THE SOUTH AFRICAN Issue : August 2009 Full free edition available at www.arttimes.co.za 1 Year’s subscription R 180 includes South African Business Art Supplement E-mail email@example.com for details
Walter Battiss Artist’s feature supplement inside
New scheme to promote Art Fair talk demonstrated that art fairs aren’t a contemporary phenomenon but his assessment of the art fair as a concept was ambiguous.
Discussions about the Joburg Art Fair showed the event to be beneficial, however, Artlogic have cooked up a Spring Art Fair to bolster confidence, writes Mary Corrigall The recent Joburg Art Fair Assessment Discussions held in Joburg wasn’t exactly defined by vigorous self-analysis as its title implied. Nevertheless the general consensus appeared to be positive with most agreeing that the Joburg Art Fair (JAF) was advantageous to the promotion of contemporary art. In response to the toll that these tough financial times have taken on JAF, Artlogic have proposed a new scheme which should encourage gallerists continued support of the fair. With a panel consisting only of individuals associated with the art fair, Ross Douglas, head of Artlogic, established a hard line of defence to buttress against the criticism the fair has attracted from the media and gallerists, who have been questioning the affordability of the fair. Certainly Artlogic have engaged in some level of self-reflection, evidenced in Douglas’ new scheme and his more measured discussions about the art fair. He dispensed
with his usual rhetoric, which has thus far embodied Douglas’ attempt to position the fair as “educational” a “contemporary African art affair” and as “an alternative to a biennale” – in other words anything other than a commercial enterprise. Clive Kellner made a very clear distinction between art fairs and biennales, finally putting to bed Douglas’ assertions that the fair was in some way a ‘replacement’ for such an art event. Nevertheless the general tone of the talks tended more towards the self-congratulatory as the panellists used the opportunity to expound on the benefits of an art fair. The implication was that it was necessary to justify its relevance. But generally everyone who attended seemed to agree that JAF has been a credit to the city of Joburg, has aided in positioning South Africa as a “progressive” cultured destination and that it has helped render contemporary art “less scary” to the general public. Kellner’s informed
“What does it do for art?” he asked. Indeed the talks did not address his query. There was little mention of how the art fair benefited the discipline itself or the galleries and artists – none of whom were represented on the panel. Nevertheless, Douglas’ willingness to engage in discussions, displayed his openness to critical feedback. Alex Dodd on the other hand, who was obviously speaking in her capacity as media advisor to Artlogic, discouraged arts writers from participating in critical assessments of the fair, implying that the fair was a vulnerable inchoate entity that required nurturing. The low sales figures for the 2009 Joburg Art Fair (JAF) weren’t glossed over. The slump was ascribed to a generally unhealthy financial climate which threatened industries across the board. Aidan Walsh and his partner Andrew Verster share a joke with Peter Machen outside the KZNSA Gallery, Durban. Aidan Walsh died of a heart attack in July and was one of the most amazing artists and art professionals in Durban. Aidan had an important impact on the Durban Art Scene as a seminal figure as the curator and director of The Walsh-Marais Gallery. Other artists who had their work shown in the gallery include Walter Battiss, Peter Schutz and Cecil Skotnes, Clive van den Berg and Penny Siopis. As a result of the high standard set by Walsh’s curatorial eye, many works that now reside in the Durban Art Gallery’s permanent collection were purchased from the Walsh Marais Gallery. See Aidan’s Obituary on page 5. Photo: Peter Machen
The winner of this year’s ABSA L’Atelier competition is an unlikely suspect. Thirty-four year old Stephen Rosin runs a family pie-making business, and lives in a rural area near Plett,
Rosin, who studied painting at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth (though he never painted a single canvas in his final year), has entered the competition for the previous two years in a row, making the list of top ten finalists last year.
continued on page 3
R3.2 M Lost Orchid “not” a Tretchi
Pie-maker wins ABSA l’Atelier Award 09 where, until last September, he had no electricity. Winning the award, held at Gauteng’s ABSA gallery on the 23rd July came as something of a surprise to the artist too. “I wasn’t even supposed to be going,” says Rosin, “it was completely unexpected!”
“The art fair took place at a very difficult time when the recession was just kicking in. The interest rate hadn’t
The pie season being what it is, Rosin says he will only be able to head to Paris after December, possibly in January of 2010. He is however, thrilled at the prospect. “It’s incredible,” says Rosin, “amazing”, to be afforded the opportunity not only to travel to Paris, but to receive so much exposure. Until then, he plans to set up a proper portfolio, framing the works he hasn’t had funds to frame, and saving up for his European sojourn. Read the full story at www.arttimes.co.za
Graham Britz told Beeld newspaper that forensic tests on the painting, signed “Tretchikoff”, showed that it was not the original “Lost Orchid” art work. He said it was a “mistake” to have stated in the catalogue that this painting was the original “Lost Orchid”.
The so-called “Lost Orchid” painting sold at slain mining magnate Brett Kebble’s art auction was not the real thing, the auctioneer admitted in an interview published on Friday.
In fact, it was “without a doubt” not the original, said Britz. The catalogue should have stated that this was “a painting in the style of Tretchikoff’s ‘Lost Orchid’,” said Britz.
