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November 2009 For the full online edition go to: SUBSCRIBE: 1 year’s subscription to your door: R 180 - Incl. Business Art. E-mail:


Helmut Starke

Artist’s feature suppliment

Art Life: Cathy Layzell captures the dreamy lyrical of the Cape

CAPE has 6 months to pay former director Steve Kretzmann Cape Africa Platform (CAPE) has six months to come up with the approximately R250 000 they owe to former arts director Gavin Jantjies This follows CAPE conceding judgement to Jantjies’s claim in the Cape High Courtin October. CAPE, which organises one of the largest arts biennales in South Africa, don’t have the money at the moment, said CEO Mirjam Asmal-Dik, but would hopefully be able to pay Jantjies out in about May next year. Jantjies intimated that should they

Photo: Clare Thomas

Emma Bedford joins Strauss & Co. as Paintings Specialist

fail pay him, or try avoid paying him, he would not hesitate to start liquidation proceedings. Jantjies’s claim stemmed from CAPE’s ill-fated attempt to host their inaugural biennial, TRANS CAPE, in 2006. According to Asmal-Dik, Norwaybased Jantjies was contracted to curate the ambitious 2006 event and developed an exhibition which would have cost R11 million, a third of which involved paying for the transportation and insurance of international artist’s work. Read more on Page 3

Ms. Emma Bedford Emma Bedford has joined Strauss & Co as Paintings Specialist starting from 1 November 2009. Although she will be based in the Cape Town office, she will liaise on a regular basis between

Johannesburg and Cape Town. According to Stephan Welz, Managing Director of Strauss & Co, it is not often that someone of Bedford’s calibre becomes available. Highly regarded both locally and internationally, Bedford played an unequalled role as a Curator at The South African National Gallery and as Director of Goodman Gallery Cape. She is an acknowledged expert in modern and contemporary art with particular reference to South African art, has extensive experience in curating exhibitions and collections management, has written and edited many publications and is a popular public speaker. See: Business Art for more

The all new Art Life Newspaper

ART LIFE see inside

In our first issue: Tea & charcoal with Irma. Lisa Grobler talks to us on her 1 day residecies at the Irma Stern Museum

South African visual arts needs more titles in order to cover the great diversity of it’s contemporary art. To date there have been few magazines that claim to be the sole or premier authority of Art. Art Life seeks to actively promote fine artist’s who seek excerlence in all media- including painting. Art Life’s content is focused on writing by artists, for artist’s. We are deibrate in printing more images than normal as this contributes to creating a greater showcase of SA visual art. Our website at: www.artlife will be launched in November




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South African Art Times.

November 2009

CAPE given six months to pay former arts director Norway she received a summons for the money. Asmal-Dik said she admitted CAPE, and the board of directors, made a number of mistakes in dealing with Jantjies, but had always acted in good faith.

Gavin Jantjies

Photo: MP

Continued from page 1 “We couldn’t get that money… there was no chance,” said AsmalDik. Instead, she said Jantjies was asked to work within a R2 – R3 million budget, which he refused to do. “We should have told him then that it (his refusal) was a breach of contract,” she said, which would have forestalled Jantjies’s claim, or at least given them a much stronger legal case. Jantjies said he refused to work with the much reduced budget as it would have forced him to produce sub-standard work and compromise his professionalism. TRANS CAPE was subsequently postponed and eventually cancelled. When the dust settled, Jantjies apparently still owed CAPE 25 days of work and he was owed R155 000 out of an agreed upon fee of R622 000, an amount CAPE agreed to settle in full as soon as outstanding Lotto funding amounting to R2,85 million, came through. Asmal-Dik said despite waiving a counter-claim for the 25 work days owed, and reaching an agreement, a week after Jantjies returned to

The result was that they had a weak legal case and their attempts to defend Jantjies’s claim of a breach of contract crumbled on Wednesday when Judge Lee Bozalek refused their application for a postponement, leading them to concede to judgement. Commenting on Friday, Jantjies disputed Asmal-Dik’s assertion that they had offered to settle with him when CAPE received the outstanding Lotto funding in late 2007. He said he had left after the 2006 TRANS CAPE fiasco on friendly terms, and had issued a summons for the money owed to him because he was advised not to return to Norway before ensuring the matter could be followed up via litigation if necessary. However, he said he made it “very clear” that a settlement could be reached and the case would be withdrawn when he got paid. His resolve to press through with litigation hardened, he said, when he was still not paid after discovering CAPE had received their outstanding Lotto funding.

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Gavin Jantjes & the fate of CAPE Africa Follow up from CAPE given six months to pay former arts director

‘I never pulled out of Cape’ says Gavin Jantjes, speaking after the court judgement which has given his legal team the power to exercise liquidation proceedings if Cape Africa Platform fails to pay him the sum of R255 000 by March of 2010. This has arisen from the fact that Cape failed to honour their contract with Jantjes in 2006 to produce Transcape. Jantjes says that his contract stipulated that he would produce an international exhibition to the value of R14 million, of which Cape had R4 million hard cash and the rest ‘approved’ by various funders. Upon realising that Cape would not be able to raise the funds, Jantjes says that he compromised to scale down to R11 million as well as postponing the event. At this stage Jantjes says Cape had six months to raise R7 million, with himself personally raising funds for the catalogue.

“I would have dropped the claim, even dropped the legal fees,” he said. “Now of course they have to face the music.”

But when Cape failed to raise the funds, because applications that were thought to be previously approved weren’t and amid added woes from the lottery who failed to deliver on time only to come through a year later, Jantjes says that Cape had failed to meet their end of the contract.

Regarding the possibility of forcing CAPE to liquidate in order to pay him, he said if he discovered they continued to avoid paying him, he would “liquidate them in two seconds flat”.

