The English translation of the title of the current lot, Wolkol, is ‘woollen dot’, referencing the well-known Damien Hirst dot paintings, executed by his studio assistants. Wolkol also invokes Hirst’s equally well-known spin paintings, made by his assistants throwing various coloured paints on a revolving disc, the motion spreading the paint unevenly over the picture plane. A great fan of Hirst’s art, De Wet ’s work has the same chance, if not haphazard, sensibility in the various pieces of colourful knitted wool spread irregularly over a circular backing board.
Kathryn Smith says of De Wet’s artistic practice: “During a career spanning more than thirty years, Barend de Wet operated with stunning agility in the interface between contemporary art, material culture and social networks. He was everywhere and nowhere at once, constantly testing relationships and perceptions, and epitomizing Damien Hirst’s opinion that artists are always ‘on their way to work’.1 A consummate aesthetic, his oeuvre has encompassed traditional media, craft skills and fanatical hobbyism, as well as productive collaborations. His signifying systems calls attention to canny, applied awareness of the New Realist and Conceptual traditions, as well as post-conceptual forms; a sustained interest in what is known, not unproblematically within the South African context, as ‘traditional’ art; the conventions of aesthetic formalism; artisanship versus practical naivete; and the legacy of Duchampian mischief.
Sidelined by the contemporary art historical canon, his influence on contemporary practice was pervasive, and innate to many positions in current art. He was a trickster; obdurate, contradictory, wilful and generous in equal measure. The art world needed him but found him difficult to ‘manage’, and so relegated him to a furtively powerful position of the ultimate artist’s artist. As Douglas Gimberg has so cogently put it, it is more important and surprising that someone like De Wet could exist than anything he’d specifically made or done.2 Throughout his career, De Wet consistently opened up spaces of possibility for future creative action in a context of production with specific, local conditions.”31. Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn (2001). On the Way to Work, London: Faber & Faber.