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ART TIMES
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Irma Stern, Artist’s feature


a new record Supplement
for Strauss & Co?
Judith
Mason
September 2010 | For the full online edition go to: www.arttimes.co.za | SUBSCRIBE: 1 year’s subscription to your door: R 360 - Incl. Business Art. and ArtLife E-mail: subs@arttimes.co.za

Zapiro fighting fear with cold sharp truth: Some of South Africa’s best political cartoonists presented their takes on reality and cartooning history at the SA National Gallery. A newly founded Centre
for Comic, Illustrative and Book Arts (CCIBA) at Stellenbosch University was launched. The programme featured Jonathan Shapiro, Brandan Reynolds, Jeremy Nell, John Curtis - managing editor
of Africartoons accessible through a website currently hosting a petition signed by leading editors opposed to the threat of a media tribunal and legislation curbing press freedom in South Africa.
Photo: Vanessa Smeets

New Art Times magazine format for October Next exciting ArtLife issue in October
THE SOUTH AFRICAN

ART TIMES
The SA Art Times will be reformatting from a tabloid to a magazine format Our highly sucessfull bi- monthly Art Life magazine will return in October
essentially in order to gain more editorial space in order to cover even with a photo-essay of the culturally rich and exciting False Bay Coast,
more art news, issues and opinion. that includes Muizenburg, St James, Simonstown and beyond.
The reformatting has been on the cards for some time now especially
to further articulate each of the SA Art Times, Business Art and Art Life The photo- essay will be done by Jenny Altschuler, a seasoned
publications branding and contents. photographer and lecturer. Cape Town is merely a starting point in
building up momentum in following the art energies of this great creative
We initially chose the tabloid format because of the large colour pages of country.
the tabloid would be good for artists work. Since taking the leap of refor-
matting the SA Art Life from a tabloid to a magazine size we have had a For your artist’s profile to be considered to be featured in the next
hugely positive response from art lovers and subscribers for the format. Art Life profile section please contact the Editor of Art Life at
Read the full article on page 3 editor@artlife.co.za or simply call 021 424 7733

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South African Art Times September 2010 Page 3

Mark Hipper
1960 - 2010
sort of reserved.” His blazing honesty and directness certainly reflected
Teutonic roots. In 2009 his exhibition ‘Viscera’ created a furore at the
Grahamstown National Arts Festival much to the surprise of the artist
who exhibited similar work in Berlin without exciting any hostile comment.
The ensuing shenanigans exposed the parochialism, provincialism and
Puritanism of the immature South African art world and ANC government.
Hipper claimed the show depicted children “discovering their sexuality
and coming to terms with it.” However his drawings of a nude boy with
an erection, and a girl touching her vagina, caused the current deputy
minister of Home Affairs, Lindiwe Sisulu, to lambast the drawings as
child pornography and threaten to ban the exhibition. The organization,
Women against Child Abuse, alleged the work promoted paedophilia, and
laid criminal charges against Hipper, and the National Council for Child
and Family Welfare too was stern in its condemnation.
This precipitated a vigorous national debate about pornography, censor-
ship and artistic freedom. Although the Film and Publications Board
approved the exhibition, and the Director of Public Prosecutions declined
to prosecute, the damage was done. The artist’s good name was ir-
remediably besmirched, and for the rest of his life he had to contend with
malicious supposition and conjecture.
Obviously the ANC learned nothing from the incident. In August, 2009,
Lulu Xingwana, yet another philistine Minister of Arts and Culture,
stormed out of a Johannesburg exhibition after seeing Zanele Muholi’s
photographs of Lesbian couples. Xingwana, who was to deliver the
opening address, told her aides the work was “pornographic” and she
Photo: Kate Farrington excoriated Muholi’s work as ‘immoral’, ‘offensive’ and contrary to the spirit
of nation-building in an official statement. The Sunday Times reported
Lloyd Pollak how the minister allegedly consulted lawyers in an attempt to ban the
work. In the light of the ANC’s current attempt to muzzle press freedom,
When the 49 year-old artist, Mark Hipper failed to turn up to deliver an this appears a particularly ominous development.
evening seminar on the 12th of August, a colleague went looking for Hipper was an altruist who championed the work of the local Graham-
him, and found him dead in his Grahamstown home. The circumstances stown painter, Zola Toyi, finding him studio space and purchasing him
remain somewhat mysterious, but allegedly Hipper died of ‘a collapsed artist’s materials. His appreciation of Zola’s art will appear in the
lung’. His premature demise was sudden and unexpected. In death, as September issue of ‘Art in South Africa’.
in life, Hipper took everyone by surprise. At the time of his death Hipper was practicing art therapy amongst the
An accomplished draftsman, painter, print-maker and sculptor, the artist patients at the Tower Psychological Hospital in Fort Beaufort. Addition-
was whole-heartedly committed to the figurative tradition and the explora- ally he hoped to raise funds and enhance public understanding of mental
tion of the human body. The recipient of many prestigious awards, he illness through his work.
exhibited regularly both nationally and internationally, and his work graces Hipper’s death occurred while he was on sabbatical preparing for an exhi-
numerous collections in South Africa and Europe. bition entitled ‘Doppelgänger/Double’ at the Heidi Erdmann Contemporary
Hipper, who was of German ancestry, was born on November 6, 1960 in Gallery in Cape Town. Heidi assured me that the show will still go ahead
Ghana. He was educated at the German School in Johannesburg and on the 2nd of September as originally planned.
then graduated in Fine Art from the University of the Witwatersrand. In The artist never courted sensation for sensation’s sake, but he recon-
1977 he went to Berlin to further his studies. He remained there for noitered morally treacherous badlands. His passion for psychoanalytic
twelve years, and became deeply steeped in the country’s culture. theory impelled him to explore the ambiguities of infantile and adolescent
Hipper is alleged to have had a brief marriage to a woman during this sexuality, and this brought him notoriety locally, though not overseas.
time. When I interviewed Hipper at his memorable show, ‘Bad’ in 1999, he
He returned in 1989 to lecture at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, and stated “Society defines child abuse in a manner that permits no recogni-
in 1998 he was appointed senior lecturer in the Fine Art Department tion of the fact that there might be some form of sexual experience that
of Rhodes University where he remained until his death. Hipper was a child has, that is not abusive. There is a possibility that the child
admired as a teacher of brilliant intelligence by his students and responded positively to something that he found perfectly enjoyable and
colleagues, however he was a prickly and acerbic personality who welcomed.”Hipper was always the laureate of the uncomfortable truth, the
described himself as “blunt and possibly arrogant, and maybe stiff and distasteful verity. Vale, brave soul. May you rest in peace.

