Strange Weather – clouds and smoke 2 (South Africa)

A visit to the Rupert Collection in Stellenbosch, near Cape Town in South Africa led to a personal discovery  of the work of Afrikaner traditional landscape artist J H Pierneef, little known outside South Africa.  His work flattens the South African landscape into simplified abstract forms, removing all people, black or white, to leave pastoral views, always lit by a clear (afternoon?) sun with huge cloud formations.  This is an airbrushing of both the reality of the african landscape and any reality of the South African apartheid era, this is edited painting suitable for the South African embassy or in this particular case, a commission of 32 paintings for Johannesburg’s new station in 1932.  These paintings are extremely contested art objects – used by artists to exemplify apartheid art, mocked, pastiched, destroyed in performance pieces, their history and style was analysed by Sean O’Toole in an article from Freeze Magazine (2010). O’Toole quotes a William Kentridge Essay in which he describes the paintings as depicting a ‘landscape in a state of grace’ but really representing ‘documents of disremembering’..

Rupert Collection SA-6
Stellenbosch Landscape JH Perneef (1932)

So why include them in a blog about my own projects?  O’Toole connects (as I did) this work in series to the flatness of space and landscape prints of Hokusai’s 36 views of Mt Fuji, described at the start of this blog. The graphic style is also reminiscent of Henri Riviere, a french graphic artist, whose 1902 series of lithographs 36 views of the Eiffel tower are described in this Blue Lantern blog. He is an artist photographer worth an individual post.

What caught my eye was the extraordinary way the smoke and clouds were depicted, the graphic simplification and in particular the smoke coming from the chimneys of two factories in Pierneef’s oil paintings of mines (the only non-pastoral images in the series) adding to the sense that apartheid South Africa was, seen through prejudiced eyes, a landscape of subjugated natural resources.  The lingering smoke fails to give any sense of the fracturing of the land or the division of labour (an oppressed black workforce) that dug the ore from huge holes and filled the furnaces.

Drawing for the film Other Faces (2011) William Kentridge

William Kentridge’s  work has been of great interest, from before the project began.  His use of charcoal in his animation process – the making of marks and the repeated rubbing out to create changed states need a separate blog.  An article from Johannesburg’s Nation newspaper by Mark Glevissier in 2014 links Kentridge’s materials and techniques with charcoal to the same Jo’burg landscape painted by Perneef, this time as that landscape is being erased by the city’s post industrial changes.

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