Posts Tagged ‘Ivan Vladislavić’

Andries Bezuidenhout. Double negative

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Nuutste poging tot portretstudie – Ivan Vladislavić. “Double negative” gelees en weer deur Goldblatt se “The structure of things then” geblaai. Wens ek kon skilder soos Goldblatt foto’s neem. Wens ek kon gedigte skryf soos Vladislavić romans skryf. (Die Meccano op die verfstuk kom uit “The exploded view”, of soos ek dit onthou. Ek oorweeg om ‘n paar Meccano-stukke op die skildery te plak.)

Andries Bezuidenhout. Revisiting our landscape of discontent

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Terug uit die Vrystaat. Hier is my stuiwer in die armbeurs oor die werk van Walter Meyer, tien jaar na sy vorige uitstalling by Oliewenhuis.


Andries Bezuidenhout, 28 January 2010, Bloemfontein

“Thorn tree, Kalahari” Oil on canvas, 50cm x 65cm

“Thorn tree, Kalahari” Oil on canvas, 50cm x 65cm

Where Pierneef was the landscape painter of Afrikaner nationalism, Walter Meyer painted the landscapes of its demise.[1] This take on the work of landscape painter Walter Meyer by Lise van der Watt is often cited in descriptions of his work. In the work of Pierneef, she argues, “[t]he land is emptied out of any human activity, ready for the taking – a powerful representation of white ambition.” In contrast to this, Walter Meyer paints, “in the mid-1990s… almost anachronistically, the seamless and panoramic South African landscape once again. Similar to Pierneef, his landscapes too are empty of human activity, but unlike him, Meyer’s landscapes are also devoid of wealth and prosperity. Indeed, Meyer’s sparse landscapes are populated by ruins of farmhouses and vestiges of smalltown dreams, a land filled with abandonment, with failure and decay.”[2] To be sure, “Meyer’s art describes human displacement. His works retreat from narrative – they carry no promise for a brighter future nor are they nostalgic for a better past. Suspended in the ‘now’, his works proclaim not ownership and authority, but transience and temporary residence.”[3]

These quotations come from two articles published in 1997 and 2001, roughly ten years ago. Now, a decade later, does this assessment still hold? In ten years the geology and much of the geography of the South African landscape has remained the same, but a lot has also changed. Our cities and rural towns have been in constant flux. These are the sites of protests over a lack of service delivery, as well as grotesque public killings of people seen as foreign. In places like Wuppertal, members of the Rooibos cooperative are concerned about the impact climate change may have on their livelihoods.

“Random sea view” Oil on canvas, 45 x 60cm

“Random sea view” Oil on canvas, 45 x 60cm

But Walter Meyer has also produced new work in the past ten years. Now, fifteen years into post-colonial South Africa (to use the term “post-colonial” rather loosely), should we still see him, as Lise van der Watt argued, as the landscape painter of Afrikaner nationalism’s demise?

Some time ago I found myself mesmerised by a Pierneef painting in the Rupert Museum in Stellenbosch; a modest piece, simply called “Dorpstraattoneel”. Strangely enough, unlike Pierneef’s massive station panels, it reminded me of Walter Meyer’s work. The oil paint is thickly applied to the canvas, almost chaotically so. Up close it looks like a stew of unrelated colours, but when you step back, the harmony of the composition draws you in. Given my familiarity with Lise van der Watt’s argument on Pierneef and Walter Meyer, I felt quite awkward. Am I becoming an Afrikaner nationalist like my father? Why am I attracted to a painting by Pierneef?

Already a sufferer from insomnia, this kept me awake, until I read an internal memorandum written by a fictional character, H.K. Khoza, the chief executive officer of an unnamed company, to a certain Ms Williams, the art curator of the unnamed firm. The memorandum deals with the matter of a painting by Hendrik Pierneef, titled “Mountain Landscape”, which the art curator wants to remove from the boardroom to be replaced by a work by struggle artist Willie Bester. Williams sent the CEO an article on the work of Pierneef and highlighted, for his benefit, words such as “dispossession”.

