THE SOUTH AFRICAN
June 2010 For the full online edition go to: www.arttimes.co.za SUBSCRIBE: 1 year’s subscription to your door: R 360 - Incl. Business Art. and ArtLife E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Irma’s R 22 M flowers
Strauss’s Johannesburg Auction reaps R40 Million, with new world record for Stern still life, confirming SA Art Auction Market confidence is on the way up
Irma Stern: Gladioli and Fruit (R 7 575 M) , Dahlias and Fruit ( R 4 233 M), Magnolias and Pumpkins (R 6 127 M) and Proteas ( R 3 899 M) By Michael Coulson Irmamania reigned again at Strauss & Co’s Jo’burg auction this week. While a not very attractive genre painting of hers failed to sell, four still lifes grossed R 22m, more than half the R 40.1m the sale raked in for SA art. Pride of place went to a new world record of R7.575m (including buyer’s premium) for the cover lot (estimate: R4m-R5m), followed by R6.127m for the inside back cover lot (est R2m-R3m), R4.233m for the back cover (R4m-R6m) and R3.899m for the inside front cover (est R3.5m-R5m). A minor gouache landscape of hers went for R123 000 (est R100 000-R150 000)
The sale also brought a world record price for Cecil Skotnes, R2.005m for a painted wood panel (est R600 000-R800 000). His work was in demand, others going for R668 000 (est R600 000R800 000) and R501 000 (est R500 000-R700 000). Other good results included R2.896m for Alexis Preller’s oil The Flower King (est R800 000R1.2m) and R1.448m for a Maud Sumner Scottish landscape (est R500 000-R800 000). The top-priced Pierneef landscape, Barberton, fetched R780 000 (est R700 000-R1m). Without these highlights, the result would have been rather humdrum. Only 103 of the 168 lots (two of the
Robert Brooks Baviaans landscape. Barker Collection. See the Rhodes University Art School Supplement inside previously reported 170 were withdrawn) in the first session sold, 61.3%, for a total of just under R2.6m, 73% of the low estimate. The average was just under R25 000.
Eight of the 22 highest-estimate works – those with low estimates of R300 000 and above – failed to sell, including all three Gerald Sekotos, one of which had been estimated at R1m-R1.2m.
A similar 61.0% of the second session sold, or 64 of 105, but the stars pushed the gross to R37.57m, 119.9% of the low estimate of R31.33m, for an average of R587 000. Overall, 167 of 273 lots sold, 61,2%, a gross of R40.1m being 115.2% of the low estimate of R34.85m. Overall average price was a few hundred Rand over R240 000.
Of the most represented artists, Giuseppe Cattaneo and Edoardo Villa each sold eight of 12, W H Coetzer all 10, Sumner five of 10, Errol Boyley six of nine, Piet van Heerden four of nine, Tinus de Jongh three of seven, Reg Turvey just two of seven, and Stern and Skotnes each five of six.
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Meanwhile, while houses like Strauss and Swelco publish results the day after the event, a week after Graham Britz’s much-hyped sale no prices are yet available.
it can incorporate them in the auction result, but one has to ask just how long auction results can be delayed without jeopardising their credibility.
The web site even claims the auction is still in progress. When I inquired earlier this week, I was assured prices would be posted imminently, when certain unspecified “things” had been “finalised.” Just what these could be is a matter of speculation. Scuttlebutt in the market place is that the firm is trying to move unsold lots by private treaty so that
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Maud Sumner Paysage Ecossais
Decorative & Fine Arts Auction 1 & 2 June at Kirstenbosch
Eleanor Esmonde-White BATHERS R300 000 - 400 000
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R240 000 - 280 000
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South African Art Times June 2010
Kannemeyer kicks in…
Veronica C. Wilkinson. Just what is it that transforms stock images into cartoon characters representing a proportion of society sharing common fear and preconception? In the case of Anton Kannemeyer the appropriation of Remi’s Tintin combined with the artist’s characteristics and his confrontational stance on racial prejudice results in a visual Molotov cocktail that won’t go gently into any darkness… Better known as Hergé, Georges Remi died on March 4, 1983 and fans are now divided about the legacy of his characters because he insisted that no one else should be allowed to draw the cartoon Tintin after his death. Only after a stipulated period of time will the character become part of the public domain according to copyright law. In the interim a situation has developed between Tintin supporters in Belgium and the complicated branding of Tintin characters and products according to Brussels correspondent for the Financial Times, Stanley Pignal in an article dated May 7th 2010. Anton Kannemeyer’s latest exhibition at the Michael Stevenson Gallery in Cape Town ‘A Dreadful Thing is About to Occur’ kicked in with visual graphic images and captions that left little to the imagination recently. Five large, unframed, ink and acrylic on paper action scenes depict competing soccer team players giving substance to white fears about the Fifa World Cup tournament. In three of the pictures players vie for a macabre ball – the decapitated head of Kannemeyer’s alter ego, instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the work of the co-founder (aka Joe Dog) of the 1992 Bittercomix series. Kannemeyer resigned from his post as senior lecturer at Stellenbosch University in 2006 to concentrate on his career as an artist. He is active internationally; lecturing, making large scale murals, exhibiting and participating in conferences where he is often the only ‘pale male’ in the room. White Afrikaner Kannemeyer tells me that he has positioned himself with the exploited – referring to those taken advantage of by global political corruption and greed. His retaliation takes the form of visual ‘attacks’(“my work is not sensitive”) in cartoon genre communication that reveal how much we have in common as human beings in a global context and as South Africans in particular. Kannemeyer’s subject matter unflinchingly confronts, often blurring the borderlines of good taste. Since his 2008 exhibition “Fear of a Black Planet” he has increased the scale of his work for greater impact. Currently at work on a large mural in Enthoven in the Netherlands many of his images are funny enough to work on any scale. For example the picture of a brown, winged, three-penis projectile blindly propelling its way on paws in pursuit of a fleeing Kannemeyer alter ego, scattering a fistful of notes in his wake to the caption “Damn it, name a figure, name a figure…” as a bitingly satirical observation about white wealth is direct and droll. His sources of inspiration include the New Yorker, an American magazine featuring regular cartoon caption competitions. Regarding his work as parody Kannemeyer carefully plans his images which are “supposed to provoke laughter” and are not randomly selected. In his studio visitors can page through numerous books which record his detailed drawings; inspiration and ideas as a record of the process he employs to produce new work. Kannemeyer’s work exposes many facets of racial and gender prejudice, tackling complex issues that mirror society’s flaws. Add to this the sharkinfested legal implications of copyright issues as outlined in the FT’s Pignal article and we have the makings of a media spin that many may envy.
Untitled: 2010, Ink and acrylic on paper, 150 x 161cm
The Liberals: 2010, Acrylic on canvas, 130 x 200cm
White wealth: 2010, Acrylic on canvas, 81 x 180cm
Images courtesy of Michael Stevenson Gallery
Alette Wessels Kunskamer Maroelana Centre, 27 Maroelana Street, Maroelana, Pretoria GPS S25º 46.748’ EO28º 1.5615’ OPEN Mon to Fri 09h00 - 16h00 Saturday 09h00 - 13h00
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THE MECHANICS AND MYSTERIES OF PERCEPTION 11 June ‒ 16 July 2010 FEATURING WORK BY Zwelethu Mthethwa, Matthew Hindley, Robert Hodgins, Sandra Hanekom, Marlise Keith, Beth Armstrong, Colbert Mashile, Jan van der Merwe, Alex Emsley, Audrey Anderson, Colijn Strydom and Barbara Wildenboer
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South African Art Times June 2010
Hasan and Husain Essop from their Halaal Art Series
Dak’Art Biennale 2010 – Interview with Marilyn Martin Veronica C. Wilkinson. Curator and presiding juror Marilyn Martin has just returned from the capital of Senegal proud of the South African artists awarded prizes at this year’s 9th Dak’Art Biennale which runs until the 7th June. A diverse programme of events with the overall theme being ‘Retrospective and Prospects’ focused on professional encounters. One of the international exhibitions featured recent works by prize winners of the Président Léopold S Senghor Award from 1992 to 2008 in addition to the show featuring artists selected by 5 curators who all reside and work on the African continent. A number of fringe (known as ‘off’ in the official programme), projects complemented the main exhibitions which were funded by state and private sponsorship This was Martin’s second involvement with Dak’Art and her impressions include delight when she informed artists about their selection and participation, to satisfaction with the professionalism displayed by the Senegalese installation team. They worked alongside two curators from the Malmö Museum in Sweden who designed the exhibition. Although she feels that 25 artists are not enough to represent Africa and the diaspora and that the time frame was insufficient for proper organization, the Dak’Art Biennale is a credit to the committee and organizers of the event. In a newspaper article (Die Burger, 11 May 2010), Martin details her role in the process and reality of an event that precariously defies lack of structure, grinding bureaucracy and impoverished circumstances to continue its original purpose of promoting and validating African art. Martin points out that one of the strengths of the exhibition is that artists can submit their portfolios independently. Costs for those selected to participate are covered 100% by the Senegalese Government and sponsors. Curators arrived ahead of the artists in order to assist in the installation of the show. The level of intellectual engagement was high at two scheduled presentations every morning and Martin mentioned the fact that curators spent one of these sessions devoted to answering questions from peer professionals present in various capacities. Considering that among those present were Professor Salah Hassan of Cornell University among other
