Posts Tagged ‘grade 12’

In the 2012 Grade 12 Visual Arts final exam the following question was asked in the section of Art and the Spiritual Realm – Issues in Art Around Belief Systems and the Sacred.

During and after the devastation of the Second World War, two British Painters Graham Sutherland and Francis Bacon, both created religious images that were tortured and brutal.

Discuss the two works (Sutherland 1A and Bacon 1B) by referring to the following:

  • The use of distortion in the images
  • The use of colour
  • Composition, space and use of structural/directional lines
  • Possible interpretations/meanings of these works in a world devastated by war.
The Crucifixion, 1946 (oil on hardboard) by Sutherland, Graham (1903-80); 243.8x228.5 cm; Saint Matthew's Church, Northampton, Northamptonshire, UK; English,  in copyright

The Crucifixion, 1946 (oil on hardboard) by Sutherland, Graham; Saint Matthew’s Church, Northampton, Northamptonshire, UK

Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944

Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944

Memorandum to the question:

FIGURE 1A. Graham Sutherland, Crucifixion 1, 1946.

Painted just after the horrors of World War 2, Sutherland portrays Christ on the cross in a distorted angst-ridden manner. The work was based on Grünewald’s Crucifixion in the Isenheim Altarpiece. It is the most tragic of themes – through death we have salvation – the hope of redemption.

Grünewald's Crucifixion in the Isenheim Altarpiece

Grünewald’s Crucifixion in the Isenheim Altarpiece

The image of the Crucifixion is placed firmly in the centre of the rectangular composition. In this work, Christ’s body is suspended in torment against a blue background. This figure becomes a powerful image of physical and spiritual suffering. A suggestion of a crown of thorns is visible around Christ’s head. These thorns, the curving barbed forms, served as symbols of human cruelty and suffering.

The use of distortion in terms of the outstretched arms nailed to the cross, with hands open and facing upwards, slumped head, ribs and sunken, emaciated torso, emphasises the suffering of Christ

In front of the crossed over feet of Christ, there is a single rope barrier separating the viewer from the image.
The use of colour is interesting. The strong orange rectangular shape at the base of the composition forms a dynamic contrast with the complimentary blue of the background. Touches of lilac are scumbled over the blue background in places. A more dominant lilac area is painted next to the right leg of Christ and helps to emphasise the verticality of the figure. The dark black shadows behind the white figure of Christ and parts of the cross, pushes the agonised figure forward. This, and the slight use of perspective seen at the top of the cross, gives the sense of limited space in the composition.

Strong structural/directional lines are evident on both the orange rectangle and blue background. These also tend to flatten the space. The figure is outlined boldly in black

FIGURE 1B: Francis Bacon, Three studies for figures at the base of a crucifixion, 1944.
Bacon began to paint images based on the Crucifixion in 1933.
Painted by Bacon in 1944, this is a triptych The work is based on the Greek Furies and his interpretations of the Crucifixion, and depicts three writhing anthropomorphic creatures set against a flat burnt orange background.
Three studies was done in oil paint and pastel on fibre board and completed within the space of two weeks. His intention was to paint a huge Crucifixion figure and place these figures at the foot of the cross. This was never done.
The Three studies triptych is generally considered Bacon’s first mature piece – he regarded the works he created before the triptych, as irrelevant, and throughout his life tried to suppress their appearance on the art market.

Use of distortion/colour
In this work he makes use of deliberately distorted, elongated, dislocated organic forms- half human, half animal. One feels that they could bite, probe, and suck, with their very long eel-like necks and open mouths – but strangely, they are sightless. Each panel shows a single taut sculptural form contrasted against a harsh red /orange background.
Perhaps it is this red /orange background that makes one think of entrails, of an anatomy or a vivisection. It makes us feel squeamish.
The flesh tones of the figures were achieved by overlaying grey and white brushstrokes, while the figures’ props were coloured using a variety of yellow, green, white, and purple tones.
It has been suggested that of the three figures, the one on the left most closely resembles a human form, and that it might represent a mourner at the cross.

Seated on a table-like structure, this limbless creature has an elongated neck, heavily rounded shoulders, and a thick mop of dark hair. Like its sister objects, the left-hand figure is portrayed with layers of white and grey paint.
The central figure’s mouth is positioned directly on its neck, rather than on a distinct face. It bares its teeth as if in a snarl, and is blindfolded by a drooping cloth bandage. This creature faces the viewer directly and is centralised by a series of converging lines radiating from the base of the pedestal.
Situated on an isolated patch of grass, the right-hand figure’s toothed mouth is stretched open as if screaming, or perhaps yawning. Its mouth is open to a degree impossible for a human skull.
The orange background of this panel is brighter than on the other two panels, and the figure’s neck opens up into a row of teeth, while a protruding ear juts out from behind its lower jaw.

Use of directional lines
Bacon made use of an interesting spatial dynamic of three lines radiating from the central figure. The other two panels suggest an interior space – a low-ceilinged, windowless and oddly proportioned space – other than that the space has been flattened due to the strong red background that jumps forward towards the viewer. One cannot ignore the demonic creatures thus creating a mood that is violent and foreboding.
These frightened, blind, raging figures are visceral in their impact, jolting one into sensations of fright, horror, isolation and angst. We react to them as self-conscious creatures, their postures and expressions revealing feelings of petrified isolation, searing horror, pain and blind confusion.
When the painting was first exhibited in 1945, it caused a sensation, and helped to establish him as one of the foremost post-war painters.

father Frans Claerhout

Image from Dirk and Domminique Schwager (1994)

Biography

The Flemish artist Father Frans Claerhout was born at Pittem in the western part of Belgium in 1919. Claerhout completed his training for the priesthood in 1945 and was sent to South Africa in 1946 as a Catholic missionary.  (His other choices had been Brazil or the Congo) Initially he worked in the Transvaal but in 1948 he was transferred to Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State. He worked as a missionary among the black villages around Bloemfontein, where his congregations consisted of simple and illiterate people living in impoverished surroundings.

