Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Book Launch: The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers, SA version

Last night we saw my friend Dougie get interviewed by Rian Malan at the South African launch of The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe.

We attended the New York launch party of this book, also, as I mentioned earlier. Here at the Boekehuis, Joburg's best independent bookstore, the dedicated crowd hung on every word. The bookshop was not only crowded, it was intent -- probably because the Zimbabwe story is only a stone's throw away.

The SA book cover is different from the US cover (wish I'd painted either of them, but we ran out of time -- the publisher was in a rush). The SA one is more literal, an actual photo of the empty swimming pool at Douglas' parents' resort, whereas the albino frog on the US cover refers to an anecdote in the story as well as the "white outsiders" that the Rogers family sometimes is and sometimes is not in Zimbabwe.

For more info on Douglas and his book, see

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"mine" exhibition opening

My exhibition "mine" opened last night at the AshantiGold gallery in the Turbine Hall, Johannesburg. Thanks to all who came -- there was a great turnout. The show will be up until the end of January 2010.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ricky Burnett's intro to the "mine" catalogue

A Slant of Light
by Ricky Burnett
A poem by Emily Dickinson begins: "There's a certain slant of light, winter afternoons / that oppresses like the heft of cathedral tunes." Lines ripe with portent. But the lines that follow, "…when it comes the landscape listens / shadows hold their breath…" make me, well, hold my breath.

When a certain light comes the landscape listens, is alert, is attentive, it is, perhaps, waiting and anticipating: a landscape bristling with intimations of awareness. The world is not dead but sensate. The world has a look, variable and intense, that speaks of mood and attitude. What an intrinsically painterly thought – the search for aliveness in the look of things, the world attentive to itself and listening. And, listening by light! Or, should it be listening to the light, or even, perhaps, listening through the light? What a delicious, but essentially painterly, paradox, this is: listening to, or by, or through light.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Nechama Brodie's intro to the "mine" catalogue

As below, so above

By Nechama Brodie

Before there were gold mines, there was grassland. Russet grass and red grass and giant spear grass, and occasional trees in sheltered outcrops and kloofs. This is Rocky Highveld Grassland, transitional vegetation that occurs between the true grasslands of the inland plateau and the bushveld; grasses that grow in rocky mountains, hills, ridges and plains of quartzite, conglomerate, shale, dolomite and andesitic lava.

Johannesburg sits on the edge of a 3,2 billion-year-old granite dome, formed at the same time as the earth's continental crust and extending 70 kilometres north to Tshwane. This is the oldest rock formation in Gauteng, and is the basement on which bands of younger sedimentary and volcanic rocks were later deposited.

The Boers named this place the Witwatersrand, white waters ridge, apparently because of the waterfalls running off the area's stony outcrops. In reality, there was no water, not in any great quantities; it is possible that quartz and iron pyrite deposits in the stone may have reflected light, giving the appearance of water. The city is, however, divided by a continental watershed. Streams to the north of Johannesburg flow into the Crocodile River then into the Limpopo, making its way to the warm Indian Ocean on the east cost. Water flowing on the southern side of the city ends up in the Vaal, joining the Orange River before travelling a thousand kilometres to reach the icy Atlantic Ocean on the west coast.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Book Launch: Resident Alien by Rian Malan

We went to Rian Malan's book launch at The Radium Beerhall last night. Resident Alien is a collection of his magazine articles from the past 20 years.

I loved the speeches -- by Rian himself, by his friend Steven "Boytjie" Sidley who harbored Rian when he fled to Los Angeles, and by the publisher.

Each illuminated what an outcast Rian has made himself by espousing difficult beliefs -- for example, that AIDS is an exaggerated crisis, with numbers inflated in order to garner more international funding. I can't wait to read the book.

The Radium is one of my favorite places in Joburg. The oldest pub still open in the city, it's cozy and real, with wood-clad walls and Guinness on tap.

For more on the launch and a book summary:

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Invitation to "mine" exhibition

In his new series of oil paintings, "mine", Niebuhr documents Joburg's mine dumps and finds three major themes:  a landscape that refuses to remember itself; a city built on fate and the forces of a gold rush; and the paradox of poisonous beauty -- the mine dumps may look like mountains of gold dust but their bleached appearance is actually the result of the toxic process of gold extraction.

