1953-65 in the UK and SA. His work was described as “weighted with the authenticity of his subject matter”. One of the most salient criticisms to describe Bradshaw’s work, which was to resonate with his own philosophy of teaching, was written by a critic covering his third one-man exhibition. “…his pre-occupation with abstract shapes is disciplined in accordance of the visible point of departure. He never lets his obvious delight in linear design and in the grouping of masses compel him to surrender his original conception. This means that while he thinks in terms of paint…. The strong design of rocks remains a design of recognisable rocks and gains strength thereby”. Extrapolated over his painting lifetime, this philosophy of a rigorous and pared aesthetic is intrinsic to his style. Bradshaw’s work is always unsentimental, meticulously partitioned and intelligently reductive rather than self-consciously abstract. In 1959, he was appointed to the position of Vice Chairman of the British Parliamentary Committee on Art Education which was tasked with investigating the whole system of art-teaching in England. He was to lobby for radical changes to the English art school system. His pugnacious stance on art issues and his non-conformist views on what he called “petty professionalism” underlined a firmly held conviction that “art schools and colleges…. Are mostly concerned with offering to the general public a popular-potted edition of art with the object of gaining financial returns for both themselves and their students…….. art is not a commercial entity whose sole object is to be geared to industrial projects. Neither can it be popularised in the way that domestic soap is popularised.” (Hogge, R. 1976 P 80). Throughout his teaching career, he was always to maintain that the business of making art was always about the journey undergone to express self-engagement with the world through the act of painting. It was not an act which was geared toward selling. Disenchanted with what he termed the “state of collective vulgarity as civilized culture” in fine art as perpetrated by the Ministry of Education who advocated courses “ to suit popular utilitarian demands and….standards (which were) changed to suit commercial and collective living”,(Sheilds, C 1999) he applied for the chair of fine art at Rhodes University, arriving in 1960 to take up the post.
Rhodes University School of Fine Art The art school had always had a history of English academics at the helm. Started in 1925, it had had five Englishmen in office until Walter Battiss took over for a brief period in 1959. Bradshaw started with a moribund school which had about six students. By the end of his tenure 17 years later, it was one of the largest art school departments in the country. Teaching was based on the Slade tradition in which drawing from life (both figure and landscape) was the lynchpin. He also introduced a Masters of Fine Art course, Sculpture and a course in Visual Communication. As a pedagogue at Rhodes, Bradshaw was completely autocratic about the quality of classical drawing and painting skills students acquired during the four year degree. First year students did nothing other than draw from the “finest collection of antique plaster casts in the country” with the sole object of being taught how to process and clarify the image. This formed the basis for the next three years training where still life, life painting, composition and landscape drawing honed the student’s ability to communicate through images. They were also taught Anatomy and every student was also always required to go out physically into the landscape around Grahamstown to draw from the real thing. He believed that students should not be confused about standards but should be given a firm and uncompromising raison d’être. He held obligatory bi-weekly critical sessions before the entire assembled art school in which he ruthlessly stripped away any pretentiousness in the work hanging on the walls. The work submitted had to be done outside of regular studio hours. Bradshaw’s famed cynicism in the open forum of studio ‘crits’ was brutal, accurate and impersonal. The fact that you’d sunk a pint in the pub with him the night before made no difference whatsoever. Every single student was required to hang work - from the Masters students downwards. Any semblance of sentimentality, saccharine subject matter and maudlin “navel gazing” became the butt of his often biting sarcasm and many student wounds got licked in the aftermath of those ‘crits’!
the…. duffle-coaters who daub paint on themselves instead of palettes and city-slickers who balance their metropolitan esoterics on the end of cocktail sticks! These Jeans and Jumpers and Edwardian-style Pansies are as phoney as Puccini’s Bohemians”. (Hogge, R 1976). He himself wore conservative clothing and on formal occasions, his coterie of young male acolytes wore predominantly black or dark clothing accompanied by a collar and tie. Strictures on the dress code were never overt but by insinuation and applied to both sexes.