Father Claerhout's Congregation

Father Claerhout’s Congregation

During his first year in Bloemfontein, Claerhout made no contact with other artists and his only artistic activities were little illustrative sketches for his mother. He started painting seriously in 1957, rough sketches, somber scenes in dull colours. In 1960 Claerhout moved to Thaba ‘Nchu where he started painting more. He saw Thaba ‘Nchu as an artisists paradise. He had more time to paint, as he no longer had to travel between districts. In November 1961 he held his first solo exhibition in Johannesburg.

In 1979 while in Belgium, he suffered a heart attack. After a bypass operation in Bloemfontein later that year, he experienced what he likes to call his second lease on life. His work became even more colourful – his colours radiating his warmth for and love for South Africa. (Ref)

“I see through African eyes with a touch of Belgium here and there. After all, you can’t put your heritage in a plastic bag and fling it out the window.” Claerhout

Claerhout lived to make other people happy; always smiling, even in the winter of his life.

The nature and the soul – that is a gift … like writing or singing. And I am happy because it was a need to be myself…but then you are happy that somebody say: Ooh, I want it, I like it. I am very happy too that so many people have joy in life through my paintings. Life is beautiful, one must enjoy it fully.” (Ref)

Suncatcher – Image from DS Oosthuizen Gallery

Father Claerhout also authored several books, including four works of poetry. His artistic legacy includes 22 sculptures.  Claerhout continued to paint daily during the last few years of his life at a home for retired Catholic priests. He died in his sleep at the age of 87 in a Bloemfontein hospital after being admitted with pneumonia in 2006.

By using the money Claerhout made from his paintings, he funded the bulding of 20 churches, chapels and church halls, 8 vehicles for the transport of the sick, pensioners, and school children. built homes in the neighbouring town of Botshabelo, sponsored children’s education, and assisted priests financially in building their own churches.

Claerhout_Wedding

The Wedding

Aims and Characteristics

I like to paint through the eyes of a child. To a child a mother isn’t someone with 10 fingers, but a kiss, love or a bunch of flowers. – Frans Claerhout

Blommetjies vir my (Flowers for me)

Blommetjies vir my (Flowers for me)

Claerhout had no formal art training but came from an artistic family and he belonged to a local art society in his student years. He visited Belgium and toured its museums in 1957 and, on his return, began to sketch and paint with total dedication.

claerhout christ and

His style owes much to Flemish Expressionism. His earlier palette inclines to warm, almost somber, tones; although it has brightened over the years, under the influence of the open Freestate landscape, with flashes of clear blue and yellow illuminating the general ochre-umber glow. The Free State’s stark clarity and wide open skies and its indigenous population with their love of brightly coloured headdresses, blankets and dresses, nudged Claerhout into broadening his palette- adding more red, yellow, green and blue. Through constant experimentation he mastered the colour of his environment. (Ref)

Crucifixion with village mourners

Christus in Tweespruit – Crucifixion with village mourners

He often distorts and elongates his forms for emotional emphasis, but retains the overt visual character of all his subjects.  He doesn’t paint an actual person but he uses his subjects as a representation, as a basis on which he creates the whole idea. (Ref) His artworks are also characterised by their thick impasto paint, exaggerated forms, humour and compassion. He primarily worked with oil paints on canvas or rough surfaces, but he also experimented widely with other media e.g. modeling in clay and wood-carving, wall-paintings, monotypes and linocuts, stained glass set in concrete windows and a prolific stream of drawings in charcoal, pen-and-ink or crayon. (Ref)

In the 60s he began giving added attention to drawings and monotypes. These were usually studies of single figures, in which he freed himself to some extend from the repetitive mannerisms which were beginning to make his  oil compositions all appear familiar.Forceful blocks of colour and spontaneous almost hasty line contribute to the vitality of the sketches. Forceful blocks of colour and spontaneous, almost hasty, line contribute vitality to the little sketches.

To Claerhout the sketch was an easy medium to capture quick impressions and to memorize his tales. However naive Claerhout’s charcoal sketches appear, they flow with understanding of his subject matter. He developed his sketches by rubbing them with oil paint. His tonal values, although dark and somber at times, give a decorative edge to his work. Towards the end, Claerhout only worked with charcoal and acrylics.

Lady Figure with Duck

Lady Figure with Duck

His subject matter are the people, animals and the village scenes around  the mission station at Thaba ‘Nchu. He found the eclecticism of their lives fascinating – the combination of traditional and western cultures. Thaba ‘Nchu was established as a homeland for Tswana and Sotho people under the 1913 Natives’ Land Act, and was characterized by widespread poverty and underdevelopment. The residents participated in subsistence- and small scale commercial farming ventures which mostly involved manual labour.

His donkey depictions are particularly well known. He also achieved particular renown through his child portraits with impersonal faces to portray the spirit of the child. He looks at the soul of the child, whose colour, race, background or civilization is immaterial. The shining faces always constitute the central theme, enlivened with a pretty dress full of flowers.

Crucifixion

Crucifixion

With Claerhout art and inner feelings are couple, so it is not surprising  that much of his subject matter is religious. Even though he paints the people with whom he works, going about their daily activities, one feels God radiating from them. (Ref) Thus to Claerhout his faith and his painting are indistinguishable: “my belief inspires me.”  Father Frans Claerhout often depicts the everyday scenes he observes around him as Biblical Themes. When asked whether he would continue painting in heaven, he replied; “Of course I shall.  I shall paint what I see.”  (Ref)

Claerhout sees Christ as a man covered in mysticism and he seeks to penetrate him, not as a supernatural being but as a living Christ risen from the dead. Frequently still bearing a crown of thorns, but forever pleading as man and God, moving among his earthly creatures like one of them … (Ref)

http://www.rosekorberart.com/special/item337.htm

Houses, Figures and Donkey

Influences

 His early works were greatly  influenced by the Flemish expressionists. Like the German expressionists, the Flemish Expressionists art were a protest art, but Claerhout felt, they had a mystique to their work, which made it more sympathetic than that of their contemporaries. He cites his strongest influence was that of the Flemish Expressionist Constant Permeke, whose paintings from the 1920’s and 30’s, like Claerhout’s, were concerned with peasants and the land they tend.

