The Storytelling Wisdom and Wit as well as Visual Imagination of a Trio of Artists

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Xerophyte landscape with alarmist magpies by Piet Grobler

When book illustrator Piet Grobler was planning his next exhibition, the issues dominating his head space turned into the title of the show, White lies and inconvenient truths. DIANE DE BEER takes a closer look:

First Piet Grobler invited two fellow artists, Marinda du Toit and Corné Joubert, with similar storytelling abilities, to join him at the Tina Skukan Gallery from Sunday November 17 at 11.30am until December 14.

“In times of immediate mass communication, the collective tools of white lies and unspeakable truths seem to protect existing establishments, ridiculous assumptions and ideas and positions of power,” he writes in the invitation to the exhibition, which consists of Joubert’s ceramic objects, Du Toit’s sculptured characters and his own two-dimensional illustrations, all with a playful yet ironic view on this inconvenient truth.

“An interest in language and text, a preference for spontaneous drawing, seemingly nonsensical marks, discarded found objects, chance and happy accidents become the shared characteristic of this collection of visual narratives,” he notes. All of the work is held together by humour even when the messages have serious impact.

He derives his inspiration from from folk art, humour, travel, nature, human nature and stories of all kinds. “I have tried, in honour of the truths and the untruths, to simply play when I made my illustrations for this exhibition.”

Talking about his processes, drawings and paintings were done without excessive planning, thought or contemplation and the leftovers and snippets from other more calculated projects supplied him with the materials to make his unique worlds and tell his stories.

“Chance and happy accidents were used and then, I have to confess, fine-tuned and manipulated in order to tell stories that I hope will be funny or moving or interesting takes on truths.”

“I have always loved using idioms and metaphors in my titles for my characters,” says Du Toit, emphasizing in the process a layered meaning in the material, posture and title thereof.  “The concept is timeless, lies and truths have been (unfortunately) forever part of breathing and being, since religion, politics, people grouping, intolerance within every individual , etc. I just went ahead and made them,” says the artist completely in sync with the concept.

She enjoys being pushed out of her comfort zone, which can happen with the suggestions of others. “It can make you explore things that are not necessarily or naturally part of your reference.

“My work is mostly intuitive. Once I have established the concept, lived with it in my mind for a while and did some research if needed, I start looking at objects connected to the idea and it flows from there,” she further explains.

“I like to comment on issues, and current issues, whether subtly, with humour or directly. I want the viewer to ask questions, shy away, be embarrassed, explore further interpretation.”

She agrees with Grobler that we need to laugh at ourselves. “What always amazes me, is when a joke is derived from a tragic or shocking incident, how we find healing in the macabre by joking about it. I do clowning where the innocence (uninformed/childlike behaviour) of the clown is also a wonderful tool to address and comment on sensitive issues and taboo topics.”

She works with found objects, discarded, or items that are not useful in their primary function any longer. “My characters comment on any pressing issue, or any (assumed) mundane issue, being part of our daily lives as human,” falling neatly into the title of the exhibition.

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Ceramic storytelling by Corné Joubert

Joubert, who worked for this one mainly in ceramics, found the theoretical disparity in the title pushed her to explore ideas on the lies we tell and on how lies and truth in general impact her life, environment and relationships. Who decides what is true and fair and how many people must agree on something to make it true?, she asks.

“By looking at history, we know millions of people can be wrong. Inconvenient truths are often tempered by white lies and so the boundaries between truth and lies dissolve, sometimes due to good intentions.”

She work in multiple media. “Images, characters, groups and surface treatments in my work all refer to reactions to my larger world of relationships, occurrences, stories and observations. There is usually a satirical suggestion to my responses. I am a writer and subsequently narrative, text and symbols form a part of my visual language.”

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Piet Grobler’s Still life with Zombie Cat, Killer Bird and potted garden

It makes sense to group these three artists together even if they work in different media and  different genres. Their visual language is a collective one with a playful yet sharply satirical edge that might appear quite harmless, sometimes even childlike.