RU Art School staff and students c 1968 It was a tough school to survive if you wanted to be a serious painter. Mediocrity was not tolerated. You had to be the best you could be. Putting in the requisite full attendance of studio hours was also part of student discipline codes. Students could be rusticated for a period if they did not arrive at the studios at 8 am sharp. Seen against the background of the laisse faire attitudes prevalent in other art schools of the same period, the regimen was by comparison, relatively strict. It did however, cultivate an climate of competiveness and an ethos of hard work. Studio lights often burnt throughout the night before ‘crit’ sessions. His students were discouraged from wearing overt forms of sartorial artistic self-expressiveness. There was no sloppy dress, Jeans or Bohemian sandals, no snarled long hair - and in the 60’s, the era of the great unwashed, this was no mean feat. He was to rail against what he colourfully called “the fashion pedlars, with their dubious business methods,
Talk to any Bradshaw graduate and he will remember, with feeling, the weekly art history lectures given by the professor in the back lecture room where attendance was mandatory for everyone. He had always read voraciously and his students were to benefit from this trait, being required to listen to him give voice to opinions on all sorts of cultural issues in the legendary two hour sessions on Friday afternoons. Subject matter ranged from the scatological to science fiction and poetry. All manner of sacred cows were attacked, demystified and elucidated upon. Bradshaw’s cultural interests ranged widely and were eclectic and were governed by a rapier-sharp mind and a caustic wit. He collected 17th and 18th century books and Staffordshire ceramic figures at one time and also had a particular interest in Napoleon Bonaparte. The teaching aid was an Epidiascope (over-head projector) accompanied by a list of (mandatory) reading matter. What this regimen did do for young undergraduates was to develop an healthy disregard for other people’s opinions and a sure knowledge that art making can only come from disciplined hard work and personal risk taking. To this day, the original hard core Bradshavian trained artists, when gathered together, speak about art in a sub-text which pays direct homage to those doctrines. Most of them still often wear black garments, a sartorial device which, at that time, distinguished them from the herd.
The Grahamstown Group
Grahamstown Group 1971 The Grahamstown Group was the first cohesive group to emerge in the context of South African art which achieved continuity of style and aesthetics at a time when there were no art competitions and young artists did not have a forum to exhibit at national level. It was made up of invited student members and staff under Bradshaw’s stewardship. From 19641971, the Group, which consisted then, of about 21 members, exhibited large format landscape paintings as a major oeuvre. At first, members exhibited using surnames only. Esme Berman noted in her Dictionary of South African Artists that “Their mutual aesthetic philosophy achieved certain impact when they began to exhibit as a group in 1964 and the first evidence of a concerted artistic movement made its appearance in SA”. (Berman, E. 1983 ) “The emergence of a concerted group, formed as a vehicle for an artistic attitude, was unique in South African Art.” (Clark, H. 1976. P32) In an Eastern Province Herald newspaper report dated September 5 1968, Bradshaw is reported to have said that ..“ the sorry state of art in South Africa in general and the Eastern province in particular, where there is no association or exhibition with a high enough standard to subscribe to, has been behind the move to form the Group”. “I formed it in 1964 as a pressure group to get rid of artificiality in art. There were cliques all over the place, Cape Town, Johannesburg, English artists, Afrikaans artists. The Grahamstown Group upset this sort of thing. We exhibited work all over South Africa. It was a movement connected with youth. We’re not interested in who’s who.” (Nicholas, A. 1975) Established formally in May 1964 with a Manifesto with 51 Articles, the Group held its first exhibition in Johannesburg in November 1964 at Gallery 101. This was followed over the years until 1971, by about twenty more exhibitions in various centres all over the country. In 1976, the Group dominated the RSA exhibition held in East London. Over 40 works out of the total of 112 works exhibited were produced by Group and ex-group members. The RSA was a regional exhibition showcasing the best talent drawn from the area. Confirmed by the approbation of selector Bettie–Cilliers Barnard, it was also to firmly establish their reputation outside the provincial arena. The Group was to also open a gallery in an old stone building in New Street in Grahamstown where five exhibitions were held. There was also a permanent hanging exhibition of Group works. By 1975 the gallery was forced to close due to lack of funds. As Bradshaw had been the driving force behind the group, the group ceased to exist when he retired in 1978 and left SA the following year. Although the formal structure of the Group had disintegrated, the tenets held by students and staff who had exhibited with the group continued to bind them together socially and aesthetically. The Rhodes Art School continued to teach basic Bradshavian principles for the next 17 years under the direction of Robert Brooks, one of Bradshaw’s first students and an original member of the Group. The structure of the Group was also to morph, forming another group in 1981 which incorporated not only RU graduates, but also those from Fort Hare and from the Technikon in Port Elizabeth. This was called GAP (Grahamstown, Alice and PE). A number of the original Group graduates moved into fine art teaching positions at tertiary institutions in the Eastern Province carrying with them the basic systems and aesthetics which Bradshaw initiated. He is credited with having trained, directly or through his graduates, at least 10 full professors as well as many fine art professionals and full-time career painters.
