‘What immediately strikes us… is that the adjective new is used rather liberally. People speak of the Neue Wilde (New Savages, Neo-Expressionists)… Indeed, the inflationary use of the word new in connection with artistic trends does not correspond at all to current terminology. It never actually appears on its own but only ever as a prefix (Neo-) or as an adjective qualifying a trend which already exists. New tendencies are not really all that new, nor are they really meant to be.’
Klaus Honnef’s cautionary reminder of the pitfalls that come with naming art is worth noting. Art cannot be so easily framed. And yet our Linnaean tendency to name the world persists. In the South African context, the art dealer, Candice Berman, has taken it upon herself to name what she sees as a daring re-emergence and fusion of abstraction and the figurative. This emergence, which she sees in the paintings of John-Michael Metelerkamp and Stompie Selibe, is one which she perceives as a healthy and long-overdue counter to the dominant fixation with art as a weapon of struggle, a medium for ideology – in short, statement art.
Berman’s interest in what she calls Neo-Expressionism stems from a preferred passion for art which plumbs the enigmatic depths of being. For Berman, the human cannot be reduced to a categorical imperative. Rather, the human must be understood in all its contradictory complexity. And in this regard, art plays a vital role precisely because it refuses to be self-explanatory. With its roots in the paintings of Vincent van Gogh, Neo-Expressionism chooses not to reflect a world we might consensually verify but to express a world which we can unthinkingly intuit. Ruthlessly subjective, dramatically emotional, hyperbolically excessive, this art form appeals to our most suppressed yearning, be it psychological, sexual, spiritual, or primitive and raw.
This focus, which enshrines the subconscious and celebrates viscera, results in painting that electrifies the canvas. Anything but sedate, or measured and temperate, it is a mode of painting – inspired too by Fauvism – which asks us to experience not only the event thrust before us but also the very materiality of its expression. This thrusting together of psychological content and form, like the grinding overlay of tectonic plates, results in art that is at once remotely enigmatic yet in-your-face. One senses the raw innards of a tempestuous mind-heart-soul hiding in plain sight.
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