Posts Tagged ‘own identity’

Nontsikelelo Veleko was born in 1977 in Bodibe, South Africa, and lives and works in Johannesburg. She was brought up in Cape Town and studied photography between 1999 and 2003 at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown precinct in Johannesburg, an initiative co-founded by veteran photographer David Goldblatt.

Nontsikelelo Veleko

In the last couple of years Veleko has been attracting a great deal of attention with her striking work entitled Beauty is in the Eyes of the Beholder, a depiction of South African street style. Defying the clichés of what life can be like in South Africa, Veleko captures young people dressed in unique outfits, often with handmade elements.

Nontsikelelo Veleko

Focusing on issues of the identity, she examines how people present themselves to the outside world and thus construct their identities. Through the use of fashion and clothing Veleko questions perceived notions of beauty. She focuses her lens on those around her, but at times she also turns the lens towards herself, posing both in guises of various identities and representing herself in self-portraiture.

Nontsikelelo Veleko

She focuses on the fashion they experiment with and how they use art forms such as graffiti for expression. Lolo says about her Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder series of photographs, “I named my project Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder because other people, when they saw those people dressed up like that, would ask: ‘How can you dress up in yellow pants and a lime green jersey with stripes?’ And I thought the way I see beauty and the way I perceive beauty might be different to someone else next to me … So the project is called Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder, because for me they are beautiful. I was excited [by them] I didn’t care what anyone else was saying … It was all about drawing attention around issues of beauty. And it was also about street fashion … But I don’t think that they’re just performing themselves; I’ve lived it. I used to be one of those people…” (Ref)

Nontsikelelo Veleko

By demonstrating various labels she highlights how the culture is shaped by these products. She also uses herself, her identity and her success to understand herself and where she fits into this group.

Nontsikelelo Veleko

Nontsikelelo Veleko was a nominee and finalist of the MTN New
Contemporary Artists in 2003 and has since participated in prominent
local and international exhibitions. In 2006 her photographs were ex

http://mimimagazine.blogspot.com/2010/10/snapshots-beauty-is-in-eye-of-beholder.html

Nontsikelelo “Lolo” Veleko

Further Reading;

Nontsikelelo Veleko’s Wonderland Essay, By Nadia Arnold
http://astrochicksphotodiary.blogspot.com/2009/07/essay-nontsikelelo-veleko-wonderland.html

Standard Bank Arts
http://www.standardbankarts.co.za/media/8906/nontsikelelo_veleko.pdf

Walter Batiss

A search for true identity is when a person or an artist is looking for his/her cultural
‘roots’ through visual art forms. – Walter Battiss researched South African rock art and probably discovered his own cultural ‘roots’ through this. – 2010 Feb/March Exam Paper

Short Biography
Born in 1906 in Somerset East, he spent most of his childhood in the rural Orange Free State, where he explored the local Bushmen Rock Art and developed an interest in archaeology. He wrote two books on Bushmen Art. Unlike most South African artists of the time, he did not study overseas. Battiss only attained a formal degree in Fine Arts at the age of 32.

Walter Battiss

Battiss went on to study further in the field of South African Bushman and rock art, and in 1948 went on an expedition to the Namib Desert, living amongst traditional bushman for some time. In the 1950’s Battis made acquaintance with Picasso and Gino Severini, and was invited to lecture on South African art at the University of London the same year. After travelling through Europe in the 1960’s, Battis visited the Seychelles in 1972, and shortly afterwards, the legendary Fook Island was created.

Further travelling to Zanzibar, Fiji, Hawaii, Madagascar, the Comoros and Samoa, created more inspiration of the imaginary kingdom of Fook, and Battis went on to produce a map, imaginary characters, plants, animals and a history. For a more official presence, Battis also created stamps, a currency, passports, a unique language, and driver’s licences.  Fookianisms also included art happenings, art objects,poetry, linguistics, bureaucracy and erotica in reaction to the censorship under Apartheid.  He described Fook as an “island which exists inside everyone” (Ref)

He was a  professor and head of the Fine Arts department at Unisa for several years. Walter Battiss retired from his position as Professor of Fine Arts at UNISA in 1971, 1982 Walter Battiss was struck down by a sudden heart attack and passed away. He was 76 years old.

Walter Battiss fook island


Influences

Figures and Buck, Battiss

Figures and Buck, Battiss


The San Rock Art  had a major influence on his work throughout his life. The figures and forms in many of his works were often simplified and abstracted as in the Rock Paintings. Battiss was interested in the formal aspects of rock art, such as the economy of line, the decorative simplification and the accurate understanding of form without shadows or colour modelling  Inspired by the formal devices that characterize  San painting, he also framed and cropped his images in such a way as to imply a continuous unframed space behind them. He stacked figures vertically and horizontally, altered scale relationships, and created palimpsests, through a sgraffito-like  of drawing into wet paint revealing the colour beneath.

Horseman Palimpsest

Horseman Palimpsest

The influence of Ndebele bead work, with its geometric shapes and strong colour, can also be seen in some of his work.