Noel Hodnett Eastcape-Bush-Incident 1991 Rembrandt Art Foundation
Margie Britz Landscape 1969 Oil UNISA
Hodnett Bucklands-Afternoon 1988 NMMAM
Hilary Graham The artist turns his back on the Bay Area 1988
Neil Rodger Extensive View Albany District Water colour 1981 Neil Rodger Zuurberg landscape 1987
Wendy Malan Still life 1970
The Manifesto The Manifesto was published at the time of the Group’s inception as a statement of intent. Bradshaw’s formulation of this document as a modus vivendi for the artist had all the hallmarks of a 1914 Futurist document. (Futurism was an international art movement founded in Italy in 1909. It was a direct reaction to the sentimentalism of Romanticism. The Futurists loved speed, noise, machines, pollution, and cities; they embraced the exciting new world that was then upon them rather than hypocritically enjoying the modern world’s comforts while loudly denouncing the forces that made them possible.) However, Bradshaw’s manifesto was merely structured on Futurist style rather than its tenets. Some points, couched in aggressive rhetoric, now appear somewhat arcane and are mired in the now out-dated language style. However, When “deconstructed” this document is remarkable in that the basic concepts behind it were in advance of their time. Bradshaw was the first to endorse the use of solely indigenous subject matter (here local landscape) as legitimate material for art. Most subject matter in South African art was either appropriated from overseas sources or had European connotations. Bradshaw understood that an art school which had such easy access to landscape could provide an unusual opportunity for students to engage at a fundamental level with things which were readily identifiable and real (nature) in their lives and that making art from that authentic source would define who they were as artists and where they came from – hence the opening statement that “The Albany Museum is more important than the Tate Museum”. For those trained under these proclamations, the fundamental precepts still hold good today. Haven Clark, in his dissertation entitled “South African Art, the Romantic Principle and the Grahamstown Group” submitted for his M A degree in 1976, reproduces a slightly different version of the hand written document shown here. His version is prefaced with the following: “Since the roots of our development belong to Grahamstown South Africa- The Albany Museum is more important than the Tate Gallery - The Bundu is more important than the Albany Museum - The Bundu is hostile With Life - Pacifist–Periodicals of International-Art have no Vitalism. Art symbolises Indigenous culture – the Only Culture - We are Provincialists like the mediators of Lascaux and the Altimira”….. The original continues…..
Estelle Marais, Landscape
Estelle Marais - Watter pad huis toe vir die Meerkat II, Oil 1968
Aesthetics Charles Baudelaire wrote in 1846, “Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor in exact truth, but in a way of feeling.” (www. museum.org) The Grahamstown Group ethic is based on elements of European Romanticism and Expressionism, dominated by specific aspects of Brian Bradshaw’s personal approach to creativity. Romanticism was a complex artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Western Europe and that culminated in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era. It started as an artistic and intellectual movement that revolted against established values in social order and religion and it reacted against the scientific rationalization of nature. It also arose from the rapid, dynamic social change and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution. Individuality is a key tenet of Romanticism. Romanticism highlighted the achievements of what it perceived as heroic individualists and artists – pioneers who would elevate society. The Romantic artist adopted the role of an egotistic creator. He used imagination as a gateway to transcendent experience and spiritual truth. The movement also promoted freedom to move away from what were perceived as restrictive classical forms in art and traditional classical procedures. (wikipedia.com)The modern sense of a romantic character may be expressed in Byronic ideals of a gifted, perhaps misunderstood loner, creatively following the dictates of his inspiration rather than the mores of contemporary society. Bearing the above in mind, excerpts from Haven Clarks’s dissertation provides further information on some esoteric aspects of Group aesthetics: He states that “the ideology of the Grahamstown Group is a romantic one”. Romanticism is not a stylistic term….. The nature of reality is the romantic’s first concern….The criterion of its application is not how the painter paints, but what he believes. Romanticism is the ideology of a whole human being looking at the whole universe. In this way, the romantic totalises experience.” ….the proper condition for the artist is that he should be alienated (from the establishment) in order to indulge in proper creative activity. Alienation is a choice which