Writing Art History Since 2002

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Bell-Roberts | Cape Town

Cameron Platter, Red Studio Private (work shown in background) and Stolen Car (Rimmin’ 365), 2007, acrylic on paper and acrylic on carved Jacaranda wood, 125 x 195cm and 57 x 61cm Cameron Platter must have been raised on fermenting fruits of the vine. Or it might have been something a tad stronger, if the pantheon of characters populating his head is an accurate barometer. Indeed the brat of ‘animation-animus’ is renowned for producing work that smacks of the residue of a potent hallucinogenic, the effects of which haven’t quite worn off. Platter depicts life’s micro- and meta-narratives about love, larceny, sex and death, as if “seen through the eyes of the embittered and delinquent love child of Quentin Tarantino and Dr Seuss,” to quote Linda Stupart in Artthrob. Since The Love is Approaching, his 2004 showing at Joao Ferreira, Platter has brandished a brash, crude, carnivalesque armoury sourced from history, sci-fi movies, and the mass media, and rendered with a syncopated hand to a contemporary sleaze beat. His deceptively inchoate pencil crayon drawings have spawned a frenzy of animated films featuring over-the-top plots and characters performing dandified dances against irrational backdrops. By contrast, Kwakuhlekisa (“it was funny”) – his third solo show at the Bell-Roberts – provides more sober pageantry. It brings to mind a variation on a Nietzschian gerrymander that when you keep pushing the envelope, the envelope sometimes pushes back. The show comprises a seemingly impromptu installation of props or giant-size playthings: a crudely fashioned phallic butterfly hewn from Jacaranda wood, a free-standing sculpture that resembles a super-size dildo and an assortment of wheels surrounded by drawings of a red, slightly ajar, studio door, a cartoon-like spaceship and a red window-pane framing a night sky. These are monumental “doodles” – a term which Platter himself uses to describe the objects on displays – which bear no coherent thematic relationship to one another. Platter is renowned for his imaginative ability to weave coherence from seemingly incoherent threads, particularly in his animated films. But in Kwakuhlekisa the sharpness of his wit appears blunted and his usually elastic touch has sagged slightly. There’s a half-hearted “whateverness” about this show, which serves as a vague barometer of contemporary culture but without Platter’s customary satirical edge.But Kwakuhlekisa suggests less a finished product than a whimsical work in progress for an artist who thrives on success by default. Platter’s creative trajectory since his student years has already been extensively documented. His Cameron-lore and Platterisms have earned this king of quirk stellar acclaim, while many of his peers are still stuck in serfdom, professionally speaking. But after a stint with commercial film company Suburban films, Platter has literally returned to the drawing board. “It might sound cheesy and clichéd,” he says, “but I see myself more as an artist than a filmmaker.” He’s also eschewed Cape Town’s cloistered art world for the sand and surf of more laid-back Durban.Given his prowess with Photoshop and other techno-tools, Platter’s creative muses are unexpectedly traditional. Chief among them is Namibia-born artist, the late John Muafangejo, whose linocuts provide a lyrical commentary on political and cultural oppression in apartheid-era Southern Africa. Inspired by a generation of artists who hailed from Rorke’s Drift including, Muafangejo and Azaria Mbatha, one of Platter’s first forays into the visual arts was via the linocut route. His stream of consciousness narratives scrawled almost illegibly across some of his drawings, as well as recurring references to Rorke’s Drift bear ongoing testament to this legacy. But his imagery has also been likened to that of Norman Catherine, a comparison with which Platter doesn’t entirely agree. Sure enough, beyond their dystopian visions, and the idiosyncratic spaces in which they both operate, there are not many similarities between Catherine’s contorted anthropomorphic beasts and Platter’s quirky characters. Catherine’s menagerie of man-beasts was born in the brutalised, schizoid era of Groot Krokodils and state-sponsored violence. Platter, however, is a child of the era of Mbeki, MTV and cable cartoon, all of which are equally schizoid but considerably more benign.In fact, locating another of Platter’s chief sources of inspiration entails heading along the “humour highway” traversed by global cable cartoon series such as South Park.Like their ranting, expletive-spewing characters, the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are the offspring of the George W Bush presidency, the massacre at Columbine High School and a growing culture of paranoia and prejudice, just to mention a few of the dysfunctional paradigms that characterise postmodern society. Platter’s work exhibits a similarly neurotic impulse, referencing the fears, fixations and frameworks underpinning our existence. In light of this, Kwakuhlekisa should be seen as a brief detour along Platter’s unrelenting humour highway towards the intersection where a laugh and a gasp indistinguishably merge.

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