Herein lies the source of the dispute and the resultant court case. When Cape failed to stand up to their end of the contract Jantjes was unwilling to compromise further saying that his original

proposal (Transcape) couldn’t be done of the R2.8 million budget available. Hence Cape ’07, minus Jantjes, who stayed on in an advisory capacity. Of the court case, Jantjes says that it was brought about in 2006, when Cape failed to honour their contract, purely a ‘safety measure’ taken due to the funding woes they were experiencing. Managing director of Cape Mirjam Asmal-Dik says that Cape offered Jantjes two settlements that were ‘refused’ due to the fact that he wanted interest that had incurred during the time elapsed. Jantjes said that upon Cape failing to pay him when the Lotto came through a year later with their pledge, he had no choice but to begin court proceedings. This he said was unfortunate as he felt South Africa needed more art institutions and boiled down to a case of bad management. At this stage Asmal-Dik says that she is awaiting word from the board as to whether to grant Jantjes’ legal team access to Cape’s accounts. Approached for comment Jantjes’ said that the matter was now out of his hands and up to his lawyers. He further noted that should Cape fail to honour the conditions stipulated he would have no problem in ‘closing them down’.

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South African Art Times.

Loss of NIVEA Start Art Award a blow to KZN Art

Durban’s defiant persistence

Arttimes spoke to galleries in Durban to take the tone of the local art scene and to understand why events like the Spring Art Tour don’t venture to warmer shores.

Bheki Khambule, detail of self portrait Bheki Khambule , 2008’s START Nivea Art Award winner, with no formal art training, Khambule’s progression has been impressive, the Nivea solo show rocketed him even further.... “After much discussion…we have decided to bring our South African Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative more in line with the International Beiersdorf Donation Guidelines” –Mitja Zupancic, Managing director of Beiersdorf SA, explaining NIVEA’s decision to pull its support from the KZNSA’s annual art competition. Beiersdorf, holding company of skin care brand NIVEA has pulled all it’s funding from the KZNSA gallery, bringing an end to Kwa-Zulu Natal’s biggest art competition, the NIVEA Art Awards. In a shock decision aimed at aligning the brand to its international Corporate Citizen strategy, funding will now be focussed on ‘improving the future prospects of underprivileged children or families through education or family assistance’, said managing director Mitja Zupancic in a letter explaining the decision. Times November_09.indd 1

2009/10/19 05:52:26 PM

November 2009

Beiersdorf was ironically a prominent sponsor at this year’s 53rd Venice Biennale, adding to KZNSA curator Brenton Maart’s confusion over their decision to withdraw their funding. CEO of the KZNSA, Trevor Moore also expressed dismay at this development saying that, as a non-profit institution, the KZNSA is committed to art outreach, education and development at grass roots level, with previous winners of the awards coming from underprivileged communities who have benefitted from NIVEA’s involvement. He further added concern over the low priority given by corporate sponsors to the arts saying that ‘there is no other way to keep a culture alive’ without focussed participation from corporates. He also expressed that finding sponsorship that aligns itself to the ethos and concerns of a contemporary gallery is difficult, added to the fact that provincial government also gives low priority to the arts.

Despite the relative anonymity of Durban in the national art scene, as seen most prominently with the Spring Art Tour only going to Cape Town and Jo’burg, the feeling of local gallerists is that, despite the lack of commercial infrastructure, the audiences are there. For many it is a problem of sustainable infrastructure. There is simply not a larger enough economic base for galleries to function effectively. Yet despite this there are initiatives taking place that indicate a large receptive audience. The art bus, started last year as a part of the Celebrate Durban festival, runs every weekend with bookings having to be done well in advance. Recently the Durban Art Gallery revived Red Eye, an event that sees the party spill from the gallery to the streets of Durban central. Printmaker and academic Vuli Nyoni, based at the Centre for Visual Arts at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in Pietermaritzburg, suggested that it is partially an institutional problem that resulted in the province being overlooked as an art destination. Citing the fact that, as opposed to other provinces, which have major institutions teaching art all in a close radius, KZN only has two. For this reason Nyoni suggests that ‘the points of access don’t flow

both ways’, in many ways contributing to a relative brain drain. Nathi Gumede of the Kizo Gallery said he finds it unfortunate that Durban is compared to other centres saying that it presents different challenges. He also added that many profiled figures in the South African art world have their roots in KZN, with names like Jeremy Wafer, Andries Botha and Walter Oltman being some that spring immediately to mind. Karen Bradtke of ArtSpace says that one of the problems lies with the artists. As a huge province the infrastructure cannot support those in rural areas and those in the developed centres also are not applying for funding, simply for the reason that they are simply not aware that it exists. Despite this, ArtSpace runs successfully as a commercial venture and has a flagship project in Berlin.

A major blow to the art community is the loss of the NIVEA Art Awards held annually at the KZNSA. As one of the provinces nationally recognised art events such a development does not bode well. Yet optimism, if not echoed from the institutions can definitely be seen in the audiences. As long as people attend event like the Red Eye, art can be sure to continue.

South African Art Times.

November 2009

Page 5

Photographer Garth Stead found dead at home Award winning photographer Garth Stead was found dead in his Woodstock home yesterday by concerned friends when he was unable to be contacted by telephone. Stead was arguably one of South Africa’s top photojournalists and was awarded the esteemed Fuji Press Award. As a former picture editor of Die Burger and photographer for the Cape Times from 1996 -1999, Stead was currently working as Cape Town picture editor for Foto24, a division of Media24’s photographic department. Die Burger news editor Michele O’Connor said of Stead “He was someone who not only took pictures, but painted with his camera. I remember him fondly as a person who cared deeply for people, especially his children.” Friend and fellow photographer Mark Wessels said yesterday: “Garth was a brilliant photographer, who worked at developing photography in South Africa, particular with underprivileged people. He gave people opportuni-

ties when no one else would. He looked inside people and could see the gems there,” Wessels said. With Karin Retief and Robin Sprong, Stead founded what became Icon Images school of photography, where they and others helped train underprivileged people in photography. “It started over a beer one night when Garth said: ‘It’s time to give back’,” Retief said. They began teaching eight- and nine-years-olds at a Mfuleni orphanage.