http://www.bozar.be/activity.php?id=12489&lng=en

Constant Permeke – Aardappelrooister 1929

Permeke’s work was not religious, but it was his ordinary subjects, everyday characters doing their daily chores; big hands, big breasts, that Claerhout admired. Claerhout got to know his work through books and he actually met the artist once. Permeke’s style is characterised by powerful contours, dark colours and simplified forms executed in a highly expressive manner. His figures are deliberately distorted and his colours warm. (Ref)

Constant Pemeke Flemish Expressionist

When Claerhout held his first solo exhibition in Johannesburg in 1961, the influence of Flemish art on his painting was still evident both in the colour and the atmosphere of these works, and it took a while before the clear blue skies of the Orange Free State and the greens, browns and yellows of its vegetation left their mark on his paintings.

Expressionism to Claerhout is painting only the necessary – I draw mouths, hands, faces, not feet and toes. He does not paint the actual person, but he uses them as a representation, as a basis on which he creates the whole idea.

The donkey camp

The Donkey Camp depicts the community headmen’s residences clustered around the chief’s residence, protectively built to include a ‘kraal’ for housing the animals. Drawing inspiration from the scenery around the Mission Church, Claerhout used expressive brushwork and muted colours to add to the rural character of ‘The Donkey Camp’. The heavy, abstracted figure of the farmer tending to his donkeys as the early morning mist starts clearing, is rendered in a rich earthy brown, emphasising his role as a man of the land. Donkeys, a treasured possession in the rural community, were commonly used as pack animals, for ploughing the fields, and for personal transport, and became one of the trademark subjects in Claerhout’s oeuvre, symbolising a simple, sober way of life. The two donkeys, encircled by the camp’s fence and patiently awaiting their next assignment, are symbolically central to the composition, their role essential to the day-to-day survival in this tough environment. (Ref)

Analysis of his Paintings by Previous Students

The Donkey Cart

The Donkey Cart

In the Donkey Cart Claerhout depicts a rural scene of a woman and child on a donkey cart. Claerhout also made many other Mother and Child portraits.These portraits, often virgin and child, echo the unhampered existence of African women, the natural bonding between mother and child without social restrictions. To him women are the core of families.

Karretjie People

Karretjie People

Although this image could be a depiction of the “karretjie people” found in South Africa, the red halo around the baby’s head immediately tells us that this image depicts a biblical theme, that of Mother Mary and baby Jesus, rather than just an ordinary rural scene. The predomination of blue also gives the painting an overall feeling of spirituality, especially with the contrast of red and yellow which makes the painting glow.

The loose brush strokes, bright arbitrary colours and the heavy black outlines used in this painting shows the influences of the Expressionists and Fauvists. The figures and the donkey’s forms are simplified and distorted to emphasize the emotional content of the painting. The background colour and the predominating colour is bright splashes of blue and turquoise, reminding us of the traditional Christian depictions of Mother Mary where her cloak always used to be blue. The red of the donkey is repeated in the woman, the baby, halo and splashes in the right hand foreground forming a binding element in the painting. As the baby’s blanket is the only white in the image one’s eye is drawn to the baby.

By depicting a biblical scene through ordinary people from the villages around him, Claerhout brings his spiritual vision down to earth. One feels that it reflects his spiritual mission of bringing the gospel to the poor through his own good works.

claerhout suncatcher painting

The Suncatcher

Like in most of his other art works Father Frans Claerhout depicts in The Sun-catcher his personal spiritual beliefs. Father Frans Claerhout writes in his poem, The Sun-catcher: “Die son sal skyn in jou hart as u die steun gee aan die struikelende mens…”  “The sun will shine in your heart if you give support to the stumbling person. The Sun-catcher, also resonates with his philosophy: “If you can catch the sun, you will never die.”

In the Sun Catcher Father Frans Claerhout depicts a seated woman with what looks like a sunflower. His brushwork and lines are loose and expressive, giving the impression that it was quickly sketched but observed with accuracy. The figure is simplified into its simplest elements, appearing almost childlike in its simplicity and in the economy of line used to depict the shapes. Rounded shapes dominate and is repeated in the sunflower, the woman’s belly and head, emphasizing both  the thematic and visual focal point. The viewer’s eye is lead back and forth between sun and the woman’s belly. He uses flashes of blue, green and yellow to illuminate image. In this image he also distorts and elongates his forms for emotional emphasis, like he does in his other works, but he still retains the overt visual character of all his subjects. The forceful blocks of colour and spontaneous, almost hasty, line contribute vitality of the sketch.

Christ and the other person

Christ and the other person

Claerhout explained this particular series as follows: “The series of Christ and the other person is a meditation of Christ and People.  What Christ is, cannot be found in research by the human mind. He was human – with and for man.  I feel I do not know much about him, but what I know and feel, that I like.”

To Claerhout faith is to be delightfully underage, expectantly.” Christ is to him the same in all his encounters with people, but each time different.  A Man for all seasons. He stirred the heart of all people and in this series are a few [of these people]. For the people that we know through the Gospel, who met Christ, He was man, prophet, something grand, an outcast, a sinner, love, forgiveness;  always an emotional sensation, visible and palpable. Almost all thinking people need other people – it is the beauty but also the tragedy of man. The medium here is paint. Color – line … the meditation is bound to the Evangelical text, it is the source … I hope that, with reference to the Gospel text, the 21 paintings will bring us love and growth. The last picture is the secret of faith: Christ alone. Who is the other person, me, you, us? “

The Original Father

The Original Father

In this series of paintings Claerhout’s figures are especially distorted and elongated for emotional effect so characteristic of the Expressionists. Colour is applied in loose expressive brushwork with thick sketchy outlines.

