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Wall Gallery‘s exhibition at the FNB JoburgArtFair 2016 comprises a selection of iconic works by artists who forged a new pictorial language for South African modern artistic expression. ART AFRICA caught up with them to find out more about the work on show.

AA Newsletter 5Sep Modern Masters 1Walter Batiss, detail of The Apple, Oil on canvas, 60.5 x 60.5 cm. Image courtesy of Wall Gallery, Cape Town.

ART AFRICA: Please tell us about the work that will be on show at your booth at the FNB JoburgArtFair 2016? 

The exhibition compiled for the FNB JoburgArtFair in 2016 will comprise of a selection of iconic works by artists who forged a new pictorial language for South African artistic expression. The selection of works to be exhibited can be considered in three groupings: 

The first is work by artists Cecil Skotnes, Syndey Kumalo, Lucky Sibiya and Ezrom Leagae. Central to this selection is the work of Cecil Skotnes, whose distinctive imagery set the tone and example for a number of black artists under his tutelage, such as Sydney Kumalo, Lucky Sibiya and Ezrom Legae. All these artists developed unique approaches to their chosen media, utilising a form of figurative abstraction that represented a type of ‘Africaness,’ which prior to this had no appropriate and unique visual expression. 

The second grouping consists of work by Robert Hodgins, Dumile Feni and Walter Battiss. The selection of works by Robert Hodgins and Dumile Feni date back to the mid 80s. These will be distinctive examples of both artists’ maturing style. The selection of paintings by Walter Battiss, with their flamboyant colouration and eccentric design, date from the 1950s and 1960s, and will provide a welcome contrast to the confrontational imagery characteristic of the aforementioned artists. 

The final grouping is a collection of work by Gerard Sekoto, Peter Clarke and Konakeefe Mohl. These pioneering black artists will complete the exhibition. Their work displays a continuation with the representational tradition they were trained in, with a special focus on subjects that are close to the heart. The adoption of a representational style by these artists was a deliberate staking out of a claim to equality in the South African art world at a time when ‘Africaness’ was firmly associated with traditional craft. Conservative in outlook, this imagery is a significant component of the development of South African art history. 

Overall the selection of works by well-established artists will provide the viewer with a comprehensive depiction of almost half a century. The works are representative of these artists’ oeuvres and will prove to be valuable additions to any South African collection.


AA Newsletter 5Sep Modern Masters 2Cecil Skotnes, detail of Head, Carved, Incised and painted wood panel. 121 x 121 cm. Image courtesy of Wall Gallery, Cape town.

 As precursors to contemporary artistic practice, how do you think the work on show fits into the context of a fair such as this? 

The use of the term ‘contemporary’ in South Africa needs to be broadened. It is far too easily applied as a filter to exclude the consideration of art not produced in the dominant current idioms of installation, video, and performance. The consequence has seen an enormous growth of predominantly young emerging artists presenting metaphors, symbolic actions, and imagery as if they were ingenuously new. 

The way this question is put already includes some components of the answer. In many respects these works are precursors to what is beginning to evolve as serious art in the present. However, a significant difference to consider here is that these works have stood the test of time and are now iconic examples of images of their time and place. They are no longer experiments but well-honed and crafted images. As such, they present visitors to the fair with a point of reference to consider and evaluate contemporary artistic practice.

 The art fair model is commonly lauded as a platform for emerging talent, yet the work on your stand needs no introduction. What type of engagement do you hope to achieve at this event? 

Over the last few years it has become patently clear that the type of work presented by Wall Gallery does require introduction. Perhaps not in terms of its aesthetic conventions or artistic language, but rather in terms of its historical and political context. One hopes that viewing these works would raise the level of discussion around how and why meaning was produced in the past and how this may be relevant in the present. 

Hopefully it will engage a broader audience to approach all the works displayed in the art fair in a more informed and critical manner. Although the focus of the art fair model may be predominantly on emerging talents, much of the success of the contemporary art fairs depends on works by established and celebrated artists being presented by galleries. 

The combination of both these aspects of the art market in one space makes for an exciting experience for the visitor and collector. Whilst many museums still present well-conceived and considered period, medium or subject matter-bound block buster shows, today’s art fairs provide an opportunity where the aesthetic innovations of each historical period really come to be realized and understood. 

AA Newsletter 5Sep Modern Masters 3Gerard Sekoto, detail of Young Man, Oil on canvas, 60 x 50 cm. Image courtesy of Wall gallery, Cape Town.

 You didn’t exhibit at last year’s edition of the FNB JoburgArtFair. What convinced you to participate this year? 

The previous fair requirements didn’t accommodate what Wall Gallery would be presenting. However, this year I think the organisers realised that broadening the ambit of the art fair would benefit everyone, most of all the audience. 

Although the role of art education is often ascribed to the museum or teaching institution, the reality in South Africa today is that this is rarely the case. Few museums have the funds to acquire important works by South African artists – contemporary or historical. Consequently, they are less able to fulfill their mandate as museums and to keep the public informed about South African art and its evolution. 

Commercial galleries and events such as this have become significant participants in public education, which previously was purview of public institutions. There is no doubt that the participation of Wall Gallery and similar galleries in the fair adds to the diversity of works, improves the visitor experience and enhances the overall credibility of the South African art market locally and internationally.

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