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One of those children, Mxolisi “Whitey” Madela, is now an adult working at the Cape Argus as a photographer. “He taught me a lot of things. He was more than a friend, more like a father,” Madela said yesterday. Stead was 37 and is survived by two sons. See more of Gath Stead’s amaizing work at:


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Helmut Starcke


ow living and working in the Southern Cape, Helmut Starcke continues to produce challenging and powerful paintings at the age of 73. His creative work has bridged advertising, teaching and the career of a professional artist. This supplement attempts to create a broader awareness of his immense contribution to South African art. Fundamental to his achievement is the fact that he is a highly-gifted, inventive and flexible draughtsman. Initially nurtured in advertising in Germany with no formal art school training, that gift has been extended far beyond the ephemerality of consumer ‘art’. He has made enduring images that remain in the mind’s eye and he is represented in many public, corporate and private collections.. In an age where draughtsmanship and the very idea of hand-eye coordination has been demoted and dulled by the computer and a relentless deluge of photo-generated images, he stands as an exemplar of just how drawing still stands as an intellectual discipline and activity. Drawing for Starcke is the basis of creation on a two-dimensional surface; it is about the profound freedom to inscribe; it is always about ‘resisting’, as he says, ‘the temptation to do the harmonious thing ’. It is about how one handles and exploits the infinite possibilities of paint. It is about retaining independence from the tyranny of the photograph, which is but one tool among many at the disposal of the artist. Possessed of an unerring eye, Starcke is a professional picture-maker who knows how to make images ‘work’.

Starcke’s most recent important exhibition was held in Johannesburg in 2007. Entitled Reflections and consisting of six large paintings in acrylic, it opened at the Everard Read Gallery in May, 2007. A notable feature of his mature work of recent years is his engagement with the European Old Master tradition, which indicates the terrain he has covered since he was first hailed as South Africa’s pre-eminent ‘Pop’ artist, with the bright colour and stimulating optical concerns of his work in the 1960s and 70s. As a former advertising man he is concerned with making an art that engages with a broader, rather than an elitist art constituency. As he says of his most recent work: ‘all of [my] images have multiple entry points, and this is why I do not want to push my secret ingredients … I prefer to regard them as a form of respectful co-opting from art history, which is due to my enduring respect for the Old Masters’. Starcke’s paintings can often remain long in gestation, always subject to reconsideration and amendment. Homage to Gustave Dore, for example, was first commenced in 1999 but only first exhibited in 2007. Using Dore’s 19th-century engraving entitled The Battle of the Angels, which is transposed into acrylic on canvas over a vista of the Cape Peninsula, its theme of the struggle between good and evil becomes a metaphor of sorts for our own contemporary political situation in the Western Cape. As his earlier works testify, Starcke remains ever skeptical about man’s relationship to the

natural environment. His recent Vaalputs Madonna, based on the Venetian Giovanni Bellini’s San Zaccaria Altarpiece (c.1495) exposes the damage and high incidence of leukaemia in the local community wrought by Eskom and the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (NECSA) through their dumping of nuclear waste at Vaalputs, near Upington. Christianity’s image of the promise of renewed life, the Madonna and Child, becomes an endorsement of eternal death at Vaalputs. The Madonna and Child are framed by the branches of an abandoned, unfinished indigenous dwelling; the sky seems redolent of clouds, dust, wind and rain that are in effect radioactive. Transfiguration on the Pipetrack is another visionary work that raises issues of environmental abuse. One of Table Mountain’s most popular walks, the Pipetrack, with its plethora of indigenous plants, is slowly being degraded by litter bugs and erosion. Using Bellini again as his touchstone, Starcke creates an image of Christ as ‘transfigured nature’, his divine human attributes replaced by botanical forms of a transient, blossoming beauty which stand in contrast to the discarded rubbish of consumerism thrown at his feet. As an immigrant to South Africa from Europe, Starcke has always been able to retain a degree of bemused detachment in his wry observations on this country’s schizophrenic dilemmas. Colonial and African cultures contest and contrast with each other and this is the subtext of many of his best works. His Fateful Encounter, where the angel of a Flemish Master confronts a shamanistic figure with the head of a springbok, is the visualisation of a ‘battle between divergent belief systems – between Western-imposed doctrine and [indigenous] traditional faith’.

I hope my paintings are understandable for a lot of people. Perhaps that comes from an advertising background, and maybe I have always been a teacher at heart, trying to tell people something specific about a situation … I do not want a closed-circuit art. Ideally I’d like people simply to want a painting, to love it with that mysterious chemistry that just happens. - Helmut Starcke, interviewed by Dale Lautenbach, March, 1983.


Fateful Encounter acrylic on canvas Homage to Gustave Dore (1999-2007) acrylic on canvas

Giovanni Bellini S. Zaccaria Altarpiece (1505) (detail)

Bellini The Transfiguration (1490-95) (oil on panel)

Transfiguration on the Pipetrack (2007) acrylic on canvas

The Vaalputs Madonna (first exhibited in 2007) acrylic on canvas

In 1998, hinting at the new directions his work was soon to take in his postretirement years, Starcke stated: ‘I shall proceed both in celebration and in criticism, with a sense of personal encounter in [the] history of art and the pleasure of “another viewing’ of well-loved images, as well as of things that lie far outside of the edge of the canvas’. His quest to mine the history of art to make creative comment on both contemporary and eternal issues




EARLY YEARS IN GERMANY Helmut Starcke was born in Offenbach-am-Main, a town in Hesse in the former West Germany. His father Heinrich Starcke was trained as a master-craftsman and made fine leather goods for which Offenbach-am-Main was renowned. In the seven years prior to Adolf Hitler’s appointment as German Chancellor in 1933, Heinrich Starcke was unemployed because of the severe economic depression caused by the crippling reparations imposed on Germany by France and Britain after the end of World War I . Hitler’s economic policy led to a quick turn-about in this state of affairs, which increased his popularity. He also quickly began rearming Germany in contravention of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, an action that enabled his seizure of control over Czechoslovakia and Austria. His invasion of Poland in 1939 finally ignited the Second World War. Heinrich Starcke, like many other skilled Germans at this time, found employment in the war industry and was thus able to support his family of two children, which included a daughter born in 1930, and his son Helmut, born in 1935. The year in which Helmut was born saw the imposition of the draconian and racist Nuremberg Laws which discriminated against German-Jewish people, excluding them from many professions. It was the start of a process that would culminate in industrial-scale genocide at Treblinka, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz. When war broke out in 1939, Helmut was four years old. When it ended with Germany’s almost total annihilation in 1945, he was only ten. Those Germans - mostly women and children - who survived the War, faced terrible hardship in Germany’s devastated cities and unsympathetic treatment at the hands of the victorious Allies. Helmut continued his education until he was 16. He then left school to seek work in order to augment the family income, taking up an apprenticeship at the Werbekunst Publicity Studio in Frankfurt. He later took up an appointment as a graphic designer with the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, also in Frankfurt.


