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Premier Magazine September 2015

Gothic Contemporary
by Julie Graham

From a young age, Johan Conradie suspected that there was far more to life than meets the eye. To him, art has always been instructive; a way of making sense of the world around him.

Read PDF [here].


Pretoria News

Ancient art on view after old-school stint

Johan Conradie and Friends , Pretoria Arts Association
by Miranthe Staden-Garbett

This is not an exhibition of cutting-edge art. It is in fact, to put it bluntly, old-school. If this description leaves you with bland visions of dull landscapes, stale still lives and insipid portraits, it may be refreshing opportunity to revise your assumptions.

Despite the trite view that history will teach us nothing, Johan Conradie has taken the liberty to bring 400-year-old history to life for his students – and for us.

It is not often that an artists/lecturer takes it upon himself to expose the work of his students alongside his own. And the results are enriching on various levels.

Conradie is unmistakably qualified for the challenging task of reviving the Baroque spirit. His digital prints and, even more astoundingly, his paintings show that he has a genuine gift for understanding and rendering this style and genre so paradoxically steeped in the senses, the spirit and emotions.

He continues to use his trademark subject matter, abstract studies in light, shadow, reflection and gothic , graveyard statutes in various stages of degradation. These are perfectly in line with Baroque concept of “vanitas”, best expressed in the 17th century Dutch still lives, where certain choice objects – skulls, candles, fruit, flowers and the odd lobster – symbolise the transience of earthly life and the useless vanity of attachment to earthly goods, however exquisitely tempting.

His bold choice of a circular format for the paintings is spot on, and the balance of control and chance in his technique capture the bittersweet shift from perfection to degeneration.

While the 50 or so student paintings on display are not all Baroque masterpieces, the exercise of meticulously copying the work of old masters is a dying art, the demise of which has serious consequences for art education and practice.

While contemporary artists and institutions revel in the nihilistic “whatever” of post-modernism, the downside is that where anything goes, there is also goes, though few dare to say it, a vast amount of ill-considered , superficial, mediocre, banal, undisciplined and just plain ugly tripe.

Seventeenth century Baroque art could not be accused of any of this. The entire Italian Baroque project is, however, considered to be one the greatest propaganda campaigns of all time.

Masterminded by the Roman Catholic Church in an effort to salvage its declining power in the face of the Protestant Reformation, it pulled out all the stops, using what is now standard fare in mass media manipulation, precisely because of their emotive power: images of drama,death, violence, emotion, ecstasy, luxury, excess, skin, flesh and food.

Learning from the masters, the students copied details of paintings by Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Rubens, Kalf, and others. Exploiting the rich, jewel-like intensity of oil paint and the dramatic effect of Chiaroscuro, students such as Laurette van der Vyfer, Catherine Terblanche, Nan Spurway, Nellien Bruwer, Anneke Carter and Corne van Eck have successfully recreated richly detailed still lives, luminous bodies and dramatic moments.

For sheer visual splendour, technical virtuosity and jaw-dropping beauty, nothing else quite beats Baroque painting. All of which serves as a welcome antidote to the shortfalls of contemporary art practice.


Pretoria News

Angelically, devilishly good

Angels and Demons: Diane Victor, Johan Conradie, Francois van Reenen
Fried Contemporary

Angels and demons have captured the public’s imagination with authors such as Dan Brown, new age gurus Doreen Virtue and Diane Cooper and movies too numerous to mention.

Recently The Golden compass, based on Philip Pullman’s fantasy fiction trilogy, was at the centre of Christian controversy over its references to demons, proving volatile and ambiguous nature of the subject.

Millennial angst, though now somewhat dissipated, typically manifests in eschatological imagery, which proliferates with angels and demons, indicating the precarious transition between one world and the next.

While angels and demons are diametrically opposed, representing the forces of good an evil in eternal conflict with each other, they are also luminal, sometimes ambiguous figures, hovering between two worlds. The devil himself was angel before he fell from grace. Originally the Greek word “daemon” referred to a divine or semi-divine being that provided the individual it attended with advice and information, which sound very much like an angel to our ears.

Despite the alluring thematic hook, Diane Victor, Johan Conradie and surprise candidate Francois van Reenen have little in common as artists. Here they have been conflated to comment on a tradition that might include Hieronymous Bosch, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante Gabrielle Rosetti, Jean Delville, Franciso Goya, Francis Bacon, Matthew Brody, Minette Vari and mystical arts the world over. The depiction of angels and demons is one of the most ancient and perennial traditions in art, though their particular nature and manifestation depend n their cultural context.

These artists give specific and interesting insights into the ambiguous nature of contemporary angels and demons.

