Our filthy world in clean lines

Matthew Hindley Ruin lust VIII 2016 Drypoint_ HR
SOLID smoke stacks on the sea: Ruin Lust VIII, a drypoint print by Matthew Hindley. Photograph courtesy David Krut Projects.

OH, WHAT A joy it is to see beautifully rendered and magnificently printed drypoints with burr so fierce that it disrupts all sense of complacency! These intaglio prints by Matthew Hindley make you remember what a drypoint is meant to be. The edges are crisp and the tone is furry. The energy of the works in Survey of Risk, an exhibition at David Krut Projects in Rosebank, holds the focus of this show with conviction.

You will discover other things in this exhibition as well, but Hindley’s series of drypoints, collectively called Ruin Lust, headlines everything. Even his painting. And indeed, you may read the name “Matthew Hindley” and think, ‘Oh, he’s a Cape Town-based painter.’ You would not be wrong. But here is an opportunity to see another quiver to Hindley’s bow: a very fine one, indeed.

But we digress: if you’re not a printmaker, drypoint is a particular intaglio technique which does not use acid. The image is scratched onto the metal plate with a sharp and hard tool, called a burin. As the blade of the burin penetrates the metal plate, a lip is left, which, when printed, yields what is known as burr. The burr becomes a comment on the ink that is caught between the groove of the scratch on the plate, and the printmaker’s hand. It’s difficult to attain a uniform print of burr because of the viscosity of the ink, and the fact that a drypoint plate, if subject to too much printing, can become flattened, and the subtleties – and that rich burr – lost.

Dealing with environmental issues and complexity of nuance in a world fraught with pollution, in a similar vein to Robyn Penn’s exhibition in this space in 2016, the work is almost contradictorily beautiful. There are billowing smoke stacks and oily fires represented here, but the horror of the scene is shifted in its interpretation and Hindley’s mark-making and line work steals the moral high ground of the pieces.

There are drypoints printed in coloured ink, hand-coloured drypoints and water-colour monotypes on show in this exhibition. While the monotypes are less focused, they too celebrate the quirks of their medium, and Hindley plays with the lucid water-based colour with abandon, in a way that is only implied in his oil paintings.

There is one oil painting on show. The Dew Makes a Star represents a kind of monster daisy. A mutant hybrid that may be a comment on hormonal experimentation. Either way, it’s a mix of what looks like a long purple sex organ with petals all around it. And Hindley’s environmental message holds sway, but still, still, there are the drypoints, which again snatch and grab at your eye, even while you look at the other works.

You might plunge yourself heart and soul into these drypoints and think of Van Gogh’s cypresses in pen and ink drawings. The crispness and distinctness of each little mark which contributes to the energy in the entire work is mesmerising and wise, beautiful and direct and gives a sense of rightness to the complex and often unforgiving technique of drypoint.

Permanent culture; temporary issues in Stephen Hobbs’s exhibition

Signs of a Transforming City, an etching by Stephen Hobbs. Photograph courtesy David Krut Projects.
Signs of a Transforming City, an etching by Stephen Hobbs. Photograph courtesy David Krut Projects.

There’s something dishearteningly unresolved in the overall impact of Stephen Hobbs’s current solo exhibition, which offers a foray into the rhetoric of camouflage and opens a can of vague worms onto a range of hinted at and skirted around army-related political innuendo. The unequivocal saving grace of this exhibition is Hobbs’s printmaking skills: the show brings to the fore some utterly lovely manifestations of techniques like sugar lift, hard ground and aquatint, often not foregrounded in contemporary exhibitions which find themselves too deeply moored in conceptual manoeuvres.

Comprising close to 40 works, the exhibition features table top constructions of cardboard  and chipboard and a looped digital display of all the exhibition’s components on a monitor. The value and relevance of these two elements is not clear at the outset: granted there may be an elaborate intellectual justification for them, but for the casual gallery visitor who does not want to peruse the R100 catalogue, there and then, no clues are offered, and rather than intrigue or entice you, they might cause your eye to glance away from the exhibition’s rich heart.

The digital display feels too gimmicky and slick and the constructions feel not slick enough and give a sense of being projects rather than fully resolved art works. Perhaps this is a comment on bunkers or the makeshift notion of an army identity; either way, they bring a sense of jarring values.