Crown of Thorns

Crown of Thorns

Through these artworks discussed we can get a clear image of Father Frans Claerhout’s spiritual beliefs. Most of his artworks depicts biblical themes but he uses the people and ordinary lives of those who surround him to depict his spiritual vision. Christ and the Other series perhaps most clearly expresses his belief that Christ must be experienced by each individual, in their own way.

References

Crouse Art
http://www.artdealers.co.za/ArtistsDetails.asp?ArtistName=Father%20Frans%20Claerhout

Johans Borman Art
http://www.johansborman.co.za/exhibition-work/aspects-of-abstraction-gallery-ii/30_frans_claerhout_the_donkey_camp_oil_on_board_50_x_605_cm.jpg/

Christy Lee Folkey – Meeting Fr Frans Claerhout
http://mysite.mweb.co.za/residents/bfnarch/Christy%20Lee%20Folkey’s%20Fr%20Claerhout.htm

Roberts on Art
http://www.robertsonartgallery.co.za/fransc_cv.shtml

Dirk and Dominique Schwager, Claerhout – Artist and Priest (1994)
http://www.chapter1.co.za/?page=shop/flypage&product_id=3051403

South African History Online
http://www.sahistory.org.za/dated-event/sa-artist-father-frans-claerhout-born

Henry Taylor Gallery
http://www.henrytaylorgallery.co.za/blog/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=26:father-frans-claerhout-paintings-exhibiting-the-henry-taylor-gallery&catid=1:blog&Itemid=1

Tributes to Ff Frans Claerhout
http://mysite.mweb.co.za/residents/bloemomi/Fr%20Claerhout%20Funeral%20&%20Tributes.html

Portrait of Willie Bester by Enzo Dal Verme

Biography

Willie Bester was born in the town of Montagu near Cape Town in 1956 to a Xhosa father who was a migrant labourer and a mother classified coloured. Under the Apartheid laws,Bester was classified ‘other coloured’ because his parents were defined as a mixed race couple. His siblings, were classified as black and registered in the name of their father, Vakele. Under apartheid law, mixed race families were not allowed a home in the “Coloured” areas of Montague. The only lodgings available to migrant workers, in Montague as elsewhere, were single-sex hostels in large compounds behind high fences. Therefore, the only circumstances in which the family could be together during Bester’s childhood was to live in informal accommodation in other people’s back yards.

 Bester displayed his talents early in life when as a young boy, he began making toy cars out of recycled wire, which was common enough among children at the time. However, Bester’s wire cars were covered in metal and expressively decorated. He began experimenting with painting by the time he was seven.

http://www.mennonitemission.net/STORIES/BEYONDOURSELVES/PROPHETICPURSUIT/Pages/Racingtocommonground.aspx

The draadkar, a well-known toy on the African continent, is a wire car crafted from found items rejected as scraps.

Although a promising student, Bester dropped out of school after the ninth grade to help the family economically by making and selling shoes and crafts. However in his late teens, Bester, like many other unemployed youth from the townships and rural areas at the time, were “drafted” to the Eersterivier Cadet Rehabilitation Center for a year, where they were forced to do army-type of training . There however, he was introduced to painting as someone gave him art materials. (Ref)

(untitled) Truck

The racism he experienced in the apartheid army and the real consequences of the war he witnessed, influenced him deeply and was to have a decisive impact on his life. He was forced to confront the racial self-hatred that was engendered by being part of the apartheid army, fighting his own people. (Ref)

Social Engineering 2

After working as a dental technician’s assistant for 15 years in Cape Town, at the age of 30, Bester was drawn to his childhood love for art. In 1982, he held his first solo exhibition. His early work were street scenes and landscapes.

South African street scene, 1995

He began to attend part-time classes at the seminal Community Arts Project (CAP) in District Six in 1986. In the context of the heightened political resistance of the mid-1980s, Bester found an intellectual home with the community of socially committed artists he began to associate with. He began to express his developing political conscience through his art. As part of this collective of artists, Bester played an active role in the anti-apartheid movement.

http://www.brundyngonsalves.com/exhibitions/2011/implemented-environments/

Zwelethu Mthethwa and Willie Bester, Experiment 5 … Wat ga’ aan

At CAP, Bester honed his technique and developed his characteristic use of mixed media to express his political views by using a combination of photographs, paint and found materials in layered symbolism  By the late 1980s, Bester began to achieve a measure of success as an artist and he turned professional in 1991. Bester emerged as one of South Africa’s most important resistance artists. He is recognised internationally for his ground-breaking anti-apartheid work.  (Ref)

Influences

Since its invention by Picasso and Braque in the period of Synthetic Cubism,the rubbish collages of the Dadaist Kurt Schwitters and the early Pop assemblages of Robert Rauschenberg, representation of the real world through the combination of found objects, is a theme that has been explored many times. However, opposite to what used to occur at the time of historical avant-garde, his use of waste material do not belong to the anti-art dimension but it is actually a structural part of the themes that he explores. He uses found objects to form an integral part of the social statements he makes through his art and so forms a personal iconography. 

His art works are a combinations of found objects which he gathers from the very townships he depicts. Willie sees rubbish dumps as symbols of the community in which he lives. (Ref) Just as people often regard those living in the townships as rejects of society, his works in themselves symbolises the falseness of that perception. To show people that something unexpected, something valued can come from what is regarded as rubbish, he assembles his art works from it. His works  also comment on everyday life in the township of people in the Western Cape.

Township Scene, 1994

Before he joined the  Community Arts Project in Cape Town, in 1988, he was painting and creating artworks  in the Western art styles. He believed that art meant depicting the natural surroundings. He was unaware at that stage that a message could be created through a work, especially a political one. He wanted to further his art studies, since he knew from a young age that he wanted to create art, but he found that most art institutions were reserved for white people only.

At CAP, his fellow students were expressing themselves and their feelings about Apartheid. Like many South African Artists of the time, they were actively involved in the political struggle against Apartheid, creating posters and having discussions on issues beyond the borders, such as the cross border massacres of the SADF. It was within the that environment that Bester realized  how he could contribute to anti=apartheid movement through his art. His special focus was on the townships and the lives of the people in it.

