Modern and Contemporary Art

Live Virtual Auction, 16 May 2023

Modern and Contemporary Art

Sold for

ZAR 234 500
Lot 89
  • Walter Battiss; Black Shadow of Red Bird on Blue Water
  • Walter Battiss; Black Shadow of Red Bird on Blue Water
  • Walter Battiss; Black Shadow of Red Bird on Blue Water
  • Walter Battiss; Black Shadow of Red Bird on Blue Water

Lot Estimate
ZAR 200 000 - 300 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium & VAT
ZAR 234 500

About this Item

South African 1906-1982
Black Shadow of Red Bird on Blue Water

signed; dated 10 April 1965, inscribed with the title and 'Painted for Esmé Berman' on the reverse

oil on canvas
30 by 25cm excluding frame; 58,5 by 53,5 by 4cm including frame


The curious and quirky title, Black Shadow of Red Bird on Blue Water, intimates the playful nature of Walter Battiss’ famous Fook Island, a protracted Happening, or piece of performance art throughout the 1970s. The participants of these performances were frequently gifted with such paintings as the present lot, in addition to being issued with delightful watercolour certificates, declaring them worthy Fookians. Norman Catherine was Norman King Norman, Linda Givon, Queen Asteroa, Walter Sauders, the Fook linguist, and Esmé Berman the official Fook historian. Berman went on to compose an epic poem, The Invisible Book of Fook, lyrically describing all the Fookian antics, complete with commentary and detailed ‘fook’ notes, explaining the extent of her poem.1 The picture plane of the present lot teems with little black calligraphic motifs, typically gleaned from Battiss’ interest in Southern African Rock Art. The black, red, and blue colours of the title appear to be a series of palimpsests erasing the rock art figures in the background. Battiss then fills the refreshed surfaces with cryptic messages in Fook script. The ‘black shadow’ is perhaps the most curious, as the viewer can hardly decipher any shape of a bird in the black shadow; the white circle with two black semi-circles could possibly be the bird’s eyes, and the arrow below them its beak or its feet. Only Fook knows!

1. Karin Skawran and Michael Mcnamara (eds) (1985) Walter Battiss. Johannesburg: AD Donker Publisher, pages 103 to 148.


Karin Skawran (ed.) (2005) Walter Battiss: Gentle Anarchist, Johannesburg: Standard Bank Gallery, illustrated in colour on page 71.

Karin Skawran & Michael Macnamara, (eds.) (1895) Walter Battiss, Johannesburg: AD Donker, illustrated on page 118, plate 27 and 28.

View all Walter Battiss lots for sale in this auction

Other lots that might interest you
Andrew Verster; Summer Garden II
Andrew Verster
Summer Garden II
ZAR 120 000 - 160 000
George Milwa Mnyaluza Pemba; A Woman Sewing
George Milwa Mnyaluza Pemba
A Woman Sewing
ZAR 250 000 - 350 000
Andrew Verster; Islands
Andrew Verster
ZAR 100 000 - 150 000
Walter Battiss; The Repast
Walter Battiss
The Repast
ZAR 200 000 - 300 000
Sam Nhlengethwa; City Scape, diptych
Sam Nhlengethwa
City Scape, diptych
ZAR 350 000 - 500 000
Andrew Verster; A Bigger Splash
Andrew Verster
A Bigger Splash
ZAR 120 000 - 160 000