MAR LIS E KEITH : BLIGHT


1 – 25 SEPTEMBER 2010

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Scats_ArtTimes_83x200 8/20/10 11:43 AM Page 5
Page 4 South African Art Times September 2010
C M Y CM MY CY CMY K

The SA Art Times reformats in October


THE SOUTH AFRICAN

ART TIMES

This is a sample cover

The SA Art Times will be reformatting from a tabloid to a magazine format essen- Re-branding of
tially in order to gain more editorial space in order to cover even more art news,
issues and opinion. The reformatting has been on the cards for some time now The SA Art Times
especially to further articulate each of the SA Art Times, Business Art and Art Life The SA Art Times would pursue more of a Times magazine type feel with more
publications branding and contents. in-depth stories on SA art community activities, news, a comprehensive monthly
gallery guide, profiles an artists feature and international news.
From its inception as a newspaper five years ago there has always been a “six of
one and half a dozen of the other” type of debate in the office between tabloid vs. The SA Business Art
magazine format. We initially chose the format because of the large colour pages The newspaper format would stay the same tabloid format and be printed in
of the tabloid would be good for artists work. Since taking the leap of reformatting newsprint. BA would loose some of the gallery listings to Art Times, but gain
the SA Art Life from a tabloid to a magazine size we have had a hugely positive more international business news from around the globe. The popular Art Leader
response from art lovers and subscribers for the format. would continue, while new markets such as SA art auctions, and possibly blue
chip SA artists share index would come into play.
The proposed magazine format has its advantages in the form that 16 pages of
tabloid translates to 32 magazine pages thereby creating extra pages for content SA Art Life
– that is needed to cover an increasingly interesting and fast moving SA art Because the re-branding of this magazine has started nothing such would
world. change except that there would be a how to do exercise pages, more arts
Practically another regards the gloss tabloid would not always roll well for products and photographic “how to do demonstrations”, artists profiles, as well as
postage needs as a the gloss paper would crumple a little and was sometimes a photo essay of a arts rich suburb in South Africa.
not match our quality expectations when received. With a magazine format the
magazine would roll better and keep its shape, as well as, most importantly keep The SA Art Times is a South African art success story, from its start of printing
better on the shelves as it is easier to store magazines vertically than tabloid 2 000 copies of 8 pages five years ago, from October 2010 there will be three
horizontally. To this extent people would be inclined it was felt, to collect the titles making up a total of 19 500 magazine circulation, comprising of a total of
magazine, as it was more easier to store away in a bookshelf, than having to find an overall 80 art related pages printed per month.
a large bookshelf in order to lay the tabloid size flat.
In addition the SA Art Times produces daily online news and sends out news and
We are excited about the change in format as we can get the listings back from gallery listings twice a week. In total the SA Art Times reaches a modest
the Business Art Newspaper into a gallery guide section for the Art Times. In hav- readership of between 43 000 – 60 000 per month.
ing additional pages we would like to make the magazine more encompassing to
include local and International news and opinions.
South African Art Times September 2010 Page 5

