Art functions simultaneously at two levels, on the one hand it is a commodity and on the other it is a reflection of the artist’s meditation on life: The lived experience that the artist has personalized as stills of moments either in symbolic form or as direct commentary of what the artist feels ought to be known. It is through a sustained art practice that the artist can achieve the latter. Of the two functions of art, the artist, Joe de Beer is concerned with art’s meditative function on life. In the middle of preparations for this exhibition he pointed out that the fact that artists are ignored by the general society is double edged in that on the one hand the artist has no proper support in a form of patronage within their immediate society and on the other hand the artist is liberated in that he/she is left to their own design to pursue their own interest in their art production albeit the fact that the general society does not romanticizes them as it was the case in the past.
Looking at De Beer’s artworks, one cannot help but feel the echo of this isolation of the artists in visual art practice in the artist quest to locate that personalized and liberated artistic commentary on our society he so professes.
In the diptych Doppelganger two men occupy the same seating bunk but one is denied the awareness of the other man by the visor he wears while his movement is also restricted by the bars he is inserted in. Man on the other part of the diptych, aware of the other’s predicament, looks on with an indifferent expression on his face, as if belying the word reserved on the notice on the space for number ‘3’ on the bunk.
The controlled smooth toned pallet of De Beer is carried further in the painting Duel; charged with the gender issues although not directly commenting on the battle of the sexes, rather alluding to divergence from that naturalized expectation that man and women are forever twined by circumstances – which is a social construct. In our time it has become evident that this is not truly the norm due to the importance placed on self assertion, pursued through career paths on the side of women, especially leadership roles either in the government sector or corporate sector. Viewed in this light the Siamese Bicycles on the foreground of the painting cancel out that deconstruction of the new relations between man and women and maintains that there is an element that would always bring the two together and I suppose it will depend on the viewer’s point of reference of what that element may be.
Anyone who appreciates painting undoubtedly admits that the image that we see on the surface is the paint itself, and that it is through its manipulation that the artist is able to represent the real world or imaginary world. The fact that all is based on empirical data of our immediate visible realm is what Energy = Energy plays around with. A painting which in its original form was exhibited in the traditional format of hanging on the wall; but however in the present exhibition De Beer has transformed it into an installation by presenting it on the floor facing up with an oversize painting brush meeting it at mid way, simulating the painting process.
Not only are we to appreciate the trompe l’oeils effect of the execution of the painting but doubly we are impressed by the fact that the materials which in unity make up the painting are made bare by attenuating the traditional wall hanging of ‘a painting’ on the wall is subverted and given a new perspective by displaying it horizontal on the floor– reinforced by the suspended brush.
The mirage on the painting holds the interrogating principle of reality in this work together, that painting is an illusion that occupies space. And it is with this work that De Beers affinity with the Surrealist – Rene Magritte is undeniable as it is in Decoy and None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See.
In Overtime De Beer moves into concrete forms in that he uses materials that are a product of our society by compressing into one space a year’s worth of parking coupons collected while meeting his partner after work home bound. Here time and dates spiral from the past and pierce into the future. It is time that the modern laborer sells as a commodity to the employee and the explicit modes that record that lapse of time of our busy lives turned commodity is rendered at certain junctures of our daily lives implicit to us. It is through the deployment of a conceptual art stance that the obvious can be revealed. In this light the conceptually charged Overtime is a reportage of that dendrology like pilling up of time and memories sealed by the past. All the answers are held by time and we are its travelers.
This exhibition marks Joe de Beers coming of age since it encapsulates the work done over ten years of the artist’s practice from the dawn of the new century to the present year. The exhibition is also symbolic on another level. It marks the final months of De Beers’s presence in South Africa before departing to Tasmania, Australia.
The the title of the exhibition ‘Departure’ is very personal in this regard because I am moving away from South Africa into another world inevitably filled with new experiences’ he has remarked and then added that as for the work Overtime in its form and executions it also marks another departure for him, it marks the direction he will like to take in his art production – that is to make conceptual artworks. To the discerning viewer Energy = Energy alludes to this direction already albeit it’s rendering in traditional media as its basis.
One can only imagine what kind of artworks we will see coming out of Australia to South Africa in the coming years with Joe De Beer speaking to us from the Diaspora.
© posthighdEF’21 2009
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The present writting is a foreword taken from the catalogue of the exhibition. It’s publication here in Post High dEF’21 is fully acknowledged by the artist Joe de Beer.