He added that this painting could be another painting by Tretchikoff called “After the Dance”. This is the first time that Britz, who sold the painting for a record R3.2-million including commission at the auction earlier this year, admitted that it was not the original work. Beeld newspaper reported shortly after the auction that there were differences in detail between the painting owned by Kebble, and a picture of the painting that appeared in a book by Howard Timmins on Tretchikoff’s work in 1969. continued on page 3
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South African Art Times August 2009
New scheme to promote Art Fair
Lost Orchid not the real thing continued from page 1
continued from page 1
dropped yet and no one knew what was going on. Quite a few sales took place a few weeks after the fair. Buyers didn’t feel the need as they have done in previous years to buy artworks immediately, they could take more time,” asserted Douglas. The sharp 50 percent increase in visitors to the fair was seen as a positive indication that South Africans supported the event. Nevertheless with flagging sales and tough economic realities threatening its existence Artlogic have had to come up with a plan to entice gallerists to continue supporting the art fair. Thus Artlogic have initiated The Spring Art Tour, which will run in galleries in Johannesburg, from September 17-20, and in Cape Town, from October 1-4. It is expected this new event will cement the gallerists association with JAF, asserted Douglas. “We wanted to offer both the sponsors, galleries and art communities another event that could extend the momentum of the art fair. We decided that an event once a year was not enough for that audience to interact so we came up with the Spring Art Tour.”
It’s an ingenious new scheme; it always seemed implausible that an annual event would be sufficient to “grow a market for contemporary art.” The Art Tour will not only create more buzz around local art but as it will be located in galleries and will consist of curated shows it is more likely that the public will become more familiar with the local art market and will be exposed to more quality interactions with art. Of course, its success depends on whether the tour is effectively and appropriately marketed. Grolsch is the main sponsor of the event, according to Douglas. The art fair’s Sandton location was blamed for keeping the costs barely affordable for gallerists but Douglas indicated that while he would prefer to stage the event closer to the inner city, viable venues, offering sufficient parking and amenities, simply didn’t exist elsewhere. Robert Keip, CEO, investments and premier banking at First National Bank, the primary sponsor of JAF, implied that the development and enrichment of the visual arts was not a priority for corporate sponsors. FNB does not view the
sponsorship of the visual arts as an exercise in social development but rather as part of their sponsorship programmes, which are solely motivated by the necessity to reinforce and market their brand and “provide entertainment” for their valued clients, said Keip. In terms of these objectives, Keip expressed dismay with the fact that FNB received little coverage in the press for their sponsorship of the event. Douglas remained adamant that they would not sell the naming rights of the event to the primary sponsor as it would be out of step with internationally established business models for art fairs. As a commercial venture government wouldn’t consider funding the event, observed Steven Sack, director of Arts Culture and Heritage of the City of Joburg. The art fair’s survival is, therefore, dependent on corporate sponsorship, which places it in a vulnerable position.
But at the time, Britz said that Tretchikoff could have painted two versions of the “Lost Orchid”. Besides several small differences in the two paintings, the Kebble painting’s signature is different to Tretchikoff’s known signature. Throughout his work, Tretchikoff’s signature did not have lines struck through the letters “f” in his surname, but in the Kebble work, it is struck through. The sale of the painting has been suspended. The Kebble auction was the biggest of South African art to date and fetched nearly R55-million. The money went into Kebble’s bankrupt estate. He was killed in a bizarre shooting in September 2005 which has been claimed to have been an assisted suicide. – Sapa
When asked what was the way forward for the art fair, Douglas’ response was unequivocal: “to survive.” Tretchikoff never crossed his ff’s as with the auctioned work
Fresh Stormsvlei Art Festival not to be missed A new Stormsvlei Art Festival is to be launched in the Overberg, Western Cape on Sunday 23 August. The Stormsvlei Art Festival, a one day event will take place between 11 am – 4 pm at Stormsvlei, an 18th century hamlet situated on the Sonderend River at the end of the Ruggens region of the Overberg. Various artists will be showing paintings, sculpture, installations and land art in and around the buildings of this historic town. Jannie Uitlander, the artist formerly known as Johnny Foreigner, is the
protagonist behind the Art Fair and Happening. Highlights will be a demonstration of the blacksmiths craft, a performance braai, a furniture exhibition and a prize for best moustache on show. There will also be a country market with food, books, collectables and more. Stormsvlei is situated at the crossroads between Riviersonderend and Swellendam on the N2 and Bonnie-vale and Bredasdorp on the R317. Lunch is available at Zandrift
Restaurant (booking advisable 028 261 1167). Any artists, performers or musicians wishing to participate please contact Jannie on 073 030 7240. Accommodation available at Stormsvlei Riverside Cottages www.stayhere.co.za/ads/ stormsvleicot The Stormsvlei Art Festival joins the Overberg’s Cultvaria and Baardskeerdersbos annual art routes in opening up the rich, raw art talent in the country.
South African Art Times August 2009
New R 1 M Firewalker sculpture “explodes” into shape Marx & Kentridge’s Firewalker Sculpture rises on the Johannesburg city landscape The SA Art Times has commissioned Wendel Fernandes these past few weeks to photograph the rise of Johannesburg’s Development Agency’s newest commissioned public works entitled “Firewalker”, collaboration piece by Johannesburg artists William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx.