PERCY KONQOBE
BRONZES 1980 - 2009

Everard Read, Cape Town, and Rose Korber Art,


in association with the dreyer foundation,
present an exhibition of bronze sculptures
by noted artist and sangoma Percy Konqobe.
16 September to 14 October 2010

Cartoonist Chip Snaddon nails his colours to the mast of a hard fought for press freedom in South Africa. Photo: Veronica Wilkinson

Having the last laugh – Cartooning in SA today


V.C.Wilkinson. make a living.
The Master Class was the first to be held in Cape Town. Mason is very
Incisive wit combined with skilled technique - a lethal combination and pleased with results having just completed 3 consecutive weekend
essential prerequisite for successful political cartooning. Some of South Master Classes/ Toonlabs in Stellenbosch, Johannesburg and the mother
Africa’s best political cartoonists presented their takes on reality and car- city. His purpose is to identify and select cartoon artists in SA to work
tooning history at the Iziko South African National Gallery Annexe in July with and mentor. Pointing out that the discipline is regarded as formal in
and August. Head of the newly founded Centre for Comic, Illustrative and the fine art field, Mason emphasized the importance of drawing skills
Book Arts (CCIBA) at Stellenbosch University; cartoonist and historian for some types of comic rendition. The internationally successful Supa
Andy Mason with Iziko’s Kathy Coates facilitated a political cartooning Strikas soccer themed comic and TV series which is distributed locally
Master Class and Kids Toonlab. The programme featured Jonathan and internationally and supported by corporate sponsorship is produced
Shapiro, Brandan Reynolds, Jeremy Nell, John Curtis - managing editor by the Woodstock based Strika Entertainment team. Here 45 to 50 people
of Africartoons accessible through a website currently hosting a petition work in a ‘bull-pen’ environment like DC and Marvel comics in the USA, At Everard Read, Cape Town
signed by leading editors opposed to the threat of a media tribunal and a stimulating environment where ideas are shared. This practice became
legislation curbing press freedom in South Africa. Respected cartoonist less common in the early nineties when technology made it easier for 3 Portswood Road, V&A Waterfront
Stacey Stent believes that this challenge will encourage cartoonists to artists and writers to work alone from home. For the Supa Strika soccer +27 (0)21 418 4527 ctgallery@everard.co.za
inform the public in alternative ways through the comic medium. As a series accurate rendition of figurative models is integral to the quality of
www.everard-read-capetown.co.za
veteran of the former Weekly Mail’s ‘Who’s Left’ and currently Noseweek the cartoons. Painstaking attention to detail and production of other car-
cartoonist her sensitive intellectual interpretations deal with issues like toons for the masses including the popular animé/Disney hybrid Arcadia, www.rosekorberart.com
education, politics and the double standard. Informal discussion with which appears in Huisgenoot, give examples of Alex Kramer’s success
Argus cartoonist Chip Snaddon provided insight into working methods since the inception of Strika Entertainment in 2000. In April this year they
and sensitivities employed when creating cartoons that link to news launched ‘Unleashed’ for National Geographic cartoon fans. EVERARD READ
on a daily basis. Networking and professional proactivity among these The value of historical models was illustrated by power point presenta- CAPE TOWN
hypertalented and well informed artists is paramount to the success of tions that introduced visual examples in text and image since the 16th
their comic humour. Cartoon genres targeting different sectors of the century. These days in Europe the production of contemporary dialogue-
community were discussed by the Treknet partnership of Gavin Thomson free cartoons rely on a cultural commonality of experience and history
and Dave Gomersdal who publish internationally and have developed much as religious narratives painted on walls and ceilings in churches
characters based on their neighbourhood in Fish Hoek and Kalk Bay. and temples do. The communicative power of cartoon images to convey
These have stereotypical qualities that reflect the human condition in a information in symbols and signs requires less reading time. This can
multitude of guises that are widely recognizable. Thomson and Gomer- be a valuable source of humour and insight into prevailing sentiment
sdal provided insight into the freelance position where so much depends and prejudice. For more information visit www.cciba.sun.ac.za and www.
on perseverance, courtesy and the willingness to negotiate in order to africartoons.com
The Great South African Art Masters Series

Judith Mason
I paint in order to make sense of my life: to manipulate various chaotic fragments of information
and impulse into some sort of order, through which I can glimpse a hint of meaning.