Ndebele bead work

Ndebele bead work

Walter Battiss

MARABARABA

The linear calligraphic detail and hieroglyphic forms in his work were also inspired by Middle Eastern decorative art. On his travels Battiss studied the calligraphy of Arabic scripts. Battiss developed his own visual language using picture-writing, or pictographs, which tell a story symbolically. Though colour is always important in his work, the technique os application is incidental to the impact of the symbolic shapes. Battiss did not confine himself to orthodox procedures. He explored the possibilities of every medium he used and kept abreast of technical experiments and innovations that influenced the character of modern art.

Walter Battiss

Five People in a Cave

In the 1960s Battiss produced a series of paintings with such titles as Message in an Unknown Language, Rock Artists and Palimpsest, which included text in a kind of hieroglyphic script. Battiss was well known for his coded alphabets and wrote letters using his own characters, in some case providing the reader with the key. They were not meaningless decorative simulations of Arabic script; they were coded messages that no one without the key to the code could interpret. Battiss thus graphically depicted the problems of interpretation encountered when archaeologists had to interpret San paintings.

For him there was no wretchedness in the inability to decipher the one-to-one relationship of visual sign to verbal meaning; the compositions retained their extraordinary visual primacy and would lose none of this with the discovery of the code that might interpret their literal meaning. (Ref)

Commenting on this aesthetic visual understanding without knowing the literal meaning and how art helps us to see the world around us in a new way, Battiss said;

Nature is made by the artist and nature does not exist until the artist creates it in his own way. It is possible that the artist, in defining reality around him. makes a new kind of reality that generations after him will understand.

Figures and Rocks

Cezanne – Joy of Life

Some of his works also show an influence by European art movements and artists . In for example Figures and Rocks you can see the influence of Post Impressionistic style of Cezanne with its fragmented colour planes. The theme of nude figures in a natural setting was explored by several Post Impressionist artists such as Mattisse’s “The joy of Living”. Battiss used distorted perspective, loose brush stroke, bright colours and idealistic themes of the Fauvists in several of his works.Some of his oil Paintings also shows an Expressionistic influence with thick applications of impasto paint, bold dramatic colours and dark outlines. As with Stern, his vision of Black Africans is exotic and idealized, rather than showing the hard realities.

walter Battiss Boys' swimming pool

Boy’s Swimming Pool

Here’s a great analysis of Boy’s Swimming Pool by By Darryl Houghton, former pupil of Battiss. (For the whole article click on image)

At first glance, Boys swimming pool appears to portray a group of archetypal figures in the style of a san rock painting – swimming and sunning themselves under an African sky. However, a closer look at the work reveals two bicycles, discarded clothing and even a pair of boots. This suggests that this is no timeless Arcadian scene, but that the silhouette-like figures are, in fact, boys from some Karoo dorp who have cycled out into the country to swim naked in a river pool.

In the foreground a group of boys disport themselves in the water, where they are joined by a laughing dog, tongue lolling (a typically Battissian touch of humour). At the centre of the composition, three boys stand poised on a rock and prepare to dive into the water, while others lie on the warm, golden brown rocks, soaking up the sun. It is a scene full of lively activity set in an ancient landscape of rocks and distant flat-topped hills.

The paint has largely been applied with a palette knife and the resulting scumbled texture seems to approximate the the rough layering of rock strata. There is little tonal contrast in thsi work and it is as if the blazing sun has drained the chromatic glow from the colours. The water is represented as a slab of dark cerulean blue with no modulation, around which the rest of the composition is grouped. The somewhat somber palette of earth greens and, ochres and reddish browns is enlivened by flashes of orange that complement the blue of the water. The figures have lost their individuality and are reduced to a series of flat, yellow “cut-outs” emphatically outlined in black. It is as though they have become an integral part of their natural surroundings.

Battiss, like the painter Paul Gauguin, often sought to portray humankind living in a Utopian state of harmony with nature and with each other. In this particular work it is as if the trappings of “civilization”, in the form of the bicycles and clothing, have been discarded and the boys have returned to a state of grace and are at one with water, earth and sky.

Walter Battiss

Coco de Mer, Seychelles

‘Battiss was one of only a handful of South African artists who kept abreast with international art developments during a long period of cultural isolation in South Africa during the apartheid years. Although distrustful of most conceptual art practise fashionable at this time, Battiss was a great admirer of Pop Art, especially the works of Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist and Robert Rauschenberg. His first hand knowledge and experience of Pop Art in turn became an important catalyst and influence on his own printmaking, especially the prints produced in the last decade of his life.'(Ref)

Coco de Mer, Seychelles, and Liza Minelli from the 1970’s shows references to the Pop Art of Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg,  The “Overallness ” especially found in the work of Jasper Johns, ”can also be seen in some of his works. The Overallness ( also called “undifferentiated” by some artists) of Pop Art and Abstract Expressionist is a radical departure from the traditional western art concept of reality in a frame. With overallness there is no focal point around which a composition of an art work is structured; it is more like wall paper with repetitive patterns. There is also an element of ambiguity – which forms are solids and which forms are voids?