Conradie’s angels are of the old fashioned kind associated with graveyards and churches. This romantic image of angels still holds powerful sway in popular consciousness. His richly textured close-up photographs of religious icons recall a deep nostalgia for things of beauty, a remembrance of things of past.

But these days, angels and demons take other forms too, reflecting the cultural paradigm shift form religion to psychology.

When we speak of facing our demons, we usually do not refer to a supernatural force, but unconscious ones: unhealthy compulsions, guilt complexes, traumatic memories, addictions, fears and unresolved issues. This view of demons has them interiorised and integrated into the self. They are not seen as independent, malevolent spirits, though in both paradigms, they are seen to exert a negative control over us. Both paradigms recognize the individual as situated at the fulcrum of a network of influences. In a religious context, they are often supernatural, in more modern and scientific view they are cultural and psychological. When Freud unearthed the unconscious, it was heaven and hell wrapped into one – fears, desires, bliss. The realm of the spirit world and the unconscious mind has many things in common.

While Van Reenen’s art may not overtly deal with angels or demons, he has created a digital dream world inhabited by a menagerie of characters with some Surrealist tendencies; thou firmly placed within popular milieu. Crying Cowboy is surely facing his demons, and exorcising them. His animated self is literally crying himself a river, or a large pond. As an abject substance, tears are taboo and doubly so because they indicate an excess of emotion, which in a bureaucratic system such as ours, is undesirable. But this image communicates with comic simplicity a forcefully archetypal image of cathartic sorrow.

Victor’s work is famously “demonic” in that she has made a career out of personifying human vice. Her skill and versatility is represented here with work from three different series. With the all-white embossed prints of mutant skeletons, she strips down to the bare essentials, subtly moulding her primal ideas directly onto paper. Her iconographic and Baroque tendencies surface in the metallic red, diamante-studded etched plates.

Victor’s Stained Angel, part of a series of drawings made with charcoal stains, has the aura of angel, the impressive wing span – until you inspect the details. A cauterised arm and graphically outlined female genitalia makes this an ambiguous angel who has more to do with the carnal and corporeal world than the spirit world. For Victor the world of angels and demons is all too human.

But for her the stains have a beauty all their own, and imperfection needn’t be demonic.

This show is worth visiting for the fact that it brings together the work of three interesting and accomplished local artists.


Beeld

Donderdag, 28 Junie 2007

Drie kunstenaars ontgin meer vrae

Lost – Johan Conradie, Jan van der Merwe en Willem Boshof, Fried Contemporary, Pretoria
Deur Franci Cronje

So ‘n paar jaar gelede was daar sprake van ‘n interessante navorsingsprojek. Dit het gegaan oor die analisering van patina op oudhede, om laag vir laag te kan waarneem wat ‘n meubelstuk sou “weet”: klanke, emosies en algemene ambience wat deru die jare deur die meubelstuk ingeneem is. Te goed om waar te wees? Ja, sekerlik. Ek het nog nooit weer daarvan gehoor nie. Verbeel jou egter dit kon haalbaar wees?

My eerste reaksie op die Lost-uitstalling is dat dit eintlik nie gaan oor dit wat verlore gegaan het nie, maar dit wat teruggewin is deur die kunstenaars. Johan Conradie se sy werk gaan oor die verlies, afwesigheid en stilte. Fogografiese werke Council Chamber I en II, afgedruk op leer, is geneem van gebarste leersitplekke wat streep soos bloedrooi are in die lengte en breedte van die sitplek. Blykbaar ongemanipuleerd, peul die rooi stoffeeerse subtiel deur die krake.

Sommige werk skuil onsigbaarvan die toeskouer se onmiddelike aandag. Willem Boshoff se Far far away vul die hele ingangsportaalmuur. As mens egter in die middel ban die dag daar instap, weerkaats helder buitelig teen die glas. “n Persoonlike geskiedenis, hoewel onlosmaaklik deel van ‘n individu, bly onsigbaar totdat die buitestaander pertinent moeite doen om sekere wegwysers te onstyfer. Die plaas voorkamer het ‘n glaskas met kosbaarhede weggesluit. So is dit met die meeste van Willem Boshoff se werke. In die reeks van 18 landkaarte wat op ‘n inkjet-drukker uitgedruk is, onderneem die kunstenaar ‘n geesterseis tussen twee betekenisvolle bestemmings in sy oupa se lewe: die familie plaas naby Colesberg waar hy grootgeword het, en die krygsgevangenekamp Bellary in Indie waar hy as 21 jarige aangehou is.