Characteristics and Themes

He became known for his signature mixed media creations, using scrap materials – acquired from local dumps – combined with the use of oil paints and photographs, often taken by himself. Over the years, Bester enlarged the scale of his compositions and started using a greater range and variety of discarded material to build up surfaces and increase the sense of spatial extension. These technical developments were accompanied by a growing concern to record the complex experience of township life and his own history within it.  His works are all linked, because their subjects, if they are not themselves set in the environment of the Western Cape townships, are invariably represented in that context.

Bester’s conscious use of these materials is a homage to his past, and the many compatriots who find creative ways to house themselves and to survive. With these, he expresses the textured themes of his work, which include forced removals, township life, gender oppression and the brutalisation of South African society. (Ref)

He uses the leftovers of the society he depicts in order to retrace the political history of South Africa. Like an archaeologist, Bester reconstructs the fabric of this history to reveal the hidden faces of the South African township. His works are vivid collages, juxtapositions of odds and ends, of rubbish found in the townships: shoes, bones, tin cans, newspaper clippings, pages of books, scrap metal. (Ref)

“People have built up a resistance to anything that addresses the psyche of mankind or people or themselves. I believe that we must protest against that which is wrong. There is no form of escape; remaining apolitical is a luxury that South Africans simply cannot afford.”(Ref)

In more recent years, Bester has explored contemporary themes arising from the challenges of post-apartheid South Africa such as crime, greed, poverty and corruption. For him, resistance to apartheid was fundamentally about humanity and human rights, which he continues to be vigilant about.

“What I try to get behind is why it is so difficult for people to change from their old ways. It hasn’t worked out the way I imagined. People who thought they were superior before haven’t really changed. I try to find out through studying history what gives people the right to think that way. I try to find a solution, not to be disappointed, to reach an understanding. The Truth Commission seemed to be one of the answers, but now I find that even the Truth Commission is a trap. It has done more damage than good, because the ANC was favoured over the Afrikaners. I want to do a series about it.”

Over the last decade Bester’s focus has shifted to combine fresh conceptual directions with familiar themes and materials. His latest works consists mainly of waste metal and other debris of industrial, agricultural and domestic activity. His art fuses new ideas into works that comment powerfully, occasionally humourously, on diverse socio-political issues, some global, some uniquely South African.

Bly Uit Oortreders Sal Geskiet Word, 2004

Bester for example uses a technique of creating see-through constructions in order to magnify inner worlds which is exemplified by Bly uit Oortreders sal geskiet word. A galvanized petrol can is flayed open like an anatomical model. An intricately wired interior world suggestive of an electrical station, a computer or a petrol pump is contained and exposed by a glass barrier. This inner world is guarded by a doll dressed as a watchman, obviously Caucasian, probably made in China for consumption by children in the so-called West. It stares at the viewer through an ominous threat in Afrikaans, as a comment on the global oil-based technology and its social impact. Through this work and other works in his ‘Metalized’ (2005)  exhibition, Bester examines some of the power dynamics that are currently at play in the new South Africa. He questions the state’s concern with maintaining a balance between freedom and security in works that are conceptually dense, while presenting us with intimate depictions of people struggling to be free. (Ref)

Willie Bester SECURITY GUARD

Small metal tiles and objects are fused into a remodelled and reshaped “skin .” Utilitarian objects are re-contextualised into relief works or monumental freestanding figures with forceful messages, for example, the  Security Guard so familiar to anyone accustomed to the South African urban life. While the figure’s uneasy stance, sideways glance and partially exposed skeletal frame of cogs and bolts convey an underlying tension, indicative of profound and complex paradoxes in capitalist society.

Bester is a strongly intuitive colourist whose painting remains as clear and incisive as ever. He still works in a grass roots environment where, in many ways, little has changed. This is why his comments on society’s ongoing injustices, like abuse of women and children, continue unabated. Metal is a powerful medium conveying a powerful message. His painted panels, contrasting so strikingly with the galvanized metalwork, combine almost seamlessly in the constructions, adding a world of socio-political inquiry. His unique way of combining painting with sculpture acts as a silent metaphor for the unique ways in which Willie Bester straddles the worlds of high art and every day life, never losing sight of socially sensitive concerns.

Materials

 A major part of all Bester’s works to date are the found objects he gathers from townships near his house and includes in his collages. The discarded materials are rich in symbolic meaning, and Bester creates an original iconography from the most varied and unlikely sources. He uses a motley array of objects such as machine parts, old sacking, sticks, various tin cans, sheep bones and wire netting. These objects are chosen not only for the way they convey the texture of the townships, but also for their symbolic significance which he discovers within them

Kakebeen (1993), Wood, bone, metal, lether, oil paint and newspaper on board

The materials themselves are very significant. Bester often includes newspaper photographs and text to illustrate a work. However, because the photographs and text are from a newspaper, they also illustrate that what is depicted is a newsworthy event. Bester also often includes photographs that he has taken himself. The meaning of these pictures is more representational, but they show that the artist was present in the environment, and shows his personal identification with the events photographed.

Domestic Worker

http://williebester.net/portfolio/domestic-worker

Domestic Worker 2

Technique

http://www.vgallery.co.za/2002article10/vzine.htm

Bester pays minute attention in equal measure to conceptual visualization, selection of parts, physical construction and final finishing of his works. Current political or social incidents provide the impetus for him to visit his “art shop “, a local scrap yard, where he spends days selecting every detail for the “anatomy ” of his planned subject. Back in his studio in Kuilsrivier the pieces are carefully laid out on the floor before building begins, usually from the feet up, ensuring a strong substructure. As the work proceeds, balancing metal forces, dictated by the laws of gravity, unite into form and idea. (Ref)

Current political or social incidents provide the impetus for him to visit his “art shop “, a local scrap yard, where he spends days selecting every detail for the

When a sculpture is complete, it is transported to an industrial galvanizing plant where it is galvanized to prevent future deterioration. Having worked in the international art world and dealt with major museums and collectors around the world, Willie is aware of conservation concerns for artworks in collections and therefore expends much time and care on the final finishing of his works.

http://www.vgallery.co.za/34long/metalized.htm

Willie Bester Security Guard (detail) 2005, recycled metal

Analysis of His Works

Forced Removals, 1988

As a part-time student at the Community Arts Project in Cape Town in 1988, the blatant attacks on the Apartheid system in the work of his fellow students, was an eye opener to him. The critical environment of the art school inspired him to produce two works, Forced Removals and Don’t Vote, that protested the  injustices of the Group Areas Act and the racial composition of the apartheid voters’ roll. The medium that Bester chose to express these themes of protest was a collage of waste material and conventional artistic forms that has since become his hallmark. The success of these first explorations with “mixed-media collage” and in the physical and symbolic use of township waste, encouraged Bester to pursue his career as an artist.

