About The Artist
Spies Venter was born in 1935 in Port Elizabeth, he died on the 28th of March 2021 in Great Brak River.
"I think that any sculpture has a relation with traditional sculpture that is obvious.
But not in a direct way. It's something I said several times. For instance, if one day one
finds, for example, a plastic bottle ... actually we could say it the other way around;
it is the same if one finds a piece of pottery or ceramic, without knowing it is Roman,
Greek or Etruscan. It has a special kind of aura about it; it has a special quality which
is exciting, which generates myths, history and poetry.....but of course those things at
the same time may have just been for carrying oil, or something very banal, and when it
was empty they threw it out. We then find it 3000 years later and of course we have a
different feeling about it. Like the plastic vessels or plastic bottles that we take and
empty and throw out. Today we have the same sort of banal relationship with plastic containers.
With glass, similarly, it's inevitable, the whole process of evolution of time, the landscape
changing, all problems that sculpture is concerned with ... I think, finally, that traditional
sculpture of any people starts from the point of the material. And so that remains a constant
through all the making of sculpture."
One of the inspirations for the series of sculptures by Spies Venter, to be exhibited in the Millennium Gallery l, Pretoria, from 17 February to 10 March 2002, is the demolishing at times of works of art. Also, the removal of works of art out of their original context, to then be housed elsewhere in museums. This can result in works losing much of their original meaning and value, and the compromising of their identity.
A well known example is the fresco of the Parthenon, which was taken from Athens, to the British Museum. Another is the sculptures Jackson Hlongwane created for his countrymen in New Jerusalem, Venda, as a religious inspiration. In Venda the works were to be experienced outside, in the open air, as part of a specific natural and cultural context. In the Johannesburg Art Gallery they have been subsumed, as it were, into a bigger collection. Thus the people in Venda have been deprived of both the works and the experiencing of them, as well as the possibility of gaining income from the tourists who would have come to view them in Venda.
In South Africa there has been the destruction of District Six, and in many platteland towns the loss of wonderful old buildings in the name of "progress". Since settling in Vereeniging some eight years ago, Spies has been particularly distressed by hearing of the historical buildings that have been lost in the Vaal.
Spies Venter's works can also be seen as a comment on the recent rampant destruction of ancient Buddhist sculptures by the Taliban. Also, while working on the sculptures to be displayed in the Millennium Gallery l exhibition, the World Trade Centre was destroyed, and thousands caught up in the rubble of these once mighty structures.
When Spies started to conceptualize works for this exhibition close to three years ago, others were already planning the destruction of these symbols of monetary might; and when Spies was burning the containers that form an integral part of the sculptures -- even charring parts of them -- it was just before the inferno in New York. This synchronicity then ignited a further process in Spies in his reaction to what has happened.
In one sense, Spies Venter's works express the pain of being helplessly trapped; but out of pain and even out of discarded materials new forms can be created, and can come the renewal that accompanies new insights. "It is a continuing process," says Spies. "You are seeking all the time, reflecting on what is happening in your own life, and in the world around you."
It intrigues Spies that just as we today are fascinated by objects in common use thousands of years ago, others in times to come might be studying the common objects that we now unthinkingly discard. He includes some of these in his present sculptures. Thus are incorporated references to the past, present, and future.
From an autobiographical point of view the works can be seen as expressions of pain and/or uncertainty, as when one reveals one's vulnerability. Following on this, then, is here the breaking open of the containers, and the metal bands. Trapped limbs such as feet and hands, as well as heads, are partially revealed to symbolise this exposure of fragility. For the artist this is also an expression of a longing that others should understand -- share in -- his process.
The pedestals are actually also containers, which contributes to the story these sculptures tell. So the pedestals / containers are essentially part of the sculptures, and not simply serving limited designated functions.
The lettering on the containers also carry a message. How do people react en reading "Export"? Not only have thousands of indigenous works of art been taken from Africa to "First World" countries but, with them, millions of people taken as slaves.
