In South African artist Hentie van der Merwes second solo show in
Germany, entitled Graph (all works 2004), he uses the formal
element of the grid to suggest the interaction between differing views
of the same reality. His large-format charcoal and pencil drawings on
paper are based on images that he culled from various archives (such as
the National Picture Archive in Namibia), newspapers, or photos taken
by his father during the 1960s. From a distance, these drawings appear
to be Photo- Realist, but up close one sees that the artist has left purposefully
visible the lines used to square off the paper, a hint that he is after
more than simple replication.
While some drawings seem harmless (such as Luc, which portrays a young
gawky boy sitting in a wooden wing-backed armchair), others, featuring
such images as a dead girl being washed or a severed hand, point to the
cruel reality in which even Luc lives.
The next room was wallpapered with black-and-white checkered Vichy fabric,
the graphic nature of which created a feeling of disorientation. One approached
the pure white paper sheets mounted on the cloth in the hope of some optical
relief, but none was to be found: the delicate ink and pencil line drawings
offered no shading or volume; the insistence of black on white, lines
against lines, was overwhelming.
Some were studies for the larger drawings such as the screaming
head of field operation or the close-up of a harmlesslooking old white
woman in member of a war commission, and so are easier to interpret.
Others, such as the flight, which portrays a mass of refugees, at first
seemed to be mere abstract patterning. The intense visual confusion and
the unobtrusive rendition of the bleak subject matter are reinforced by
the background fabrics moniker, Vichy, which bears the stench of
collaboration, suggesting how governments try to distract the public and
camouflage the horrors with which they are involved.
Downstairs, the drawings in pencil on graph paper were completely abstract.
Van der Merwe selected articles from international newspaperssuch
as No European money for Palestinian terror, 12.08.04 or Abu
Ghraib, 11.08.04which he translated, using a dictionary, from
the published language into his own. Noting down the pages for each word,
he developed a series of numbers that he used as co-ordinates to create
a graph that acted as the jumbled visual translation of the
text. In this manner, van der Merwe gives clear visual expression to the
persistent political and historical inclination of turning clearly reported
fact into a perplexing muddle.