experts these were stimulating exchanges. Martin found that despite squalor and poverty she felt safe and was able to walk alone after dark in the city. She has visited Dakar five times and has never seen an example of public drunkenness and also passed comment about the “magnificence” of Western African traditional costume. Winner of the 2008 Robert Hodgins prize Serge Alain Nitegeka currently studying for his B.A. at the University of the Witwatersrand could not exhibit although he was selected. Nitegeka hails from Burundi and has been granted a temporary asylum permit in this country. Unfortunately his status prohibits him from traveling abroad so his plans to create an installation and work on site at Dak’Art 2010 were unfulfilled. The late arrival of Nandipha Mntambo’s bronze ‘Sengifikile’ on the Saturday after the opening of the exhibition was disappointing. When labels to contextualize work are of paramount importance artists should not trust to luck and joint winner of the Ministry of Culture prize Svea Josephy had the practical foresight to supply her own. Hasan (who quoted “it was a trip to paradise and back”) and Husain Essop received the Thami Mnyele prize and are set to embark on a three month residency in the Netherlands soon. Martin had two sets of collaborative partnerships in her selection, the other being Claire Gavronsky and Rose Shakinovsky, also known as Rosenclaire who live and work between Cape Town, Johannesburg and Florence. This collaboration presented a handwritten sign in French, inscribed in bright blue on clear Perspex fixed to one of the museum exhibition buildings, encouraging viewers to invest in the immaterial. Martin’s essay in the Dak’Art catalogue credits fine tertiary education institutions, a dynamic commercial gallery system and excellent museums, not government, for the “unrivalled infrastructure” that has given South African artists an advantage in Africa and internationally. A twenty year history of the Dakar Biennale is proof of the fact that it is possible to showcase African art that addresses a broad spectrum of visual literacy and experience. The question is why we are not achieving this in South Africa. More information about the event is online at www.dakarbiennale.org
Karin Daymond new lithographs
Scatter, hand-printed lithograph, 57 x 76 cm. Edition 35.
The Artists’ Press
Pink Woman, oil on canvas 30 x 50 cm
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Art Times Karin April 2010.indd1 1
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Woman with stripy socks oil on canvas 50 x 70 cm
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South African Art Times June 2010
(Above) Natale Labia, Antonia Labia Hardres-Willams, Count Luccio Labia and Gareth Hardres-Williams. (Right) Count Luccio Labia opening the Casa Labia. (Below) The Casa Labia Art Gallery has a magnificent view of the False Bay coastline, The Casa Labia from the road, inside the Casa Labia
Casa Labia opens with a blaze of colourful style Built in 1929 to reflect the spirit of 18th century Venice, the fully-restored Casa Labia has re-opened as South Africa’s most exquisite multi-functional cultural centre. The grand opening was celebrated with a star-studded soiree for 300 VIP guests on 5 May 2010 hosted by the Labia family.
cases the best of African art and design. The gallery’s inaugural exhibition ‘A Collection of Contemporary South African Portraits’, as selected by Antonia Labia included works by over 20 local artists including portraits by Lionel Davis, Peter Clarke and Willie Bester.
The event showcased how effortlessly the opulently finished cultural centre lends itself to the creation of special experiences and unforgettable memories. Guests were warmly welcomed with free-flowing bubbly by Villiera and continued to enjoy the very best of both South Africa and Italy throughout the evening. Fine Italian finger-food by Judy Badenhorst, a decadent chocolate dessert buffet by Von Geusau and premium berverages by Morgenster Wine & Olive Estate, Tokara Wine Estate and Peroni ensured the guests were well catered to whilst they mingled to the eclectic cultural rhythms of Brendan Bussy and Garth Erasmus. A jaw-dropping operatic performance by Aviva Pelham and Tshepo Moagi set the scene for the official opening ceremony conducted the Labia family with gracious assistance from the current Italian Ambassador, his Excellency Elio Menzione.
Comments Antonia, “For me, the opening of Casa Labia and the new cultural centre - in many ways – will be about celebrating the work of my grandfather and all he did for art and the Italian community in South Africa. He built this home with great vision and I believe that with these latest developments, Casa Labia will finally be as he had envisioned; a celebration of all that is unique and beautiful about Italy and South Africa”.
The highlight of the evening was the new first floor which features a contemporary art gallery with adjacent Africa Nova boutique which show-
Casa Labia is now open to the public and available for tours, cultural events, art exhibitions and private events; from intimate dinner parties and lectures to weddings and banquets for up to 200 guests. Completely restored to its former glory, it is hoped that this elegant house once ingrained at the heart of Cape Town’s social scene, will once again play a significant role in the intellectual life of the Mother City and the upliftment of Muizenberg. For more information on Casa Labia or to book your private event please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.casalabia.co.za (live from 12 May) or call 021 788 6068.
