My work in essence, investigates the ubiquity of war and anti-war both internally (the spirit) and externally (the world). I make large-scale drawings and paintings using oil paint, powdered graphite, glitter and commercial water-based enamels. Hopefully they are among the kind of objects that occupy the eye and brain and encourage people to question established norms of obedience. Technical matters such as bridging the gulf between figuration and abstraction are manifested in every picture. These problems bring a tension and unpredictability to the work. It is a goal to incorporate the knotted, tangled bush habitat that characterises much of the rural Eastern Cape and to find its equivalent in the gnarled and twisted undergrowth of the fractured human relations, events, triumphs and disappointments that people encounter daily in South Africa.
Starting in August 2013, I began a series of paintings and drawings that might best be described as “battlefield documents”. In addition to re-imagining conflicts from the Nine Eastern Cape Xhosa Wars (1779 -1879) on the ground in the visible world, the pictures attempt to visualise the ongoing war of principles taking place in the invisible world. Borders, orders, concord, discord, obedience, rebellion, order, chaos: in short, all the false refuges that societies cling to. Holding the viewer's attention for long enough to interest them is a challenge I embrace with a hybrid mixture of elation and fear tugging and gnashing at the surface of the paper, wood panels and canvases. The pictures aspire to a visual etymology of brutality experienced in the Eastern Cape during a century of systematic industrialised hostility and the effects of that history on present-day life.
I am also very interested in improvisation with paint. Lifting images from the subconscious soil (by “scraping” the hypothalamus and cerebral cortex) then trying to make them visible. In the process, the only useful guides are suppression and excess. As a result, some of my paintings contain figures and characters not always germane to the major thread. One permits them life only because they often either blur the larger narrative or may be archived for later use. A second exception is the intrusion of figures representing the present dispensation of abberrant political classes. These are sometimes surrogates for earlier personalities exhibiting similar characteristics like Colonels John Graham, Harry Smith and their opposites such as the prophet-chief Maqana Nxele and Paramount-Chief of the Gcaleka namely Hintsa ka Khawuta. Judgement and empirical conclusions are never a pictorial priority.
*War steals a man's dignity / War robs a person of their dignity.
Translation by Xolisa Ngubelanga
Photo: Margot Muir