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Artistry and Anarchy - Wim Botha dismantles the iconography of the Pieta once again
by Philip van Emmenis posted on August 25, 2015.

Installation view of Untitled (line drawing), Wood and oil paint

One has, through the years of his resounding career, come to approach an exhibition by Wim Botha with a certain expectation of which his most recent has seem to live up to. There is the distinct use of the classical and sublime meshed into one as well as a proud sense of artistry strewn together with anarchy. The intertextualization with the past continues with the addition of paintings has somehow turned this particular show at the Stevenson Gallery in Johannesburg into something personal.

The imagery of Renaissance continues to linger and blur in his work despite all attempts to deconstruct and reassemble grand narratives. Our decay of the iconographic reign has seized momentarily - just enough for us to realise that the act of detraction has left those images embedded deeper than we thought into our cultural DNA.

Botha returns to destruct the Pieta once more and to find a personal pathway through religious avenues and semiotic warfare. Prism 13 (Dead Pieta), for example, is a distorted version of the Pieta, carved from polystyrene blocks, whilst Untitled (line drawing), a geometric wood and paint sculpture, is a complete reduction and simplification to the point where there is nothing but a general minimalist shape void of its cultural nuances.

More's the pity (series of 119 sketches), Oil on canvas and ink on paper sketches

Along with these monumental sculptures, Botha also present us with 119 narrations through (by his standards) the unconventional use of paint and chronological illustrations to convey his encounter with the Pieta - may it be the original of Michelangelo or his own replica, Mieliepap Pieta (2004), done in maize meal. Every single one of these paintings are done with a deep and personal intent through a spectrum of painterly qualities - some being thick and abrasive, and some tender and compassionate. The ghostly imagery lingers and flickers through the blazing impasto and blackened surfaces. There is a subtle finesse to some of the works while others are violent, stark and intense and achieves an intricate dialogue with the emblazed classical.

Botha is clearly in a process of reworking and perhaps systematically ridding himself of the haunting image left by the religious iconography of the Pieta. The forceful removal of flesh as well as his personal process of deconstructing the image is evident in both his paintings and his sculptural works. His own iconic struggle with ideology persists and possibly, in this exhibition, is a display of his own memory of a period that one could refer to as the dismantling of the falsehoods and the doubt of ideology.

South Africa's vibrant movements in the art in the 90's and around turn of the century has seen Botha been at the fore through his attack on the simulated realities and the use of symbolism to create these platforms. One should however not mistake these memories and personal encounters as pure nostalgia as Botha continues progressively to delve into the heart of the contemporary zeitgeist for answers. He continues to illustrate how strong imagery continues to be fixed into our consciousness despite so many attempts to rid oneself of it.

The exhibition runs from 18 August - 25 September 2015 at the Stevenson Gallery Johannesburg.


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