The largest selection of paintings, sculpture and glass by renowned South African artists.
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The Great South African Art Masters Series
Dominic Thorburn, Nigel Mullins, Noel Hodnett, Lindy Waterkine, Robert Brooks and Christopher Till outside The Rhodes Art School- Painting School
The Rhodes Art School
and the influence of the Grahamstown Group Researched and written by Jeanne Wright Up until 1980, the Rhodes University Art School, which had been the axis of the Grahamstown Group, had garnered a reputation for being secessionist from other South African art institutions. Major trends in world art did not significantly affect the school until Brian Bradshaw left in 1978. Bradshaw had left Britain in 1960 in the last throes of Neo-Romanticism –the term denoting the modern interpretation of the intense, poetic, figurative and semi-abstract British landscape genre of Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and others in the late 1930s, 1940s and 1950s – the legacy of the 18th century William Blake and the 19th century Samuel Palmer. In 1954 the critic David Sylvester wrote an article about trends English art using the term “kitchen sink” which came from an expressionist painting by John Bratby which contained an image of a kitchen sink. Sylvester highlighted a new interest in domestic scenes among young painters, with an emphasis on the banality of life. “Kitchen sink realism” was linked to the rise of the Angry Young Men, a name applied to a number of British playwrights, artists and novelists from the mid-1950s. Bradshaw had friends among them. Their political views were seen as radical, sometimes even anarchic, and they described social alienation of different kinds. It was during this period that the aesthetics and ideals of the immediate post-war period were seen and felt to be changing the face of Britain and its culture. As Britain emerged from the 1950s, its art demonstrated an extraordinary degree of innovation and diversity. The British version of Pop Art broke the hegemony of Abstract Expressionism in Europe and the United States that occupied centre stage in art in 1950’s-1960. Disenchanted with what he regarded to be the ‘vulgarisation’ of art education in England by American commercialism and by what he saw, more specifically, as a bastardisation of English culture, Bradshaw had brought this neo-romantic culture of aesthetics to his post in Grahamstown. At a personal level, his views on art were far more radical. He had a passionate and encompassing contempt for the ‘mass-internationalization of art” - an attitude which shaped and dominated the outlook of his students for 17 years. There were also other reasons which fostered the isolationist position of the Rhodes art school. The department remained (and still remains) housed in the small building which it had occupied since its inception with additional temporary studios scattered around the campus which meant that cohesive teaching was difficult to manage. It was also tucked away on a remote campus where what went on there did not get reviewed or get seen very often by other art professionals other than external examiners. Grahamstown was also at the centre of 1820 British Settler country and was primarily an educational centre. The University was English-speaking in the main and the art school had had a long history of British-born HOD’s, all well-versed in the English landscape painting tradition. To begin with, Bradshaw had slotted in seamlessly, his students
producing the kind of images which were well understood in the context of quasi-colonial culture. However, increasingly, his personality and his rightwing views polarized those who had to deal with him. Towards the end of his tenure the University was to finally clamp down on his extra-curricula travel activities and he resigned from his post in 1978. The department continued to function under the acting leadership of Joss Nell.
Robert Brooks On Bradshaw’s resignation from Rhodes, one of his first students and a founder member of the Grahamstown Group, Robert Brooks, applied for the post. He was selected from a short list of peer group Bradshawtrained graduates and was installed as a professor in 1981. Brooks had obtained his MFA at Rhodes in 1965 and started his teaching career as a junior lecturer under Bradshaw. South-African born and with the sensibilities of a young man, Brooks had fallen in love with Pop Art. Dalliance with British Pop art trends did surface marginally at the Rhodes Art School in Bradshaw’s time with the odd truant student who was determined to participate in the main stream. Bradshaw himself had flirted with Pop art briefly as a way of alleviating personal boredom but he had soon abandoned the genre. (see pic of Brigitte Bardot) Determined to make his mark as a young lecturer, Brooks’ one-man show to inaugurate the opening of the new photographic department which he headed, was a paean to the Pop movement and it heralded a shift in the purist dogmas which had gripped the Bradshaw era. In 1971, he left Rhodes to further his career, spending nine years as a Senior lecturer and finally becoming HOD of Photography at the Port Elizabeth Technikon. Brooks was keenly interested in Visual Communication and had a love of all kinds of Kitsch, comics and film. As a young professor, he was to diversify the basic ethic at Rhodes with the introduction of Visual Communication courses with an emphasis on contemporary issues, a strong photographic school under the renown Obie Oberholzer’s manage-