Lyste en lyste naem van kinderoorlogslagoffers vorm die raam van elke kaart. Eenduisend, eenhonderd en twee en veertig van hulle. Afrikanerfamilie name le skouer aan skouer met ongeïdentifiseerde swart knders bloot aangedui as ‘baba’ en “kind” in inheemse tale.

Boshoff se ander werk, Bread-and-pebble Road Map, verwys na die sprokie van Hansie en Grietjie, waar die broodkrummels deur ‘n slim hansie gestrooi, deur voëltjies opgepik is voor hy weer die pad huis toe sou kon kry. Anders as die sprokie, wys Boshoff an die ongelukkige sage van Abraham se seun Ismael, wat alhoewel die vader van ‘ngroot nasie gespaar deur God in die woestyn, nooit ‘n holte vir sy voet kon kry nie. Die oneindige broodpad kronkel deur di woesty terwyl die Arabiese name óf op die brood, óf op regte klip kan wees: ‘n klip net groot genoeg om as wapen te kan dien. Terwyl jy soek na die verkil tussen brood en klip, besef jy dat substans die minder belangrik is as die feit dat identiteit en behóórt verlore gegaan het. Die grens tussen jagter en teiken vervaag soos die regmatige grondeis in daardie woesty: wie wa eerste hier?

Beeldhouer Jan van der Merwe gebruik weereens sy slim manier om metaal te roes en te vervorm om kommentaar te lewer op die hedendaagse samelewing. Tydverdryf bestaan uit ‘n lessenaar, stoel, die burokraat wat daar gestasioneer behoort te wees se baadjie en tas, enhonderde ‘papiervliegtuigies’. In dié metaalinstallasie praat die kunstenaar van die burokratiese oorlogbeplanners wat die hele wêreld se welstand met behulp van ‘n strategiese skuif in diehand hou. ‘n Hoop papiervliegtuigies lê onder die muur gepokmerk met die tydverdrywende kompulsie van stoelbewoner. So het eke mesn maar sy eie gewoontes enobsessiewe handelswyses.

Met die 11 perspeks-posbussies van Onopge-eis verwys Van der Merwe na die stil stemme van die meerderheid Suid Afrikaners. Die “stemme” is deursigtig maar die blikkoeverte bly verseël. In die Babelse verwarring van 11 landstale, waar elke Jan Alleman sy sê kan hê, dra ironies net ‘n paar stemme uit bo die van die menigte. Met sy unieke tegniek kry die kunstenaar dit weer eens reg om sosiale kommentaar swanger van geskiedenis en herinnering te skep. Hierin lê dus die herwinning van die herinneringspatina. Die teenstrydigheid van hierdie uitstalling is in die wete dat alhoewel ‘n nasie sy geskiedenis moet ken om die toekoms te kan navigeer, hierdie drie kunstenaars meeer vrae as antwoorde in die proses ontgin. Ek stap daar uit met die wete dat nostalgie nie altyd ‘n gemaklike gevoel is nie.


Getting lost in the art of it all
By Miranthe Staden-Garbett

The post-modern condition is characterised by extremes: excesses and emptiness. We carry the baggage of memories, perspectives, possessions, photographs, and names, more than we will ever know what to do with.

Our excesses are matched only by the nagging sense that something is missing, our fear of loss. We need look no further than our attachment to insurance schemes/scams. It seems the more there is, the more fearful one is of losing it. Alternatively, one could argue that the gain of one thing always results in the loss of another.

So what have we lost? What is it we want to hold on to? How do we remember? How will we be remembered? Memory has been a recurring theme in post-modern art and literature. Form Aselm Kiefer to William Kentridge, the battle against forgetting has been waged on canvas and film. A major trend in current art theory sees the artist as archivist, as guardian and interpreter of history. From blurred photographs to meticulous collection, documentation and mapping, expressionist and conceptual artist alike attempt to hold, however temporarily, the slippery tide of time, or to revel in its evasiveness. In different ways, these three artists explore lost time an places, a chorus of missing names and things.

Willem Boshoff’s Bread-and-pebble road map, is what he calls a map to get lost by. This path, made of bread and stone, has biblical and mythical allusions. Paths are a record of choices made, bread or stone, life and death. Inscribed with a catalogue of Arabic names and their meaning, Boshoff’s remembering is a form of textual incantation, a writing of words that unveils hidden realities. While I don’t presume to know the workings of Boshoff’s mind, I see his twin roles –sage and trickster – as perennial ones: keeping wisdom and keeping us all on our toes. He is a latter-day griot, a monk, a magician.

