Pi­o­neer­ing the Art of Print and Pa­per

SLOW Magazine - - Contents -

Jo­han­nes­burg-based Bevan de Wet is a con­tem­po­rary artist who works pre­dom­i­nantly with etch­ing, linocut, mono­type, and screen print­ing. His strik­ing, thought­ful work, renowned for its fig­u­ra­tive take on the hu­man body and iden­tity, has re­sulted in his be­com­ing known as one of Joburg’s most pro­lific cre­atives. He was also the win­ner of the es­teemed ABSA L’ate­lier Merit Award in 2014.

De Wet’s more re­cent work sees the bold artist com­pletely rein­vent him­self by mov­ing away from high-pre­ci­sion print-mak­ing and dy­namic ink ab­stracts. His in­sight into what comes from aban­don­ing that which we know in favour of some­thing new speaks of his cre­ative ge­nius. The move is also spark­ing wide-spread at­ten­tion and re­sulted in the mas­sive suc­cess of his most re­cent solo ex­hi­bi­tion, New Forms: A Study of Bro­ken Par­al­lels, which took place at the Candice Ber­man Gallery in Bryanston, Jo­han­nes­burg, in July and Au­gust this year.

De Wet’s pas­sion for art and tech­ni­cal draw­ing led him to en­rol in a col­lege for graphic de­sign, but soon found that it wasn’t hands-on enough for him. So he went on to study fine art at Rhodes Uni­ver­sity in Gra­ham­stown where he ex­celled, grad­u­at­ing with a dis­tinc­tion in 2008. He spent the next few years as an artist, print tech­ni­cian, col­lab­o­ra­tor, and aca­demic fa­cil­i­ta­tor at the

Artist Proof Stu­dio in Jo­han­nes­burg where he worked with renowned artists such as Ger­hard Marx, Wil­liam Ken­tridge, Nor­man Cather­ine, and Doris Bloom. He is cur­rently a full-time artist and works pri­mar­ily with pa­per, ex­plor­ing and con­stantly play­ing and ex­per­i­ment­ing with the medium.

SLOW caught up with De Wet re­cently while he was in Ire­land with six other South African artists and a writer com­plet­ing an arts res­i­dency in the small, ru­ral Cill Rialaig Arts Cen­tre. In be­tween a very pro­duc­tive few weeks on this misty edge of Western Europe, he spoke more about his work.

SLOW: As men­tioned, your work is pri­mar­ily done on pa­per us­ing mostly etch­ing, re­lief print­ing, pa­per­mak­ing, and more re­cently, pa­per fold­ing meth­ods. Can you take us through the jour­ney of find­ing th­ese medi­ums and tech­niques?

Bevan de Wet (BW): When I was younger I used to draw a lot, of­ten with ball­point pen. When I first started etch­ing at art school, I felt like I’d found my ideal medium. I think what I love most about etch­ing is that there are vir­tu­ally end­less ap­proaches to work­ing. There is so much flex­i­bil­ity in the way you can ex­press an im­age, and it’s very much process-based, build­ing up layer by layer. Con­versely, re­lief print­ing (linocut or wood­cut) felt very ba­sic to me ini­tially – like there was only re­ally one way of do­ing things. Over time and with a lot of

ex­per­i­ment­ing, I’ve started chang­ing my ap­proach to it, of­ten us­ing it in com­bi­na­tion with mono­types or work­ing with mul­ti­ple or re­duc­tive plates. I’m now much more ex­cited by it and by what I’m dis­cov­er­ing cur­rently. The main thing about re­lief print­ing is that some­times a very sim­ple and ba­sic im­age can be quite bold and pow­er­ful.

More re­cently, I’ve started look­ing at pa­per­based pro­cesses as an art form in it­self.

Cur­rently I’m work­ing on a large body of unique pa­per works for an in­stal­la­tion. The pa­per fold­ing has come out of this in­ter­est in en­gag­ing more closely with pa­per as a medium or art­work. I started mak­ing some ba­sic origami works but soon re­jected that, and threw my­self into the deep end by mak­ing some very large and am­bi­tious folded pa­per works, mostly fig­ur­ing it out as I go along.

