PAPERWORK: An Exhibition of Contemporary South African Works on Paper
13.02.14 – 17.05.14
Featured artists include:
Albert Adams | Bill Ainslie | Kevin Atkinson | Jake Aikman | Walter Battiss | Deborah Bell | Willem Boshoff | Conrad Botes | Katherine Bull | Peter E Clarke | Christo Coetzee | Trevor Coleman | Barend de Wet | Karlien de Villiers | Keith Dietrich | Dumile Feni | Jared Ginsburg | Kate Gottgens | Georgina Gratrix | Elizabeth Gunter | Dan Halter | Kay Hassan | Robert Hodgins | Anton Kannemeyer | Alexandra Karakashian | Anton Karstel | William Kentridge | David Koloane | Kim Lieberman | Johann Louw | John Muafangejo | Maja Maljevic | Trevor Makhoba | Louis Maqhubela | Colbert Mashile | Leonard Matsoso | Nathaniel Mokgosi | Christian Nerf | Sam Nhlengethwa | Vulindlela Nyoni | Sue Pam-Grant | John Phalane | Cameron Platter | Helen A Pritchard | Julia Rosa Clark |Chloe Reid | Jaco van Schalkwyk | Gerda Scheepers | Fred Schimmel | Themba Shibase | Kathryn Smith | Simon Stone | Paul Stopforth | Diane Victor | Hanje Whitehead | Ed Young | Sandile Zulu.
Artistic practices constantly change and evolve – throughout paper has played a central role, as both medium and support material. Historically and conventionally linked to the disciplines of drawing, printmaking and painting, avantgarde practices have both challenged and expanded on the traditional expectations and versatility of paper. Through techniques such as tearing, collage, photomontage, folding and new digitized applications, a vast array of artistic routes have opened up. Contemporary practices, concepts and production continuously reinvigorate this simple and ancient media.
Taking a thematic cue from materiality, PAPERWORK brings together more than 50 works by South African artists utilising paper in different ways across a range of various disciplines and techniques, from literal works such as drawing, printmaking and painting to collage, weaving, folding and digitization. The exhibition includes historical works from the mid-1970’s up until newly produced works from 2014, showing the diverse range of possibilities and influences of paper on art-making and how artists have found unique approaches to engaging with the material.
South African art has a particularly rich history of works produced on paper. Historically, a strong tradition of graphic work and printmaking was cultivated and cemented itself due to the work done at regional art centres such as the Polly Street Art Centre in Johannesburg and ELC Rorke’s Drift in Natal. These centres fostered many significant artistic talents, most notably John Muafengejo who is considered to be one of the greatest printmakers and visual narrators of historical and political events. For decades, these and other similar facilities were the only prospect for aspiring black artists, who were denied access to tertiary education at more prestigious universities. For various reasons this graphic tradition developed into a uniquely South African art form (African Graphic Expressionism), exemplified in the work of Dumile Feni who left South Africa in 1969, but continued to produce a remarkable body of work during his exile in London and New York. William Kentridge acknowledges the role of Feni in his own practice, he would often observe and was fascinated by this talented draughtsmen whom he encountered at the Johannesburg Art Foundation. Feni’s influence is far-reaching, not only on the work of William Kentridge but it can be traced across a spectrum to artists such as Leonard Matsoso, Nat Mokgosi, Albert Adams, Deborah Bell and Diane Victor, to name a few. Perceived as a ‘democratic’ medium due to its relative affordability, paper was often the only medium accessible for many practicing artists, who took advantage of its malleability and potential for creating visual dialogues and to navigate the political landscape. The Johannesburg Art Foundation, under the directorship of the artist Bill Ainslie, would eventually play the most significant role in the development of black artists in South Africa. Ainslie fostered contemporary ethos and mind-set amongst his young students through unconventional practices and techniques, which included very basic experimentation and ‘play’ with collage, papier-mâché and drawing. This is where artists such as Kay Hassan and Sam Nhlengethwa first experimented with collage – a technique that both artists, together with Peter E Clarke, are now renowned for. Paper as a politicized medium in Resistance Art has been emphasized in exhibitions like Transitions: Contemporary South African Works on Paper 1984 – 1994 which travelled the United States in 2010.
Paper has always been the primary medium through which information is transferred and to disseminate oppositional voices, dissent and satire. In art, paper features primary in typography, books and comic arts. In the 1990s, the country and artistic production in general expanded and many new developments and important moments characterized this exciting decade. One aspect of specific relevance to SMAC Art Gallery in Stellenbosch is the so-called Voëlvry generation of Afrikaans artists who emerged from the Pretoria and Stellenbosch University Art Faculties and in particular, the Bittercomix neo-pop artists such as Conrad Botes and Anton Kannemeyer, a trend which has endured and adapted, especially in the work of younger artists such as Karlien de Villiers.
Currently, paper as artistic material has a moral significance, its endangered status steadily accelerating in an increasingly environmentally conscious world. Yet, paper is often utilised by artists as a primary means to introduce and address new and complex issues such as consumerism, the implications the digital world has on art and to demonstrate a renewed engagement with various artistic processes. It is refreshing to see how conceptual and young contemporary artists like Christian Nerf, Alexandra Karakasian and Jaco Van Schalkwyk are producing abstract works on paper, whereby the medium contributes to the meaning and idea which they want to convey.
The exhibition demonstrates that paper has a simultaneously quiet and strong presence distant from other media. It further contains numerous interesting and thought provoking examples of unexpected and unconventional applications of the medium such as the charred cardboard and newspaper work by Sandile Zulu, the intricate woven paper construction by Dan Halter, Katherine Bull’s digital drawings, Ed Young’s toilet paper, Georgina Gratrix’s paper plates, Willem Boshoff’s and Fred Schimmel’s text works woven into or embossed on handmade paper, as well as a mottled and delicate Walter Battiss, to name just a few.
The choice of media remains a critical component of value in the art market. An important issue which an exhibition such as PAPERWORK inevitably raises relates to the perceived lower commercial value typically attributed to work produced on paper in relation to works produced on canvas or more physically imposing physically imposing works such as bronze and steel sculptures. The debate will not be resolved by this exhibition, but it will surely raise interesting questions when viewers are confronted by works on paper by artists such as Simon Stone, Kate Gottgens and Johann Louw, more known for their oil paintings. The investment potential of drawings, original and limited edition prints and other examples of works of paper is rapidly gaining ground. Art on paper is clearly no longer considered as merely a niche category of collecting.
PAPERWORK aims to invigorate the many discourses around contemporary South African works on paper and to show the strengths, quirks and latent qualities of the medium.