is shaped by acknowledgement of, and then contradiction to, and avoidance of tradition. (Clark, H. 1976. P39 – 40). Bradshaw’s personal philosophy of painting was rooted in his belief that “the artist-painter is a rarity…. someone who carries a small audience….. and is different because his life consists of a finding out (about it) for himself. “Art is not a game: it’s not something to be possessed. It is a form of being, not having. The artistic life is not a problem or game to be solved or played, but a reality to be experienced. I believe in something outside man: something bigger than man. Whatever that thing is, is what I call nature. The world is a natural thing – seasons follow one another and people are born and they die and in the middle they do something, and that’s natural. The creative person realises that there’s nothing else but to be natural. If you attempt to be what you aren’t, then you’re only a part of an artificial scheme. If you’re only interested in yourself, you end up like (Francis) Bacon wrapped up in a lavatory seat somewhere. I mean who the hell wants to find out about oneself. One should know oneself if one is honest.” “Reality, which is the quest of art, to the artist is always a sensitive thing. It requires to be approached with an open mind. If one approaches it with preconceptions it will give nothing and the painter gains nothing. It is not what is known as taste. On the contrary, the quest for the interpretation of reality will never submit to taste. In order to live, art cannot accept frontiers. Each work is a dialogue between a painter and his time.” (Hogge, R 1976) On the specific activity of painting…… “My purpose is to make paint behave physically in the Nature of Paint….. All things at all times NATURAL. By Nature. With nature (which includes me)”. “Not making it (paint) look like something else. Making it become paint. Act as paint…. It’s a tough nut to crack but is NECESSARY because that’s what painting is. Nothing else will do. All else (and there is plenty of it) is imitation. Fool’s work…. Theatrical. Cosmetic” (Shields, C. 1999)
Nigel Mullins Landscape NMMAM
“A painting is the accumulation of slow, intensive work. Sometimes, there comes a time, if it is honest and true, when a door opens slightly and what is being sought, or not even sought, is found. So it has to be grabbed… Work requires a maturing, and a growth and a plod slowly. It has to develop into something. After this growth, one may find affirmation but forms need to be nourished and work requires the involvement of knowledge. You can’t find a clue or method in technique. Technique is how to stuff (colloquial) a vision. There is a different way for each painting – there is never a way of painting. You have to allow elasticity of motion and action and thought to allow it to develop. If you start off with too much of a fixation about something you never get beyond that.” “Drawing is about something you have experience of and to which you relate because of that experience. I don’t choose a subject. Subjects become obvious for all sorts of reasons, and maybe their pictorial appeal is the last reason - it is the experience which is embodied in the subject and with which I become affiliated. The drawing is the key which one can develop into a painting, but it is never something to stick up (on the wall) and imitate. A drawing is the description of a structure in depth and form and line, so that the line is not just an arabesque but a something that penetrates things in various dimensions, and doesn’t separate the sky from the earth. The whole thing is formulated together, and the drawing is a process of finding out, not really experience, but not expression. Because if you express things, then you’re hammering something onto something. But if you experience something, you absorb what the subject has to offer.” On Landscape painting… “Some watercolourists go out and they clock away at a landscape, distorting and deforming it…. They are merely using it and oversimplifying it and making it into something which it isn’t, just for the sake of making a pretty picture. It’s the type of expressionism I decry in that it is a personal imposition on everything. It’s a sham thing to eliminate the elements of nature in order to impose on it what you think is its personality. A very brash, oversimplified thing is the result. You can’t tackle a painting thinking “I am an artist”. The whole thing is (about) getting to grips with nature. It’s a matter of getting into it, and in order to that you have to become part of it, but not because you have to, but because you want to be part of it.” (Hogge, R 1976)
