On most writing about Wim Botha, you’ll find it noted quite early on that the artist grew up in a small suburban town towards the East of Pretoria. And that hardly seems of any importance, right? In fact, most white South African artists born around the 1970s grew up in some sleepy suburban town before moving off to art school and kickstarting their careers. The importance of Wim’s roots, however, lie in the fact that he actively engages with them in all that he creates.
A contemporary artist working mostly in the realms of sculpture and installation, Wim Botha is a well-known name in the South African art world. His early works – mostly busts, molds and larger scale installation pieces – make use of old texts, papers, books, files and clippings. Real motley stuff that you’d likely find in a dusty, administrative office somewhere in a small Afrikaans town. In using such materials as the basis of his works, Wim ultimately weaves in longstanding and all too familiar themes and narratives of South African state administration, regimentation and policing – all those things that when called to mind, emit the insidious sepia glow of apartheid governance.
The artist plays with light too, or more so the effects of light. How it falls, casts itself on things, and in turn shapes and molds them. He’s been experimenting with polystyrene for the past few years now, largely due to its ability to give quick form and materiality to an idea or concept. At the 2016 FNB JoburgArtFair, polystyrene busts sat mounted on the wall, caked and dripping in blood-red and coagulated wax.
Certainly, Wim Botha is an artist with an eye for detail and form. And in his latest solo exhibition, currently on at Cape Town’s Stevenson gallery, the artist shifts from his usually large-scale works to smaller, palm-sized objects. His focus too, has shifted. Here the artist narrows in on concepts of the corporeal, distinct from mind and departing entirely from the ethereal. The main attraction, The Universal Truths Escape Me, is an installation of fractured glass, polystyrene and wax, dripping down and impaling themselves. The work, we are told, is a remake of the Greek myth of Leda and the swan.
Still, there is an unsettling element about Wim’s latest exhibition. The smaller works appear unfinished in parts, or perhaps the remains of completed works that the artist took liberal stabs and slices at. The exhibition itself is a spaced out and haphazardly placed one, meaning each small work or series of works sit in isolation. Then of course, there is the chaotic centrepiece that presents itself as a perfect mess and ultimately ties it all together. Here, wax wings elicit thoughts of Icarus and conjure up ideas of mortality, while the glass sheets wash up like broken oceans. Viewed at a distance, it can seem as if the entire sky has come crashing down in the centre of the exhibition.
With his latest exhibition, Wim once again illustrates his skill in the use and understanding of materials and more importantly, space. And while it’s true that Wim’s an artist with a long history of change and transformation, the beauty of his work is that you can pick it up at any point in its timeline and join the narrative.
The artist’s solo exhibition is on at Cape Town’s Stevenson gallery until 3 December 2016. A discussion of the works by the artist will take place on Thursday, 17 November.
Images courtesy of Stevenson gallery.