The sculpture will resemble a woman carrying a burning brazier on her head, but only from certain angles; “If one approaches the work from the direction of the bridge, these loose steel fragments combine to create the cohesive image of The Fire Walker... This image then ‘explodes’ into loose individual fragments and abstraction as you move around it”, Marx and Kentridge explain. The work is being hailed as Johannesburg’s Statue of Liberty, evoking the Big Apple’s monumental torch bearing woman. “But she is a very particular Statue of Liberty – Johannesburg’s Statue of Liberty – which carries with it, at every point, either the history or the threat of its own collapse”, the artists say. Neustetter also noted the contradictory implications of the work, which, while its message of survival inspires,
“if we carry fire on our heads, what else can we do?” it is also disturbing; “should someone have to do this?” In her article for the weekender, Alex Dodd also draws attention to the possibility of theft, a problem which has plagued various public sculptures in the city in recent years. “We’re trying to make it as solid and strong as possible, but there is the chance that parts could get stolen”, Marx concedes, adding that concerns about safety, and the piece being used as a possible hiding place for hijackers were also taken into account in the manufacture of the piece. Then again, theft of part of the statue’s metal might only add to the sense of contingency offered by Joburg’s “exploding” and fragmented Statue of Liberty.
New on the Johannesburg horizon: Firewalker, a R 1 M collaborative piece between Gerhard Marx (left) and William Kentridge (left, in hat) all made possible by Steven Sack’s (far right) hard work. Johannesburg is well ahead of any other South African city in its commissioning of public works. Photo: Wendel Fernandes
roselyn mcculloch–aloes recollected
niël jonker–bush vine–the earthworm farmer’s cottage
SOLITUDE & things collected k r a a l s t u d i o–364 milner street, waterkloof, pretoria opening of exhibition–saturday 29 august 09, 12:00 rsvp: firstname.lastname@example.org or hanlie on 082 464 6767 private viewing by appointment till 10 october 09
South African Art Times August 2009
Aidan Walsh 1933 - 2009 renowned for his hyper-realist landscapes, and also for his portraits, Walsh was a seminal figure as the curator and director of the Walsh-Marais gallery, which opened in the early 60s, and which often gave artists who are now of national and international importance their first show.
Durban artist and gallerist Aidan Walsh died of a heart attack on 11 July at the age of 76, after a year of struggling with illness. An acclaimed and highly popular artist, Walsh also had an important impact on Durban’s art scene as a gallerist and curator. Although now
The gallery, which Walsh started with ceramicist Carol Marais – at the time Walsh was also a ceramicist – was one of the first galleries in Durban to show contemporary work, and the first gallery to host regular temporary exhibitions. This was something which he was encouraged to do by Andrew Verster who, at the time, taught at Solisbury Island. Verster, who would shortly become Walsh’s lover and life partner, was one of many artists who had their careers forged in the fires of Walsh’s passion for fine art. Other artists who exhibited at the gallery early on in their career included Paul Stopforth, Patrick
O’ Connor, Malcolm Christian, Clive van den Berg and Penny Siopis. Other artists who had their work shown in the gallery include Walter Battiss, Peter Schutz and Cecil Skotnes. As a result of the high standard set by Walsh’s curatorial eye, many works that now reside in the Durban Art Gallery’s permanent connection were purchased from the Walsh Marais Gallery. In the early 80s, the Gallery having run its course, Walsh moved to the NSA, where he was appointed as curator and continued to support the work of young artists on the rise. But it was only in his 50s, during a three month residency at the Île de la Cité in Paris, that Walsh started to pursue painting with seriousness. Verster says that he thinks that Walsh need to get away, both from him and Durban, in order to find his talent and confidence as a painter, and he recalls, with an amazed smile, Walsh returning
from Paris with a suitcase filled only with perfectly formed paintings. Over the next two decades, the eternally gentle Walsh became one of Durban’s best selling painters and achieved much critical recognition. If he hadn’t followed the path of fine art, Walsh has said that he would he become an archeologist, fascinated as he was by the small details and arcana of history. And indeed his paintings often function as a kind of archaeology of the present, one that is forever slipping away from us, and it is in that dilapidated slippage that Walsh found a kind of spiritual home. With his death, Walsh and his work joins the past – in a sense – with which he was so perpetually fascinated. But even as Aidan Walsh’s life now crystalises into history and memory, the passion, skill, inspiration and commitment to art that defined his life will continue to shine into the future.
BRAAM KRUGER (1950 – 2008) A retrospective exhibition of oil paintings Curated by Dr Fred Scott
2 September – 14 October 2009
Aidan Walsh and his inspiration From Art Smart The late Aidan Walsh’s inimitable and humorous comments written in October 2005 linked to a forthcoming exhibition. The following was sent to artSMart by Andrew Verster, giving the late Aidan Walsh’s inimitable and humorous comments linked to a forthcoming exhibition of his works. It was written on October 10, 2005: When I was a child, we lived in England – war-torn England. Although I’m South African, I was brought up there because my father had business interests there and the whole family went over – all seven children and my mother – and, BOOM, war was declared. Bad timing. There was rationing. I was, I believe, considered an odd child – I didn’t like sweets, so I used to give my sweet ration cards (children got extra), to an old lady who lived near us. She was amazingly interesting. Her father had been a doctor in a Catholic Mission Station in Yucatan, and they had a
house in Vera Cruz. She was well over 80 and had a collection of exquisitely illustrated books, huge and magnificent, on the rain forests, Mayan and Aztec ruins, the local flora and fauna. Her flat was filled with beautiful objects and Spanish colonial furniture. I was totally captivated by the stories of her childhood, visits to Mexico City, to the forests and all the ruins. She was so absorbing that I used to lose all count of time. Once my father had the canal dragged, thinking I had fallen in. I have always seen filled with curiosity. And Miss Elizabeth Bamber stimulated that curiosity to an amazing degree. I didn’t ever get to Yucatan. I haven’t been as much a traveller and I would have liked to be. And in another life, I might have become an archaeologist. At least in this country, I have travelled to some pretty remote places, possibly the most remote being Pofadder. I have made two trips there. It has a weird and unique fascination. I really had no idea whether it existed or
not, or was simply a joke. I knew it was real when I discovered it. So much of my trips around the Northern Cape, arid, desolate and stark, have produced some amazing places, place that people in general hadn’t heard of, and which in their unique way are totally fascinating. Near Saldanah, I discovered some upright stones near a remote sandy tack which were thought to have been venerated by the San. They possess an aura similar to that which I experienced when I saw some menhirs at Carnac in Brittany. They have a vibrant presence about them. My friend Lize, who one evening was driving past from Vredenburg to Gonnamanskraal, noticed some indistinct little lights flickering around the stones. She turned off the road and drove towards them. Her husband felt uneasy. He felt they were interfering with something beyond them and that they should turn back. And they did. They both felt the eerie atmosphere exuded by the stones.
