It was during the 1990’s that artist Hendrik Stroebel travelled to the near East areas historically know as the Levant (a French word from the middle ages used to geographically describe Asia and specifically the ancient Holy Land). His gathering of evocative images led him to Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Turkey and the Silk Road Cities of Bukhara Khiva and Samarkand in Uzbekistan.
Stroebel’s abiding interest is in Antiquity. Pharaonic Egypt, Persia and the Jordanian cities of Jerash and Petra; also Persepolis in Iran (formerly Persia). The Greek and Roman remains in Turkey and the great Timurid monuments in Uzbekistan propelled him to these countries. Subsequently he found other rich sources, remnants and layers of Byzantine, Ottoman, Mamluk and Persia, and the great legacy of embellishment in Islamic art and architecture. It was his keen observation and participation in contemporary life in these Islamic countries that had a profound influence on his creative output.
These ‘Biblical’ countries have an enduring legacy of ancestral customs that still prevails. They have retained their unique character expressed through ancient crafts such as carpets, metalwork, woodcarving, and mosaics still available for trade in the souks (bazaars) of the Middle East. Stroebel reveres these traditions, which appeal to him both for their complexity and their simplicity. His interactions with these different cultures, and documentation thereof, were later used in the process of art making. Instinctive choices later guided him towards creating a body of work that reflects the artist’s particular journey.
Stroebel comments that the creative process originated “from the ‘outside in”. Architectural elements form the frame for the specific choice of embroideries. It is the colour and design of the frames that enhance and compliment the embroidery work. ‘Framing’ becomes an integral part of the work contributing to its very essence.
Stroebel believes that memory (of travel) is only enhanced in hindsight when one relives the experience. It is the ‘trigger’ memories and etched images of relived experiences that enrich this body of work. He uses an interesting and unusual combination of media, ceramics and embroidery. Stroebel believes that it is the direct contact with the embroidery medium and its elements of stab and stitch that permits him to ‘mix’ his own colours with thread. That creates an astonishing painterly effect. Rather like paint on a string. Embroidery is a tedious process that requires immense concentration, patience and dedication. Clay however, is a more immediate and expressive medium that has an additional element of surprise in the outcome of glazes and the yielding of its colours in the firing process. The delicacy and intimacy of the thread is supported by the solidity of the ceramic and wooden frames. Stroebel’s rich and meaningful travels and adventures, to what is now a deeply troubled area of our world, reminds us that memory is the key to that which is so often lost and forgotten.
Bren Brophy, KZNSA Gallery Curator in conversation with Hendrik Stroebel. May 2011.