Their work elicits a wry smile and while it appears not to take life too seriously, what they’re saying with their work, dispels that myth.

With this specific title, the subversive nature of their art is allowed to flourish in a very specific way. This is a world turned upside down both climatically and in the way some people have chosen to inhabit their space in a particular time of madness and mayhem.

This trio have found a gentler yet no less effective way of making their point in almost sly fashion.

Send in the clowns. It’s time to laugh.

The exhibition will be opened by Johan Myburg, poet and art critic, on Sunday at 11.30 am. There will be a preview of the exhibition on Saturday from 9.30 am to 4 pm and a WALKABOUT presented by Piet Grobler on Saturday November 23 at 10.30 am. The exhibition closes on December 14.

Tina Skukan Gallery
Gallery hours: Tuesday – Friday, 9am to 5pm
Saturday, 9am to 4pm
Closed on Sundays and Mondays
6 Koedoeberg Road, Faerie Glen, Pretoria
Tel: 012 991 1733 or 083 235 3899
rex@tinaskukangallery.co.za
www.tinaskukangallery.co.za

Spirited Curator is Celebrated with Glorious Exhibition at UJ Art Gallery

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The Wildebeest and the swarm of African Migratory locusts by artist Hannelie Coetzee (see more info below)

It’s a rare honour when a curator is celebrated with an exhibition. DIANE DE BEER went to the launch and spoke to many involved in  this luminous exhibition:

 

 

During her two decades of curatorship at the University of Johannesburg Art Gallery, Annali Cabano-Dempsey has attempted to reach as far and wide as possible presenting a spectrum which would interest the public but also the students – one of the benefits of having an art gallery on a university campus is this potential audience which can be nurtured.

In acknowledging the dedication and passion Cabano-Dempsey has brought to the gallery, 21 Years of Curating the Cube (currently running until June 26) celebrates UJ’s continued role in supporting and embracing the diversity of art in South Africa.

The Keiskamma Guernica by members of the Keiskamma Art Project
The Keiskamma Guernica by members of the Keiskamma Art Project

 As the gallery’s 6th curator, Cabano-Dempsey has seen the gallery emerge as one of Johannesburg’s foremost art centres. The UJ Art Gallery (originally known as Rand Afrikaans University – RAU) opened in the 1960s and has since hosted numerous temporary exhibitions and acted as custodian of a large collection of artworks.

“My style of curatorship is collaborative.  I interact with artists on a regular basis before an exhibition, advise and shape a bit – and then I allow the artists to project their own voices.   I also hand over the reins to guest curators from time to time.  In the case of the 21 years exhibition, I felt too close to the artists, and called upon Johan Myburg to curate the show.  We worked through all the exhibitions of the past two decades and it was surprising that he found a golden thread of text, signs, signals, semiotics unveiling itself – something I never intentionally brought into my curatorship.”

Gordon Froud sculpture
Gordon Froud sculpture

In his opening address at the exhibition, artist Gordon Froud remarked on the amazing space designed by the architect, the late Jeremy Rose, which embraced and encouraged exciting exhibitions. He also praised Cabano-Dempsey for her detailed curation and the way she kept artists informed about specific exhibitions. They would know exactly how their work did, and who came to see it during the exhibition. “That’s rare,” he remarked.

He also spoke lyrically about her opening up the space to students and facilitating gallery training, for example, that would benefit them as artists in the future when they stepped into the real world. He described 21 Years of Curating the Cube as a meeting of old friends.

And fortunately for this remarkable sculptor, UJ also has an outdoor exhibition space which allows for large works to be displayed at their best (see picture).

Although she has been closely involved with a wide spectrum of artists forming part of the annual exhibition’s programmes for more than two decades, she chose to hand over the curatorship of 21 Years of Curating the Cube to respected arts writer and author Johan Myburg. They worked closely together in choosing the 38 works which was much more difficult than they expected, but the final decisions rested with him.