Khoza writes his memorandum in response to this. He points out to her that he personally replaced a photograph of Tokyo Sexwale and a soccer team with the Pierneef, which, after enquiries from his secretary, he had found behind a filing cabinet in a dusty office. He writes:

“I have spent some time looking at Mountain Landscape. Occasionally, I bring a cup of tea in here, turn my back on our much envied city panorama, and simply gaze at that square of paint on canvas. There are golden foothills, soaring peaks in purple and mauve, storm clouds advancing or retreating. I get quite lost in it… Afterwards, when I return to the present… I feel as if I’ve been away to some high place where the air is purer. I feel quite refreshed. I cannot speak with authority – one day at the Louvre will hardly atone for a lifetime of ignorance – but I suspect this capacity to refresh the senses and the spirit is one of the marks of great art.”[4]

Khoza’s colleagues seem to agree with him. Leo Mbola from Telkom is convinced the landscape represents the Winterberge near Queenstown, where he grew up. Another colleague, Eddie Khumbane from Spoornet, describes the painting as “a prime piece of real estate”. Writes Khoza: “He stood there with his hands behind his back, gazing at the painting as if he owned it, and not just the painting but the mountains themselves, the lofty reaches of the Winterberg.”

He returns the article on Pierneef to the curator, with highlights of his own, particularly the phrase: “the proprietorial gaze”, which he sees as the nub of the argument in the article. Based on his colleagues’ response (and Eddie Khumbane’s assessment of the painting as a prime piece of real estate), Khoza feels the painting “is not at odds with our corporate culture”. He’ll keep the Pierneef with him in the boardroom, and the Willie Bester can be placed in the lobby for everyone to see.

Khoza, as mentioned, is a fictional character, in a story by Ivan Vladislavić published in the journal Art South Africa. Like all good art, it lends itself to a number of readings. On the surface it is a critique of easy political correctness. But there is also a more menacing reading, one that points to the fact that the African nationalist gaze of the new ruling elite on the South African landscape sits quite comfortably with that of Afrikaner nationalism. I’m sure Ms Williams, the art curator, would support the latter reading, and upon the dawning of this insight would probably make arrangements to emigrate.

The way we look at art has changed in the past ten years. Maybe I shouldn’t use the plural here. Maybe I look with a more guarded gaze, not unlike the security cameras at residential estates on the periphery of Johannesburg. I see less black and white; more shades of grey. But it is not only a decade’s altered perspectives that make us look differently at the work of the same artist. Walter Meyer’s work has also changed in the past ten years. The scenes we paint come to us depending on where we choose to live and travel. Meyer has chosen to paint new landscapes. I recognise the Kalahari to the north of Upington, the road past Groot Mier to the Namibian border, through Keetmanshoop on to Lüderitz. And then there is Cape Town, a number of seascapes. His beach scenes in Kalk Bay remind one of the Cape Town of J.M. Coetzee’s character Michael K. In addition to landscapes, we can also see a number of works in two of the other traditional genres; portraits and still lifes. It is almost as if Meyer mocks the avant-garde art scene, with its rising stars dancing on Pierneef’s grave. (I guess a Blom on a grave is appropriate.) It will be hard to parody Meyer, because he already does it so well himself.

“Kalahari Hardeveld” Oil on canvas, 55cm x 70cm

“Kalahari Hardeveld” Oil on canvas, 55cm x 70cm

But some things remained constant, such as the seemingly chaotic brush strokes, almost like stabs, and the slits of canvas allowed to breathe freely through the oil paint. When you stand really close, it is nearly impossible to imagine a picture emerging from such a bredie, a stew of colour. Yet, if you stand back, a truck roars around a bend in the national road near Upington, or you recognise that vintage Mondrianesque red Citi Golf parked in Kloofnek Road in Cape Town. Then you find your eyes are drawn to the sky. People often forget that the sky is one of the most important elements of a represented landscape. To paint light is the most difficult of all. Where, before, I admired Meyer for the fact that he was able to capture that bleak quality of the Highveld sky, he is equally adept at rendering the sky above the Kalahari, the township at Reitz in the late afternoon, and dusk in Kamps Bay. Indeed, I am in awe of Meyer’s landscapes in part due to his knack of getting the quality of South African light right. His is not an imposition on an African landscape of clouds hovering dramatically, yet politely, over the pastoral villages of John Constable. Our clouds look different, and differently so in different parts of the country.