ment, an upgrade of the graphics school, and the implementation of a contemporary art history course - which he personally oversaw - which was to change the tenor of the school. He also lobbied for and got bigger premises for the burgeoning painting school. Bradshaw had never courted or allowed his students to engage in Modernism as practised by the Americans. In his inaugural lecture in 1961, he attacked both historical and contemporary abstract art movements and the artists who instigated them. The lecture was studded with contemptuous ripostes for what he regarded as the sterility of modernist art. “Malevich’s square was installed in America’s Museum of Non-objective Painting, where it was referred to as “an act of faith” and caustic cynicism for contemporary practitioners, one of whom he described as “a popular painter who believes that Greek geometry, Leonardo science and ‘Zen’ discipline are the means of establishing three-dimensional structures which reflect a ‘world view”. (The Culture Plan: world techniques in uniformity. Rhodes University, 1961) Brooks’ introduction of the tenets of mainstream modernism to the school was to challenge to the iconoclasm of Bradshaw’s vision. It was to open up the intellectual approach to the making of images. While maintaining the established traditional structure of the four year course which was largely geared towards producing good painters, Brooks introduced a level of flexibility, experimentation and dialogue which revitalized performance at the school. Although the introduction of contemporary art trends broadened the school’s outlook, its approach to the basics of painting did not change. The school retained its strong ties to landscape painting and in the sculpture department, organic and natural form took precedence over constructed and installation media. Oberholzer’s photographic course also centered on landscape as he himself often worked in remote locations. All of the Art School staff in Brooks’ time, with the exception of Oberholzer, had been trained at the School, most of them under Brian Bradshaw, so there was general consensus on aesthetic issues. Brooks condensed the basics of the Bradshaw philosophy to two simple tenets- technique and content have to match one another completely otherwise the work fails: format is everything. Under the tutelage of George Coutouvidis, a Brooks graduate who acted as an old - fashioned drawing master, every first year student, no matter how inept they had been at entry level, drew so proficiently that it was hard to tell the difference between the drawings when they were exhibited together at the end of that year. Processed through two more years of groundwork skills in still-life and figurative work, students would finally end up in their fourth year doing Composition under the guidance of the professor and senior masters like Noel Hodnett and Joss Nell, all accomplished painters in their own right and members of the original Grahamstown Group. MFA painters (fifth years) were allocated personal studios close to the main studios so interaction between them and student of lower years established standards of performance by osmosis and dialogue.
which are so pure as to be soulless and basically dishonest……our students are encouraged to evolve a personal pictorial science without fears of their faults and limitations….their own private concerns – their own nativeness, for example Grahamstown and environs. To live in and deal with Grahamstown is to deal with the world.” (Brooks R Rhodes Review, 1982). An omnivore in terms of his intellectual and visual tastes, Brooks had an eidetic memory for images which he had seen before. He also had an incisive and unerring eye for work which was “faked’ or “lifted”. “If they are taught to “fake” it here, they will continue to produce art forgeries throughout their careers. We are not quality controllers …… we are definitely not training our students to become elegant operators on the lower slopes of the avant-garde, or its opposite, the establishment.” (Brooks R, Rhodes Review, 1982). However, he would encourage the extrapolation of received material believing that there was nothing new in art, simply that finding the means to transmogrify received ideas had to be personal - not cloned. A prolific and skilled landscape painter without creative vanity, he always had a ‘work in progress’ up on an easel in his office enabling students to watching the process at work.
Robert Brooks Back of Baaviaans, 1989, Oil /Acrylic
The rituals of the original Bradshavian crit. sessions were still strictly adhered to and were used as the controlling mechanism for the adjudication of all student work. Criticism also became more democratic. All lecturers were required to attend and to offer opinions and there was no hierarchical structure. Most lecturers worked or had worked in several disciplines themselves, so sculptors and etchers offered insight on painters. These sessions provided a training ground for the formation of a visual aesthetic and a ‘sandpit’ for trying out new ideas in front of the whole school. The popular annual exhibition, which included works by staff members as well, were a cultural highlight of Grahamstown’s academic year and were attended by many high ranking members of the University’s staff. Brooks’ unobtrusive but insistent pursuit of diversification from the rigidity of Bradshavian dogma was to at times, rankle somewhat with some members of his staff who regarded some of the student experimentation as frivolous. Unfazed by what Bradshaw had previously regarded as “international chic” Brooks sought out and fostered idiosyncratic ideas in his