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South Africa's Oldest Living Modern Artist: Gunther van der Reis

Posted on 8 June 2012

The Association of the Arts Pretoria was proud to open an exhibition of works by Gunther van der Reis' on Friday 25 May. Gunther, who recently celebrated his 85th birthday, exhibited works created over a 12 year period. Pieter van Heerden, director of the Association of Arts, paid tribute to Gunther's long contribution to art in South Africa and stated that his work has an important place in the South African modern art movement. As a young artist, Gunther was influenced by the works of Spanish artists which gave a lifelong direction to his work. The intense exploration of the objectified surface and the aesthetic surface of the painting remains a dominant factor in his work throughout his career. He was strongly influenced by Arte Povera, which saw works with an earthy quality. The colours used by Gunther accord well with the nature and visions of our Karoo landscape resulting in impressive paintings with rich and warm textures.

Born in Hamburg, Germany, 1927, Gunther came to South Africa with his parents in 1937. He received training at the Michaelis School of Art at the University of Cape Town and later a MA Art at the University of Pretoria. Gunther has been an active member of the South African National Association? for the Visual Arts (SANAVA) and has taught at various schools in Cape Town and Pretoria. He was also one of the founding members of the Arts Association in Pretoria. Gunther boasts numerous exhibitions on a local and international level such as in Venice, Sao Paulo Biennales, Lisbon,United States, etc. He has also done commissions for the Johannesburg International airport, Sand du Plessis theatre in Bloemfontein, German School in Pretoria, to name a few.

Professor Alexander Duffey, an established art historian and head of the University of Pretoria's Arts Research & Van Tilburg Collection , opened the exhibition stating that Gunther is the oldest living South African artist of merit. He reflected that Gunther is an artist of international stature where his avant garde painting has influenced many artists in South Africa. His works are strongly landscape orientated with an abstract aspect reminiscent of the European Matter painters. He has a constant quest for the aesthetic surface and captures, as perhaps no other South African artist, the raw beauty, the rugged splendor and glow of the South African landscape. Rock, boulders and various man-made structures appear in his works. His use of vibrant colours seen to make the rocks come alive with a new vigour, describes Duffey.

His main inspiration has always been the aesthetic surface of the painting. This he explores through various media such as oils, acrylics, vinyl acetate, epoxy, stainless steel as well as bronze sculpture. The emphasis on a luminously activated surface runs through all his works no matter what the medium. It harks back to his early years when he grew up at the sea in the Strand and his passion for the rugged rocks and mountains of the Cape. In Gunther?s later works, there is a move towards a tendancy to include a horizon, opening up the landscape, which Duffey explains as a transcendence into the realm of infinity.

He has had a positive influence in the visual arts as a full-time artist since 1988. He is described as an "art guru" by Pieter who cannot imagine an art association without a Gunther van der Reis. The opening of the exhibition was strongly supported by various artists who were personally influenced by Gunther?s work and teachings. "If there ever there was a exhibition at this gallery where it would be worthwhile to purchase the work, than this is that exhibition," stated Duffey strongly. The artist hosts a walkabout on Saturday 9 June at 11h00. The exhibition closes on Wednesday 13 June.

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