Government Avenue, Cape Town (1961). Acrylic on canvas. Iziko SA National Gallery

The Hitch hiker (1968). Acrylic on canvas, Iziko SA National Gallery

n 1958, aged 23, Starcke left Germany to settle in CapeTown, where he initially worked for P.N. Barrett Advertising, switching to Lindsay Smithers Advertising in 1962. His burning desire to paint manifested itself in his first solo exhibition at Fabian Fine Art in 1963. The late Neville Dubow , who was writing art criticism inthe local press at the time, re called meeting Starcke. He recalled him as ‘pretty economical with words’ because of his initially limited ability in English, but that there was, ‘so to speak, a glint in his eye when he looked at South African society in the locust years of



Pop’s use of mass-media images and processes no doubt appealed to an artist already well-steeped in the devices of advertising. Starcke began to use the ‘cool’, photo-derived techniques of illustrative advertising as a new basis in his work and this replaced the expressive tendencies of his social realist work. Bushveld Light (1968) sets the simplified image of a hunter and his dead trophy in a bleached landscape against flat areas of colour overlaid with a grid of coloured dots. It is an attempt to render the retina-scorching glare and contrasting deep shadow of African light in a contemporary idiom. Starcke’s use of repetitive colour dots is often said to have been derived from the ‘Ben-Day’ dots used in screened commercial photographic processes, in much the same way as in the work of Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) used them in his paintings. Starcke however denies this, pointing out that his use of repetitive colour ‘discs’ has more to do with generating optical effects than with ‘Ben Day’ dots derived from enlarging an image which is ultimately derived from a printed source. In Hitch hiker (1968), simplified image-fragments of a highway, a human face, a windscreen and a vehicle are composed into an abstract whole, distilling space and time. Images from inside and outside the vehicle are presented simultaneously. Hitch hiker also initiates Starcke’s use of the ‘space frame’. This is the device of an image-within-an-image which presents two aspects, or two related images, simultaneously. It can create ambiguous effects of a smaller image inserted within a larger one; of different or related pictorial realities presented at the same time. The quest for flatcolour effects in acrylic on canvas also led Starcke to the employment of serigraph (silkscreen) printing techniques. In a series of prints commissioned for the Elizabeth Hotel in Port Elizabeth in 1971, where he worked jointly with Neville Dubow and Kevin Atkinson, he produced a series of symmetrical, iconic images (all serially Untitled, 1971) which are redolent of the Rorschach ink-blot test. Neither fully ‘Op’ nor ‘Pop’, they are perhaps the closest approximation of the spirit of both in his work. To define Starcke’s work as ‘Pop” in these years is simplistic, but there is no doubt that his responses to these movements and his training can easily lead viewers to this assumption. ‘I’ve never regarded myself as a Pop artist’, he once stated. ‘If one is receptive to a general atmosphere, similar things are bound to happen. And with my advertising background in consumer art, the connection was inevitable’. Untitled (1971). Serigraph on paper

In addition to his acerbic images of people, Starcke also made a number of works dealing with older buildings in Cape Town. In works like The Blue Shop (1961), the collage of signs and advertisements attached to the building were familiar territory to a painter already so steeped in advertising. His works in this vein prefigured the photo-realist paintings of vernacular buildings in South Africa’s rural dorps made in the later 1970s and 80s by younger artists such as John Kramer (born 1946).

The Blue Shop (1961) Acrylic on canvas.

Caprivi of my Mind #3. Acrylic on canvas, Private collection



It was ‘this glint’, noted Dubow, that ‘sparked off some of the earliest examples of socially-satirical art that began to surface in the early 1960s.’ At this time Starcke was a great admirer of the work of Ben Shahn (1898-1969), the American social realist painter and photographer. His acerbic eye set a precedent for Starcke, whose own sardonic eye was, in turn, levelled at the strange society which now surrounded him. Jesus Lives (1962) seems well within Shahn’s sphere of influence, but in Government Avenue, Cape Town (1961) Starcke paints a then-familiar annual Cape Town sight with biting and cynical caricature. This work, since acquired by the SA National Gallery, shows phalanxes of grim and porcine-faced ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church walking down Government Avenue, traditionally dressed in white shirts and white ties with black suits and hats. The orange background with the blue trees and shadows allude to the oranje-blanjeblou of the old South African flag under the National Party government of the day. It is an unforgettable image of repressive Calvinist rectitude; of the virtual theocracy that underpinned and justified the philosophy of apartheid. Government Avenue, Cape Town has now become a historical image; the nearby the Synodal Hall has been converted into a hotel, apartheid is now buried, and the ‘penguins’, as Capetonians called them, no longer make their seasonal appearances. As Dubow observed, ‘nobody else in the local context had come up with an image of this kind … here, it seemed, was an artist with a hand and an eye capable of making us look at ourselves’.

Jesus Lives (1962) Acrylic on canvas.

