Best known for his lyrical poetry and his erstwhile political activism, Breyten Breytenbach is also an accomplished fine artist in his own right. He has mounted exhibitions all over the world and his paintings appear on most of his poetry anthologies. Occasionally, however, he combines his poems and his paintings into one new art work, such as in the case of the present lot. "Painted words are nothing else but meaningful images", he once said. One such example is Boekdoek/Lappasait, exhibited at the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, in the Netherlands. Words and images are combined in ten elongated pieces of fabric, referencing Tibetan paper prayers, mandalas with formulas and figures used for meditation purposes, as well as Chinese scrolls, often depicting landscapes and by implication, travels, with poems written in fine calligraphy. These pieces of fabric can easily be rolled up and unfurled at any new site the poet wanted to camp out next. They essentially serve as textbooks or roadmaps or even an inventory of his whole life.
The present lot, a self-portrait, is another telling example of his practice of combining word and image. Words spring directly from his heart: he proclaims himself as emperor of the whole of North Africa, from upper Egypt to Faiyum in middle-Egypt. This portrait, incidentally, references the famous Faiyum funereal portrait tradition. This braggart, however, is of course just making fun of a gullible reader/viewer; he is essentially a poet, a word artist, a ‘’catcher of the elusive wind’’, enjoying word puns, alliteration and assonance that any language enables a creative person to invent. He is also the prodigal son, returning from voluntary exile, an outsider speaking in a Cape Flat vernacular, rather than the standard Afrikaans. Only one poem ‘’Koong Byten 1’’ in his latest anthology, The Wind Catcher (2007) has a similar subject matter and is also composed in this vernacular. In this poem he unashamedly declares himself ‘’King of Paradise’’.
Breytenbach lures the reader/viewer into saying the words out aloud, into repeating this mantra, straight from his heart, with him and in this manner, the reader/viewer becomes part of the art work itself and completes the creative process that Breytenbach has set in motion.