Researched and written by Merle Huntley


For more images and information go to: www.judithmason.com in addition see www.artprintsa.co.za for more of Judith’s Prints
Judith Mason is a self-confessed “outsider” artist who lives rather
reclusively in White River and is not “owned” by any gallery – a decided
liability in the fickle rough & tumble of the art world - Mason, has for fifty
years been a vivid presence on the South African art scene, and in her
reclusive periods between exhibitions, a formidable and revered absence.

Though she has long shunned art competitions, it seems appropriate


that the competition which effectively launched Mason’s career was
titled “Arbeid-Work”. “I’m driven to work”, she says – and it shows. Judith
Mason’s talent – despite her protestation that she “is not naturally gifted
” - was both precocious and prodigious, and her work ethic exceptional;
“obsessive”, to quote the artist. By the age of 27, she was already
represented in all of South Africa’s major galleries, had held two success-
ful solo exhibitions, had taught Drawing at the Wits Technical Art School,
and was lecturing in both Drawing and History of Art at the University of
the Witwatersrand, where she had studied Fine Art. And she had
represented South Africa at the Venice Biennale.

Art as visual aspirin?


Despite being brought up in a home “where innovative art, art as anything
but visual aspirin, was misunderstood”, Mason says she had the good
fortune to be “too bad at maths not to choose art as an option to get
through matric”. With an intellect like hers, this is patently untrue, but this
is a typically self-effacing remark.
Schooled in Pretoria, the “absolutely wonderful, intense, very driven
art teacher” she had in her last two years at Pretoria Girls’ High School
“made one passionately love art works. She was a difficult German
woman who gave the impression of being extraordinarily frustrated intel-
lectually, and she tended to whip us into an anxiety to learn”.
“These were the most intensely vibrant intellectual years of my life simply
because we had very good teachers who cared about learning and who
were capable of making us learn.” Would that today’s teachers were as Judith Mason reading, 1968, Petra, Jordan, Photo: Revil Mason
inspired and as inspiring.

Judith Mason Painting 1980

Early influences & artefacts


That intense, eloquent intellectual engagement still swirls, like Jupiter’s
moons, around Mason’s head. She devours literature, she challenges
ideas, and in much the same way as she collects feathers, skulls, bones
– and keeps them – so, too, does she store ideas, images, intellectual
arguments. “Bones, waiting to be re-informed with life, were a vivid part
of my childhood in the Lowveld, as were those dusty warehouses of (Top) Wild dog, Oil on canvas, 1962, Pretoria Art Museum. (Below) Man under a Bridge, 2002. Oil on board. Private collection.
cluttered relics called provincial museums”. The inside of Mason’s head (Right) Shiva slowing down, Oil on canvas 1983, Private collection.
must resemble the overcrowded store-rooms of a multitude of museums
– but with not a cobweb or a spec of dust in sight! Depictions of heads,
interestingly, are a recurrent theme in her works. So, too, are the primates Leitmotifs
which so fascinate her. Apes feature prominently in works throughout
Mason’s oeuvre. Esmé Berman, in her ground-breaking work, Art and Artists of South These two themes – the Passion of Christ, and Dante’s La Divina Com-
Although her parents were “austerely atheist”, Mason “fell in love with Africa, refers to Judith Mason’s second exhibition, at the age of 26, where media - were to weave a thread through Mason’s works from those early
Catholicism and was a devout Catholic for about ten years. It provided the ten drawings and six oil paintings interpret the Passion of Christ and days, through her middle period, where the animals which make up her
me with a moral and aesthetic education,” she says. “I loved the rules, certain pas Dante Bestiary have imprinted themselves on the retina of anyone who
but came to feel that so much of it was too exclusive, and I found myself sages from Dante. “Such profound themes might have appeared preten- has followed her career. From those iconic early works like Wild Dog
walking away from it. I have always been grateful for the intervention of tious were it not for the mature intellect and insight and the obvious (1962) and Leopard’s Breath (1970), to Resurrection at the Taxidermy
Catholicism in my life.” technical and stylistic strength brought to bear by the young artist”. (1999), Mason’s leitmotifs have remained resolute.
Gallery