However, the artist chooses not to focus solely on what is negative, because knowledge and new ideas are also exported, to the possible advantage of all.
So it can happen that Hlongwane's works be interpreted in a new and different way when experienced in a different context, even if aspects of the original message have been lost. Works of art can speak in new ways, and be interpreted anew, since -- after all -- they affect each person in a different way.
The process of metamorphosis is implicitly given expression through the materials used, and through the figurative and structural aspects of these works. There is the suggestion that new growth can come from destruction; just as new art works can be formed using objects that have been discarded after serving their original purpose.
Reseach and experimentation form part and parcel of the creation of works of art. For Spies Venter this entailed casting faces of fired clay in blocks, and then chiselling open parts of the blocks, to create a suggestion of the incompleted sculptures of Michelangelo. For the artist it was an exciting process to combine the blocks, and welding them together. Marks on them were retained. Natural processes were allowed to paticipate in the process by burying the works for some time in the earth. Then there was a process of cleaning; the burning of the pedestals / containers, resulting in some implosion; the securing of the new wholes ...
And so the process continued -- continues...
1935 Born in Port Elizabeth. He died on the 28th of March 2021 in Great Brak River.
1953 Matriculated Cillie High School, Port Elizabeth
1954/57 School of Art, Port Elizabeth
1955/59 Part-time student Rhodes University, Grahamstown
1955 Awarded Bronze Medal (Best student of the year)
1956 Awarded Silver Medal (Best student of the year)
1957 Awarded Silver Medal (Best student of the year)
1958 Art teacher, Eunice Girls High School, Bloemfontein
1959 Awarded E.R Searle Study Bursary; attended courses in
1960 Lecturer in Ceramics and Sculpting, School of Art , Port Elizabeth
1961/62 Lecturer in Arts and Crafts, University of Stellenbosch
1963/64 Awarded British Council Scholarship. First South African to receive this award for art. Studied art at St Martin's School of Art, London.
1965 To April 1981. Sculpting, and running an Art Studio in Schoemanskloof in the Lowveld, while also involved in running a guest house
1986 Co-owner of Wayside Inn, Waterval Onder, Eastern Transvaal
1989/92 Relocate back to Johannesburg. Teaches art at Kind David High School, Victory Park.
1993 Opens art studio in Peacehaven, Vereeniging, and then own Art School. Draws, paints and sculpts, and teaches art to adults, and as a 7th Matric subject.
2002 Relocates to Great Brak River teween Mossel Bay and George, wher he opens Voorburg Art School in the inspiring space of arestored barn on the bank of the river, With a spacious stuido in an old school builidng. Sculpts and paints;teaches and presents workshops.
2002 Voorburg Art School sponsors a bursary to the value oof R45 000 for learners from Great Brak Senior Secondary School which included two years free tuition at Voorburg Art School. Teh brusary enables the winnter to continue with tertiary eduction at an instituition of his/her choice.
2002 - 2013
1958 Municipal Art Gallery, Bloemfontein
1961 International Art Gallery, Port Elizabeth
1965 Lidchi Art Gallery, Johannesburg
1966 Sestiger Exhibition, Adler Fielding Gallery, Johannesburg
1967 Sculpture SA, Association of Art, Pretoria
1968 Walsh Marais Gallery, Durban
1971 Gallery 101, Johannesburg
1974 Ceramic Exhibition Brickor, Johannesburg
1975 Awarded Brickor Prize -- Best Sculptor Exhibition Brickor, Johannesburg
1977 Contemporary Art Gallery, Sandton
1978 Crake Gallery, Johannesburg
1980 APSA Exhibition, Cape Town
1983 Beuster Skolimowski Gallery, Pretoria
2001 Gallery 88, Two person exhibition, Sasolburg
2002 Millennium Gallery, Solo exhibition, Pretoria
2008 Atrium, Searle's Manor, Mosselbay
2008 De Brak Gallery,Great brak River
Website of South African Artists