Public Perception of the Grahamstown Group and its place in the national arena The Group appeared to engender controversy everywhere because of its uncompromising stance and the elitist nature of the group. From the beginning, press and critical reaction was mixed and sometimes hostile, criticism ranging from the derisive to the euphoric. (see press reports).The Group’s attitude at the time may be summed up as follows: “If the Group comes to term with any social system, it does so of its own free will. Patronage is the outward and visible liaison which exists between the artist and society, any such liaison is likely to result in the deterioration of the artist who accepts it.”(Clark, H 1976) As the one-time prize fighter and soldier who had served in the trenches of the European war theatre with a firmly held conviction that art had to come from personal experience, Bradshaw had a pugnacious distain for all forms of authority and opinion - an attitude which had been honed by his experiences as a lobbyist for change in the British educational system. According to one graduate from that time, politics polarised some of his students. In a broad political sense, his right wing opinions and alignment with the conservative faction of the University’s administration was to garner him considerable personal advantage within the Apartheid system’s net-
work, resulting in his appointment as vice–chairman of the Board of Governors of the SABC in 1965 and the Directorship, outside of the country, of the National Galleries of Rhodesia. One of his exhibitions was opened in 1967 by Joyce Waring, the wife of the Minister of Sport, Forestry and Tourism. However, there are also reports that, on occasion, when students got into trouble, Bradshaw was not only supportive but intervened to prevent punitive measures being taken. At a fine art level, the Group was considered a parochial minor painting school by the bigger and more “sophisticated” Fine Art departments around the country because they stuck to “old fashioned” methods. Bradshaw dismissed this as either ignorance or prejudice. Most of the criticism centred around the fact that the group did not practise “true abstract” art which was the current contemporary painting fashion both overseas and here at home. Other criticism was less biased. In an SABC radio interview in April 1965, Professor R Antoinissen said that “the common ground of these artists seemed to be a strong sense of structure and form, a continuous investigation of experience gathered by working in a particular environment. In this way, the creative elements of the environment are revealed; a reality that is not imaginative, charming or enchanting; a reality that is a straightforward statement about the world and a vigorous reaffirmation of life”. ( Antoinissen R. SABC.1965) Marylyn Chapman had this to say in another SABC Arts Review programme: “Professor Bradshaw…. visualised the Rhodes Art School as a centre of indigenous painting, presents new dimensions, grafts new life on to what we have previously come to regard as South African art. Ruthlessly discarding Abstract Expressionism, forcing exoticism and the easy influence of primitive art into the background, this group… strives to remind us of our traditional inheritance. Roots are set back through the broken top soil of the Impressionists, and into the deeper ground of the Romantic period…. But always the English influence comes through….. Essentially a rural school, landscape painting and portraits of living, growing things, form the basis for interpretation. Each member of the group is dedicated to hard work. Each observes nature with intelligent insight. Not one is concerned with the fashionable, the Avant Garde or with technical virtuosity. Sound, strong drawing… forms the core, the pith of their work. Their observation of contemporary life is expressed always with a direct inheritance from Brian Bradshaw, whose achievement in Europe and the United States is noteworthy. In all, the work breaks powerfully upon one with clean, fresh force. Standing alone and isolated, but intensely aware of the life around it, the Rhodes art School is unique and individual” (Chapman M. SABC. 1966) The reasons why the Group has been relegated to a niche in history are complex. At the time it existed it was regarded as adversarial, narrow –minded, parochial and out of step with the ‘progressive’ attitudes of other English speaking universities. In post-Apartheid South Africa, Bradshaw’s affiliations with the incumbent Government together with an autocratic disdain which he developed later for university authority has also had a negative impact on public perception of the Group. That perception has endured and is one of the reasons why the Group has remained a neglected facet of South African art. In fact, although the isolated school tucked away in a corner of the Eastern Cape was regarded as a time warp of post-war British Royal academy practises, its head proceeded to graft some quite startlingly idiosyncratic views about the role that an indigenous art school could play out in the South African context onto what was one of the most productively structured art programmes in the country at that time. Despite his dismissive disclaimers on the subject, Bradshaw is responsible for the first of the truly indigenous and most homogenous landscape painting movements in this country. It may also be the only painting school which is defined by its rendition of South African landscape.