“Beachfront lawn with tree” Oil on canvas, 40 x 50cm

“Beachfront lawn with tree” Oil on canvas, 40 x 50cm

In conclusion, Lise van der Watt’s description of Meyer’s landscapes in opposition to this romantic tradition of landscape painting: “Decay, neglect, abandonment, dereliction rather offer a more appropriate vocabulary to describe the mood of this work which seems ominously close to our present, in fact, too close for comfort.”[5]

I’m not sure if this description of the previous decade still captures his paintings over the past ten years. There is still the choice of unconventional scenes in his landscapes. Yes, it is possible to look at Table Mountain, one of the clichés of colonial landscape painters, from a different angle. Meyer paints the colossus as seen over the cusp of Signal Hill, with Duiwelspiek and Leeukop not even within view; almost like a tourist giving the landmark a last glance before departing for the airport. Rather than being too close for comfort, I find comfort in many of these landscapes, the pure brilliance of the technique and the beauty of the Kalahari, the Free State planes, and the township in Lüderitz, which you will find in the permanent collection of this museum. I lose myself in them, like the fictional CEO often loses himself in Pierneef’s “Mountain Landscape.” I wonder if my gaze is a colonial gaze. Maybe it’s a post-colonial one. When I look at some of Meyer’s landscapes, I feel nostalgic. But that is too vulgar a word for the enchantment one experiences when engaging great works of art. I don’t feel like someone in transit, I feel a sense of recognition and belonging. Call it a proprietorial gaze if you will, but one without the expectation that Jerusalem will descend from the sky on a land that is neither green nor pleasant. Up close it seems chaotic, even muddled. Yet, if you stand back, you recognise something of the beauty in the bleakness of our skies and the trauma on our landscapes. This is not about ownership and authority, nor is it about transience and temporary residence. It is an engagement of a different order altogether. Maybe we require new ways of looking, even eccentric perspectives, not unlike Walter Meyer’s landscapes.


“Table Mountain viewed from Signal Hill” Oil on canvas, 50 x 65cm

“Table Mountain viewed from Signal Hill” Oil on canvas, 50 x 65cm

[1] Van der Watt, Liese. 1997. “Exploring the art of Walter Meyer: Now is the landscape of our discontent.” Vuka, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 25-31.

[2] Van der Watt, Liese. 2001 “Making whiteness strange.” Third Text, no. 15, p. 63.

[3] Van der Watt, 1997, p. 31. Van der Watt argues: “His [Meyer’s] work is a response to traditional landscape painting because it champions realism. For this reason, his art seems unfashionable, conservative even, in relation to contemporary artistic production here and in the rest of the world where realism, and indeed painting itself, have gone out of vogue. This penchant for realistic portrayal as well as the fact that Meyer prefers to work in the very traditional medium of oil painting, is quite surprising for an artist who received his training in the 1980’s when neoexpressionism, conceptual- and installation art dominated most academic institutions such as the University of Pretoria and the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf where Meyer studied for four and three years respectively between 1982 and 1989 – and indeed produced abstracted works… But it is through the kind of realism which he utilises now that Meyer manages to break away from the medium of traditional landscape painting. In contrast to early landscape painters like Volschenk, Hugo Naudé, Pierneef and even more contemporary ones, Meyer’s is a realism that is completely devoid of glamour or beautification and instead focuses on the ordinariness and banality of the South African landscape and platteland.”

[4] Ivan Vladislavić. 2007. “Mountain Landscape.” Art South Africa, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 47-48.

[5] Van der Watt, 1997, p. 31.

“Kloofnek Road” Oil on Canvas, 56 x 71cm

“Kloofnek Road” Oil on Canvas, 56 x 71cm

Andries Bezuidenhout. Pierneef vanuit ʼn ander hoek

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Ek dink ek is besig om oud te word. Ek word skaam vir van die opinies wat ek vroeër gehuldig het en bereid was om van die bergpieke uit te basuin.

Ek het so drie jaar gelede ʼn rubriek vir Rapport geskryf waarin ek die landskapskilders JH Pierneef en Walter Meyer vergelyk het. Die idee was nie juis oorspronklik nie. Ek dink dis Lize van der Watt wat die vergelyking getref het waarin sy Pierneef as die skilder van die opkoms van Afrikanernasionalisme beskryf het en Walter Meyer as die skilder van die verval daarvan.