Bushveld Light (1968). Acrylic on canvas, Wits University Art Galleries

hile Starcke’s early social realist work garnered critical attention, as his own sternest critic he began to consider other possibilities for future directions in his painting. Social realism, he realised, was ‘natural’ for him as a new immigrant. But as he admitted, ‘coming from outside, from Europe, one always [had] a lot of criticisms; but my paintings posed questions and didn’t pretend to offer solutions’. By the later 1960s his work had shifted in directions being explored by many international artists and colour theorists such as Josef Albers (1888-1976) who were exploring simplified forms, bright flat colour, hard edges and spatial ambiguity. These features are synonymous with ‘Op Art’, but Starcke did not fully embrace either its wholly abstract approach or its eye-teasing effects, preferring, rather, to retain figurative elements that had been subjected to some degree of abstraction. In particular, aspects of the work of the British painter Bridget Riley (born 1931) and the American Larry Poons (born 1937) were deeply internalised and integrated into his work. Figuration had staged a come-back after the orthodoxy of abstraction in the 1940s and 50s, reappearing in the initially surprising phenomenon of Pop Art.

tarcke’s series of paintings and prints entitled Caprivi of my Mind was produced over a period of some years between c.1970 and c.1976. The title of the series shows a more marked emphasis on ‘African’ subject matter in his work, alluding to the Caprivi Strip, that narrow, 450 km-long protrusion of Namibian territory that runs between Angola, Botswana and Zambia to the north-western tip of Zimbabwe. Caprivi was a nexus of ongoing conflict in the 1970s when South Africa governed the then-South West Africa, and was involved in wars against SWAPO, the ANC while covertly supporting UNITA in the Angolan civil war. Many languages are spoken in Caprivi, and in African terms it is the meeting place of many cultures and ideas. In these years Caprivi represented a distant war that existed only in the minds of white South Africans, symbolising their fight against the supposed ‘forces of darkness’ in the form of ‘communism’, ‘atheism’ and forces bent on the destruction of ‘western civilisation’. The reality of this faraway war never impinged on their daily lives, but the lives of young white men were heedlessly sacrificed in the process. Some paintings in this series combine disparate images that seem hallucinatory, their strange junction and conflation appearing redolent of the heraldic and the emblematic. Caprivi of my Mind #3, with a Zebra kitted in medieval jousting-attire and surmounted by a mysterious, faceless, lynxlike creature wearing antlers seems such an image. Caprivi of my Mind #1, on the other hand, shows an ostrich pulling a chariot-like cart driven by a cut-out human figure reminiscent of those used as targets in training military snipers and marksmen. Caprivi of my Mind #6 shows a winged Zulu warrior with his feet enigmatically entrapped in the earth, at the same time bathed in lurid lighting effects so as to appear like some kind of African Archangel. Caprivi of my Mind #10, using the space-frame device, fuses two disparate images, one of aswimming pool and the other of a crocodile amid the beauty of flowering water plants. The luxury of suburban life in white South Africa is simultaneously contrasted with death Caprivi of my Mind #6. lurking beneath an alluring guise. Acrylic on canvas, Private collection

Caprivi of my Mind #1. Acrylic on canvas, Private collection

Caprivi of my Mind #10 (1976). Acrylic on canvas. Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, Port Elizabeth




The Burning Bush (Strelitzias) (1983) Acrylic on canvas, Sasol Art Collection

Still Life with Bananas and Mangoes (1990) Acrylic on canvas


n the period 1988 to 1990, Starcke produced a series of still-life paintings that explored the grid as a compositional and structural device. With still-life as his focus, he defined his project as ‘imposing a “superior” order on symbolic subject matter in illusionistic space’. A series of grids invisibly laid over each other operates in these paintings. Starcke regards the grid as an ‘emblem of modernity’, that was consciously used by the Cubists and the Futurists in ways that generated both a sense of stasis – in Cubism - as well as dynamic diagonals – in Futurism. As Starcke has stated: ‘ the grid also provides a formal structure, adequate to convey the content (lack of confidence in man, looking for hope in nature) of my recent work, replacing pictorial ‘gravity’ with a strong but disturbing order, contradicting the harmony established by the familiarity of the subject matter and, surprisingly and paradoxically for an ordering device, creating acute instability’. A high degree of stasis was achieved by the use of grids in Piet Mondrian’s abstract art. Starcke pays homage to Mondrian in his Time for Myself (1990), taking the artist’s well-known painting Broadway Boogie-Woogie (1942-43) and tilting it on its side. He unsettles the stasis of Mondrian’s composition by tilting the painting diagonally. The Mondrian within Starcke’s painting becomes yet another object among other objects in a world where gravity has been suspended. Objects adhere to established, yet invisible planes in illusionistic space. In Still Life with Bananas and Mangoes (1990), the objects are suspended in front of, rather than resting on, an exotic carpet. Such carpets were often present in 17th-century Dutch still life paintings. The mangoes are arranged on a vertical invisible plane in space. They suggest an underlying grid-pattern that is perhaps incomplete; still engaged in a process of becoming. There is no repose in Starcke’s still-lifes, and their underlying energy and layered dynamism holds in suspense a diversity of objects that speak of different and contesting cultural identities as well as the tensions between them. Neville Dubow has commented that these images seem to represent ‘new claimants closing in on an embattled laager of eurocentrism … a mix of cultural liquors in the cocktail shaker of realpolitik’. This is evidently the case in Still Life with Lilies, porcelain and hardwood (1988), where a totemic African sculpture of a female fetish seems to have won the contest for prime position in the foreground over a Rococo-style porcelain maiden. In such works Starcke has energized and revitalized the still-life genre, making it speak volubly to the cultural issues and conflicts confronting us at present.

Still Life with Lilies, porcelain and hardwood (1988) Acrylic on canvas Private Collection


ature and nature’s forms are a major interest in many of Starcke’s canvases. In 1989 he once stated: ‘The more I learn about man’s tireless abuse of nature, the less I am interested in “the human condition” as subject matter’. The device of the ‘space frame’ was used with greater subtlety on one hand (and even greater emphasis on the other) in some of his paintings of the late 1970s and early 1980s where nature is the sole subject. Commenting further he said: ‘for some time I have felt more and more compelled to create images celebrating the life force, as well as order in nature, speaking of such things as fresh air, clear water, cool grass and white clouds etc, but also of the mystery as well as the logic – all of which we perceive as beauty’. These sentiments and intentions are clearly evident in his For Cherylle series. In For Cherylle No. 3 (1977), for example, a centralised square image of rushing water and stones echoes the proportions and edges of the canvas format while suspended against a cloudy sky. Symmetry and an underlying geometry create a sense of a ‘divine order’ in nature by employing a structure or a repetitive motif that is established either by an underlying grid or by a superimposed one. This is clearly seen in North Coast no. 1 (1982), where an invisible grid dictates the placing of repeated flower motifs. A sense of sublime and architectonic symmetry underpins the fluid and random forms of water and rocks seen in Prayer No. 3 (1983), where, again, an array of prismatic light forms is held in place by another invisible, structural grid. Dispensing with the grid entirely, Starcke is also able to evoke the spiritual in nature simply by according his image an iconic centrality on a square format, as in his Burning Bush (Strelitzias) (1983). In art historical precedent, painted light effects or sources of light often allude to the spiritual and the divine, to the awesome sense of God-in-nature, which we call ‘the sublime’. A well-known literary image is that of the ‘burning bush’ in the book of Exodus, where God appeared to Moses as a ‘mystery’, taking the form of a fire that burned but which did not consume. According to Starcke, his own painting, Burning Bush (Strelitzias), ‘takes an almost nostalgic backward look ... at what we have lost’. The work, he says, ‘might even look forwards to a time after man ... in this frame of mind the emotive biblical symbol became inevitable, and with the strelizia “flames” in “superior order”, [they become] an image of mystery, [of] supernature triumphant.’