The mine dumps are disappearing, cleared to recycle their minerals and to open new spaces for development.  Landmarks that people have known for years will be gone --but since mine dumps have no names, they will not be commemorated. 

Niebuhr finds a certain pathos in their disappearance.

Johannesburg would not exist but for the gold mines, and the dumps are their remnants.  Niebuhr says, "That's why the mine dumps are so specifically Joburg:  they are man-made, iconic, and represent the reasons we are here." 

Last, Niebuhr says he has been drawn to the mine dumps despite their toxicity.  "I've climbed them at dawn and at sunset," and he keeps coming back for more.  Using the Top Star drive-in cinema as a central point, he has been documenting the mine dumps from Randfontein on the West Rand to Boksburg on the East.

Born here, Niebuhr has been painting Johannesburg for nearly a decade.  Working from his studio in Fordsburg, he makes cityscapes and urban portraits to capture the flux of decay and growth which so characterise Joburg, and "mine" is his latest statement on a city he considers truly his.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Book Launch: The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers, US version

In a luxurious apartment in SoHo filled with art, we attended the US launch of Douglas Rogers' book "The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe."

Douglas went to university with me, and we have kept in touch since then, traveling through post-Katrina Louisiana on a photo-journalistic mission and getting up to other mischief. This time we had a terrific visit with Douglas and his wife Gracie at their home in Brooklyn.

Douglas will be coming to South Africa to promote his book in about two months. For more information on The Last Resort, which is getting great reviews, see

Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Portrait with Keys" released in the U.S.

The excellent book "Portrait with Keys" has just been published in the United States by Norton. The author, Ivan Vladislavic, asked me to contribute a painting for the cover. I'm very pleased by the way it turned out.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Wedding Day video slideshow

Here's the slideshow Dutchy made of our wedding day.

Rooftop of the Troyeville Hotel, Johannesburg. 25 April 2009.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Two Glass Block Nudes

Just completed these paintings. They're about 3 metres high. The distortion comes from looking at the subjects through glass blocks.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bram Fischer Public Art Commission

"If in my fight I can encourage even some people to understand and to abandon policies they now so blindly follow, I shall not regret any punishment I may incur." - Bram Fischer, 1965

The Johannesburg Development Agency asked me to make work for a community hall in Bram Fischerville, a neighborhood in Soweto named after human rights activist Bram Fischer.  He was the defense attorney for Nelson Mandela and saved Mandela from the death penalty.  Later, Fischer himself was sentenced to a long imprisonment and died because of poor medical treatment he received in jail.

I designed a five-circle mural series and a large tondo (round painting) because the windows in the hall are circular.  Each circle represents one aspect of his personality, and I chose five and the bright red background to echo the 5-pointed star of the Communist Party, of which he was a founding and prominent member, back when it was a powerful force in anti-apartheid activism.

Then, on the display wall at ground level, I wrote a bio of Bram Fischer and had it letter-stencilled onto a big sheet of Plexiglass, and hung that on the wall.  Next to it, I cut out a thick piece of chipboard Supawood and painted a head and shoulders portrait of Fischer there.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Friends and Strangers

Each of these portraits was done by having the subject sit behind a wall I built of glass blocks, the kind you find in a shower.

I know some of these people; others I pulled in from the streets of Fordsburg. 

Whether they are friends or strangers, however, each one reveals aspects of their hidden personalities, via the distortions of the glass.

This project was something different for me and I enjoyed the challenge of painting people rather than cityscapes or landscapes.  It struck me that one can possibly get to know a place through the faces that populate it.

Anyway, these are now framed and could be arranged in a long line or in this cube formation; they look good either way.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Anima Animus

I painted the "Anima Animus" series in response to things I had read and seen about totem animals -- the idea that each one of us has a certain animal archetype that governs our behaviour.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Wim Wenders goes to Hillbrow

I just finished this painting and named it after Wim Wenders, for the high perspective on the city.

The backstory is that to get this perspective, I accompanied a guy who is laying in cables to give HIllbrow a wireless phone network. So he had access to rooftops, etc, that are usually difficult to get to.
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