The Great Mother in­spires

Jo­hans Bor­man’s ex­hi­bi­tion pro­vides us with fine ex­am­ples of what in­spires artists to take cre­ativ­ity to an­other level

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODART -

WHEN the es­teemed art his­to­rian Elza Miles of­fi­cially opened Cape Town art dealer Jo­hans Bor­man’s spe­cial 10th an­niver­sary ex­hi­bi­tion she drew an in­ter­est­ing line con­nect­ing the wide va­ri­ety of paint­ings and art through what she metaphor­i­cally called the Great Mother.

She sug­gested that this mys­te­ri­ous and ethe­real, but also very real hands-on-in-the-home force can be traced in many of the fine pieces of art on dis­play in Bor­man’s well­known, el­e­gant Up­per Buiten­gracht gallery.

The ti­tle he chose for the show, which opened last week­end, is Art that In­spires, mean­ing, one pre­sumes, art­works that uplift and en­gage the viewer. Much of the present show does and city-dwellers will do them­selves a favour by pop­ping in.

Bor­man deals mostly in older artists’ work, though not ex­clu­sively so (there’s a fine Ja­cobus Klop­per on show, for ex­am­ple) and has of­ten punted the value of in­vest­ing in good art. The lat­ter of­ten, of course, means art­works that don’t nec­es­sar­ily chal­lenge view­ers (or col­lec­tors), but feel comfortable enough hang­ing de­cently on the wall. The present show en­forces the kind of grav­i­tas. (If you like and want to look at a nice Pemba of Naudé, this is it.)

Miles’s elo­quent speech for this ex­hi­bi­tion, “hon­our­ing the tal­ented women and men re­spon­si­ble for the works of art in our midst” – ac­cord­ing to the gallery – some­how also turned the ex­hi­bi­tion’s ti­tle around in a way. She in­di­rectly nom­i­nated too the things and sub­ject mat­ter that in­spire artists to paint the paint­ing they do or sculpt the bronzes they pro­duce. In his cat­a­logue in­tro­duc­tion, Bor­man sees this as a kind of “hero­ism” on the part of the artist.

For vis­i­tors to this nicely cho­sen, well-pre­sented ex­hi­bi­tion (a show­case of Bor­man’s skill and mo­tives as a well-re­garded art dealer, with many pieces marked with red dots, in­di­cat­ing that they had been sold), an­other in­ter­est­ingth­eme to trace will be “peo­ple” – the in­di­vid­u­als and char­ac­ters be­hind and on the var­i­ous can­vases and rep­re­sen­ta­tions.

The more you no­tice the peo­ple, whether por­traits or just im­ages of name­less per­sons do­ing or­di­nary things, the more you might see the “hero­ism” that the owner speaks about, in the works of­fered in front of you, as ironic: th­ese “he­roes” are of­ten sim­ply everyday play­ers, you and me, get­ting on with life.

Cer­tainly in the way that Miles sug­gested, the Great Mother guides the av­er­age house­hold, leads the Wash­er­women (in a splen­did pic­ture by Ger­ard Sekoto, for in­stance), di­rects The Fam­ily to set out (in Ephraim Ngatane’s colour­ful im­age) or, At the End of a Long Day (in Kenneth Baker’s tran­quil, melan­cholic paint­ing), the chaps gather for a drink and a song. Down the val­ley, a child-bear­ing Woman stamps Mealies (Mag­gie Laub­ser).

There are, in fact, many peo­ple on this show. And the al­lu­sion to our coun­try’s di­ver­sity makes it denser. (A cou­ple of land­scapes, or quasi such – from some oldies, and younger painters – give the South Africans de­picted here defin­ing spa­ces, in a man­ner of speak­ing.)

There’s Ger­ard Bhengu’s In­yanga with Coat. As Miles said, this is a medicine man who turned his gaze away: “They seem to lis­ten to in­audi­ble calls. The lat­ter lifts his hand, cov­ers his mouth to obey si­lence in an at­tempt to catch ev­ery syl­la­ble of the mes­sage.” In Si­mon Lekgetho’s Div­ina­tion Ob­jects, we come face to face with their se­cret tools. As Africans we ac­knowl­edge their mean­ing, as well as the skills of the painter.

Rit­u­als and cer­e­monies of hu­man en­deav­our fea­ture. Wed­dings be­ing one (Ngatane and Van Ess­che). Th­ese are oc­ca­sions that bring peo­ple to­gether. The artist is in­spired by the so­cial sig­nif­i­cance and, in turn, en­thuses us as view­ers, by shift­ing the scene vis­ually to a higher level.

In Mar­jorie Wal­lace’s de­pic­tion, a fam­ily group is a touch­ing, or­di­nary gath­er­ing of Mother and Chil­dren. We seem to know them, share the gen­tly for­lorn life they face. To­gether with Wal­ter Bat­tiss, we cel­e­brate Peo­ple in the Sun. Which we are.

And, of course, we ad­mire our artists. The fine self-por­trait by Ge­orge Pemba po­si­tions him as coyly in­ven­tive, in­tro­spec­tively edgy. Is he a hero, in Bor­man’s think­ing?

The gallery owner says the con­cept of “hero­ism” came to him while re­search­ing the early Sekoto paint­ing, Fam­ily with Can­dle (on show). Sekoto ex­pert Bar­bara Lin­dop, he says, wrote how Sekoto suc­cess­fully cap­tured the hero­ism in or­di­nary hu­man life in his early works. “It re­quired a tal­ented artist, an ‘art hero’ in his own right, to iden­tify this and com­mu­ni­cate it truth­fully.”

It was this – an aware­ness of dif­fer­ent as­pects of courage dis­played in artists’ lives and its pres­ence in their work – that acted as in­spi­ra­tion for his an­niver­sary show. “It made me re­cep­tive of the con­cept, and be­came the golden thread in this col­lec­tion of work – pro­duced from 1906 to 2009.”

Twenty years in the busi­ness (he started in Pre­to­ria in 1989) and 10 years in the Cape, Jo­hans Bor­man has a pas­sion and Art that In­spires is clearly a per­sonal homage as well.

“With this ex­hi­bi­tion we cel­e­brate the hero­ism of all artists. Those who have the courage and con­vic­tion to start with a blank can­vas and bare their souls, shar­ing with the world that which they find com­pelled to com­mu­ni­cate.”

Art that In­spires is on un­til Septem­ber 12. Jo­hans Bor­man Fine Art gallery, In-Fin-art build­ing, Up­per Buiten­gracht. 021 423 6075.

TRAN­QUIL: Kenneth Baker’s melan­cholic

MOTHER FIG­URE: Mag­gie Laub­ser’s

COYLY IN­VEN­TIVE: Ge­orge Pemba’s fine self-por­trait.

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