Hollow Triumph (1985) Lithograph


he trauma of South Africa moving towards political transformation in the late 1980s and early 1990s was visualized by Starcke in the form of an ominous clutter of detritus, charred, burnt and smouldering wooden elements, skulls and traditional ‘cultural weapons’ which were the subject of a series of lithographic prints published in 1995. Using the expressive potential of black and reflective gold ink on white paper, they seemed a sombre shift when compared to his earlier works which show an interest in bright, flat colour. These prints were exhibited together with a series of related paintings that also used a new form of gold acrylic paint and textured surfaces at the SA Association of Arts. . Critic Benita Munitz commented that ‘this was a show of illuminating paradoxes ... surfaces gleam with gold – and smoulder with dying embers; flowers bloom amid a carnage suggested by multiple skulls; elements of the secular and the spiritual combine in disaster scenarios gilded like religious icons’. Paintings such as By the Waterfall (1994) also introduced ‘living’ elements into these gravity-free visions of nature morte. Legend (1995) is a triptych using the image of the Zulu King Cetshwayo’s carved wooden throne, which is By the Waterfall (1994) shown in different stages of creation, destruction and rebirth. The rebirth panel shows the charred throne with a budding flower as a sign of renewed life amid the destruction.

Legend (1995) Acrylic on canvas Iziko SA National Gallery



Time for Myself (1990) Acrylic on canvas Private Collection For Cherylle #3 (1983) Acrylic on canvas, Iziko SA National Gallery Still Life with Poppies and objets d’Art (1988) Acrylic on canvas, Private Collection

North Coast no 1 (1982) Acrylic on canvas

Prayer # 3 (1983) Acrylic on canvas

n 2004, the Old Town House, the home of Cape Town’s well-known Michaelis Collection of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish Old Masters, became the perfect site for Starcke’s exhibition of canvases entitled The Muse of History. The interiors provided an ideal setting for contextualising a series of nine works which, shown alongside 17th-century originals, reflected deeply on the Golden Age of Netherlandish art. In these paintings Starcke meditated and speculated, in a celebratory as well as a critical spirit, on well-loved images from this period. The history of the Dutch colonisation of Cape in 1652 was also brought to bear upon these images in surprising ways. A Dutch still life, for example, was recreated and reinvented on a large, square canvas as a charred version of the original. Entitled In the Beginning (1999), with the date 1652 emblazoned across the top, it is a wry comment on the ravages of colonialism. The Muse of History (2000), a reworking of Vermeer’s masterly allegorical work entitled The Art of Painting (1666) was the centrepiece of the exhibition and, like the Vermeer original in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, it was displayed on an artist’s easel. In the original painting, Vermeer portrayed an artist at work in a sumptuous studio. This mysterious figure possibly Vermeer himself - is shown from behind, painting from his model. The model is a young woman illuminated by a hidden light source and costumed with the attributes of Clio, the classical Muse of History. While art historians have long speculated on the meaning of this highly-complex In the Beginning (1999), picture, Starcke used it as the basis Acrylic on canvas for his own speculations on the

Dreams and Nightmares of M. de la Q. #4 (2001), Acrylic on canvas, Standard Bank Collection


Helmut Starcke at work in his studio at UCT, c. 1979


tarcke has worked with acrylic almost exclusively through his painting career, although in his early Ben Shahn-inspired works he used ready-prepared tempera that came in tubes. He has always been open to

unwritten histories and experiences of the Dutch colonial ‘adventure’ here at the southern tip of Africa .In Starcke’s rendition, the opulence and literary associations of Vermeer’s masterwork are contrasted, by inference, with the sparsity of the Dutch visual record of the original inhabitants of their colony at the Cape. His surreal replacement of Clio with an image of a //Kau//en woman and child, The Muse of History (2000) based on a black and white pho Acrylic on canvas, Iziko tograph taken by Alfred DugganSA National Gallery Cronin in 1936, raises issues that were seen in his paintings before, but never with such resonance. These reflect his concerns with the interactions and reactions that took place - and continue to take place - at the interface of the African and Western European cultural traditions. Dreams and Nightmares of M. de la Q. #4 (2003), one of a series of speculative works using the name of Jan van Riebeeck’s wife, is a superb example of this. Starcke articulated his rationale behind this series as follows: ‘I have to say that I could not have produced these works anywhere else but at the Cape. I also believe that part of that vivid art history, which I used to see as my European heritage, also belongs to the Cape. This realisation has charged me with a sense of retribution and redemption, a taking but also a giving back of the rightful share, a claiming of part of that same vividness for the Cape. Somewhere between the glory of the art and the shame of the reality lies my justification for what I have been doing’. the idea of working in oils, but acrylic seems to have been his first choice. In his initial training as a graphic designer, the use of water-based designer gouache colours allowed the immediate articulation of advertising ideas in a fast-drying medium that tended to dry flat and matt. Something of this quality is approximated in acrylics, which he first used in 1962. Acrylics are water-based paints that first appeared commercially in the 1950s as an alternative to traditional oil paint. Oil paint consists of pigment ground in linseed or poppy oil as a binder, while with acrylics the pigment is ground in a synthetic medium that has high water content. Oil colour dries and forms a tough film through the oxidation of the linseed oil binder when it is exposed to the air. Acrylics dry through evaporation. In the acrylic medium the molecules are kept separate from each other by molecules of water. When the water molecules evaporate, the acrylic molecules bond permanently to form a tough plastic film. Once bonded, they cannot be separated and the paint remains insoluble. Acrylics dry much faster than oils and they demand deft and accurate application. A closer study of Starcke’s work reveals that he uses the possibilities of acrylic paint to the full, ranging from thin, translucent watercolour effects to thickly-applied and opaque textural effects. Acrylic can also, when applied correctly, give flat texture-free colour effects that conceal any expressive brushwork. For this reason it was used by many Hard Edge abstractionists, as well the Op and Pop artists of the 1960s whom Starcke admires.


