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Rite of Passage 2009

Solo Exhibition at Arts Association Pretoria

Opening Speech: Peter Binsbergen - September 1, 2009

From Piet Mondrain's "Broadway Boogie Woogie" to Marcel Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase", from the Futurists of the past to those of the present, from Europe to Africa and beyond, with a brief stopover in the Rothko Room in the Tate Modern, Willie van Rensburg has managed to encompass it all.

Undoubtedly, that word 'Post Modern' pops up again and no matter how ‘old hat’ it may be, contemporary artists always manage to breath new life into a term the Historians and critics deem to be dead. This is Willie van Rensburg at his best. He has managed to appropriate and cross pollinate various cultures world wide to return with a universal Post Africanism with it’s roots planted firmly in the linear narrative, and of course why not, this is after all one of van Rensburg’s trademarks. "I am a Designer; no matter how hard I try, I always find myself back where I started –with the power of line and form."

This body of work is titled "Rite of Passage" and according to the artist it marks a certain period in his life, a type of journey but a journey which brings renewal. Inspired by his recent stay at the Cite in Paris one cannot help but to sense a feeling of being out of place. Willie refers to his inspiration as Parisian design. A strange city with language barriers we as South Africans may find intimidating at first. It takes a while to settle and find ones feet, needing to adjust to the fast pace and precision clockwork of a large European city.

The large areas of monochromatic colour are of particular interest to me as they reminded me of the cold overcast weather typical of Paris over December. Coupled with this Willie steers us into a direction of African motif. We start to recognize something, amidst the gloomy winter sky, an African design, a pattern or a rhythm. The pigeons, the gargoyles of the Notre Dame, and the buzzing stations of Gare Du Nord and Gare le Est are all Africanized and become a defense mechanism in order to help the artist cope. In a sense he brings the Parisian experience home and one starts to sense an appropriated Battiss, Preller, Skotnes or even a Bettie Cilliers-Barnard.

Willie refers to "noise". In this case the "noise" he refers to are the hundreds of people who line the city streets and Brasseries all speaking a language we cannot understand. This linear narrative has been perfectly worked out. He describes sitting in the studio flat in the evenings refining drawing, designs and motifs which would later become the works for this exhibition. We are not at any time confused by what we are seeing. We experience the story as he tells it and even manage to share a stroll down Rue de Ville with him in the early evening feeling that crisp winter chill bite into your neck.

He captures the city buzz. We sense the speed of Paris in full swing, we hear the French speaking and see the hundreds pigeons peck at crumbs of the street vendor’s baguettes. This African linear narrative becomes conflicting in terms of trying to relate to a foreign city. Willie has managed to summon the elements of art in order for the viewer to relate to this even if it is in a gallery in South Africa. This is what I mean when I refer to his African linear narrative or Post Africanist visual imagery. It becomes a universal visual language all walks of life can relate to.

None of this would be possible if it were not for Willie's strong sense of design. He understands what he is doing and proves it with the dynamic energy and vigor with which he works. I have had the pleasure of knowing Willie van Rensburg for a little more than 10 years and have seen the path he has traveled in order to reach this point. As I have mentioned, this is Willie at his best, even his personality and spontaneous energy is evident in this bulk of work. He has hidden nothing from us and has managed to share his life and persona with us. Therefore I find the title of this exhibition "rite of passage" extremely appropriate.

I pay tribute to you this evening my friend. South African art and we, as your friends, have been enriched and inspired for knowing you.

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