Live Auction, 7 October 2019
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About this Item
Untitled (Figures in Blue and Red) and Group Scene are typical of the gregarious scenes of an imagined Africa produced by Walter Battiss in the 1960s, some inspired by his trips to the Limpopo Valley. His portrayal of clusters of anonymous figures stacked in a depthless space reiterates insights obtained from his close observation and study of rock engravings (petroglyphs) and rock paintings of South Africa’s earliest inhabitants. His paintings nonetheless reveal a complicated process of influence, assimilation, translation and – importantly – rejection. “The rock painters were not seduced by colour,” Battiss noted in 1945. “In the contemplation of rock art one is led back to the serenity and dignity of statement made with the machinery of form rather than of colour.”1 Battiss, by contrast, was a joyful colourist who subordinated the precision of formal statement to the magnificence of colour. Form and line nonetheless remained important. The rudimentary figures drawn into the wet paint are typical of Battiss’s sgraffito method of creating descriptive detail. This decorative method is closely associated with fresco painting and pottery, but also shares formal affinities with the techniques used by the rock engravers Battiss so admired. Commenting on the masterpieces of “impressionist” engraving he saw in the field, Battiss wrote: “The engravers here depend more on feeling than on science and they suggest modelling rather than depict it.”2 The same can be said of these lots. Details are generically rather than specifically rendered. It is the wholeness of the impression that counts.
- Walter Battiss (1945). Wall text (WBC/08/010, 1945) at exhibition The Origins of Walter Battiss: “Another Curious Palimpsest”, Origins Centre, Johannesburg, 2016.
- Walter Battiss (1948). The Artists of the Rocks, Red Faun Press, Pretoria, page 31.
Karin Skawran (ed.) (2005) Walter Battiss: Gentle Anarchist, Johannesburg: The Standard Bank Gallery. Illustrated in colour on page 111.