Brooks Rock Road Sign Barker coll. 1995
Tom Matthews c 1968
Celeste Biggs Matthews Bredin, Landscape
Robert Brooks East London Harbour 1963 SANLAM
Style and influences The original Group of painters became known for what was called their ‘Grahamstown Group style’, recognisable by its dark tones, vigorous brushwork and thick black calligraphic lines. Large format works were the norm, usually over one metre in height and breadth. Critics noted that there was “a lack of typical South African atmosphere”,(Die Vaderland,11/11/1964) - that “canvases too big and ‘over powering’” (Rand Daily Mail, 11/11/1964) and that the work was “derivative…(of Kokoschka)… what one does query is though is the adoption of the manner of another painter without digesting the reasons for the manner” (Cape Argus 22/6/1965) and that “a feeling for humanity is not particularly evident” (Daily Dispatch 26/3/1966). In an interview after the Group’s first Port Elizabeth exhibition in 1965, Bradshaw noted that these currents of controversy denoted a “certain amount of prejudice in public attitude toward a different point of view”. However as the Group developed and its base of exhibiting members changed and matured, and although emulation of the master was not encouraged for obvious reasons, there were elements of the style which were to remain constant. Bradshaw has always had a specific vocabulary for his work. Many of the iconic emblems – the humped hill, stark linear design, impastoed paint, tight knowledgeable draughtsmanship and the emphasis on a balanced format on large scale canvases have remained part of his signature style. His images have always been extrapolated from accurate academic draughtsmanship and a hands-on knowledge of landscape and figure drawing. The approach to form and landscape in particular was sensual, surreal and steeped in the British romantic tradition of painting of painters like Samuel Palmer and Turner as well as contemporary painters like Sutherland, Piper and Ivon Hitchens. Other influences have been attributed to European NeoExpressionism, Oskar Kokoschka, de Stael and Asger Jorn and the COBRA Group. Expressionism is a style whose aim is to portray an interpretation of a scene rather than simply replicate its true-life features. Expressionist painters typically distorted colour, scale and space to convey their feelings about what they saw. Many of these emblems and approaches linger on as a kind of DNA in the work produced by people he has taught and those they have taught in their turn. His legacy of skilled draughtsmanship and the tactile quality of paint persists in graduates trained under the original members of the Group and can be seen in the work of contemporary painters like Penny Siopis, Nigel Mullins, Carl Bekker, Cyril Coetzee, George Coutouvidis, Sarah Ballam, Noel Hodnett, Margie Britz, Craig Wylie and many others who are, in their turn, training and educating a new generation of lecturers, teachers and artists. The most remarkable fact of the Group’s influence is the enduring use of landscape and figurative forms which all painters trained at the Rhodes Art School use as a basis for their work. Those who have moved into either abstract of conceptual modes are usually easily identified by their physical use of paint and the balance of format which is a signature Bradshaw tenet. Ex-students all say that what has stayed with them is memories of Brad-
Diane McLean Gasworks 1984
Neil Rodger Karroo nude 2008
shaw’s energy and dynamism. “You either loved him or hated him but you never forget what he taught you” said one. Bradshaw has always stated that art is not at the service of taste. Each work is the product of a dialogue between the artist and his time and in that sense, he remains faithful to his belief “that the artistic life is not a problem or a game to be solved or played. It’s a reality to be experienced.”
World Art at the time of the Grahamstown Group Abstract expressionism was specifically an American post-World War II art movement. It was the first American movement to achieve worldwide influence and also the one that put New York City at the center of the art world, a role formerly filled by Paris. In the 1960’s American Pop art surfaced and dominated world art until Conceptual art arrived. Conceptual art was a movement founded on the principle that art is a ‘concept’ rather than a material object. That is to say, the ‘idea’ that a work represents is considered its essential component, and the ‘finished product’, if it exists at all, is regarded essentially as a form of documentation rather than as an artifact. Other art forms emerging in America and Europe in the early 1960s were Performance art and Installation art. Performance art was an experimental art form. It was inspired by Conceptual art as well as Dada, Futurism, the Bauhaus and the Black Mountain College. Dada artists combined poetry and the visual arts, while North Carolina’s Black Mountain College integrated theatre studies with visual arts. Installation art typically occupies an entire space, such as a room or larger area, and is created from a number of different components. Minimalism, another movement, was characterized by extreme simplicity of form and a deliberate lack of expressive content. Objects were presented in their elemental, geometric form, wholly devoid of emotion. Minimalist works (of sculpture and painting) were often composed of bare uniform elements making up some type of a grid or pattern. PhotoRealism, Super-Realism, Hyper-Realism are terms which denote styles of painting which appeared in the late 1960s, in which subjects (people or urban scenes) were painted in a highly detailed manner which resembled photographs. The Group did not assume any of these movements during its existence.
Penny Siopis My room RSA Exhib 1976
World Events at the time : 1964
Cassius Clay beats Sonny Liston for World Heavyweight championship The first Ford Mustang from Ford Motor Company is made. Nelson Mandela and seven others are sentenced to life imprisonment in South Africa The Beatles make their first appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. 1967 The Worlds First Heart Transplant operation in South Africa by Dr. Christiaan N Barnard Concorde is seen for the first time in public. 1971 Greenpeace formally comes into existence. The year that marked the start of the digital age when the Microprocessor was invented.
Jennifer Crooks 1993
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