students, partly because it ‘jump-started’ his own creativity and partly because it kept him on his toes in terms of what was out there in the world of art. These inputs were complimented by his own catholic tastes, a broad knowledge of trends and practices in all branches of the arts and bolstered by a personal belief in what he called “ the absolutes in art” distilled from his training under Bradshaw. He was also not afraid to indulge in ‘bad taste’ as a way of informing his students about options for expression in art. Brooks never had any doubts about boundaries of “taste” in art, believing that once a student had gone through the system, they would automatically understand what “taste” in art implied. Brooks was a consummate lecturer with an informal ‘off-the-cuff’ style which made him accessible to his students. His visual communications courses were usually over-subscribed as they were also open to students studying other arts disciplines. With an eclectic eye and an inquisitive nose for the unusual and off-beat in world art events, he would share his observations on current events with his students and invite debate and opinions. The lectures, in visual terms, had a reputation for being politically incorrect, sometimes controversial and often highly entertaining. Students were exposed to subject matter like the underground commix genre, graffiti art, the off-beat in film and advertising and were informed about which movies to go and see and which books and magazines to read. Many non-fine art students were to acquire an awareness and perspective of aesthetic issues in the visual world for the first time in their lives. Students also found themselves investigating visual esoterica like the roof lines in Grahamstown or photographing as many different dustbins that they could find as part of “vis com” project. These projects usually went on display for the entire class to assess, criticize and enjoy. Brooks also encouraged students to push personal creative boundaries. His strength lay in his ability to extract the best of the idiosyncratic trends in his students. He had a gifted ability to identify and hone in on particular facets of a struggling student’s work. In every student’s work there is a critical period where the umbilical cord from teachers and lecturers has to be cut and the student grapples with the metaphysical ‘coalface’ of their own creativity. Brooks drew on these strengths so that the ‘signature’ in that student’s work, when identified and then worked on, became a definitive voice to express themselves. Perhaps, because of his own experience under the yoke of Bradshaw’s powerful influence, Brooks understood better than most the need to allow those students who had quirky or difficult personalities a voice in the mainstream – something which had not been tolerated under Bradshaw’s hegemony. Today, Brooks’ ex-students practice a wide variety of styles and are engaged in many branches of the visual arts. However, there are some ex-students practicing today who have deliberately distanced themselves from their association with the Grahamstown Group and their training under Bradshaw. These artists have made a conscious decision to break away from the insidious laws of the ‘code’ prompted by the realization that finding their own voice is more important than the approbation of fellow artists from the same background – an unacknowledged facet of the Rhodes art school ethic. Others, on the other hand, have adopted Bradshaw’s ‘codes’ as a blue-print for their own creativity. Many ex-students are aware of and keep and eye on one another’s performance as a way of assessing their own output, underscoring the existence of a socio-pathology surrounding the influence he wrought on his students. Brooks’s approach to the teaching of art always bore testimony to his Bradshaw training. He aimed to produce students who “showed evidence of the struggle towards expression with its attendant blunders, probes and miss-statements and less of those cool, high-art, finished statements
Brooks retired in 1997 and the art school’s outlook was to change dramatically when Mark Haywood, yet another Englishman, took over the helm for three years, subsuming the Grahamstown Group ethic almost completely. Today there are no Grahamstown Group associated painters left at Rhodes. The Grahamstown Group, in its time, was an anachronism in terms of both world trends and of international movements which were being cloned here in South Africa in the 60’s and 70’s. Because of Bradshaw’s singular purpose and vision, and to an extent, his legacy passed on down through Robert Brooks and his students, the influence of the Group has dominated art school output and fine art aesthetics in the Eastern Cape for 37 years. The culture of landscape painting, the treatment of the painted surface and knowledgeable draughtsmanship remain the signature departure points for artists who trained under both men. Traditional hand and eye skills in the teaching of the arts of drawing and painting have to some extent remained a major component of how art is still taught in the E. Cape. The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University ( previously the Port Elizabeth Technikon) has had several members of its staff who were trained at Rhodes and the Carinus art centre in Grahamstown is still also largely staffed by Rhodes graduates. Private schools in the Eastern Cape who teach art often have a Rhodes graduate running their programme. However, those who were originally taught by Bradshaw are now retiring from active roles in the education field and these skills