In Forced Removals, Bester depicts a scene common to many township and squatter camp residents during the Apartheid era: the forced removal of people from their makeshift or permanent homes at the hands of the government. The removals were usually sudden and violent, with police and soldiers entering the townships. This was often a very painful and emotional time for those families forced to leave their homes with only the possessions they could carry. Townships such as Sophiatown in Johannesburg and District Six in Cape Town are two examples of flourishing communities that were completely destroyed by the Apartheid government. (Ref)

Destruction of houses during forced removals in District Six Destruction of houses during forced removals in District Six Cape Town, South Africa, 1974

Sophiatown residents waiting for the trucks after the force removals in 1956. Photography Jurgen Schadeberg.

The focus of the composition is the bright yellow bulldozer in the process of destroying District Six, with callous disregard to the inhabitants feelings. The bulldozer in itself becomes a symbol of the brutality involved in the destruction of a once thriving community. Bester uses photographic cut-outs for the two people standing behind the bulldozer, which brings the reality of the situation home to the viewer. They appear to be in a state of shocked numbness. By using photographs of actual people Bester effectively brings home the message that forced removals wasn’t just some distant event in history that affected  anonymous people, and personalize the suffering the inhabitants experienced. To the left, a man appears to attempting to salvage some possessions, and one gets the feeling that that the bulldozers did not even wait for the the people to remove their possessions.

Bester treated the rest of the painting as a realistic painting of township life and in doing so, the viewer feels even more poignantly that soon the bulldozer will destroy the colourful scene forever. The bulldozer becomes not just the focal point of the painting, but also a disturbing element in what would otherwise just be a depiction of a street scene.

willie bester forced removals detail

At the bottom right hand corner Bester enigmatically stenciled the words “Made in England,” giving a visual impression that it could be part of an old packing crate found on a rubbish dump. This use of stenciling is both reflective of the reality that the scene will soon just be rubble, a rubbish dump and perhaps also a comment on the economic system itself.  Like Bester’s other works, Forced Removals may be read both across and below the surface, and he successfully combines the subject matter with a richly textured whole within the resonance of its symbolic content.

Family Unit, 1993

Family Unit, 1993 (For full analyses click on images)

Four of Bester’s works from 1993 are dedicated to victims: two record the sufferings and privations of ordinary South Africans, and two commemorate assassinated political leaders. Bester wants all of these subjects to be understood as casualties of a morally bankrupt system. Institutionalized poverty and systematic  degradation created an entire population of oppressed people.

These paintings, and the series of which they are part, reflect a change in the direction of Willie Bester’s art, from his early work, and may be said to represent scenes of life in the townships as illustrations of the effect of a generation of apartheid laws.  While these works appear to draw on this experience in order to celebrate the indomitable spirit of the oppressed people of South Africa, his early paintings consist of individual scenes of township life represented realistically with the several techniques at his disposal, these are symbolic in content and in pictorial structure.

This series from 1993 are composed through the combination of many different scenes and events which may or may not be realistic representations  in themselves, but focus around the principal theme. This pictorial language allows Bester a  more direct voice in the work, through which he express fragments of his own biography and his strong feelings about the issues he is addressing.

Beyond thematic coherence, surface unity is assured by the use of distinct color combinations and the related techniques of scattering anonymous stencil marks and dribbling pure colors throughout the length and breadth of the painting. An exploration of the depth of Willie Bester’s works involves the literal re-creation of perspective distances through the media of photography and illusionist painting, and the forward extension of these fictive spaces through the incorporation of three-dimensional objects on the surface.

Another strategy that Bester employs is to translate imagery from photographic sources – his own or newspaper reproductions – into the medium of paint. The people he represents in this manner, who are usually the principal forms of the painting, appear to gain significance in the process: shifting from an anecdotal reality that is defined in terms of time and space, they acquire a kind of symbolic status.

 These paintings celebrate the lives and achievements of their principal subjects. But the artist makes clear that these lives have been led under the most dehumanizing circumstances: apartheid South Africa systematically degraded its oppressed people and eliminated their leaders. Bester makes these points not simply by illustrating in his unique way the appalling conditions in which huge sections of the population are obliged to live, but also through the use of symbols.

The system of racial classification is referred to by images of both Pass books and, metaphorically, machine parts that spew out the rigid identities into which South Africa divided its population. The scattering of stencil numbers and lettering throughout the works suggests the arbitrary methods of classification and the reduction of human individuality to ciphers. Similarly, the tin cups that form such a consistent feature of Willie Bester’s iconography relate through their numbering to this sense of reduced humanity, but they extend this idea by evoking the Cup of Gethsemane. The necessary acceptance of suffering that is suggested by this reference is communicated in a slightly different way by the many musical instruments that Bester uses in his work. Beyond their several suggestions of social harmony and vitality, the guitars and other instruments are intended to illustrate the Afrikaans expression “Jy sal moet dans soos die musiek speel,” which translates roughly as “You have to dance as the music dictates.

Semekazi by Willie Bester

Migrant Worker, 1993

In Migrant Worker, Bester shows his concern for the conditions in which migrant labourers were forced to live in Apartheid South Africa, and that after years of work for a company, they received no pension and no prospects for a secure retirement, reflective of his personal experiences in a family whose father was a migrant labourer.