In Far far away, he traces a personal and cultural history, remembering the names of 1 142 children who died in concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer war, one of the wars in which his grandfather fought. For Boshoff, the act of remembering is miraculous, through it lost or neglected worlds come into view, enter the present and have the potential to transform it.

Jan van der Merwe’s reverse archaeology transforms current technologies into archaic relics, thus putting the viewer in the odd position of “remembering” the present. The disintegration of familiar things: letters, chairs, televisions, creates a time warp wherein I am faced with my own mortality.

His question is not so much what has been lost, but a more pressing, what are we losing? The compulsive folding of metal sheet paper planes in Killing Time suggests that it may be our sanity, our humanity.

The ultimate measure of loss is time, which is always being lost. Two responses to this are hope, which springs eternal, and sadness, that bottomless well. Johan Conradie dwells on the latter. Even our best attempts at freezing time –photographs, paintings, film –are subject to slippage.

Flip sides of the same coin, remembering and forgetting are skills which must both be learnt, and wisely applied. This show expresses the romance of ruin, nostalgia and the politics and power of memory, but also hints at the redemptive potential of forgetting, that may follow remembering. Having learnt when and what to let go of, sometimes losing can be liberating.


Eastern August 2005

Grafte, klip en stilte praat met hom
- Maretha Naude

Kleintyd al het die klip en stilte van begraafplase hom bekoor. Hy kon ure lank indie stof tussen die grafstene met verweerde beeldjies dwaal en hom verwonder oor die misterie van dood, oud word, aftakeling en die nuwe lewe en betekenis wat daaruit gebore kan word.

Al hierdie dinge kry gestalte in Johna Conradie se skilderkuns en fotografie. Daarom is die titel van sy pasvoltooide M-verhandeling: “Stone and Silence”.

Johan se werk word van 18 Augustus vanjaar by Obert Contemporary in die Melrose arch in Johannesburg uitgestal.

“Om te skilder, is vir my ‘n moeisame stadige proses. Ek werk maklik maande aan iets voor ek tevrede is daarmee. My werk moet sowel die mens se emosie as sy intellek prikkel en laat nadink. Ek probeer ‘n sekere stemming skep deur die gebruik van kleur en tekstuur”.

Johan skilder nie in ‘n ateljee nie. “Enige plek waar die lig goed is, is goed genoeg vir my ... op die stoep, in die eetkamer, of sommer op die sitkamermat”.

Op die stoep van sy meenthuis in Monumentpark staan juis een van die laaste werke wat hy afrond vir sy uitstalling:Die profiel van ‘n engel? ‘n Dogtertjie? Sommer net ‘n stukkende beeldjie wat hy op ‘n vergete grafsteen raakgesien het? Dit slaan jou asem weg. Dis terseldertyd veruklik mooi en onbegryplik hartseer.

Dieselfde gewaarwording kom by ‘n mens op as jy na Johan se foto’s kyk. ‘n Katedraal in Keulen lyk spookagtig en deinserig in die mis. Die wat fyn kyk, besef dat die foto met ‘n doel effe uit fokus geneem is. Dit laat jou nadink oor die rol wat kerk en godsdiens van toe tot nou in die mens se lewe speel...

“Eintlik is ek twee uiteenlopende mense”, se Johan. Die een is die skugter, kunstenaar wat hom afsonder om sy passie uit te leef en die ander een is ‘n ekstovert dosent wat studente by Tuks, Unisa en binnekort ook by ‘n kusskool in Brooklyn touwys maak in teken- en skilderkuns.”


Johan Conradie: Stone and silence

18 – 28 august 2005

Obert Contemporary is pleased to present the final-year masters of fine arts exhibition by the University of Pretoria’s Johan Conradie. Regarded as a top young talent, Conradie recently participated in the ‘Reconciliation’ exhibition in Pretoria with acclaimed artists Diane Victor, Kudzi Chiurai, Bearni Searle and Minette Vari. ‘Stone and Silence’ is Conradie’s first solo exhibition and features variously scaled photographs and paintings that explore eternal symbols of life and spirituality.

According to Conradie: ’the choice of graveyard and religious imagery in my work is far from innocent and nostalgic decoration. Nostalgia always means we are in the presence of death, something that endures in memory, and, while it no longer shapes the living moment, unconsciously influences the sense of life as a whole. Grand, sacred monuments are more solid, durable, sensuous, and knowing than their contemporary surroundings. They are made of stone, indicating with their materiality that they will last forever.

They symbolize eternal spiritual values, suggesting that there is more to life than speedy apprehension and the glamour of new technologies. If, for all their material indestructibility, the monument could someday become historical ruins, the spiritual reality they signify could remain intact and unchanged’.