Arguably, the rich heart of this exhibition is in a group of four unframed etchings pinned quietly to the wall. Not so abstract that they lose the focus of the gesture and not holding so tightly to representational values that they lose their guts, the works entitled Pillbox and Signs of [a Transforming City], two relatively demure hard ground etchings which both feature aquatint shimmer with a level of realness that brings you back and will leave you touched. They also offer insight into Hobbs’s pre-established body of work and sit comfortably in his oeuvre.

These works reveal Hobbs’s astuteness as printmaker and one who wields his stylus with perspicuity, reflecting on the city of Johannesburg’s dynamic with nuance and sophisticated understanding. Beautifully printed, they celebrate the way in which acid has inflicted errant bites on the surface of the plates, lending the work a tight sense of authenticity which is delicious.

In a sense, the size of the exhibition hurts its impact. There are several pieces which reflect on the notion of editioned printmaking. Hobbs has worked on printed – and maybe reject – prints and shown them as original drawings rather than as part of an edition, disabusing the work of its attachment to the idea of impeccable copies. While this is a perfectly acceptable means of creating drawings in this context, you do heave a bit of a sigh of relief when you confront the cleanly printed etching, framed behind glass which is not a print in the guise of a drawing.

  • Stephen Hobbs’s exhibition Permanent Culture at 1800m is at David Krut Projects, 142 Jan Smuts Avenue, Rosebank, until September 25. 0114470627 or davidkrutprojects.com

Wafer: Telling of murder with a simple palette and a mature eye

Untitled, a painting in oil on canvas (2015) by Mary Wafer
Untitled, a painting in oil on canvas (2015) by Mary Wafer

It requires a particular level of maturity to take a concept and work with it until it reaches a point of abstraction, but a very unique sense of artistic muscle and wisdom that can keep that abstraction relevant to the casual viewer. This is what Mary Wafer achieves in her current exhibition at David Krut.

Entitled Ninth Floor, the body of paintings and hard ground etchings shown here is not excessive in size. It’s primarily monochromatic and hinges very directly onto a poem by Chris van Wyk, about the alleged killings in the late 1970s that took place at John Vorster Square in central Johannesburg, under the pall of apartheid.

The stories that sullied our world then are graphic and terrible, and most of the facts surrounding the multitude of people who openly rejected the ghastly machine of apartheid, and how they died or were tortured, are not completely known. Lies and misinformation colour that bleak period in South Africa’s history in layers of words and bureaucracy hiding gestures, cruelty and loss.

In this exhibition,with an astute eye and a ruthless sense of composition, Wafer touches all she needs to. But the work is not about the blood and horror of being pushed out of a ninth floor window in the police headquarters of a city ravaged by racism. It’s also not about the dockets and police records, the words and accounts. And yet, it is.

When you look at these works, which visually focus on the repeat patterns and rhyming visuals evoked by Venetian blinds in a huge building, clad in glass and bricks, you get a sense of texture. But it brings also a sense of horror, particularly when the uniformity of the pattern is disrupted.

Arguably, the title of the exhibition and the presence of the works operate in tandem: you can’t separate them and retain that freshness of horror that legibility of unspoken brutality. But this is a moot point: you approach the images ensconced as they are in the title of the exhibition and all that it connotes.

Having said that, the body of work here is impeccably produced. The etchings are printed flawlessly. The lines break the surface of the work with a sense of industriousness. Evoking the etchings of Dominic Thorburn from the 1980s and earlier, dealing with the industrial and motorised monsters that gave apartheid its scary face, Wafer’s body of work is beguilingly simple: they don’t allow you to glory in the texture of the mark making, but keep drawing you back to the presence of the gesture.

Ninth Floor is a heady exhibition without being prescriptive or blatant. It’s a tour de force body of work by a mature artist. You can see all the works in the space of maybe fifteen minutes, but their presence casts a grim resonance in your sensibilities which is frankly haunting.

  • Mary Wafer’s exhibition Ninth Floor is at David Krut Projects, 142 Jan Smuts Avenue, Rosebank, until August 6. 0114470627 or davidkrutprojects.com