The screenprints on canvas and paper by this iconic figure of Pop Art, according to Starcke, ‘opened many doors’ for him in terms of his own work. Warhol’s creative use of the colour-separations of commercial printing processes, so easily achieved nowadays with computers, separated out various aspects of an image. It also Andy Warhol: Skull (1976) , opened up the option of apparent Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas arbitrariness of colour usage in photo-based imagery. Such images could be altered, adapted, transformed or combined with other effects, such as abstract interventions of a hard-edged or painterly nature.

LARRY POONS (born 1937)

BEN SHAHN (1898-1969)

In his first years of working in South African, Starcke exhibited a number of socio-critical paintings, such as Government Avenue (Iziko Sang Collection) that were heavily influenced by the American social-realist painter and photographer Ben Shahn. Shahn resisted the dominant trend towards abstraction in American art and insisted that ‘known forms’ allow the artist “to discover new truths about man and to reaf firm that his life is significant.” One of Shahn’s best-known series of paintings were those that Ben Shahn: The Passion of commemorated the infamous case Sacco and Vanzetti (1932) of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian Gouache on paper immigrants to the US who were sent to the electric chair as scapegoats in a murder case that had more to do with American xenophobia than real justice.


Larry Poons: Han- San Cadence (1963), Acrylic and fabric dye on canvas Starcke has always been captivated by the underlying organisation of the abstract colour-field paintings of the Japanese-born American artist Larry Poons. In Poons’s work optical effects are created by repetitive, elliptical discs suspended against a dominant colour field. Like Poons, Starcke often uses an underlying grid as an organisational and compositional device, even in his figurative paintings, especially those where an image is repeated. As in the case of Poons’s work, these grids can also be superimposed in layers to add complexity. These grids are devices of pure design and colour that, according to Starcke, ‘lie within the geometric tradition of picture-making’ and ‘ give you depth and the potential to create surprises and unexpected juxtapositions’.

Johannes Vermeer: The Art of Painting, Oil on canvas (1666)

Starcke has been fascinated in more recent years by the optical devices and levels of reality that occur in Dutch Old Master paintings, which despite their deceptive naturalism are actually complex, artificial pictorial constructs. This is a fundamental idea underlying much of Starcke’s own work in recent times. Revisit ing some of the most cherished images of the Dutch Golden Age, such as Vermeer’s The Art of Painting (1666), Starcke never loses sight of his position as an artist working in Africa, reinterpreting this tradition in terms that have relevance to our own South African post-colonial condition.



tarcke, who has now retired from UCT’s Michaelis School of Fine Art to continue painting, recalls 1973 as being the most significant year for him in his career. His rationale for selecting this year over any other says much about his humility as an artist and his determination to continue expanding his creative explorations. 1973 was the year in which Professor Neville Dubow offered him a permanent lectureship at UCT after his having served there on a part-time basis for some years. It completely transformed his career. No longer having to rely heavily on advertising work to earn an income, he was able to teach and yet have the luxury of a private studio close to his Graphic Design students. Not having had the privilege of art school training in Germany, he was, as a lecturer, able to access the University’s art library, which he regarded as an intellectual, artistic and visual gold-mine. The Michaelis School of Fine Art at that time was also an exceptional centre of avantgarde experiment and debate. Starcke recalls: ‘not having been to art school, and not having been taught, I remain in a state of epiphany … I made and still make my own discoveries … there is excitement all of the time’. At the age of 73, the voyage of discovery of this remarkable and accomplished autodidact continues, regardless of official retirement.

BIOGRAPHY: HELMUT STARCKE 1935: Born in Offenbach-am-Main, West Germany. 1950: Apprenticed at the Werbekunst Publicity Studio, Frankfurt. 1955: Joined J. Walter Thompson, Frankfurt, as a graphic designer, becoming Art Director. 1958: Moved to Cape Town and worked with P.N. Barrett advertising 1962: Joined Lindsay Smithers Advertising, Cape Town 1963: First solo exhibition of paintings held in Cape Town. 1964: Joined Marketing Promotions Inc; Selected for inclusion on the Venice Biennale ‘64; Second solo exhibition at the Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg 1965: ‘Contrasts ‘ exhibition of drawings opposite paintings by Stanley Pinker in Cape Town; founder member of the Artists’ Gallery, Cape Town 1966: Selected for the Venice Biennale ’66; featured on SA Breweries Exhibition, winning bronze medal for a painting entitled Social Page; third solo exhibition at Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg 1967: Fourth solo exhibition at the Artist’s Gallery, Cape Town; collaboration with Kevin Atkinson and Richard Wake on an environmental project. 1968: Started his own Graphic Design studio; second SA Breweries Exhibition; awarded silver medal for his painting entitled Firebird; participated in metal sculpture exhibition, Greenmarket Square, Cape Town 1969: Selected for the Sao Paulo Biennale, Brazil; invited to teach Graphic Design at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT. 1973: Appointed a full-time staff member at the Michaelis School of Fine Art. 1976: Published a portfolio of 5 screenprints entitled Haystacks 1989: Promoted to a Senior Lectureship at UCT. 2000: Retired from teaching at UCT. 2005: Moved to live and work on the Cape South Coast.