Later on, when I joined them for drinks, Lize said that in the 1850s a shipload of Irish immigrants who were fleeing the Potato Famine and religious intolerance, settled in nearby Caledon. Amongst them were Walshes, some who had names that run in my family so they were probably distant relations. She has a theory that when they were packing up in the Holy Isle, some leprechauns sneaked in and stowed away in their portmanteaux and snuck out again in South Africa, and it is they who made their home around the stones. I remember my first trip to Paris. I had applied for the Atelier flat at the Cité Internationale des Arts. The waiting list was two years. Unexpectedly, Diana Breedt phoned to tell me there had been an unforeseen cancellation and I had to leave within ten days. My passport had expired . Well, those ten days were chaotic. I had my passport and visa just hours before boarding the plane. Did I need a Jamiesons once aboard! Read more on www.artsmart.co.za
The General, oil on panel, 138x122 cm, 1989
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Walter Battiss Supplement to The South African Art Times
Orgy 3, screenprint, 43,5 x 61cm, (Stephan Welz & Co. October Auction – Cape Town)
Reality is fantasy and fantasy is reality… Art is more real than everything around us because we crystallize it. Walter Whall Battiss (junior) was born into an English Methodist family of Settler stock in Somerset East in the Western Cape province of South Africa on the 6th of January 1906. His siblings Alfred and Doreen were born in 1907 and 1910 respectively. The young family lived in the Battiss Temperance Hotel. Walter Senior was an athletic man and could not relate to his sensitive, artistic son. The family moved to Koffiefontein, an Afrikaans community, when Walter was 11 years old. A friend of the family; William Fowler took Battiss to see the rock
engravings of the ‘Bushman’ in the veldt near Koffiefontein. In 1919 the Battiss family relocated to Fauresmith. The sense of isolation he felt only increased when, due to his intelligence and diligence, he was pushed ahead by two standards at school. He matriculated in 1923 at the age of 17 and found his first employment at a bank in Fauresmith. In 1924 he became a clerk in the Magistrates Court in Rustenburg. His formal art studies started in 1929 and he finally obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from the University of South Africa in Pretoria
at the age of 35 in 1940. Battiss married the noted art-educationalist Grace Anderson on the 12th of March 1940. Anderson, an older woman, born in the late 1800’s, was intelligent and strong-minded, a painter, potter and weaver. They were both very dedicated to the pursuit of their own art and the couple held two joint exhibitions in 1942 and 1945. They moved to ‘Giotto’s Hill’ in Menlo Park Pretoria, it was a large house filled with art materials and layers of artworks and items collected by both artists. They each had their own bedroom, studios and
spaces. Not much is mentioned about the nature of their marriage as Grace was not the public persona that Battiss was, they had one son – Giles. Battiss travelled extensively throughout his life. After Grace’s death in 1975 it is well documented that Battiss visited ‘hippy’ communes in both Greece and Santa Fê where he participated in group orgies which became a major theme of his work during the late ‘70’s. He was not a libertine; he did not drink alcohol and did not engage in the orgies out of lasciviousness, but as a means of expanding his experience of himself,
other human beings and the world around him. He would later reveal that he had always felt that he was an island to himself. It was perhaps the early foundational relationship with his father that perpetuated the development of a public persona – the artist-performer who became the self-proclaimed King Ferd the III of Fook Island. Battiss’ persona was in stark contrast to the conservative Calvinistic mindset of the country and government. He was open minded and free-thinking and above all believed in and championed the cause
of freedom of expression. This perspective was one which grew throughout his life, as he had a keen intellect and a constantly inquiring mind. He retained a childlike curiosity throughout his life. Undoubtedly his early encounters with indigenous rock-art opened his perceptions to alternative realities. As a public figure he was warm, accessible and a strong role model for his art students and younger artists. He remained energized and never lost his enthusiasm – he was a rare combination - balancing teaching with prolific art production.
Father and son in the rocks, ca. 1949, oil on canvas, 60 x 76cm, Walter Battiss Art Gallery This work caused a great amount of controversy both stylistically and for its subject matter – it was unlike any other form of painting being produced at that time in South Africa. In the greater context of world art it was totally contemporary, while at the same time expressive of the influence of San rock art on Battiss’ work.
Zebras in Grass, 1952, oil on canvas, 64 x 87cm, private collection
People in love with trees, 1981, watercolour, 36 x 50,5cm, private collection Battiss and his wife Grace owned 2 black Scotty dogs named Lindy and Suzie.