Beautiful People - Walter Battiss

Beautiful People

Aim and Characteristics of Art

 

Walter Battiss is said to have in both his life and in his work rejected conformity and challenged every kind of boundary – creative, academic, political, cultural, spiritual. He is also called a ‘gentle anarchist.” Battiss said,: “In conforming I am wasting a hell of a lot of time…this ritual of conforming often gives people a certain security…And I like living in insecurity.


Battiss was a founding member of The New Group, an association of professional artists whose aim was to develop fresh ideas about art and to explore new directions, This aim can also be seen in the many different subject matter, techniques and styles his work covered. His work and explorations in different mediums and subjects can also be seen as explorations into his identity as a person with European based education living within an African country. Or his work can be seen as a synthesis of the two.

His long career as an artist has been devoted to the study of man in his environment; first in the context of Africa and rock art, then later, in the interpretation of this concept in its broadest sense.

Some Paintings analysed by previous students

Walter Battiss

People Enjoying – 1979 – Watercolour on Paper

In his watercolour People Enjoying Battiss displays a synergy of his multiple interests, especially his fascination with Bushmen Rock art. His quirky personality and humour is reflected in both the title and the images he chooses to depict. The line and shapes of the images are drawn with the simplicity found in rock paintings and colours are similar to those found in rock art; ochres, browns, black, white, blue and green, as if using natural pigments.

There is no perspective or illusion of space, and the composition is much like the rock paintings where figures are piled on top of each other. The Focal Point is no particular area and your eye moves from object to object, reflecting a general overallness of composition, yet when you focus on the painting, the figures in the left top corner draws the eye and leads you down to the bottom left and up to the right hand corner.

The two figures in the top left are very similar to the Egyptian goddess of the sky, Nuit or how she is often traditionally depicted.

Then below that is what appears to be  a traditional rock painting that has over time lost parts of the original image as with many traditional rock art works where the pigments either fades away or parts chips off. In the bottom left hand corner is a figure that resembles an Egyptian priest with hands stretched out as if calling upon the gods. Perhaps beginning to enter his trance state, or calling upon the gods. A figure standing with his hands out stretched and palm open facing up often indicates a state transcendence. As if to enforce this, next to this image there is a spiralling sphere which many sources say is sign of power like an atom which has electron shells around, and that each new layer of the spiral represents an increase in spiritual power, or deeper levels of entering a trance. Spirals are found all over the world in rock art.

It is now believed that the geometrics found at Driekopseiland were a depiction of the entoptics created by the optic nerve in the initial stages of an altered state. The shaman experienced these varied abstract shapes via intense drumming and dancing, sometimes in conjunction with hallucinogens. Just rub your eyes hard to get a mild sense of this phenomenon.There are numerous spiral petroglyphs at Driekops Eiland. ( Battiss studied and wrote about the the petroglyphs from Driekops Eiland)

Drie Kops Eiland Petroglyphs

This Documentary of the San Trance Dance shows visually what happens during trance and how images are seen during the different stages of trance.

Walter Battiss described the rocks with petroglyps as ‘great whales lying in the mud’ of Driekops Eiland, their backs ‘decorated with innumerable designs.”

To right of the spiral is what appears to be a whale perhaps symbolic of Battiss’s description of the rock engravings at Drie Kops Eiland. Then further to the right is a collection of small white figures that can help aid the idea of a shaman beginning to escape to a trance state because as he starts to get further into his trance the surroundings would begin to loose form and appear further away. This may also be why the figures are so small compared to the shaman and have no detail other than outlines. Next to the group is a figure of a man in what could be the whale. Perhaps this image reflects the fable of Jonah and the whale, who was only released from the belly of the whale until he promised to deliver the message god asked him to bring to the people. This could be a reflection of the messages the artist/shaman brings to people from the spirit world. The tree behind the group of figures also seems to reinforce this as the tree in some theories on the Bushmen art represents a kind of axis through which the different spiritual realms can be entered through.

Image from Matopo Hills Zimbabwe. It shows two ethereal human figures juxtaposed with a tree. The figure holding the tree trunk where lower branches stem off is a therianthrope, The figure farthest from the tree in a crouching posture is more human in form and is clapping. These figures have grossly exaggerated ‘streamers’ underneath their armpits which represents entering into a trance.

Then at the furthest right is what looks like the final stage of the trance, the anthropomorphic figures which are supposedly seen in the height of a trance state. (See How Art Made the World Part 2)

In the top right hand corner is what appears to be a decorative depiction of a leather beaded apron, with a quirk – it has a modern heart attached. Both the title and figures as whole suggests that this painting isn’t a serious depiction of trance and spirituality though, rather it displays Battiss’s imaginative humour as reflected in his Fook island. This could also be a statement that spiritual beliefs should be enjoyed rather that treated with the heaviness found in many orthodox religions.

In People Enjoying Battiss achieves a synthesis between Western and Rock Art.In conclusion one can say that in general, Battiss’ simplified schematic representations echo those found in San Rock art and hieroglyphs. Battiss developed his own visual language using picture-writing, or pictographs. His abstracted designs are composed of calligraphic images which tell a story symbolically.