(Top left) Woman artists need wives, 1988, Oil on canvas mixed media. Private collection
(Below left) Dragonflight on a Goldern Bowl. Oil on board. Private Collection (Middle) Tombs of the Pharaohs of Johannesburg (triptych) 1987, mixed
media, Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg (Right) Gold leaf applied to toes of Unshackled print at The Artist’s Press

The Man who Sang and the Woman who kept Silent (Triptych). 1998 (Left) Oil on board
(Middle) Sculpture (Right) Oil on canvas. Constitutional Court Art Collection, Johannesburg

Stoicism & Heroism – Mason at the Constitutional Court


“I have a problem with political art”, she says; “but I’ve always had a Police, displayed such heroic dignity in their deaths that they commanded
great regard for heroic art that commemorates grand gestures”. Picasso’s the unlikely respect of their executioners.
great Guernica and the Black Paintings of Goya’s late years, spring to Harold Sefola “asked permission to sing Nkosi Sikelel’ ‘iAfrika” before be-
mind. And the heroic stoicism of the women and children in the sombre ing electrocuted; and Phila Ndwandwe, “who was tortured and kept naked
monochrome works of Käthe Kollwitz. for ten days, and then assassinated in a kneeling position, fashioned a
Mason’s response to a heroic gesture, a work which Justice Albie Sachs pair of panties for herself out of a scrap of blue plastic”. These searing
considers to be “one of the great pieces of art in the world of the late 20th images inspired the work, The Man who Sang and the Woman who kept
Century”, was inspired by two stories she heard on the radio during the Silent, which was purchased for the Constitutional Court in Johannes-
hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1998. burg by Justice Albie Sachs. “It was an almost unbearable honour”, says
Two liberation movement cadres, executed ignominiously by the Security Mason.

Seminal Timelines

“The really significant thing in my lifetime was the end of Apartheid. I was a sort of minor activist all my life, and never thought I’d live long enough to
see its end. To have lived in the time of Mandela is something precious.”
A strong ethical and moral imperative underpins Mason’s oeuvre. Reared by reclusive parents “in as absurd a society as South Africa was”, she
describes herself as “an intimidated child living in an intimidating time”. I liked making pictures from when I was very small”, she says. “It’s one of
the things solitary children are drawn to – you work in code”. She still works in code – but because of her enviable ability to articulate that code, and (Top) Waiting room, pencil on paper 2005, Private Collection
despite her protestations that “one paints because words can’t do the work” – words are an enormous weapon in Mason’s rich arsenal. Words inspire
much, if not most, of Mason’s oeuvre. (Below) Acquisitive muse, 2004 Pencil on paper
Jacob Hendrik Pierneef, Barberton en Nelshoogte, Kaapschehoop, signed and dated 49, oil on canvas, 65 by 85 cm R3 000 000 – 4 000 000

Enquiries:
011 728 8246 jhb@straussart.co.za
www.straussart.co.za
Privately commissioned artwork:

Walking with and away from Dante: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso
Dante’s La Divina Commedia – or Divine now, there’s that self-deprecating tendency. Forty-six years after Esmé Berman had recog-
Comedy – is an epic allegorical poem written Take yourself apart before your audience does? nised the “mature intellect and insight” of the
by Dante Alighieri in the early 14th Century. The young Mason, those two leitmotifs – Dante, and
Roman poet, Virgil, guides Dante through Hell, Few ordinary mortals would attempt to plumb the Passion of Christ - coalesce, like nuclear
then Purgatory, and is replaced for the journey the depths of Dante’s La Commedia Divina”, yet fisson, in her magnum opus, Walking with and
through Heaven by Beatrice, Dante’s ideal Mason concedes only that it “seemed very off- away from Dante. They intertwine, unravel, and
woman. putting when I first glanced at it” and that she intertwine again – literally and metaphorically
Mason draws a distinction between her “ex- had had to trick herself into reading it. “Even – in the four-part Installation, first shown at the
tremely disintegrated world view” and Dante’s now, forty years later, my Sayers translation of Standard Bank in Johannesburg, and then at
“extremely intact” one. “It’s as if we start off the text brings to mind the sand drifts and the the Sasol Art Museum in Stellenbosch, on the
together like Dante and Virgil, and then I go off arid slopes of the Richtersveld where I first read major Retrospective, Mason: a prospect of
into a twenty-first century lack of faith”. Even the text.” Walking with and away from Dante icons, held in 2009.