While once again the subject matter references Africa and San-style figures, the composition draws upon elements of Abstraction, it also interestingly is reminiscent of the fabric design of the Omega Workshops which had such an influence upon his wife Grace, who was a weaver and ceramicist.
Artist’s Signature Style Battiss’ style moved away from realism toward a hieratic, abstract, symbolist character as he sought to create an art which reflected his South African heritage – which he felt included the art of the Bushmen. He worked in oils and watercolours, woodblock and silk-screen prints. He was able to compartmentalize what he was trying to explore or express by working in a variety of art mediums. He printed his first serigraph / silk-screen in 1954. The appearance of calligraphic forms, animal and human abstractions and the influence of Ndebele beadwork began to emerge in Battiss’ work from 1955 as he sought to create a new visual language. In July 1961 he visited the Middle East (Baghdad, Persia and Arabia), where he studied early pre-Islamic calligraphy, as he was fascinated by the graphic, fluid, liquid forms which he saw as being derived from nature. By 1962 Battiss began applying paint with the palette-knife, straight from the palette – drawing it across the canvas and dragging out the colours in rainbow-like arcs. He then drew into the paint in a sgraffito delineation of form.
His Orgy series from the mid to late 70’s feature complicated compositions, densely populated with bodies that contort and co-mingle – presenting a further challenge to society’s perceptions of acceptability of gender and sexual orientation. Battiss depicts these taboos with an over-arching lightness and playfulness of spirit. He also created and participated in many different forms of interventionist, performances or art happenings and installations from the late ‘60’s till his death. They occurred either as dialogue between him and other artists, or directly with the public with some of these forming part of the ‘Fook’ experience. In these art ‘works’ Battiss showed himself to be completely current with the thinking and art trends being explored by his international contemporaries, and way ahead of the art mindset in South Africa.
Symbols of love, 1966, oil on canvas, 122 x 122cm, Pretoria Art Museum
Greek Island, watercolour, 33 x 47,5cm, Pretoria Art Museum
Red Bull in kraal, oil on canvas, 50 x 40cm, Pretoria Art Museum Battiss continued to push his work through an accumulation of symbiotic influences while working towards a style that would be uniquely his own form of expression. Here the motif of horse, bull and rider refer to the simplified schematic representations found in San Rock art while stylistically and colouristically he has drawn upon Expressionism and the works of artists such as Oskar Kokoshka, Ernst Ludwig Kirschner with their thickly loaded applications of impasto paint, bold dramatic colours and dark outlines.
Coco de Mer, Seychelles, 1973, screenprint and collage, 57 x 40cm, Walter Battiss Art Gallery
In both the Liza Minelli and Coco de Mer prints Battiss references the Pop Art work of Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg, once again proving how completely international and contemporary his work was.
Mantis, oil on canvas, 90 x 184cm UNISA collection
Symbols of love and Mantis form part of a series of work in which Battiss created vast patterned compositions. Within the patterns we may see elements of San rock art, hieratic figures, and the calligraphic mark making of early pre-Islamic cultures. It also references the work of Cy Twombly and perhaps it might have even influenced the work of Keith Haring.
80 000 buck or more, 1967, oil on canvas, 91 x 101cm, private collection Summer, 1959, oil on canvas, 40 x 35,5cm, private collection
Figures and Rocks, ca. 1940, oil on canvas, 61 x 76cm, Walter Battiss Art Gallery
Battiss had now completely come into his own artistically; he drew upon his African heritage and international artistic acculturation. His work was comBattiss developed a technical device of mixing his paint on his pletely contemporary in terms of international art trends. He had begun to look palette, then applying the unblended colour onto the canvas with upon graffiti as the true uncensored art of the people; this work predates in the palette knife in thick rainbow-like swathes of colour. He then intention, form and content the work that was later produced by Jean Michel drew with the back of his paintbrush into the wet paint, exposing Basquiat. the underlying colour in a method referred to as sgraffito. His line work is reminiscent of Picasso’s Minotaur series. The subject matter mostly centered on the human form.
The subject matter of this painting may refer to the gatherings that were held outside Rustenberg that Battiss was invited to as a young man of 19. Stylistically and thematically although not colouristically, it references the work of Matisse’s painting’s ‘La Joie de Vivre’ (1905) and ‘Luxe, Calme et Volupte’ (1904).
Mantis Dance, undated, screenprint, 40 x 52 cm, Pretoria Art Museum African Rocks and figures, oil on canvas, 81 x 101cm, South African National Gallery The Early Men, 1938, oil on paper
In this masterpiece we see that Battiss has drawn together all Battiss knew when he painted this painting that he had finally connected with a form of expression the previous elements that he has played with and investigated that he wanted to pursue – the distillation of detail and design to the essential elements, the human and begun to create an art that while it references all these influences, is now making a stylistic statement completely his own. form forming part of the harmony of the whole – he considered this to be his breakthrough work.
Battiss created anthropomorphic and metamorphic figures influenced by the figures found in San art that are believed to represent the San Medicine men in a state of trance – halfway between this world and the next, halfway between man and animal / insect, they may also be seen as symbolic representations of the interconnectedness of all life forms – a precept certainly held by the San-Bushmen. Battiss has created a bold and graphic statement that may be read as both design, sign and symbol.