Analysis by Michael Godby and Sandra Klopper

Semekazi, the subject of Migrant Labourer, had retired from construction work but continued to live in the township of Crossroads in order to support his wife and four children in the Transkei. He had no house or even room of his own in Crossroads but simply rented a bed in a hostel for R6 a month. When he applied for a pension from the construction firm for which he had worked for many years, he was told that he was listed as dead and therefore was not eligible. To supplement his monthly state pension of R60.74 for himself and his family, Semekazi collected and sold scrap materials in the township. He was murdered by gangsters six months after Bester completed this commemoration of his life.

Migrant Labourer is primarily about the life of Semekazi, but it also records the life experiences of all migrant laborers. The central motif of the painting is Semekazi’s bed, which doubles as a prison for the man looking out from behind it. A lock and chain connect the bed to a Bible at the bottom right, a reference both to Semekazi’s religious convictions – he used to give R5 to his church every month – and to the fact that South Africa claimed to be run on Christian principles. The irony in this reference is underlined by the Bible’s proximity to a second book seen to the right of the bed: a replica of Semekazi’s Pass book. Fearing prosecution and police harassment, Semekazi continued to carry his Pass book even after the Pass laws were repealed in the late 1980s.

Semekazi by Willie Bester

To the left of the bed and above the Pass book are two panels representing Semekazi’s wife and four children, whom Semekazi would dearly have loved to have with him in Crossroads. The indications of rural life at the top of the composition are separated from these portrait figures by an undulating row of numbered cups. These cups refer both to the Agony in the Garden and to the fact that people are rendered anonymous through the systems of discrimination and abuse entrenched in apartheid. The roller and ink pad for fingerprinting serve to reinforce this idea.

Semekazi by Willie Bester

Throughout the composition, Bester makes reference to the two worlds that Semekazi used to inhabit: the rural and the urban. The rural world from which he came is symbolized through the inclusion of buck horns and sheep bones, among other things. The urban world in which he lived at the end of his life is represented in crowd scenes, the industrial landscape of chimneys and guns, and mechanical clamps. The clamps double as handcuffs. In motifs like these, Bester conflates images of industry with the idea of imprisonment. In his view, Semekazi was a captive of the industrial landscape because he never had the prospect of a secure retirement with his family in the Transkei.

Footnote: migrant labourer: a migrant labourer is a term given to people who live in another nearby country to the one they are employed in. They receive no financial benefits and have to live in hostels (usually single-sex) while they work. This prevents them from seeing their families for long periods of time. When the government created the homelands within South Africa, such as Swaziland and Bophuthatswana, they were legally living in another country. These homelands generally had no resources of their own, so the black men would have to cross the borders of the homelands and work in South Africa to earn money, as migrant labourers. Their benefits by law were thus reduced to a minimum.

Bester-Willie-BIKO

Tribute to Steve Biko, 1993

The focus of this work is anti-apartheid activist and hero Steve Biko, who since his death in police custody (12 September 1977), has been a martyr of the anti-apartheid movement. His death shortly after the Soweto uprisings served as a rallying point both internationally and locally for the anti-apartheid movement.  Throughout the Tribute to Steve Biko Bester placed images relating to his death.

On 18 August 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock ( featured to the left of Biko) under the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967 .

Bester-Willie-BIKO roadblockHe was interrogated by officers of the Port Elizabeth security police including Harold Snyman and Gideon Nieuwoudt. This interrogation took place in the Police Room 619 The interrogation lasted twenty-two hours and included torture and beatings resulting in a coma. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody, and was chained to a window grille for a day.

Bester-Willie-BIKO chained

Bester-Willie-BIKO landrover

On 11 September 1977, police loaded him in the back of a Land Rover, naked and restrained in manacles, and began the 1100 km drive to Pretoria to take him to a prison with hospital facilities.

Bester-Willie-BIKO 1100

He was nearly dead owing to the previous injuries. He died shortly after arrival at the Pretoria prison, on 12 September.

Bester-Willie-BIKO autopsy

The police claimed his death was the result of an extended hunger strike, but an autopsy revealed multiple bruises and abrasions and that he ultimately succumbed to a brain hemorrhage from the massive injuries to the head, which many saw as strong evidence that he had been brutally clubbed by his captors.

Bester-Willie-BIKO woods

Then Donald Woods, a journalist, editor and close friend of Biko’s, along with Helen Zille, later leader of the Democratic Alliance political party, exposed the truth behind Biko’s death

Bester-Willie-BIKO target

The target with scattered numbers found in both Tribute to Steve Biko and Tribute to Chris Hani represents the Apartheid system’s propaganda that portrayed  the people’s leaders as villains; individual human beings, with all their complex experience and history, reduced to statistics for exploitation and disposal.

Bester-Willie-HANI

Tribute to Chris Hani, 1993

Tribute to Chris Hani (1993)

The central image in this work is an animated portrait of Chris Hani, the Secretary-General of the South African Communist Party, who was assassinated on Easter Saturday, 1993. Bester used photographs from newspapers to depict the circumstances of his death – on the left his murderer is shown, the Polish immigrant Janus Walusz, and on the right comrades grieving over his stricken body. Other media images in the top right hand corner show the six day mourning period that was declared in Hani’s honour, and the outbreak of violence and anger that Hani’s death unleashed. Bester has included his own feelings regarding Hani’s death by the burnt state of the wood of the central panel. However, the focus of the work is on commemorating Hani’s achievements in the battle for peace in South Africa.

The bicycle tire around the portrait of Hani represents a laurel wreath. Bester has successfully managed to bring the original meaning of the tire that has become debased through political abuse. By using the tire, Bester knew the form might very well evoke images of the fearful “necklacing” practice (see “necklacing”). However, he was determined to restore it to its original connotations of transport, labour, progress and union activity. The tire is inscribed with the valediction “Hamba Kahle” (Go Gently), and the fateful words that Hani uttered in a television broadcast a few days before he was killed: “I’ve lived with death for most of my life. Nobody wants to die. I want to live in a free South Africa and I’m prepared to lay down my life for it.” Because the wheel can have industrial connotations, it could also suggest Hani’s socialist beliefs, which are further indicated by the red colour of the sky behind his portrait and in the hammer-and-sickle emblems.

