Writing Art History Since 2002

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KZNSA Gallery Durban

“Galle glass, William Morris honeysuckle and chrysanthemum wallpaper, Assyrian bass relief figures, Sears Roebuck linoleum and machine-made Edwardian lace, Vishnu as a bear, Anubis in two guises, Leda and the Swan, engraved Persian men carrying obscure ritual devices, Gandhi as a young man, uncles of my father’s I know only from photographs taken in studios in Beaufort West, drawings of objects and carvings I did for the opera Princess Magogo …”These are just some of the objects Andrew Verster describes in a wall text accompanying his latest exhibition, a series of intimate black and white line drawings. Verster playfully appropriates recognisable art iconography and personal visual references, and weaves together little vignettes in which one recognises eclectic protagonists. Much of the inspiration is drawn from his literally hundreds of photographs taken in Durban and India. Three large, colourful oil paintings of vases contrast with the intimate line drawings.Using the analogy of the stage, each image is a framed leela (a form of divine sport or play) in which Indian and Egyptian deities, African traditional sculptures, classical Greek decorative objects, and a variety of patterns perform on cue in constructed narratives. Many of the drawings reference Verster’s long association with theatre design. In some of the drawings he constructs fine paper cutouts and black ink representations of theatre sets in which the culturally diverse sculptures are cast in a non-linear play. The disparate characters are deliberately juxtaposed to force conversations where there may have been none before. The sculptures are presented like chess pieces on the jostling stages, and seem like static pawns for easy recasting by the intrepid author. But as one views the work, the narratives are in constant flux and the stories become sites to explore the idea of constructed histories. In his accompanying wall text, Verster writes: “My drawings are crammed with symbols. They can read as allegories, fact and fiction, truth and invention.”The artist’s radical borrowing of symbols from various cultural sources, and from his own history, could have resulted in a postmodern clash of symbols in which everything is rendered surface and meaningless. However, Verster’s labour intensive drawing process prevents this. His drawings are intricate and decorative, seductive and intense, and, at times, remind of Picasso’s Minotaur drawings. Raoul Dufy’s drawings too. The work seems to suggest an historical lyricism that is not often encountered in contemporary art.Camilla Copley

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