Analysis of the artist’s work / key stylistic influences In April 1965 he visited the Hadhramaut, Southern Arabia and in December visited Jordan. In 1966 Battiss visited Greece for the first time, it lit a spark of kinship and recognition in him and he was to keep returning to this country which eventually lead to the creation of the ‘Fook’ Island concept. ‘Nesos’ created in 1968 was a compilation of images from the various Greek Islands he had visited. He printed 25 editions of fifty four colour serigraphs, and hand bound each one, perhaps one can attribute the art-books Battiss compiled to the early influence of his mother and her book binding commissions. Battiss seemed to come into a second fruition after his retirement at the end of 1971. He is quoted as saying ‘Happiness belongs to youth but I’m finding it as I grow older’. Towards the end of 1975, in collaboration with Norman Despite his dedication to his teaching, his own artworks and intellectual Catherine – the first ‘Fook Island’ exhibition and ‘happening’ was staged. pursuits, Battiss always made time to form, join or participate in Art Societies “’Fook’, as artist Norman Catherine explains, was Battiss’s “user-friendly and and Art movements. In 1939 ‘The Amazing Bushman’, a study of the rock fun for everyone” idea for art, his reaction to the deeply serious conceptual art of the San-Bushmen was published - the first of many publications as art he saw while on his numerous travels abroad. “Basically, Battiss invented Battiss was not only a prolific visual artist but wrote effusively too – obserFook Island because he wanted everybody, children as well as people his vations, poetry, free-form verse and essays. Battiss was also to ‘discover’ own age, to enjoy the freedom to create art, especially at a time in South the rock art treasury at Zastron in the Free State in 1939. In 1944 an exhibiAfrica when there was serious censorship,” Battiss believed that one’s tion of his copies of rock paintings was held in Johannesburg; this was of response to a work was more about one’s own taboos and perceptions than great art historical importance in South Africa as it was the first presentation that which the artist is trying to communicate. In July of 1969 he visited of this form of art from an aesthetic viewpoint. His copies were faithful repro- West Germany, on his return he went to his holiday home in Port Shepstone ductions without any interpretation or manipulation, however it was through to rest, he suffered a severe heart attack and died on the 20th of August. this close study of the work that he found the key he was looking for in his Battiss never stopped producing art – it was his life – he never ceased in engaging with creativity. own painting. Battiss dedicated his life to the study and pursuit of his art. He gained his art degree over an extended period of study as time and finances allowed. In a turn around, Battiss supported his studies to become a teacher through the sale of his own artwork. He sold his very first piece of work at the age of 16. He took any available time away from work to sketch and paint the surrounding landscapes in a painterly, realistic manner similar to that explored by the Cape Impressionists. Battiss received his art training entirely in South Africa and in 1938 he was to travel to Europe for the first time. Here he was to find that much of what he had been searching for artistically was confirmed by many other artists on the same journey towards a new form of expression.
Lina, 1938, oil on canvas, private collection This charming portrait is painted in a semi-impressionistic / expressionistic style that at the time was being explored by the second generation Cape Impressionists such as Gregoire Boonzaier. Not satisfied to merely work of a more abstract, simplified symbolism. However he continued to paint highly observed watercolour scenes.
Untitled, 1976, watercolour and white ink, 35 x 49,5cm, University of the Witwatersrand Art Galleries Collection
They come – they go, gouache, 41 x 55cm UNISA Gallery
This work forms part of both Battiss’ island and orgy series.
Boy and bird, screenprint, 50 x 37cm, Pretoria Art Museum
Liza Minelli, screenprint and collage, 63 x 50cm, Walter Battiss Art Gallery
Bird, tree, man and Boy and bird screenprints are reminiscent of the paper cut-outs produced by Matisse towards the end of his career. They share the same clarity of vision, lyrical content and sinuous silhouette outlines, freshness of colour and lightness of spirit. Silk Stockings, screenprint, 45 x 36cm, (Stephan Welz & Co. October Auction – Cape Town)
African women, 1960, oil on board, 31 x 41 cm, private collection
Bird, tree, man, screenprint, 45 x 36cm, private collection
Alette Wessels Kunskamer Maroelana Centre, 27 Maroelana Street, Maroelana, Pretoria
During the mid ‘50’s to late ‘60’s Battiss created a series of compositions focusing on aspects of daily West African life, in both subject matter and style, he was heavily influenced by the work of Maurice van Essche’s Congo series.
www.artwessels.co.za Tel (+27) 12 346 0728 Fax (+27) 12 346-0729 Alette 082 652 6663 Gerrie 084 589 0711
Shepherd, screenprint, 60 x 43cm, (Stephan Welz & Co. October Auction – Cape Town)
Barrow Hill, Ladybrand OFS, watercolour, 44 x 94cm, Pretoria Art Museum A watercolour copy of a cave painting of the San Bushmen. This form of art was to revolutionize Battiss’ approach to his own artwork, in response to studying it he abandoned perspective, simplified the human form to that of a symbol and worked towards compositions that would become a patterned harmonious whole.
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Artists that influenced Walter Battiss
Larry Scully (1922 - 2002) Hole in the Wall, 1962, oil on board, 45 x 60cm, private collection
UNISA staff November 1971 from left to right: Frieda Harmsen, Leonike Drake, Clinton Harrop-Allin, Hillary Graham, Karin Skawran. the University of South Africa (UNISA), Pretoria in 1964. In 1970 Battiss founded the African Council for Art with Cecil Skotnes. He retired from Unisa at the end of 1971.