Hani’s desire to abandon the armed struggle and to fight the system through the organisation of labour is shown by the AK-47 overlaid by the dove, and by the industrial forms among military apparatus on the right side of the painting. In the bottom right-hand corner there is a figure of a miner, who symbolises this struggle. His torchlight in his helmet illuminates a bank note that represents gains in wage negotiations. The crosses in his goggles refer to the appalling accident record of South African mines. The guitar in the bottom centre of the work stands for a number of things: it shows social harmony and the regimentation of life under Apartheid. The yoke symbolises the continued state of subjugation experienced by the majority of South Africans.

In this work Bester is both celebrating Hani’s achievements and criticising the violence in South African society. The target on the left of the central image shows how this leader was created into an enemy of the state by government propaganda. The balaclava-clad killer and the “Top Secret Hit List” on the right represent the culmination of the campaign of vilification. The numbers scattered across the target indicates the process of dehumanising a person in this way. Individual human beings, with all their complex experience and history, are reduced by the system to statistics for exploitation and disposal. The central image of Chris Hani shows that he resisted this process through the powers of conviction and courage. This portrait shows Hani at the head of a march – one that was actually protesting his death – and appearing to represent the demands of the people to the viewer.

http://library.thinkquest.org/18799/wbes3.html

Cradock 4 (1993) (Click on image for full analysis)

For Those Left Behind, 2003

 

Trojan Horse II

Trojan Horse 3

The event that occurred on October 15th 1985, which came to be known as the “Trojan Horse” incident, took place in the coloured residential suburb of Athlone near Cape Town. Police forays into black areas were being met with strong resistance such as barricades of burning tires, stone-throwing and ‘traps’ dug into the road. The people simultaneously demanded “Troops out of the townships.” In an effort to punish stone-throwers, police hid in crates on a truck and had the truck driven up and down a busy thoroughfare in Athlone. Eventually people began throwing stones, and immediately the police burst out of their crates and opened fire. Moments later three boys lay dead by the side of the road. The youngest was Michael Miranda who was 11 years old, on his way to the shop when it happened. Bester also had a strong response to the “Trojan Horse” incident. He felt that the situation was “as low as you could get” since the tactics the police were using were ancient (as is the Trojan Horse story) and showed desperation on their part to convict the stone-throwers involved.

Bester created a series of three sculptures about the Trojan Horse Massacre with Trojan Horse III being the last in the series. Unlike Trojan Horse 1 and 2, which evoke the feel of African scrap metal toys as a reminder of the child victims, Trojan Horse III is made from parts of cars and motorcycles that Bester has transformed from scrap metal into a naturalistic animal. Characteristic of Bester’s works, the materials he uses are significant in themselves. The parts used to create the horses are in itself symbolic of the symbolism of the Theme. His particular visual vocabulary of forms, focus the attention on the transformation of flesh and blood into dehumanised cogs.

The ‘Trojan Horse 3’ is made of ‘violent’ material, including bombshells and machine guns, all related to the ‘Trojan Horse Incident’. The use of metal gives this sculpture an aggressive, industrial look.  The choice of material emphasizes the horrible rationality in which those policemen, in cold blood, performed this crime. First danger hides, but then it appears surprisingly and causes an explosion of loss. (Ref)

 Bester originally asked permission from the South African police to use decommissioned Kalashnikov rifles; to signify the smuggling of arms on the African Continent, but he was politely and firmly told that they were all to be melted down.

The life-size horse consists of a motorbike motor for its belly, to give it its general structure. There is a machine gun protruding from the top of the back, symbolising the guns that came out of the truck containing the police.

The drips refer to the people who were injured by this exercise. They also represent the dying mentality of Apartheid, with many of the white Afrikaners at the top of the country trying desperately to keep the system alive, as if they were drips to a dying person. A Bible is chained to the horse, and the tail is made of strips of rubber, which police used to whip people.

The horse appears aggressive and naked, revealing all its bones and raw muscle, as the Apartheid system is now being exposed for what it was.

Bester’s work charts the dramatic social and political developments in South Africa over the past 25 years. His account of social change is not idealistic. Instead, he continues to address issues of corruption and Government accountability in the new South Africa.

References

Art.anazana.com
http://art.anazana.com/en/arhiivs-13508/page-31055:12/page-42386:7/open-news:4766

Arttrob
http://www.artthrob.co.za/99aug/artbio.html
http://www.artthrob.co.za/05nov/reviews/34long.html
http://www.artthrob.co.za/01nov/reviews/goodman.html

Banard Gallery
http://www.barnardgallery.com/?m=4&s=2

Bowmann Sculpture
http://www.robertbowman.com/modern/artist/willie_bester

Contemporary Art Collection , Jean Pigozzi
http://www.caacart.com/pigozzi-artist.php?i=Bester-Willie&bio=en&m=37

Donvé Lee, Willie Bester: Art as a Weapon

Michael Godby and Sandra Klopper, Art of  Willie Bester, African Arts, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Winter, 1996), pp. 42-49+104

South African History Online
http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/willie-bester

South African Resistance Art
http://library.thinkquest.org/18799/time30.html

The South African Cape Corps in Defence of – DISA
http://www.disa.ukzn.ac.za/webpages/DC/Dav8n684.1681.5785.008.006.1984.9/Dav8n684.1681.5785.008.006.1984.9.pdf

The Presidency
http://www.thepresidency.gov.za/pebble.asp?relid=7833

VGallery
http://www.vgallery.co.za/34long/metalized.htm
http://www.vgallery.co.za/99article23/vzine.htm
http://www.vgallery.co.za/2005article6/vzine.htm

Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willie_Bester

Willie Bester
http://williebester.net/

Willie Bester in die Eikestad
http://storiesbyadel.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/issue-7-dn.pdf