SLOW: Can you take us through your cre­ative process from idea to the fi­nal prod­uct?

BW: It varies de­pend­ing on the work or the project. Some­times the best work hap­pens sim­ply by play­ing, ex­per­i­ment­ing, and ex­plor­ing some­thing in a new and dif­fer­ent way. But ba­si­cally, from an ini­tial con­cept, I would make a draw­ing or some kind of col­lage from pho­tos I’ve taken, then draw that onto a plate to start carv­ing or etch­ing. The im­age that’s first drawn on is of­ten re­worked or re­vis­ited nu­mer­ous times, and a lot of the ex­cit­ing stuff comes

out in the mo­ment and in the process. I’m learn­ing that the less you try and force, the more hon­est the work is and the more in­ter­est­ing the re­sults can be. Some­times the process can be­come quite la­bo­ri­ous so it can of­ten take months from start­ing a work to fin­ish­ing it. I find I’m gen­er­ally work­ing on a dozen things at once.

SLOW: A lot of your work con­cen­trates on his­tory, iden­tity, and ex­plor­ing the no­tions of dis­place­ment and be­long­ing. Can you ex­plain how this came to be an im­por­tant theme to you and why you feel it is a nec­es­sary theme for au­di­ences to pay at­ten­tion to?

BW: I think all artists work with iden­tity in some way. As a South African, I am aware that my cul­ture and lin­eage traces from mul­ti­ple places, mostly Europe, and I was ex­plor­ing how that in­flu­ences my own sense of be­long­ing in a place which is quite far re­moved from those an­ces­tries. I’m in­ter­ested in how my cur­rent place re­lates

to that, and how I be­came aware of this sense of alien­ation from that. Many of my fig­u­ra­tive works use an­thro­po­mor­phism and hy­brid­ity to be­gin cre­at­ing a new, and quite fic­tional, mytho­log­i­cal nar­ra­tive to ex­press this sense of dis­place­ment. With cur­rent con­ver­sa­tions around space, be­long­ing, dis­place­ment, and xeno­pho­bia, I feel the work is try­ing to en­cour­age peo­ple to en­gage with th­ese con­cerns.

SLOW: You de­scribe your lat­est work as “in­ter­ro­gat­ing the body more as a con­cept of space, work­ing with land­scape and ex­plor­ing land it­self as a body”. Can you ex­plain how the use of the hu­man form is im­por­tant to both your­self and view­ers?

BW: The hu­man form in art is a very re­lat­able thing. It be­comes a mir­ror on the world and can give the viewer a sense of fa­mil­iar­ity, or dis­com­fort. Cur­rently I’m try­ing to ex­plore the body more in a broader sense, in the sense that wa­ter is also a body, as is land. I had ex­plored the sur­face of the body as a site for con­test­ing iden­tity, and also us­ing the sur­face as a space that could be mapped. My prac­tice is cur­rently shift­ing to move this al­most to­po­graphic map­ping of the body to a sense of map­ping a land­scape, a space which ex­tends be­yond an in­di­vid­ual or per­sonal iden­tity.

De Wet is cur­rently pre­par­ing a se­lec­tion of new works for the South African Fine Art Print Fair in Jo­han­nes­burg, which runs from 27 to 29 Oc­to­ber 2017. He is also cur­rently com­plet­ing a body of large hand­made pa­per works (about 120 in to­tal) which will be ex­hib­ited in a few forms early in 2018. He will be tak­ing part in a few more group shows around Jo­han­nes­burg this year, and will be ex­hibit­ing some work at an up­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion in Dublin. Watch this space!

For more info, visit www.gun­sandrain.com.

Study 20 (Self por­trait as Bird), etch­ing, 30.5 x 25 cm, 2014.

Study 17 (Bird Man), etch­ing, 25 x 31 cm, 2014.

Un­ti­tled (from the Equilux se­ries), col­lage em­bed­ded in hand­made pa­per, 172 x 62 cm ea, 2017.

Study 8 (Rara Avis), etch­ing, 25.5 x 21.5 cm, 2014.

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