Judith Mason installing her Walking with and away from Dante, show
at Sasol Art Museum, Stellenbosch 2009
and his menagerie of beasts, both animal and allegorical, is a work of
orchestral dimensions.
Inferno
Mason’s representation of Satan in Inferno is an androgenous being, half
man, half woman - and also only half a body. The work reads from left to
right, with the text of Dante’s Inferno finely painted onto the scroll, which
spans the full width of the three canvases in this complex, dense introduc-
tion to the Commedia Divina.
Mason has structured this work to be read frontally, like a Mediaeval
altarpiece - with which Dante would have been familiar. With few excep-
tions, the figures interface directly with the viewer. The ghoulish heads,
which float like malign ghosts around Satan, are reminiscent of the choirs
of angels and saints which were grouped in flat, two-dimensional poses
around the Madonna and Child.
The scrolls which span the full width of the Inferno are like all-encompass-
ing wings, which converge above Satan, interlock, and are sucked into
the vortex, where they metamorphose into a gilded drill which presses
ever downwards.

The corkscrew form recurs in Reaching for Paradise, the final piece in this
massive installation, but here the spiral loosens as it rises from the base
of the panel, where it begins to metamorphose. The shackles and chains
of Purgatorio have been shed.

This climax of Mason’s lifelong engagement with Dante’s Divine Comedy


Walking with and away from Dante. Triptych (Part 1: Inferno) 2007. Oil on canvas, Private Collection

Purgatorio
Purgatorio, structured in the same triptych format, is the third “movement”.
Here, Dante gives the reader – and the viewer – hope. But not without
an effort. Mason has drawn on some of recent history’s most cataclysmic
events as points of departure. A great mushroom cloud explodes and radi-
ates out from the centre of the triptych – nuclear fission again! - and in the
foreground, the allusion is to the debris and detritus of 9/11. A tiny figure
of Christ taking himself down from the Cross, in the centre foreground of
the painting, is an image the artist has repeated on its own in a recent
painting, Descent from the Cross. “His work done”, Mason says, prosai-
cally, “he deposes himself from the Cross.”

The chain ladder to Paradise, hanging tantalisingly above a surging wave


of blue, “offers a possible escape” from Purgatory towards Paradise. The
hand of the artist “wipes away mistakes, in the same way as the people in
purgatory live away their mistakes by undergoing some sort of penitence
and suffering.” A small paper boat floats into the sea of blue – a little
boat made by Mason’s grandson from paper on which she had typed the
Italian text of the first stanza of Purgatory – a small glimmer of hope in an
otherwise bleak landscape.

Paradiso
And then one visualises the conductor signalling the choir to stand. They
rise as one, and with orchestra and choir in full, resounding voice, the
final movement in this great Masonic work erupts.

And this is why Judith Mason still has so much to give the world of art:
Walking With and Away from Dante (Triptych). 2007. Part 1: Purgatorio. Oil on canvas, 200 x 600 cm. Private Collection
just when you think you have the answer, she slips in another virtuosic
curved ball.
Reaching for Paradise, for all its sublime elevation, is the most restrained is also a lighter side to her – a great sense of humour, and a wonderful
of the works in this epic. A single panel, 230 x 80 cm, hangs from the ironic touch. But much of her inspiration – and solace – is drawn from the
ceiling; painted on both sides. No carving, no duplicitous imagery, there is literature and music.
a subtly burnished quality wrought with silver leaf on one side, and copper
leaf on the other. A quiet serenity and stillness brings the journey through “I’d die if I couldn’t read, “she said to Alex Dodd in an interview. “I’d die
Dante’s and Mason’s La Divina Commedia to a close. if I couldn’t watch a movie. I really would die. I would die without music.”
Music and musicians feature in many of her gentler works, none more
An aspiration towards Paradise rather than Paradise itself, is what Mason sublimely gentle and harmonious than Jazz Singer and Listening to Mo-
strove to depict in this work. “I’ve got no concept of Paradise”, she says. “I zart. The same delicacy one sees in the gently wafting feathers in Jazz
do, however, have a very clear idea of why people aspire to it”. Singer is repeated in Dragonflight in a Golden Bowl a work of exquisite
Walking with and away from Dante is a tour de force, and without a doubt, fragility.
the artist concedes, the most demanding work she has ever done. For
two years, Judith Mason lived and breathed Dante. Where to now? And then, just when you think she’ll start walking away from Dante,
there’s Descent from the Cross all over again!