are now disappearing under a mélange of the so-called ‘more modern’ disciplines. It is a continuing debate whether there is still a need for these traditional skills. Those who came after the Modern period (mid-60s onwards), the so-called “postmodernists, largely rejected the idea that drawing from life and nature had any intrinsic value. In simple terms, post-modernist schools advocate a new philosophy of art characterised by a greater focus on medium and style. They emphasise style over substance - not ‘what’ but ‘how - not ‘art for art’s sake’, but ‘style for style’s sake’, and place much greater importance on the artist’s communication with their audience. The Bradshaw philosophy was a complete antithesis to this. According to his outlook, the artist and his experience of the world were a private journey and whether the world was interested in it or not was of little relevance. The Grahamstown Group legacy as practised at the Rhodes Art School manifested as a particular way of looking at the world. Drawing - the alchemic act of synthesising information from the natural world into twodimensions - formed the basis for all approaches to making images. Students were taught that you have to learn to “see” before you can interpret. When asked to elucidate on how art making works, the process is rarely intellectualized by Bradshaw or Brooks graduates. In true Group style, art is simply something you have to do. Estelle Marais, one of the founder members of the Group and a retired professor who still paints daily says that “unless you keep the discipline of painting going, the intellectual suppleness needed to express yourself well will grind to a halt.” In an articulate exposition of how ‘events’ in landscape painting develop, Michael Hallier, a Grahamstown Group member for many years wrote the following: “ … the forms (of the Albany bush) are used merely as a vocabulary…… Specific places are only used as a triggering off mechanism to create a tension in the mind which can only be resolved by action. These (works) are constructed in the studio situation: the work is allowed to grow and reinterpret itself with the artist’s experience and imagination taking precedence over the original source. The painting develops in a way that is not anticipated and the artist amplifies tendencies that have emerged on their own. In most cases, almost complete works are destroyed and live only as a layer of paint under the final image – in some cases a multitude of images are hidden behind the final result: ….. (the) event having occurred has now disappeared with layers of paint, and yet mystically, this ritual still persists in the finished work. Many of the paintings exhibit this feeling: it is as though they try to disclose a place in the landscape where an event has taken place or been performed.” (Introduction, exhibition pamphlet, Hodnett, 1992). Somehow, for obscure reasons, the legacy of this unique painting school has continued to live on in the Eastern Cape where the terroir and the ambience of the landscape has remained the chosen muse of many of those students who went through the Grahamstown painting school experience. A recently made stop-frame video work set in landscape by Brent Meistre, a Rhodes trained lecturer and artist who has had no contact with Bradshaw at all, intellectually echoes the same sub-text and subject matter as that described by Michael Hallier. It has had something to do with the landscape itself which is both open and closed in a way, is brutal and unforgiving on one hand, yet is also deeply romantic on another. Its geography is basically featureless and therefore has to be closely looked at before its secrets are revealed - which is perhaps why Bradshaw identified with it so strongly- obvious beauty like the much vaunted Western Cape landscapes becoming
cloying and too pretty after a while. Although living all over the world and widely dispersed throughout South Africa, when one sees the work of these artists alongside one another it becomes evident that there is a common thread of aesthetics which runs through the way they produce images. Although many painters are separated by as much as twenty years, it is remarkable how homogenous the painting language is, whether the subject is figurative, landscape or (amongst the last of the graduates) abstract. When one surveys the diverse list of names of artists, teachers and administrators operating in the South African art arena today who were associated with or owe their ethos to the influence of GHTG teaching there are many high profile names. Amongst the most prominent of these are Wits University Professor Penny Siopis (MFA 1976) a conceptual artist and figurative painter. She became well known for her ‘banquet’ paintings (especially Melancholia) and her ironical history paintings in the 1980’s, the latter focusing on questions of race and gender representation in public history. Hylton Nell (BAFA 1963) who trained with Bradshaw but never exhibited with the Group is a remarkable ceramist with an international reputation and probably the most important artist working in ceramics in this country. Other prominent RU graduates are Craig Wylie (BFA 1996)– portrait artist who was awarded the BP Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 2008; Cyril Coetzee( MFA 1983)lecturer, painter and figurative artist); painter and video artist Tanya Poole (MFA 1998) who was joint winner of the 2004 Kebble Award and her husband Nigel Mullins (MFA 1991) who are both full-time artists who live in Grahamstown; Carl Bekker (MFA 1992) landscape and figurative painter); Neil