The conventional European artistic viewpoint that Battiss inherited from his teachers was reconditioned by his growing empathy with the influence of rock art, and he began to devise pictorial forms that would identify his modern vision with the vision of the earlier rock-artists. Fishermen Drawing Nets shows one of his earlier imaginative compositions based on the motifs from South African rock-paintings.  His deliberate pictorial references to so-called ‘Bushman’ art led to Battiss being dubbed ‘the Bushman painter’. But while he was looking back towards the prehistoric past, Battiss was simultaneously influenced and stimulated by developments in Modern European paintings. Fisherman drawing Nets, is a sophisticated adaptation of his’Bushman’ conceptions in terms of contemporary methods, colouring and composition.

Fisherman Drawing Nets by Walter Battiss – 1955

Fisherman Drawing Nets by Walter Battiss – 1955

In Fishermen Drawing Nets, the colours and textures of the paintings draw upon Expressionism with their thick applications of impasto paint, bold dramatic colours, dark outlines, loose expressive brushwork and distorted perspective. There is a shallow almost two dimensional feeling to the painting, yet it still feels as if it has some depth. There is no aerial perspective as all the colours both in the background and foreground are of the same hue and intensity, with no fading or blurring as you will find in traditional western art.

The Composition is also in Fauvist and Impressionist style that has unusual angles. The diagonal lines are emphasized both in the shapes and the lines of the boats and fishing nets, giving a feeling of busy activity. The shapes of the boats and fisherman are also reduced to geometrical shapes which shows the influence of the Cubists. For me, the eye is drawn to the warm colours of the yellow and red fishing nets with white  fishes in the nets, that stands out against the darker cooler blues and blacks.

 Battiss also used the simplified and stylized forms found Rock Art. The figures have lost their individuality and are reduced to a series of flat, black “cut-outs”. It appears that in this painting Battiss is not interested in the emotional content of his subjects rather like the Cubists it is the forms and decorative elements of his subject that interest him. 

As with Irma Stern, his vision of Black Africans is exotic and idealistic .You do not see the hardship or the suffering of the fishermen doing hard work, but rather see the patterns and colours. Battiss experienced Bushman art as a European-African and he presents viewers with what he perceived as its foreignness.  In my opinion his works reflects the search for identity as a white South African within Africa, as an attempt to find and preserve what he saw as his own unique ‘native’ identity.

Walter Battiss

Symbols of Life – 1967

Symbols of Life is an abstracted work, by Battiss symbolically telling the story of a river and the varied life that it sustains and a new way of life unfolding around it.  It was developed from a series of works he did in the 1960s based on Arab writings. It represents the ideas of Battiss rather than a realistic description of figures and the subject.

From The African Rock Art Archive – KwaZulu-Natal – Mpendle

It tells the story of the historic times when life was centred around the river, but it also reflects the San’s Spiritual  Cosmos where water is a magical power; divine and invigorating.

The San cosmos with two intersecting axes and ‘conceptual sets’ show overlap between realms

The images draws heavily from stylized Rock art found in South Africa. It also shows Battiss use of pictographs that he developed to tell a story symbolically much like  Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The areas on either side of the river are filled with decorative motifs that cover the whole surface with shapes. The motifs reflects plants, trees, creatures and people.

The decorative composition is held together by the focus point of the river. The river that flows horizontally through the painting, reflects the concept of the river being the centre of life, and lifeblood of the people and land. The organic graphic shape of the river, broken up into geometric facets with thick gold outline, and filled in with flat black colour, stands out from among what appears to be like a sea of pictographs. The river also is the focal point because it is the only area of solid colour in the middle of the pale background colour, patterned with the repetitive terracotta-sienna coloured motifs.

Symbols of Life is 2 dimensional with no illusion of depth,or distance, or modulation of the objects to give them form or an illusion of mass and volume. The colours are flat with only one tonal value and are without mark making or texture. The general overallness of composition combined with the repeated shapes makes Symbols of Life feel  like an African fabric print.

In this art work you can clearly see the influence of the Middle Eastern decorative art and Bushmen Rock Art on Battiss work, but he did not copy rock art, he was inspired by it.  Battiss took the symbols and decorative simplification and made it his own. He tells a story from the intellectual perspective of an European African living in Africa. He does not try to show the social-realism of the Bushmen but rather use their symbols and their style of painting in his work to find his own identity as a white South African.

Keywords for Battiss: Stylization, pictographs, hieroglyphs, rockart, idealized, identity, abstact, non-conformist, gentle anarchist, anthropomorphic

Bibliography:

Aesthetics and Rock Art – By Thomas Heyd, John Clegg
http://www.amazon.com/Aesthetics-Rock-Art-Thomas-Heyd/dp/075463924X

African Rock Art Digital Archive
http://www.sarada.co.za/

L.H. Greonewald, Bushman Imagery and Its Impact –http://uir.unisa.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10500/2646/dissertation_groenewalt%20l.pdf?sequence=1

Historical Media
http://www.historicalmedia.co.za/?tag=battiss%E2%80%9A-walter

Johans Borman
http://www.johansborman.co.za/sa-masters/battiss-walter/

Siyakha Mguni – Formlings in Rock Art
http://www.scribd.com/doc/16800483/Siyakha-Mguni-MA-Thesis-2002

Power point
http://reddamart.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/i-sekoto-laubscher-stern-battiss-preller.ppt.