Walking away from Dante? The new work echoes and amplifies the tiny figure of Christ deposing
himself from the Cross in Purgatorio – one work providing fuel for the
Mason has often been compared with Francis Bacon, although this could next, and the next, like bouncing a ball from one hand to the other - and
be said more of her earlier works than the later ones. While Mason could you realise that Judith Mason is not going to press “delete” any time soon
probably match Bacon for drama and angst in many of her works, there Reaching for Paradise,Oil on board, 230 x 80 cm, Private Collection on the files called “Dante” and “Passion of Christ” on her cerebral hard
drive.
And that subliminal quest for meaning re-surfaces. Like ancient palimps-
ests, one work is written over another, one work informs another. And
the back and forth play of idea, image, myth, reality creates a constantly
changing and constantly flowing stream of creative output. And the dual-
ity, the contradiction, the paradox that is Judith Mason: “I am an agnostic
humanist” she says “possessed of religious curiosity, who regards making
artworks as akin to alchemy”.

Petra (Judith’s daughter) and Judith Mason at the opening of her Retro-
Pietà, 2003. Oil. Private Collection
spective show at The Sasol Art Museum, Stellenbosch 2009

Allusions & Illusions Chronology


1938 Born in Pretoria
Hanging from the great central chandelier in the museum in Stellenbosch, 1957- 60 Studied Fine Art at the University of the Witwatersrand
as if it had levitated there, was Reaching for Paradise, the apotheosis of You write your life across my face, 1993, Oil on board. Spier Collection 1961 Taught at the Wits Technical Art School, Johannesburg
Walking with and away from Dante. The final movement of Beethoven’s 1963 One of the winners of Gallery 101’s art competition: ‘Arbeid-Work’
1964 First solo exhibition at Gallery 101
Ninth Symphony – the Choral – springs to mind. Writing her life 1962-67 Lectures in History of Art at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits)
1966 Represents South Africa at the Venice Biennale, Italy
The first “movement”, Inferno, is a triptych, each canvas measuring two “I’ve always had a greater respect in a funny sort of way for writing”, Ma- 1969-73 Part-time lecturer at Wits
metres square. A six metre wide spread of pulsating energy and emotion, son says. “But I tend to be verbose and writing is not my first language… 1971 Represents South Africa at the Sao Paulo Biennale, Brazil
profanity and profundity. Mason’s allusions are not just literary: echoes when I paint I’m trying to articulate in a more primitive sense.” 1977 Became a full-time artist
of Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People advance relentlessly, bayonets 1976 First major commission: tapestry for the Royal Hotel, Durban
drawn from the dark background. Leering faces, dismembered, in limbo, This duality typifies the paradox that is Judith Mason. The cover image 1980 Participated in the Houston Art Festival after the South African entry to the
are reminiscent of Goya’s late, dark works. on the catalogue which accompanied her Retrospective, Judith Mason: 1979 Sao Paulo Biennale – which was cancelled for political reasons
a prospect of Icons, is a self-portrait, You write your life across my face. 1980 Visited India and Nepal for the first time
1986 Visiting lecturer at University of Pretoria.
The dogs of war yelp, tails ablaze, across the canvas; a plucked chicken The words of the title are, literally, written across her face, in repeated,
1989 - 91 Taught at the Scoula Lorenzo de Medici, Florence, Italy
– like an innocent infant rape victim – rips the canvas with its claw, unpunctuated, rhythmic lines like those of a musical score. 1990 Published the artist’s book, A Dante’s Bestiary
metaphorically tearing the fabric of society. Blobs of burning coal rain on 1989 - 1991 Lived in Italy
the vaporising figure of the Aids activist, Gugu Dlamini, stoned to death 1991 – 2000 Lived in Cape Town
in this complicated, savage, desperate country. There is no shelter for 1993 Part-time lecturer at Michaelis at UCT
her behind the shrouds of Aids victims lying in the foreground of picture 2006-2008 Major installation: Walking with and away from Dante
space – an image repeated in a singular, searing 2003 work, HIV Pieta, a 1993 – 1997 External examiner at Potchefstroom, PTA, CT, and Stellenbosch for
Undergrad and Masters Degrees
counterpoint to Michelangelo’s serenely beatific marble Pieta in St Peter’s
October 2008 – March 2009: Major retrospective Prospect of Icons at Standard
in Rome. Bank Gallery, Johannesburg, and Sasol Museum, Stellenbosch, Cape Town
