South African Cultural Observatory

Paintings, prints and sculptures by Nicolaas Maritz

BY Dr Danny Shorkend 26.07.17

ENERGETIC swirls and splotches, sinewy line and strong sweeping gestures in luminous enamel as abstracted faces emerge make for a powerful gallery experience. Maritz can capture both a primitive and primal impulse as well as a kind of digital all- pervasiveness that is compelling as an icon of current portend. Over and above this, he has captured a kind of spirit-energy of the collective human imagination. The faces are abstracted in their child-like simplicity, yet ooze with life. Life as it emanates from the subtle sensing apparatus: two eyes and two ears, a mouth and two nostrils. These are the mediators between what is inside and what is outside. These are the doors of perception that negotiate concrete and a not so concrete sense of the real.

Maritz’s mark-making is rapid and yet surprisingly controlled. The consistency with which his Ur Faces emerge with their robust pools of paint and mesmerising line create a sense of vigour and expanded consciousness.

The title of the exhibition “Sortilegium” refers to a kind divination, drawing of the lots or even a kind of sorcery evolved from simple games like opening a sacred book on a random page and if it has an answer to one’s question. Such a practice derives from even before antiquity and extends even into the middle or dark ages and has survived to this day. This kind of method of inquiry was thought to be sorcery. In the same way, one gets a sense from the artists’ method that he kind of draws with a divination stick. That out of seeming chaos, an order, pattern and structure emerges.

The shine of the enamel urges the eye to dart around the surface of the images. The image itself is one of complexity and simplicity. On the one hand, a disorderly random spirit-mediumship- inspired taking over-of-the-hand as it were. On the other hand, a will controlling to render these enigmatic faces. Everyone and no one. A symbol, like a stick figure. Abstracted and “without flesh” they are yet human and humane. For they are not only masks or skulls, but seething with a vision channelled through speech, seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling and tasting.

His sculptures are equally compelling and speak to the paintings insofar as found materials appear to have been put together and then painted on with this signature style: energetic swirls and sinewy line – and obvious references to surreal automatic painting, Art Brut, and Jackson Pollock. They emerge now as not just the head, but a full figure if not a strange human-like form. All references to what these found objects were are all but rendered imperceptible by the almost obsessive will to cover with paint, to homogenize and unify even if a curious beast appears to emerge. The spaghetti-like lines could refer to anything from metaphysical unity to neuronal networks to the simple fact and texture of paint expressed through a quality and intensity of line.

Yet in all this uncertainty it seems that Maritz is charged with a desire for wholeness and healing as the hand (mind) somehow always seems to be pulled in a circular motion – and then the organs of perception are ignited. Sometimes the eyes generate a curious energy by his striking paint use. In a sense, it is particularly exciting to see what some might call distortions or a kind primitive drawing. On the contrary, this is not an aberrant deviation from the so-called classical norm, but a divination of the power of art to express in visual terms how the spirit of life infuses the vessel with a certain kind of capacity, a genetic wiring, a cellular mission to be for example a liver cell or a heart tissue and so on. The initial seed differentiates and so the dot and the line interrelate, diversify and become an organism of many parts, that then learns and evolves within a context. Technology renders that context as an excessive overload of data, but with a view to want to know and not harm, these quanta of light can create an ordered pattern.

In this way, we may have conquered the land and the sea and beginning as such the “conquest” of space, but we still need to turn inwards or at least understand ourselves better. I would argue Maritz offers a meditation on the potential for greater self-knowledge that ought to lead to an enhanced and improved world-consciousness.  


SITUATED in the beautiful Franschoek, I was happy to see the work of Kali van der Merwe. Powerful and profound, her work stirs one’s senses and reason in terms of philosophical speculation on the question concerning the relationship between life and death. Based on relics and bodies that she encounters on her farm residence, she has created images of uncanny scientific, taxidermical and magical qualities. There is a sense of structure and order, yet one “imposed” beyond the assumed categories of the sciences. Her path therefore is embraces both a desire to know nature and one that is in awe of – and complicit with – the unfolding of the natural and cosmological realms.

The other side of SA fashion The other side of SA fashion

INTERROGATING the world of South African fashion, photographer Johnny Lai Sang has produced images of rare complexity. On the one hand, full of the glitter and glamour of this world and yet on the other hand, a murky, darker, shadow-side emerges. This is captured through an understanding of his craft where contrasts of colour, intensity of light, the ability to focus and yet not focus the lens and an eye for alternative perspectives and vantage points contribute to an interesting show, one well worth a visit.


Be kind. Please rewind. Be kind. Please rewind.

A NEW vision, one that focuses on the medium of film and video, a first for this country, is perplexing, riveting and surprising all at the same time. The gallery blurb describes the show as one that “seeks to explore the various complexities of video’s relationship to the construction and perception of history and memory”.

A day at sea A day at sea

HIGHLY relevant, this exhibition focuses on the plight of refugees, particularly from Africa who against terrible odds try to cross the Mediterranean and enter Europe. The treacherous waters combined with some harsh policies of the EU, notwithstanding Germany’s more open policy, has often lead to countless deaths, including children. The works by photographer Martina Gruber and paintings/mixed media work by the more well-known Zimbabwean artist Gillian Rosselli speak to these sensitive issues.


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