Retrospective Exhibition with pics of Battiss’ work
http://www.artthrob.co.za/05nov/reviews/standardbank.h

Standard Banks Arts – 2005 Exchibition
http://www.standardbankarts.co.za/Gallery/Previous-2005.aspx

Walter Battiss And The Legend of Fook Island
http://www.wheretostay.co.za/information/topic/3646

Gentle Anarchist – Walter Battiss
http://www.walterbattiss.co.za/WalterBattiss-Download.pdf

Walter Battiss Museum in Somerset East
http://www.somerseteast.co.za/ttdas.html

Short Biography


Irma Stern was born in 1894 to German Jewish parents at Schweizer-Reneke,  in the North West Province of South Africa. During the Boer War her father, and two brothers were imprisoned because of their pro Boer sympathies. Irma and her young brother, were taken by their mother, to Cape Town.

After the war the children went to Germany with their parents. Although the family returned to South Africa for short periods while Irma was growing up, they spent the years of the First World War (1914-1918) in Germany. Her stay in Germany during the First World War had a major influence on how she perceived Africa compared what she experienced in Germany during the war. In comparison Africa appeared idyllic, and her work reflect this view of Africa as “Paradise.” Irma decided to become a painter and was supported in her decision by her parents.

Eternal Child – 1916

She studied in Berlin and Weimer. Her first independent art work The Eternal Child, was rejected by her first teacher and she left to study with the Expressionist, Max Pechstein in 1916 who encouraged and influenced her work and helped arranged her first exhibition in Berlin before she returned to South Africa with her family in 1920. She was initially derided as an artist (culture of ugliness) in Cape Town and her work was not understood by the conservative South African art establishment. Irma Stern remained passionate and was regarded as an established and excepted artist by the 1940s.

She was both a pioneer and rebel in South African art circles as she introduced the conservative South African to Modernism during the 1920’s and managed to shift the prevailing perceptions about art over the following four decades. She traveled widely throughout Europe and Africa. She worked in a wide range of media including oils, water colour, gouache, charcoal as well as ceramics and sculpture. She died on 23 August 1966 in Cape Town at the age of 71.

Influences

Max Pechstein, an important member of ‘Die Brücke’ and a leader in the German Expressionist movements introduced Irma to German Expressionism. The Expressionists, in their intense identification with their subject matter, whether natural scenery or human situation, they conceived their paintings not as recoeds of events and scenes, but rather as vehicles for communicating an emotional experience from one psyche to another; it was not the mere appearance of the subject, but the sensations it aroused within the artist that were given form and colour in their compositions. Their works were also  characterised by violence of colour.

Max Pechstein had a strong influence on her style and artistic philosophy, helping her to express her emotions in a personal visual language. The Expressionists also introduced Irma to nature and ‘primitive’ man as a source of artistic expression. Although the Expressionists were her formative influence, her work and the themes of her work did not reflect the “angst” of the Expressionists, but rather the idealised and romanticised view of the Fauvists and Gauguin. She also used the loose expressive brush strokes of the Expressionists, arbitrary colours, unusual angles in compositions, and distorted and stylised representations of her subjects. It was therefore more the visual devices of the Expressionists that influenced her work. Her work were nevertheless, immensely more subjective in approach than anything the South African public had seen before. The South African public and critics were not yet ready to accept the raw exposure of an artists’s personal emotions.

Irma Stern

Searching I roamed the world – to arrive at the origin – at beauty – at truth – away from the lies of everyday – and my longing was burning hot – then the darkness opened up and I stood at the source of the Beginning. – Paradise -From Irma Stern Journal

Her African heritage became important to her and through her later travels she explored her personal myth of exotic Africa as ‘Paradise’. The exotic other was an important feature in her work. Irma Stern travelled extensively in Europe and explored Southern Africa, Zanzibar and the Congo. These trips provided a wide range of subject matter for her paintings and she collected artifacts that featured in some of her Still Life paintings. These African and Medieval artefacts could have represented to her, as it did to European collectors, the idea of Otherness, the exotic.

The following video taken in the Irma Stern Museum shows the collection of artifact she collected.

Irma Stern

Irma Stern Museum

However, while most European artists of Stern’s generation, Modigliani and Picasso included, painted Africans as objects–exotic, long-limbed and indistinguishable from each other, Stern, herself an outsider, both because of her Jewish heritage and her lifelong reputation for being “difficult”, portrayed Africans as individuals. In an era that has begun to regard even Gauguin as a neo-colonialist, Stern had a fresh outlook on another culture. (Ref)

Aim and Characteristics of Art

Irma Stern did not regard her models as mere objects. To her the human figure is not merely an impersonal form behind a picture plane; it is a human personality. The two subjects that occur most frequently are people, of every occupation and complexion; and fruits-and-flowers, of equivalent diversity. All her works are characterised by her vital use of line and colour. When Stern depicted a cluster of flowers in a vase, it was not depicted as a lifeless array of  shapes and colours, but as an expression of organic growth and vigour.