Rodger (MFA 1967 ), a professional painter who won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 1983, Anne Marais (MFA 1991), a multi- award winning national ceramist, David Champion (Dip FA 1969) now deceased who became one of London’s top interior decorators, Christopher Till (MFA 1976) and Jonathan Cook (MFA 1976) who both have served as directors of prominent national galleries in SA and Zimbabwe; Obie Oberholzer was responsible for training several of the country’s top photographers among who are TJ Lemon, a photojournalism lecturer and winner in the arts category at the World Press Photo Awards 2001, John Hodgkiss who works with performance artist Steven Cohen, Tim Hopwood, a documentary photographer and song writer, John Peacock, a professional food photographer, and award-winning video artist Brent Meistre who currently heads the Photographic department at Rhodes. Many ex-GHTG members and their students practise as teachers and artists - among them: Nicholas Allen ( MFA 1983 professor and figurative painter; Sarah Ballam (MFA 1981) community arts educator and figurative painter); Margie Britz (MFA 1970) – painter and collaborative conceptual artist, UK); Anton Chapman (MFA 1987) lecturer and painter, New Zealand); Collin Cole(MFA 1986) -graphic artist); Cleone Cull (MFA 1975) -Professor and metaphysical painter); Roxandra Dardagan ( MFA 1993)-teacher and graphic artist); Thomasin Dewhurst (BAFA 1994) portrait painter and figurative artist); Kerri-Jane Evans (BFA 1990) portrait and figurative painter; Lola Frost (MFA 1985, feminist lecturer and painter; Jacqui Griffin-Jones (MFA 1989) teacher and landscape painter; Michael Hallier (MFA 1971 - now deceased -Professor, landscape and figurative painter; Noel Hodnett (Dip. FA 1971) - Lecturer, landscape and figurative painter, Canada); Diane McLean (MFA 1987) still-life and figurative artist); Diana Page (MFA 1992) -landscape painter, Turkey); Lindsay Page MFA –painter and teacher; Steve Pratt (MFA 1976) – landscape painter, UK); Lindsay Quirk (MFA 1991) -graphic artist; Carl Roberts (MFA 1993) lecturer and sculptor; Dr Susan Imrie Ross (deceased - MFA 1996), published a book ‘This is My world’ on Outsider artist Helen Martins at Nieu Bethesda; Rowan Thompson MFA , chief designer at the Cape Mint and animated graphics artist; Dominic Thorburn( MFA 1993) –Professor and graphic artist); Bibliography Antoinissen, R. Prof. SABC Arts Review. Radio broadcast, April, 1965). Art School Catalogue Annual Exhibition 1974 Berman, E. Dictionary of South African Artists.1983. Balkema Bradshaw, B Prof. The Culture Plan: world techniques in uniformity. Inaugural lecture, Rhodes University, 1961) Brooks, R. Prof. Rhodes Review, 1982 Chapman, M. SABC Arts Review Radio broadcast, 27/3/1966 Clark, G.H.P. South African Art. The Romantic Principle and the Grahamstown Group. MFA Thesis, Rhodes University. 1976. Hallier, M. Noel Hodnett, Exhibition Catalogue, Standard Bank Gallery.1992 Hogge, R. Brian Bradshaw. MFA Thesis, Rhodes University. 1976 Nicholas, A. Article, Illustrated Life Rhodesia. Feb. 1975. P11-13. Shields, C. Brian Bradshaw. Exhibition Catalogue, Everard Read. 1999. www.wikipedia.com www.museum.org Web sites of artists and personal interviews with artists Acknowledgements: The following people generously provided me with archival material and information: Robert Brooks, Celeste Bredin, Cindy Britz, Patricia Broderick, Anne Collins, Jennifer Crookes, Hilary Graham, Fernand Haenggi, Noel Hodnett, Derek Huggins, Estelle Marais, Gillian Maylam, Hylton Nel, Joss Nell, Lindsay Page, Diana Page, Steve Pratt, Kate Raath, Eloff Snyman, Erda Verwey. My particular thanks to Verna Whiteley and the staff of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum in Port Elizabeth.
Joss Nell: Landscape, 1988, Oil
Tony Swift: East Coast Black Rock Barracuda Beach, 1991, Oil
Robert Brooks: Articulated Landscape, 1991, Pretoria Art Museum
Joss Nell: Kahn and Swakop Confluense no 2, Pretoria Art Museum
Margie Britz: Landscape, 1969, Oil, UNISA
Jennifer Crooks: The Quiver Tree Forest, 1989, NMMAM
Jacqui Jones: In the heart of the country, Oil, 2005
Hilary Graham: Untitled, Oil
Nigel Mullins: Landscape, Oil, NMMAM Michael Hallier: Snow Towards Cathcart, 1988, Oil
Neil Rodger: Zuurberg landscape, Oil, 1987 Noel Hodnett: Eastcape-Bush-Incident, 1991, Rembrandt Art Foundation
Diana Page: From the Cathedral, 1992
Sarah Ballam: Untitled, 1981, Pastel
Cleone Cull: Untitled
Penny Siopis: Patience on a monument, William Humphreys Art Museum
Thomasin Dewhurst: Dancing Figures at Rest, 1996
Kathy Lazell Apples and Red Pepper, 1988
Richard Kilpert: Appollo and the Lightning Rod, 1997, Woodcut
Cyril Coetzee: Couple in an Interior, Oil, 1981, RU
Helen Timm: Urban Landscape, 1992, Charcoal
Craig Wylie: ‘K’ Oil, Prize winner at National Portrait Gallery, UK
Hylton Nell: Cat Lady, 2000
Hermann Niebuhr: Cityscape, 2009
Brent Meistre: RODE Photocollage, 1999
Dominic Thorburn: Sunday Afternoon thoughts of Monet and Magnus
George Coutouvidis: Morning After the Nightwatch
Lola Frost: Peaceful, Powerful African, for Women 1989
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Sarah Danes Jarrett Angels run from their demons (1) 2009, oil on canvas 150 x 80 cm
Candice Breitz Ex Libris South Africa Cibachrome photograph 2009
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From top to bottom: Irma Stern Still life with Gladioli and Fruit
Still life with Magnolias and Pumpkins Still life with Dahlias and Fruit Still life with Proteas in a Jar
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SA Art Times June 2010