Andrew Verster is one of Durban's most prolific and highly respected artists and the KZNSA Gallery is pleased to host an exhibition of his recent work. Verster has produced five distinct series that together form this exhibition entitled ‘OF THIS AND THAT'. There are medium and large-scale oils on canvas, 120 palm size sculptures - ‘Signposts', pen and ink drawings - ‘People of Importance' and ‘Remnants', and an installation of cutouts - ‘Sacred Memories'. The artist has over the years created a truly astounding body of work distinguished by constant innovation and transformation. With each new exhibition there is a sense of the new but also of consistency and maturation of common and enduring themes.
Verster has an abiding interest in the human body and for this exhibition the chosen subject of his canvases are figure studies - torsos, hands, feet and legs. The works are highly patterned, colourful celebrations of life, history and human culture. For some years now Verster has been fascinated by eastern culture, particularly India. Previous bodies of work explored the richly textured and coloured, often ornate decorative elements of Indian fabrics, spiritual deities and iconography. This exhibition extends and develops this interest. The figures are highly decorated with a cornucopia of seemly endless images and symbols. Body marking is an ancient practice that includes tattooing, scarification and painting. Verster draws on the richness of this heritage and the works draw their power from cultures where body marking speaks to identity and tribal signification. As such the figures are citizens of a collective global tribe. They are not romanticized, ethnic or for that matter African. Symbolism abounds - a virtual encyclopedia of different cultures and artifacts are represented. The artist is also interested in pure design and pattern, and these pure elements fuse magically with the symbols to form a unified surface that is almost cosmic in its scope. The works are mildly erotic not only because they are clearly naked but because one gets a sense of the sensuality and fragility of human touch from the highly worked surfaces.
In a departure from painting Verster has produced 120 small (palm size) sculptures - ‘Signposts'. The artist is no stranger to the three dimensional having produced many public art works and theatre and operatic design. These sculptures however are an unexpected delight. They are created from a veritable Pandora's Box of small found and natural objects.
The results are a dazzling array of unlikely and unusual juxtapositions - a small cat rides in the palm of a Hindu deity's hand, a dinosaur and a tiger cross paths. Lotus flowers, piles of brightly colored painted stones, bejewelled elephants, a panda bear, shells and farm animals. The sculptures have a joyful, child-like exuberance but are not naive.
Verster's work often expresses an interest in the collective unconscious, dreams, symbols and their meanings. As such these works are a reconstituted collection of a lifetime of collected objects and by definition memory and reflection. They are dreamlike, rather like walking through the memory of the artist's gargantuan imagination.
They are totally recycled, deconstructed and re-contextualised. Together they are reminiscent of a constellation of universal archetypes, small spiritual, sometimes fetish like they make reference to the sacred - temple art, rituals and altar pieces.
Together the paintings and sculptures offer a rich, multi-layered viewing experience. There is Verster's characteristic boldness but also an intimacy, an invitation into the artist's personal world.