Onlangs staan ek egter in die Rupertmuseum in Stellenbosch voor ʼn skildery van Pierneef. Ek dink die titel is “Dorpstraattoneel”. Dis ʼn klein skilderytjie. Die styl is nie so oordadig soos van Pierneef se groter opdragwerke nie. Hy het die verf dik op die doek geplak en los lyne gebruik om die vorms met die kwas te smeer. Benewens een van Irma Stern se skilderye, gryp dit my die heel meeste aan. Ek kan nie ophou om daarvoor te kyk nie. Ek gaan kyk na die ander kunswerke, maar kom staan weer voor hierdie lieflike, eenvoudige landskap.

Gisteraand tel ek weer ʼn ou uitgawe van Art South Africa op. Daar is ʼn stuk fiksie deur Ivan Vladislavić, getiteld “Mountain Landscape”. Dis geskryf as ʼn interne memorandum deur ʼn ene H.K. Khoza, die bestuurder van ʼn maatskappy, aan Ms Williams, klaarblyklik die maatskappy se kunskurator. Dit blyk dat Me Williams ʼn skildery van Pierneef uit die raadsaal wil verwyder en dit met ʼn werk deur Willie Bester wil vervang. Sy het aan H.K. Khoza ʼn artikel gestuur en sekere frases onderstreep waarin woorde soos “dispossession” gebruik word om Pierneef se werk te beskryf.

Khosa het egter ʼn heel ander perspektief en stuur die artikel aan haar terug waarin hy weer op sy beurt sekere frases onderstreep, soos byvoorbeeld Pierneef se “proprietorial gaze”. Hy sê die skildery laat hom rustig voel, hy verloor homself daarin, en noem ook dat een van sy kollegas beweer dat die berg in die skildery die berg naby sy huis is. Die kollega (Eddie Khumbane van Spoornet) beskryf die skildery as “a prime piece of real estate”: “He stood there with his hands behind his back, gazing at the painting as if he owned it, and not just the painting but the mountains themselves, the lofty reaches of the Winterberg.”

Khosa beveel aan dat die Pierneef eerder maar by hom in die raadsaal kan bly en dat die Willie Bester in die ingangsportaal kan staan, waar almal dit kan sien.

Die storie maak ʼn vreemde draai aan die einde, ʼn stukkie ironie wat ek nie hier wil weggee nie. (En ʼn mens kan nie juis die veelvlakkigheid van Vladislavić se fyn skryfwerk in ʼn paar paragrawe weergee nie.) Gaan lees dit gerus. Dis in Art South Africa, vol. 6, nr. 2 (2007), pp. 47-48. Daar is ook ʼn artikel deur Antjie Krog oor die omslagfoto op die Engelse weergawe van Verweerskrif en ʼn artikel oor Willem Boshoff in hierdie uitgawe.

Ek dink nie ek sien Pierneef se groot opdragwerke anders nie, maar “Dorpstraattoneel” en “Mountain landscape” maak dat ek in die toekoms met veel minder bravade oordele oor hierdie skilder se werk sal uitspreek.


Ek vind nie nou my oorspronklike rubriek op Rapport se web om na te verwys nie, so ek het maar op my hardeskyf daarvoor gaan soek. Hier is dit:


Die skoonheid van verval
(Oorspronklik in Perspektief, Rapport, gepubliseer – waarskynlik September 2006)

As ʼn mens in Johannesburg se stasie gaan stilstaan en jy kyk op, sien jy ʼn aantal ongelooflike skilderye. Daar is byvoorbeeld een van die rotse en die kronkelende rivier in Meiringspoort net buite Oudtshoorn. ʼn Mens kan ook die berge buite Okahandja in Namibië bewonder, of daardie imposante paalkranse by die Vallei van Verlatenheid buite Graaff-Reinet waardeer. As jy ʼn treinrit uit die stad van goud en gewere te vat, weet jy hoe die plekke lyk waarheen jy moontlik gaan reis.

Natuurlik is Okahandja nou nie meer deel van Suid-Afrika nie. Treine en stasies is ook nie juis meer toonbeelde van vooruitgang nie. Dis meer iets waaroor ʼn mens nostalgies raak. Hierdie skilderye kom uit ʼn ander tyd; die vroeë 1930s, om presies te wees. Die argitekte van die stasiegebou, Gordon Leith en Gerhard Moerdijk, het in 1929 aan Pierneef die opdrag gegee om verskillende Suid-Afrikaanse landskappe uit te beeld. Die beroemde landskapskilder het vir agtien maande lank aan die voorstudies gewerk. Toe het hy met die reuse skildertaak begin – 32 panele teen die mure van die nuwe gebou. Dit het hom drie jaar geneem om die opdrag te voltooi.