Page 39 – And painted pictures with my heart’s blood. Page 40 – And gave them to the people and stood alone – and all laughed and slung mud at me.

“Painting paintings through my heart’s blood.” – Irma Stern

The central theme of her art is the struggle of how to relate to the other. – Who are we, Who are we in Africa? She saw Africa as the incarnation of freedom and painted a romanticized Africa. It is speculated that for her Africa represented the idealized self as well as the sensual aspects that was missing in her own life. She colonized her African experience and transformed the experience through art.

Stern “identified with her subjects in one specific sense: their grace was for her more than just a metaphor for freedom; it was the very incarnation of freedom that she sought and which was denied her in her private emotional life, she’d “‘colonise[d]’ that part of African experience that she could use in her work [and] unashamedly seized it and brought it back to her studio where the exotic raw material was processed into her art”  – Dubow.

 Malay Girl with Hibiscus - 1944

Malay Girl with Hibiscus – 1944

She used expressive brushstrokes, thick paint and bright colours  to show her idealised, view of the world, rather than the suffering of Africa. In her portraits of the African peoples, she identified with the spiritual and emotional beauty she encountered, finding artistic freedom in her emotional and sensual response. Her subject matter included still life compositions, landscapes and portraits from the different regions she visited. The use of thick paint sometimes applied with a palette knife creates a sense of emotional intensity expressed in the choice of subject matter, be it landscape, portrait or still life. She used her painting as a means of self-discovery and personal revelation. Irma Stern never did any self-portraits, and it has been suggested that she projected her inner self-image as an exploration of her own sexuality.

An interest in primitivism and exoticism was an important component of European Modernism, but primitivism obviously had other implications or connotations for the South African spectator. The significance of primitivism in Stern’s work was frequently minimized in contemporary criticism, possibly since this was felt to be one of the major alienating aspects of her oeuvre.

In Europe the taste for the primitive had been a “search by weary sophisticates for the primal essence, the life force that reposed in traditional primitive art” (Dubow 1974). In Germany in particular, primitivism, with its notion of harmony with nature, was believed to be able to counter the effects of modern psychic stress . In South Africa the primitive was a definite reality and not an illusory, Edenic fantasy. The depiction of black people that granted Stern recognition in Europe, led conversely to estrangement in South Africa. 

http://www.the-art-minute.com/paul-gauguins-trouble-in-paradise/

Paul Gauguin – Spirit of the dead Watching

The Rand Daily Mail  reported that the “critic Fritz Stahl of Berlin… said that she had done for South Africa what Gaugin  had done for the South Seas”. 

Like Gauguin, she saw the civilization as threatening the primitive culture. Disillusioned with Europe with Hitler’s rise to power, Stern looks for an alternative to European ‘civilisation’ in what others consider darkest Africa. In the process, she inverts the colonial relationship to Africa, equating Africa with civilisation and Europe with barbarianism.

“I get terribly frightened when I think of Germany’s future – so much hatred that has to be overcome and so much blood that still has to be shed! The foreign countries stand shuddering with horror and wonder about the barbarism of the twentieth century,” she wrote134, clearly identifying with “the foreign countries’” horror. “I am going to the “savages” [den Wildern] and probably I shall meet cultured people there,”

The difference between Stern’s exoticism and that of Europeans was that as a (South) African she was believed to embody “the primal essence – that life force that was perceived as the gift of tribal society in general, and African tribal art in particular”  In other words, Stern symbolized the exotic and was felt by Europeans to have immediate access to a quintessential spirituality. The contrary supposition may also be true – that South African spectators had no place for the celebration of the primitive, precisely because it was for them an ominous force that had to be subjugated. (Ref)

Examples of Paintings analysed by previous students:

The Hunt – 1929

The Hunt was a product of her journey to Swaziland and Natal during the 1920’s. A group of hunters are it seems preparing for a hunt. All of them are either naked or just wearing a loin cloth. Stylized hunting dogs are in the foreground. In this painting one can see the the idea of the idealized other; the subjects serves as a source of visual inspiration to her. She does not consider the social, political and economic implications of their situations. Details are exaggerated and stylised to create an ideal image of a  “noble savage”

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon – Picasso

There are loads of books about Picasso on Stern’s book-shelves and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon(1907) and the influence can clearly be seen in The Hunt (1926). We get the mask-like flatness and two dimensionality but Picasso’s renegade glee, his sexualised sense of attack, those razor-like breasts and angles, has declined in Stern’s hands into genteel decorative curves, lines and S-shapes.  (ref)

The composition is busy and almost bursting at the edges of the frame. A feeling of activity is created by the use of lots of angular lines often intersecting with each other. The use of colour gives a feeling of joy and excitement which reflects the Fauvist use of colour rather than the feeling of anxiety that one feels when looking at German Expressionist works. She also use arbitrary colour mixed with local or real colour, loosely applied creating gestral, expressive marks. She also made use in this painting of juxtapositioning of complimentary colours. (colours that intensify each other when placed side by side, that is yellow and purple; red and green; blue and orange). She also uses the strong outlines in black so often found in Fauvist paintings. The shadows are also heavily accentuated so that it almost becomes part of the pattern.