Early life Battiss showed an interest and precocious aptitude for art from a young age, he would often entertain guests at the hotel by drawing pictures for them. His mother recalled that when she tried to teach him the alphabet, showing him an apple for ‘A’, etc. he then drew the candle for ‘C’ rather than the letter. She was very supportive of this interest and kept his early artworks which she bound as a book. She was trained by the publishing house of Zaëndorffs, London, in book binding and was later commissioned to bind the family photos of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. His formal art studies started in 1929 at the Witwatersrand Technical College (drawing and painting), followed by the Johannesburg Training College (a Teacher’s Diploma) where he received etching lessons from Emily Fern. Battiss continued his studies while working as a magistrate’s clerk, and finally obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts at the University of South Africa at the age of 35. He was then appointed Art Master at Pretoria Boys’ High School in 1936, a post that gave him a certain amount of freedom and space to be able to continue to pursue his artistic and intellectual intentions without ever having to compromise on his artistic ethics for the sake of sales and money. He was a dedicated teacher and never lost his enthusiasm to impart knowledge and a love of art to his pupils. He had a profound effect on his students, inspiring many to take up art as a career while opening the minds of others to art, culture and life in a manner that was new, unconventional and liberating. It was at this time that he began to seriously pursue his study of rock art.
Artistic breakthrough The Early Men – his stylistic breakthrough, combined abstraction, the elimination of perspective and the reduction of human and natural forms to stylized symbols reminiscent of the Rock Art he had been studying. In 1933 another turning point for his artistic career occurred when he visited the Le Roux farm Molopodraai, in the Orange Free State; where he saw cave/rock paintings for the first time. After his first visit to Europe in 1938 and following many discussions with close friend and former fellow art student Terence Mac Caw, they decided the time was right to form an art group that represented artists interested in creating a new art, pertinent to and for South Africa. This was formed in 1938 and called the New Group; the movement continued to 1949 and was to have a profound and lasting impact on the art of South Africa.
He was awarded a Bronze Medal and Diploma at the 14th International Art Olympiad Competition / Exhibition held by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, 1948. In 1956 he was awarded a Pro Arte Medal by the University of Pretoria. On the 25th of May 1960 he was elected Fellow of International Institute of Arts and Letters. He was awarded the Medal of Honour for Painting in 1964 from the SA Akedemie vir Wetenskap en Kuns. In March 1965 he was elected honorary member of the Academy of Florence by the College of Professors. In November 1969 the National Film Board made a film featuring four South African artists which included Battiss. A special issue of ‘De Arte’ was published in his honour and presented to Battiss on the 15th of October 1971 to commemorate his contribution to the magazine and his retirement from UNISA. Battiss was conferred the degree of Hon D. Litt et Phil (honoris causa) from UNISA in May 1973.
A Year in the life of the Artist 1938 Battiss visited Europe for the first time, visiting the areas where van Gogh lived and worked in France. He was also to meet Abbé Henri Breuil, an archaeologist who shared his passion for rock art. On his return to South Africa he, Mac Caw and Boonzaaier formed the New Group. Unlike many of the other members, Battiss had received his art training entirely in South Africa, and as previously mentioned he had not yet travelled to Europe to see or be exposed to European art trends before. But this was all to change and this visit marked the beginning of Battiss’ wanderlust and his thirst to see and experience all that he could in terms of art, life and culture. In Europe, Battiss was to find that much of what he had been searching for artistically was confirmed by many other artists on the same journey towards a new form of expression. He painted The Early Men - in this painting we may see the influence of Henri Matisse – in both the treatment of the figures and the background. Matisse explored such extreme treatments in his Pink Nude series. Battiss has eradicated all identifying facial features, the bodies forming symbols that like the San Rock art may be read as man or the human figure. The ground upon which they sit or lie has become a colour field of intersecting planes of colour – all perspective is eliminated. Battiss was to take this to its extreme conclusion in his ‘70’s silk-screen prints with the use of planographic flat colour, and cut-out silhouette forms of figures and animals.
1938 in the World •
• • • •
Zakkie Eloff (1925 - 2004) The Hunter, 1955, oil on board, 39,5 x 49,5, private collection
Walter Battiss painting a view near the town of Seymour, Eastern Cape, 15th November 1980
New England Hurricane of 1938 (or Great New England Hurricane or Long Island Express) 40 foot waves destroyed homes leaving 60 000
• • • • • • • • • • •
homeless and 700 dead. Black Sunday at Bondi Beach Sydney as freak waves dragged 300 swimmers out to sea – lifesavers managed to save all but 5. Floods and Landslides in Los Angeles caused 200 deaths. The First use of seeing-eye dogs occurred. German troops entered Austria March 19 – Adolf Hitler tries to Anschluss Austria, this was a primary cause of WWII. 1938 was a pivotal and volatile year as Hitler geared up to take Poland, Austria and Czechoslovakia by force. Germany began its persecution of Jews. Seabiscuit and War Admiral competed in their long awaited race to decide the best horse - Seabiscuit beat War Admiral. Action Comics issued the first Superman comic. Adolf Hitler is Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” (as most influential during the course of the year, not as ‘best’ man of the year) Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia. Ball Point Pens are introduced by Hungarian Laszlo Biró – hence the pen also being named a biro (UK). The first photocopier was created and released in the USA by Chester Carlston. Nescafe introduced Freeze Dried Coffee. The first ever issue of The Beano is published. October 30 – Orson Welles’s radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds is broadcast, causing panic in various parts of the eastern United States.
