The Wandering Mind of Walter Battiss

The wandering mind of Walter Battiss made him one of the unique characters of his time. He had an almost unusual interest in African art, ranging from Ndebele artwork to Bushman rock art. Some commentators attribute his eccentric style to the influence of his friendship with Picasso in the 1950s.

(Photo Credit: www.nladesignvisual.wordpress.com and www.witsfoundation.org)
(Photo Credit: www.nladesignvisual.wordpress.com and www.witsfoundation.org)

He was a founding member of The New Group, a collective of young South African artists who set out to explore fresh ideas in art and explore new frontiers. A large number of this group had been studying in Europe at the time and their arrival in their motherland left them disillusioned with the conservative culture surrounding South African art. This group enjoyed a tenure of about 10 – 12 years after which it was disbanded as a result of being institutionalised. It was in this period of time that he released his first book, ‘The Amazing Bushman’.

The Walter Battiss Company notes that it was 1955 when the started experimenting with calligraphic art and evidence of human and animal abstractions became evident. It was about this time when Ndebele art became a prominent feature of his artworks.

(photo credit: www.financialmail.com and www.artexpertwebsite.com)
(photo credit: www.financialmail.com and www.artexpertwebsite.com)

The early 60s saw his curiousity soar to new heights as his interest in Islamic culture took him on several trips to Central Africa and the Middle-East. One might surmise that this was the period of time that he wanted to explore the rest of the world. Towards the end of that decade he made numerous trips to the north; including Greece in 1968 and Seychelles in 1972. Walter Battiss traveled to many other parts of the world as well, including Hawaii, Zanzibar, Fiji and Madagascar.

Walter Battiss was an influencer and innovator. He had a special interest in man and his environment. His impact on many young artists and the South African art scene remains as valuable as the art he left behind.

The Rise of Robert Hodgins

When you think of Robert Hodgins, you are reminded of the artist, the expressionist, a man who earned the kind words his friends remember him with. Spending much of his life as a “working” man, he left his position as a Senior Lecturer at Wits to become a full-time artist.

Hodgins had done a number of exhibits from as early as the 50’s, even though his work was only recognised in 1981. Living in apartheid-South Africa, he used his art to make anti-apartheid statements. This was a trend followed by many artists. He particularly enjoyed satirizing figures of power. These expressions had a major impact on the social climate of South Africa. In response to this Standard Bank National Arts Festival hosted a major retrospective exhibition in 1986.

Robert Hodgins had quite a remarkable rise from his days of teaching painting and drawing in Pretoria to the much loved South African artist he became towards the end of his life. His biography reads like a novel, an inquiring artist who made his way through life and became an accomplished artists towards the end.

Some of his earliest works include “Hidden Man” which he produced during his time at Pretoria Technical College; he actually made his own frame for that painting. “Man with a Cup” made its way to the Gertrude Possel Gallery, Hodgins’ work at the time was characterised by dark lines and sombre line work.

Art and politics are an unlikely combination, but in the 80s Hodgins used art to cut to the bone of inequality. (photo credit: timeslive.co.za, artnet.com, artvalue.com)
Art and politics are an unlikely combination, but in the 80s Hodgins used art to cut to the bone of inequality.
(photo credit: timeslive.co.za, artnet.com, artvalue.com)

The early 1980s saw the arrival of the iconic Ubu character in Hodgins work. Ubu Roi was a character from one of  Alfred Jarry’s stories. Ubu became a central figure of Robert Hodgins’ art, especially during the 80s, when so much of his work was focussed on depicting the social wrongs of the day. In “Ubu and Mr America”, a dreamy-eyed Ubu, painted in a series of lines, swirls and flat planes of colour gazes lustfully at muscular bodybuilder. In contrast, the Mr America figure is painted with warm colours and textured with fine indentations, like the pores of human skin.

This was the real Robert Hodgins, the artist who was not content with the status quo, but chose to use his expression as a voice against injustice. He started building a loyal following, not only because he made a statement, but because he spoke their language.

Pierneef: The Unfolding (1)

With the subsiding of the Second Anglo-Boer War, the Pierneef family returned from Holland to South Africa. (Read about Pierneef’s intriguingly formative years here.)
Whilst the 18 year old Pierneef had firmly set his sights and heart on studying architecture at university, the financial upheaval of returning from Europe and the unexpectedly exhorbitant resettling costs paralysed his father financially, and Pierneef was forced to take up work.
Pierneef’s godfather was none other than the acclaimed sculptor, Anton van Wouw – who had, like his godson, studied fine art at the Rotterdam Art Academy. The well-connected van Wouw was determined to see Pierneef succeed as an established artist, and lent him his whole-hearted support, knowledge and connections. And with this specialised support and his trademark tenacity, Pierneef made his impressive first mark on the South African art world in a group exhibition alongside his godfather and Hugo Naude.

Photographs of Anton van Wouw and Shangaan sculpture

Van Wouw organised for Pierneef to study under the brilliant Frans Oerder, a friend and colleague. Following his three years under Oerder, the Irish artist, George Smithard taught Pierneef the printmaking disciplines of wood engraving and etching – and imbuing him with a rich understanding of graphic design.
And so, with his richly diverse art education,  immense skill-set and undeniable natural talent, Pierneef built upon this foundation a career which has earned him worldwide acclaim and continued attention.
READ MORE next time about how his fine art career unfolded across the decades, encountering everything from petty jealousy to global applause!
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