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Triple Goddess: Maiden, Mother and Crone: Artist Majak Bredell deconstructs issues of religion, women and the body and her works are strongly informed by the African continent and the Black Madonnas of Europe.

“My brief was to curate a show as a celebration of Annali’s 21 years at the UJ Gallery, something like paging through her ‘exhibition album’, so to speak. You can imagine the amount of shows, artists and individual artworks we are talking about,” explains Myburg.

That was the context he had to operate within and that formed the scope of the exhibition as well.

Panorama of Franschhoek by Titus Matiyane
Panorama of Franschhoek by Titus Matiyane

“I made a selection based on a thread I detected in a number of the exhibitions/works of the past 21 years – the thread being manifestations of messages or mark makings in the form of signals/codes/text – in its widest sense of communication.”

He offers an example as explanation: On entering the gallery the first salient piece of sculpture is Marco Cianfanelli’s text-based work, referencing the quote by Desmond Tutu that truth, knowledge and beauty will triumph. “Whatever you want to understand under ‘truth, knowledge and beauty’ is subjective, but the basis, I think, is that of triumph. The message will live on. And art as carrier of message will triumph,” he says.

“I think the tweet (Jan’s Last Tweet, a work by the genial Jan van der Merwe – pictured) is a poignant little amplification of this triumph.”

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The Last Tweet refers to technology (twitter), a method of disseminating very quickly whereby a message could be conveyed on a global scale, also enabling misuse of power.

Anyone familiar with Myburg’s work and processes will witness the thought he puts into this kind of effort. “My intention was to highlight this notion (of triumph) in a subtle way. Not in your face. Should the viewer miss it, so be it. There is, right at the back of the gallery, a clue to my curatorial thinking,” he says. (And for those who like puzzles, this is like a challenge in treasure hunt!)

The artists included are the ones that had a link with the gallery in the last 21 years (to start with) but then also the ones whose artworks comment on the named “thread”.

It includes existing work (as per UJ Collection) and work on loan, but also recent work, i.e. Hannelie Coetzee, Diane Victor, Michael Meyersfeld, Angus Taylor, Mark Swart.

“My intention was a show as ‘unintrusive’ as possible in order for the work to speak. My approach was less rather than more, since the works all have an inner strength. I did not want to tamper with that. Hence a quiet show.

Bohlale-bja-mathome by Colbert Mashile
Bohlale-bja-mathome by Colbert Mashile

“Favourites? All of them. Being able to work so closely with these gorgeous works is a privilege. And I realised how limited my understanding of these works were. Perhaps still superficial. But that is the beauty of art: You cannot see too much of a particular piece. There is always something that you miss.”

All of these elements can be found in this remarkable snapshot of South African art in a specific period of time.

Do yourself a favour. If you’ve never visited the gallery, that’s an added bonus.

 A last word from the curator who is being honoured: “The next decade of my art journey (or what is left of it) will focus on two things:  To make the gallery accessible to wider audiences.  It has been my mission over the past few years to break down the ivory tower, to create a more informal atmosphere and to invite a younger generation to interact with the gallery programme on an interdisciplinary level. And then to recognise established and revered artists, but to also bring in younger promising artists into the fold.  I found that collaborations with corporate partners, artists’ collectives and joint exhibitions (the established with the emerging) allow for this approach.”

 

 

  • 21 Years of Curating the Cube runs until  26 June 2019 at the UJ Art Gallery. FREE OF CHARGE. Open Times: Mon to Fri from 9am to 3.30pm. Address: University of Johannesburg, Corner of Kingsway Ave and University Rd, Auckland Park, Johannesburg

Phone011 559 4674

 

  • More info on Hannelie Coetzee’s featured artwork: She did a succession study of humanity’s relationship with nature. Locusts eat the same amount of grass per body weight as wildebeest. A swarm consumes as much of a crop as a fire does. Disclosure: This swarm was bred and studied by Wits Scientists in the 1960s. The current curator of the AP&ES Museum, James Harrison made it available to the artist to repurpose into an artwork