December 2009 Exibits at Art Basel, Miami Beach, Florida, USA
Totems
Current
The second “movement”, which would mirror the scherzo in Beethoven’s • Aside from the Dante “double-bill” (the Retrospective, Judith Mason: a
score, is a dynamic, moveable collection of free-standing panels, or “to- prospect of icons) held in Johannesburg and in Stellenbosch in 2009:
tems”. Fragments of the scenes in the triptych are echoed and amplified • Mason exhibited at Art Basel in Miami, Florida, USA
in these wooden panels which transform the work into a dramatic three- Not being able to Paint (detail), 1992. Oil on canvas. Private collection,
• In September, Art on Paper Gallery in Johannesburg will be showcasing
dimensional dialogue, and connect and integrate the three disparate Self Portrait as my own Ventriloquist, 1996. Oil on board. Private collection
a new Judith Mason Artist’s Book, Skoelapperheuwel, Skoelappervrou.
segments of the work. Commissioned by a private collector, the work was The proofs of the book, with a previously unpublished poem by Wilma
Mason’s self-portraits are revealing; yet they divulge little, cloaked as
designed for installation in separate rooms; but the drama is so compel- Stockenström, were lost for twenty two years, and were recently re-dis-
they are in her personal, childhood code. There is agonising inertia in
ling, and the continuum of the voyage of Dante and Virgil so seductive, covered in a the basement of a Johannebsurg book binder. These thirty
Not being able to Paint; bravado in Self-portrait age 90, 1985; dignity, but
that they are as cohesive a whole as the Bayeux Tapestry. books, each with additional original artwork by Judith Mason, comprise
somehow a sadness and a vulnerability, dignity, innocence in Self-por-
trait, 1984 – it’s a difficult work to read, but a beautiful, serene one. The the full edition.
frustration, anger, humour, in Self-portrait as my own Ventriloquist, 1996 • Mark Attwood of the Artists’ Press has just published a limited edition of
is less subtle, but despite the many images representing different times recent prints by the artist: the Pomegranate series; and the Goya series.
in her life, different states, that she has painted as self-portraits, Mason
gives little away. Ironically, it is in her writing that she is more accessible. Bibliography
While a work like Self-portrait as my own Ventriloquist may look cathartic, - Alexander, Lucy and Evelyn Cohen: 150 South African Paintings, Past
the discipline and control required to produce paintings and drawings of and Present. Peter Struik; 1979.
the quality Mason does, belie any quick cathartic download. - Berman, Esmé: Art and Artists of South Africa. Balkema: Cape Town and
Amsterdam; 1983.
- Bezuidenhout, Zandra: in Eikestadnuus, 20 March, 2009.
Boundless discourse - Chaskalson, Lorraine: in Judith Mason: a prospect of icons. Standard
Bank, Johannesburg & Stellenbosch; 2009
It is Mason’s intellectual curiosity that drives her incessantly onwards, - Corrigall, Mary: in The Sunday Independent, October 19, 2008.
keeps her at the top of her game, and as productive, prodigious and - Dodd, Alex: in Art Times, October 1, 2008.
- Fransen, Hans: Three Centuries of South African Art. Ad Donker (Pty)
relevant today as she was in the ‘sixties, More so, in fact.
Ltd., Johannesburg & Cape Town; 1982.
The constant dialogue in her head between finished works and unfin- - Hughes, Robert: in Time, March 17, 1986.
ished ideas leads to works like Unshackled, which derives from the - Mason, Judith: Talking Pictures: Scrapbook with Notes and Comments.
image the artist used for the limbs of the skeletal figure “ascending” in Broederstroom Press; 1989
Dante’s Reaching for Paradise. Typically down-to-earth, even in a work - Mason, Judith: in Judith Mason: a prospect of icons: Standard Bank
as sublime as this, Mason reveals the prosaic origins of the piece: the and Sasol Art Museum, Johannesburg & Stellenbosch; 2009
chain-ladder, she says, was found on a Cape farm, and the feet were - Skawran, Karin: in Judith Mason: a prospect of icons: Standard Bank
derived from an X-ray plate and her memory of the gold-plated toes of the and Sasol Art Museum, Johannesburg & Stellenbosch; 2009
- Toerien, Heine and Georges Duby: (Ed.) Our Art 3. Lantern, Pretoria;
Pharaoh in Tutankhamen’s tomb. “I wanted to incorporate several ideas
Undated.
about shuffling off one’s mortal coil, not just a Christian concept of the - Van Rensberg, Wilhelm: in Judith Mason: a prospect of icons: Standard
Charioteer. (detail) 1994. Oil on board. Private Collection soul’s liberation.” Bank and Sasol Art Museum, Johannesburg & Stellenbosch; 2009
www.henkserfontein.com

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