In die 1930s het Suid-Afrika ʼn geweldige groeityd beleef. Die myne se goud het vir baie dinge betaal. Yskor is gestig en die spoorweë het uitgebrei om plattelandse dorpies met stede te verbind. Generaal Hertzog was besig om vir Brittanje te sê: “Ons kan na onsself kyk. Ons kan ons eie fabrieke bou.” Vir mense wat die stasiegebou gebruik het, moes die skilderye ʼn spieëlbeeld van Suid-Afrika word. Menige Johannesburgse Afrikanergesin het opgetooi in die ou dae stasie toe gekom om Sondagmiddagete te eet. Dit was ʼn simbool van vooruitgang en van volkstrots. Pierneef se skilderye is steeds vol van hierdie optimisme. Dit wys gestileerde landskappe wat deur mense oorwin en oorheers word. Die kleure is meestal skakerings van sagte pastelle. Die gevolg is optimistiese, oordadige, prentjiemooi landskappe.

Maar hoe sien ons vandag ons landskappe? Wat interessant van die stasiepanele is, is dat by verre die meeste daarvan tonele uit die ou Transvaal bevat. Twee daarvan handel ook oor myne. Selfs die myne lyk mooi. Verlede Sondag het ek vir tien ure lank deur die ou Transvaal gery. Ek het die son oor die Waterberge sien opkom en oor die Pilanesberg sien sak. Ek het van Lephalale Thabazimbi toe gery. Ek het gesien hoe die akasiabome al hoe kleiner word. Ek het die Waterberge stadig sien verbyskuif en gesien hoe Thabazimbi se berg verniel word om die yster te ontgin. Van daar is ek deur Northam na Rustenburg toe. Ek het die rooi klipkoppies bewonder en gesien hoe die nuwe platinummyne buite Rustenburg die landskap vervorm. Die stad bars letterlik uit sy nate. Orals is daar nuwe winkelsentrums, maar ook duisende gehuggies van hout en sinkplaat wat die landskap ontsier. Toe is ek deur Ventersdorp tot in Potchefstroom. Al die bome is nou weg om plek te maak vir mielielande. Later die middag het ek die hele pad weer teruggery.

Ek het besef dat Pierneef se pastelle lankal nie meer nie ʼn akkurate beeld van hierdie landskap kan gee nie. Dis ʼn mooi landskap, maar dis ook ʼn kras een met myne, trekarbeid en armoede wat samelewings ontwrig. Ons het nie meer ʼn blinde geloof in die toekoms nie. Ons weet nie meer so mooi of daar so iets soos vooruitgang bestaan nie. Ons is ook bewus daarvan dat ons nie altyd oor die skepping heers soos wat dit goeie heersers betaam nie. Baie van ons landskappe het besonder lelik geword.

So met die pad langs luister ek na James Phillips en die Lurchers se CD Sunny Skies. Op die omslag is ʼn skildery van Walter Meyer, ʼn veel jonger, maar ewe briljante Suid-Afrikaanse landskapskilder. Sy skilderye is nie van dramatiese berge en bome nie, maar eenvoudige voorstedelike tonele. Waar Pierneef die landskappe ophemel, wys Walter Meyer vir ons hoe dit werklik lyk. Pierneef skilder optimisties, Walter Meyer wys vir ons hoe bleek en koud die Hoëveld se lug kan lyk. Pierneef skilder wuiwende grasvelde, Water Meyer wys vir ons hoe voorstedelike gras lyk wat deur die winter doodgeryp is. Pierneef laat dorpies in Afrika amper Europees lyk, terwyl Walter Meyer die chaos van ʼn township in al sy barse kleure kan weergee.

Tog is Walter Meyer se landskappe vir my veel mooier as Pierneef s’n. Dit sê vir my meer oor wie ek is en waar ek is. Ek kan daarmee identifiseer. Dit wys ʼn Suid-Afrika wat ek ken – een waar ek nóú in woon, nie ʼn nostalgiese drogdroom van die verlede se toekoms nie.