Although there is a feeling of depth in the painting, the perspective is distorted as there is little difference between foreground and background space. The colours does not become less vibrant in the back ground and some figures in the back ground are out of proportion in relationship with each other on the particular plane of depth. The area of focus appears to be the three figures in the foreground. The overall impression of the painting is one of vibrant colours and pattern, but one does not feel any emotions in the subjects and they almost appear like bored models posing for a fashion shoot. They are stylized to resemble the angularity found in African sculpture.

Still Life with African sculptures – 1938

Irma Stern often used her Still Life painting to experiment with technique and composition. Her technique in her still lifes are much freer than her paintings of human figures. In still lifes she could also arrange each object to reflect the idea she was trying express. In this still life we see featured two African sculptures which must be part of her collection from her travels through Africa. Along with it is a blue spotted jug with what seems to be two paint brushes in it. Next to it is a can of beverage and a bowl that could contain either floating petals, or soup. Behind the figures is a bright red hanging cloth with white African print.

She uses arbitrary colours in African sculptures, that just gives an impression of aged wood rather than a realistic representation. Bright blue, purple, and red in loose brush strokes highlights the shapes and form of the sculptures, rather than the western traditional use of carefully graded colours to indicate shadow. The rest of the objects are treated with realistic colour but shows clear mark making, rather than blended and one does get a feel of realistic texture.

In my opinion the central sculpture is the focal point as it is more defined in both colour and line than the figure next to it and the red cloth in the background is contrasted with the cooler colours of the figurine. The yellow colour of the wall is juxtaposed with the red of the cloth, creating a feeling of depth as the background appears cooler than the foreground. Overall the perspective is realistic but with distorted forms.

One gets the feeling that this still life represented a slice in her life. It feels homely because of the introduction of the seemingly random can and bowl of containing what looks edible. Yet there is a feeling of sadness in the way the two figures relate to each other and the central figure’s hands are broken off.

Repose – 1927

Repose was inspired by her trip to Swaziland and Natal. The Swazi women are placed in a colourful and decorative setting with naturalistic details like St Joseph lilies and pawpaws that gives the painting a feeling of exotic. The two semi naked women are lying in the forest. at ease with their nakedness. Their warm bronze like colours makes their bodies feel as if they are glowing, which are emphasized by the copper jewellery they are wearing.

Your eye is drawn to the white of the lilies in the foreground which stands out against the darker colours of the rest of the painting. Traditionally white lilies are a symbol of purity which may also be a symbol Irma Stern placed there to show how she feels about the subject –  the African paradise before “the fall” – where like in the Biblical Eden they were not yet aware of their nakedness in their innocence.

Your eye is also lead all over the place because the painting is very busy.with bright rich colours. There is a feeling of foreground and background in the painting mainly because the objects in the foreground are more in focus in the foreground and the background images are more blurred and she uses loser brush stroke in the background and cooler colours. The trees at the back of the women, and the bushes and leaves are very blurry. It seems as if the background is shallow, almost like a backdrop on a stage.

The brush strokes she uses in painting the women is gives a feeling of the real texture of smooth skin but in the rest of the painting it is looser almost washed. She also uses tonal modeling on the bodies which contrasts with the stylised treatment of the rest of the painting. The figures are also clearly outlined in black.

The painting reminds me of the warm rich colours of Gauguin as well as his paintings of the tropical islands as an idealised primitive world..

Pondo Woman 1929 – Pretoria Art Museum

Pondo Woman, which was painted in 1929, may not appear today to be sensational in either style or subject matter, but during the twenties, exhibitions of similar works were investigated by the police on grounds of immorality. And when Irma Stern exhibited in Johannesburg in 1933, the editor of the Sunday Times called it “Irma Stern Chamber of Horrors.”

Her critics felt that she simply could not draw and had no right to foist her her graphic deformations on the public. Viewers were quick to seize on details like the hands. Her colour colour, too, offended, as to the public it appeared haphazard in application as compared to the traditional art they were used to.

Thus far, the attitude od most South African painters towards their subjects had been cool detachmant. This was especially true od so-called ‘native studies’, which were treated either as dry ethnographical descriptions or as loftily rhetorical, ‘noble savage’ presentations. Irma Stern in contrast, identified herself emotionally with every subject that she painted; this subjective involvement is one of the most forceful features of her style. The revolutionary quality of works like the Pondo Woman was therefore as much as a result of the concept as in method.

The influence of German Expressionism is clear in this painting, specifically regarding the conjunction of (nude) figure and lush landscape. Pondo Woman was the result of Stern’s frequent visits to Pondoland (the Transkei) during the 1920s. It shows a woman with downcast eyes in an introspective or self-absorbed mood, and it exudes that gentle eroticism that was commonly believed to be a metaphor for primitivism and exoticism.
(From Irma Stern’s first exhibition in Pretoria, 1933  – Jeanne van Eeden)

Typical Stern stylistic elements were the merging of foreground and background, the overall treatment, the strong colours, the use of dark outlines and line for decorative effect, and the simplification of form. The naturalism of the figure is contrasted by the stylised treatment of the background.  The figure is represented in a state of contemplation.

