Writing Art History Since 2002

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Art on Paper Johannesburg

An exhibition of new work by Sam Nhlengethwa, Johann Louw and Clifford Charles set out to explore the possibilities of drawing and various print techniques such as lithography, etching and drypoint. Charles, who produced abstract forms composed of ink and water and a series of drypoints, needs to reflect on translating the nuances implicit in the ways in which he speaks about his work to his art making. Louw’s figurative lithographs and charcoal drawings of cropped human figures and figures in landscapes were, at moments, quite intriguing. Nhlengethwa, well known for his mixed-media collages, photomontages and prints exploring jazz and the possibilities of its syncopated, improvised rhythms, produced a playful series of etchings of goats. In Nhlengethwa’s work goats resonate in personal ways with his memories and cultural background and he speaks of the sacrificial function of these animals in African culture.As Hazel Friedman helpfully points out in a recent catalogue essay on Zwelethu Mthethwa’s pastel works, in particular the occurrence of these symbolically charged animal in his works: “… the goat functions as a universal symbol of male sexuality and is utilized widely in female rituals and rites of passage. It is an animal whose context is primarily rural; yet it is also a common sight in township streets and backyards, suggesting a fusion of city and rural life.”A close fiend of Mthethwa, Nhlengethwa overlaid his etchings with black oil paint and I enjoyed the crafted, hand-made quality of the result. However, the display of these works within the context of an installation, a makeshift circular goat enclosure with dried grass and droppings strewn on the floor, was unnecessary, literal and strangely incongruous with the sophisticated quality of the actual works.

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