1973 IN HISTORY 1 Jan.:

Britain becomes a fully-fledged member of the European Economic Community. 15 Jan.: US President Richard Nixon orders a halt to American bombing in North Vietnam following peace talks in Paris. 21 Feb.: Israeli fighter aircraft shoot down a Libyan Airlines jet over the Sinai Desert killing 108. 24 March: Rock band Pink Floyd releases Dark Side of the Moon, which will go on to become one of the most influential and successful record albums ever. 3 April: Dr Martin Cooper of the Systems Division of Motorola invents the first cellular telephone and makes the first-ever call using one that weighs over two pounds. 4 April: New York’s World Trade Centre, the highest building in the world, is officially opened and dedicated. 8 April: Pablo Picasso dies of a heart attack in his chateau near Cannes. 25 May: Mike Oldfield releases Tubular Bells. 4 June: The patent for the ATM (Auto Teller Machine) is granted to Don Wetzel, Tom Barnes and George Chastain. 26 Sept.: The Concorde makes its first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic from Washington to Paris in record-breaking time. 6 Oct.: War erupts between Israel and the surrounding Arab states. 17 Oct.: Arab members of OPEC announce they will restrict flow of crude oil to countries supporting Israel, causing the price of oil to increase by 200%, causing an economic recession in the West. 21 Oct.: The Sting, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman, wins seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. 28 Dec.: Alexander Solzhenitsyn publishes The Gulag Archipelago.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Lucy Alexander and Evelyn Cohen. 1989. 150 South African Paintings, Past and Present. Peter Struik: Cape Town. Esmé Berman. 1983. Art and Artists of South Africa. A.A. Balkema: Cape Town and Amsterdam. Esmé Berman. 1993. Painting in South Africa. Southern Book Publishers: Halfway House. P. 251; pp. 286-7. Neville Dubow. (not dated, unpublished) ‘Helmut Starcke: A Memoir’. Hazel Friedman. 2007. ‘Helmut Starcke: Wrestling with Angels’ in Reflections: an exhibition of new work by Helmut Starcke. Everard Read Gallery: Johannesburg. Stephen Inggs. 1994-5. ‘A Collaborative Printmaking Project: Icons for the Interregnum by Helmut Starcke’, in Artworks in Progress: The yearbook of the staff of the Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT, Vol. 4, pp. 20-23. Pat Kaplan. 1980. ‘Helmut Starcke’, in SA Arts Calendar, vol.5, no. 2 and 3, p. 13 – 16. SA Association of Arts: Pretoria. Dale Lautenbach.1984. ‘Cerebral invitations’. Argus Tonight section, March 13, p. 6. Dale Lautenbach. 1988. ‘Sensual and cerebral appeal from Starcke’, Tonight section, Cape Argus, September 20. Benita Munitz. 1995. ‘Show of illuminating paradoxes’. Cape Times, March 20, p. 15. Leoni Schmidt. 1989. ‘The Sasol Collection’ in Lantern, May, p. 43. Helmut Starcke. 1992-93. ‘Homage to the Unswept Floor’, in Artworks in Progress: The yearbook of the staff of the Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT, Vol. 3, pp. 48-49. Helmut Starcke. 1989. ‘An investigation of the grid as structural device in pictorial space: a series of paintings’. Artworks in Progress: The yearbook of the staff of the Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT, Vol. 1, pp. 20-21. Helmut Starcke. 1998. ‘ Speculations’ in Artworks in Progress: The yearbook of the staff of the Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT, Vol. 5, pp. 36-37.

Researched and written by Hayden Proud


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“Much of my work is overseas. A lot of people came to see what was happening during Apartheid, and collectors bought art to see a part of our history. Work from that period is uncomfortable to look at, especially for South Africans.”

Artist Willie Bester SA artist, Willie Bester, whose controversial works of art from recycled scrap have made him one of SA’s most prominent contemporary creative forces, has donated his R100 000 ‘People’s Choice’ prize in the Johnnie Walker Celebrating Strides Awards 2009 into a mentorship bursary at a Woodstock Art Studio.

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Bester was honored earlier this year after garnering the most public votes for his most inspiring story of success.

His work – which has appeared in many exhibitions and fetched top prices in international art circles - portrays objects seen in the everyday lives of township dwellers. Many of his pieces are made from industrial waste and recycled scrap cut and welded together.

The other five winners are FIFA 2010 Local Organising Committee chairman Danny Jordaan, novelist Zakes Mda, industrial designer Gregor Jenkin, private equity entrepreneur Ndaba Ntsele and environmental activist and teacher, Lindela Mjenxane. All the winners’ prizes will be used to help others achieve their dreams through scholarships and endowments in the winners’ names. Bester’s mentorship bursary is at Greatmore Studios in Woodstock, a project which brings together art-

The highest price fetched for one of his works was the Trojan Horse, which was bought by a private collector in London for R550 000.

Nominated in the Arts Category of the Johnnie Walker Celebrating Strides Awards 2009, the 52-year-old artist who was born in the Cape winelands at Montagu, is mostly self-taught.

During a career spanning 20 years, Bester said his proudest moment was when he sold his first piece to the illustrious Rembrandt Collection in 1991. “It was a collage piece called Cross Roads, featuring a broken truck which served as a mobile shop. This piece won me the Cape Town Triennial art prize and was a catalyst for my career.”

When not at work in his studio, Bester’s unique art expression can be seen in his house in Kuilsriver outside Cape Town which is selfdecorated unique blue-and-purple building featuring a colourful windmill in Ndebele design and a welded sculpture of an armed canon. Greatmore Studios, which was established nearly 10 years ago in response to a critical need for studio space and art-making facilities by a cross-section of the city’s artists, will benefit fully from his R100 000 prize. It currently houses 12 artists each

artists and the committee assess who should be in the studios for the following year. Applications come from a wide range of artists including new graduates from the different local institutions and established artists. One of the studios will now become the ‘Willie Bester Studio’ and it will provide residency for a selected artist for 2 years. Kate Tarratt Cross, a director of Greatmore Studios says influential artists such as Willie Bester have been an asset to their organization. “Artists like him and generous donations like this have allowed Greatmore Studios to function as a platform to aid in the development of Art in South Africa. It is very encouraging and exciting for ourselves and the many artists we work with to benefit from the ‘Celebrating Strides’ initiative set up by Johnnie Walker.”

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South African Art Times November 2009  

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