A Still Life of Dahlias and Fruit (1960)

Irma Stern painted many Still life paintings With still life compositions artists can plan and arrange each element deliberately to bring across a particular emotion, atmosphere or message. Irma also used still life painting to experiment with colour combinations, and composition, and technique. She often used her still life paintings to express something, which often reflected a part of her life.:To me the colour of her still life paintings show her feelings; they are sometimes good and they are sometimes bad. In this painting I feel warmth and peace in the painting because of the warm colours of the flowers and the  brightness of the fruit and vase.

The first thing that draws my eye is the basket on the table with the fruit in it because the colours of the fruit stands out against the contrasting purple background (juxtaposed) bringing out the yellow and greens of the fruits. The yellow fruit especially stands out and my eye keeps on being drawn between the the different tone of yellow in the vase and the yellow in the fruit basket. The brightness of colour is found throughout the painting and each colour emphasized by using complimentary colours to each area of particular colour.The red-brown of the table makes all the yellows, purples and greens seems brighter. The over-all effect is that the painting has an exotic tropical feel.

Her brush strokes and mark making is much freer in this painting than when compared to her earlier works, where she used shaded form, tonal values of colour to achieve convincing three-dimensional form. In this painting the background is treated in a 2D way using only loose brush strokes, in an almost abstract expressive way, with no blending of the colour. Like in Fauvist painting it almost feels unfinished compared to traditional Western Art where the brush strokes were carefully blended. There is no attempt to create realistic texture in any of the objects. Shading and texture are just implied by simple rough strokes of colour.

I get the feeling that in this painting she just let go of all rules and just enjoyed painting the riot of colour found in the flowers and fruits, almost like the brightness of colour found in Spring after a grey winter. Most of the flowers in her still life paintings were from her own garden or from friends.To Irma Africa was the land of colour and this she expressed in my opinion in this painting.

Pondo Woman – 1929

The painting dates from 1929, Stern’s most sought-after period. The muted landscape and the plain white of the woman’s robe and head-dress draw the viewer’s eye intensely to the sitter’s face. Her eyes look away, but her look, despite the stylised decorative markings across the cheeks, has something about it that could be haughty or just intensely private. Its power lies as much in its strength as in its mystery: you can’t really tell what she is thinking, but thinking she is. (Ref)

Irma Stern

Bahora Girl – 1945

“Her mode of speech was so polite and well-formulated,” Stern once said of her subject, according to a Bonhams press release. “It was a lovely harmony in this young girl, slim and tall, with the gently movements of a well-bred race. Her eyes were like dark pools, swimming with the glance of tragedy curious in so young a face, yet so common in the eastern woman.” (Ref)

http://artmarketmonitor.com/2011/09/26/irma-sterns-two-arabs-sets-record-of-2-6m/

Two Arabs

http://blogu.lu/exergy/index.php/2012/03/27/irma-stern-si-spiritul-feminin-al-africii-negre/

Woman wirt BrassThese portraits are easy to recognize because they have been framed in solid wood frames carved African motifs. In 1946 will make a trip to Central Africa, also very important, and there will be contacted malaria. recovery from illness will restrict freedom of movement, but not quite, because in 1947 it will make a second trip east. Following a period of “calm Expedition”.

Still Life with African Pot

Sill Life with Magnolias and Pumpkins – (The Huge Magnolia trees are still in her garden, now the Stern Museum)

Key Words for Irma Stern: The exotic other, colonization, struggle,  identity, primal nakedness and innocence, colour, pioneer, rebel, romanticized Africa, alienation/loneliness

Bibliography:

Claudia, B.  Braude – Beyond Black and White; Rethinking Irma Stern

Esme Berman – Painting in South Africa
http://www.amazon.com/Painting-South-Africa-Esme-Berman/dp/1868124797

Brandon Edmonds – Various Artists at the Irma Stern Museum
http://www.artthrob.co.za/Reviews/2011/07/Brandon-Edmonds-reviews-Two-by-two-by-Various-Artists-at-Irma-Stern-Museum.aspx

Alan Crump, Irma Stern – Expressions of a Journey

Irma Stern’s first exhibition in Pretoria, 1933  – Jeanne van Eeden

http://repository.up.ac.za/bitstream/handle/2263/14624/vanEeden_Irma(1998).pdf?sequence=1

Irma Stern Museum
http://www.irmastern.co.za/index.htm

Intelligent Life
http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/the-grande-dame-of-south-african-painting

Josh Trapper, Irma Stern Painting Sells for …
http://blogs.forward.com/the-shmooze/132574/irma-stern-painting-sells-for-staggering–mill/

Johan Borman Fine Art
http://www.johansborman.co.za/artist-biographies/stern-irma/


Leslie Back, Memories of Irma Stern
http://www.showcook.com/2011/travel-culture/memories-of-irma-stern-by-leslie-back/


Power point
http://reddamart.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/i-sekoto-laubscher-stern-battiss-preller.ppt.