6 September – 8 October 2005
Willie Bester, one of South Africa’s best known contemporary artists whose name is almost synonymous with resistance art against the injustices of Apartheid, needs no introduction. From 6 September to 8 October 2005 Capetonians will have a not-to-be-missed opportunity to view one of the year’s most significant exhibitions at 34 LONG: a much-anticipated solo show by Willie Bester, presenting a survey of sculptural work of the past five years.
Over the last decade Bester’s focus has shifted to combine fresh conceptual directions with familiar themes and materials. The works on this exhibition are assembled mainly of waste metal and other debris of industrial, agricultural and domestic activity. They reach a new level of maturity and complexity, fusing seasoned elements of his art with new ideas into works that comment powerfully, occasionally humourously, on diverse socio-political issues, some global, some uniquely South African.
Bester’s technique of creating see-through constructions in order to magnify inner worlds is exemplified by
Bly uit Oortreders sal geskiet word, a galvanized petrol can flayed open like an anatomical model. An intricately wired interior world suggestive of an electrical station, a computer or a petrol pump is contained and exposed by a glass barrier. This inner world is guarded by a doll dressed as a watchman, obviously Caucasian, probably produced in China for consumption by children in the so-called West. It stares at the viewer through an ominous threat in Afrikaans, thus adding an acerbic edge to the work’s sombre critique of global oil-based technology.
In his recent work (2005) Bester masterfully combines see-through sections with a new emphasis on detailed surface articulation. Small metal tiles and objects are fused into a remodelled and reshaped "skin ", as fragile as it is strong and evocative. Originally utilitarian objects are re-contextualised into relief works or monumental freestanding figures with forceful messages. So, for example, the superbly constructed
Security Guard elicits an inevitable smile from anyone accustomed to South African urban life, while the figure’s uneasy stance, sideways glance and partially exposed skeletal frame of cogs and bolts convey an underlying tension, indicative of profound and complex paradoxes in capitalist society. Likewise,
Guitar provokes a smile while thoughtfully noting the predicament (perhaps emergency) of popular culture and authentic spontaneous performance in the bloodless, age of virtual digits and sound bytes.
Bester pays minute attention in equal measure to conceptual visualization, selection of parts, physical construction and final finishing of his works. Current political or social incidents provide the impetus for him to visit his "art shop ", a local scrap yard, where he spends days selecting every detail for the "anatomy " of his planned subject. Back in his studio in Kuilsrivier the pieces are carefully laid out on the floor before building begins, usually from the feet up, ensuring a strong substructure. As the work proceeds, balancing metal forces, dictated by the laws of gravity, unite into form and idea.
When a sculpture is complete, it is transported to an industrial galvanizing plant where it is galvanized to prevent future deterioration. Having worked in the international art world and dealt with major museums and collectors around the world, Willie is aware of conservation concerns for artworks in collections and therefore expends much time and care on the final finishing of his works.
Bester is a strongly intuitive colourist whose painting remains as clear and incisive as ever. He still works in a grass roots environment where, in many ways, little has changed. This is why his comments on society’s ongoing injustices, like abuse of women and children, continue unabated. Metal is a powerful medium conveying a powerful message. His painted panels, contrasting so strikingly with the galvanized metalwork, combine almost seamlessly in the constructions, adding a world of socio-political inquiry. His unique way of combining painting with sculpture acts as a silent metaphor for the unique ways in which Willie Bester straddles the worlds of high art and every day life, never losing sight of socially sensitive concerns.