1938 in South Africa •
1 July - The South African Press Association is established with offices in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and Bloemfontein and in Parliament (Pretoria). 16 December - Cornerstone of the Voortrekker Monument laid. December 23 – A coelacanth, a fish thought to have been extinct, is caught off the coast of South Africa near Chalumna River, near East London and is identified by Marjorie Courtney Latimer. The 1938 South African general election was held for the 152 seats in the parliament of the Union of South Africa. The United Party won an absolute majority. Paranthropus robustus was originally discovered in Southern Africa in 1938.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Berman, E. (1975) The Story of South African Painting, Cape Town: A.A. Balkema. Berman, E. (1983) Art & Artists of South Africa - An illustrated biographical dictionary and historical survey of painters, sculptors & graphic artists since 1875, Cape Town: A.A. Balkema. Carman, G. & Isaac, S. (Eds.) Walter Battiss: Gentle Anarchist, A Retrospective Exhibition of the works of Walter Whall Battiss (1906 – 1982) Standard Bank Gallery 2005. Schoonraad, M. (1976). Walter Battiss; South African Art Library Series. Cape Town: Struik.
Middle Career ‘Homecoming’ a book with a set of 10 drawings, was published in 1945. Battiss became the editor of a new magazine, ‘Aurora’ he also wrote numerous articles for newspapers and magazines throughout his life. He visited the Namib Desert where he spent time living amongst and hunting with the Bushmen. In April 1949 Battiss visited Paris where he met Picasso, beginning a life-long correspondence. He gave Picasso a copy of ‘The Artists of the Rocks’, whereupon Picasso asked him if he thought he (Picasso) was as good an artist – Battiss’s response is unfortunately not recorded. ‘Fragments of Africa’, a collection of prints was published in 1951. Over the course of 1952 to ’53 he delivered three lectures on South African art at the University of London. From 1954 Battiss began to experiment with various forms of printmaking and printed his first serigraph. The appearance of calligraphic forms, animal and human abstractions and the influence of Ndebele beadwork began to emerge in Battiss’ work around 1955 as he sought to create a new visual language. In 1959 he was commissioned to paint murals for the Transvaal Provincial Administration Building in Pretoria. In July of that year he was appointed to the position of Chair of Fine Arts, Rhodes University, but this was not a good fit – Battiss became frustrated with the small town provincialism of the Institution and resigned after 6 months, returning once again to Pretoria Boys. Battiss was appointed Professor in the Department of History of Art and Fine Arts at
Battiss and Fook alphabet
Double Portrait of Battiss Written and researched by Cate Wood Hunter
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MBONGENI BUTHELEZI Staff Writer
room in Soweto and study art at the FUNDA centre. Much like his art, Buthelezi says, “I built my life up out of nothing.”
2009 has been a frenetic year for Mbongeni Buthelezi. The Johannesburg-based artist’s first national touring exhibition opened in May, at the Pretoria Art Museum, and July saw him jetting off to Germany, where he had been invited to the Kunst:Raum Sylt-Quelle Foundation to stay in the foundation’s centre and complete a commission.
Buthelezi’s first big break came when the Plastic Federation of South Africa bought up his entire stock of work, from his room. Then, in 1998, Buthelezi was the artist in residence at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, and since then the offers have been pouring in, Buthelezi exhibiting in Germany, the UK and the US.
Johannesburg audiences may remember Buthelezi’s striking canvasses from the Joburg Art Fair in April. Star of Dr Ralf-P Seippel’s booth, Buthelezi was feted as having developed an entirely new method of painting.
Gabriel De Jongh ﬁnally available
These days, with the artist’s smallscale works selling in the region of R 17 000, Buthelezi lives in a doublestorey house in Krugersdorp, a far cry from the one-room he rented in Soweto in his student days. He is committed to giving back, however, by conducting recycling workshops, getting children involved in collecting materials for him and teaching.
Yet from a distance, one might mistake Buthelezi’s large-scale works for oil paintings. Rendered in monochromes, sepia tones or in full colour, the images of township life, human forms and landscapes certainly resemble expressionist paintings. These are no ordinary paintings, however, and a closer look betrays them. ‘Plastic on canvas’ or ‘Plastic on plastic’, read the labels, and indeed, it is rubbish which is Buthelezi’s medium of choice. Collecting plastic carrier bags and packaging from supermarkets, restaurants and recycle bins, Buthelezi melts an average of 5000 plastic bags onto each of his canvases using a heat gun. Initially work ing with matches and cigarette lighters, Buthelezi eventually discovered that the heat gun, usually used to strip rather than apply paint, was the perfect instrument for his craft.
Long awaited Limited edition books of
Asked by writer Mmutle Kgokong how he developed the unusual and rather smelly technique, Buthelezi said that his humble beginnings certainly aided the discovery. “Lack of materials was a motivating factor,” says the artist, who began experimenting with discarded plastic when he could no longer afford the watercolours he had been trained to use at FUNDA. “If I was a privileged artist
who had accessibility to traditional art making materials such as oil paints, I would not have discovered the art of plastic painting.” And Buthelezi has certainly had to struggle to reach where he is today. In June, he told Rapport, how, as a young man passionate about art, he left home with just two blankets and a sack of clothing, to live in a
Buthelezi’s travelling show, ‘Imizwa Yami’, which translates as ‘My feelings’ is showing at the Pretoria Art Museum, until 16th August. From there, it will travel to the Sasol Museum in Stellenbosch, the Red Location Museum in Port Elizabeth and Oliewenhuis Museum in Bloemfontein, and continue travelling until 2011. Read and see more work at: www.seippel-gallery.com Or see his work at: Seippel Gallery, Arts on Main, Johannesburg, Sunday 25. July 2009 Photos by Helenus Kruger Artwork courtesy Seippel Gallery
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