Jeremy Wafer at Goodman Gallery Cape
by Sue Williamson
Since the opening of the Goodman Gallery Cape in March this year, no exhibition I have seen has so decisively taken command of this handsome gallery space with its reflective grey floor and its vaulted industrial ceiling as Jeremy Wafer's simply titled 'Recent Work'. An artist with an infallible sense of proportion and balance and an ability to limit his palette to a severe range of austere and minimalist hues without ever reaching the point of dullness, Wafer fills the space with a series of very different works that relate strongly to each other.
Standing in the main part of the gallery, the viewer's eye drops to the floor to follow the decisive curve of Arch, three sections of angle iron, with a rectangular �core� of white wax bolted to the iron. Across from this open-ended curve, Floor, a geometrical U-shaped layout of sheet steel set on a thick layer of white wax suggests the detail of an architectural plan. Which it is, being the exact size and dimension of a part of the verandah of Wafer's Johannesburg house.
The binary theme of inside and outside has long been a feature of Wafer's work. Violence and vulnerability. The threat of the outside impinging on the security of the inside. The verandah is the point of entry to the home, the no man's land on which the stranger must stand before admittance. It is also the covered space where the people of the house may relax, sheltered from the sun, able to view the world outside, yet not part of it.
In the 80s, Wafer talked about his drawings of air conditioners as also being symbolic of this division: the occupants of a house huddling inside next to the throbbing air conditioner, while outside, the air conditioner drips into the hot afternoon where the workers toil. 'I try not to make deliberately threatening objects', Wafer said then.
On the wall behind the steel floor pieces, an angled drawing in a thin, honey coloured medium, executed directly onto the white wall, repeats the form of the steel verandah floor piece in a more ethereal manifestation.
Two large discs, White Clay, painted in the slightly lumpy pale grey clay sold for its medicinal properties in Durban's muti markets, and Black Dustpainted in light absorbing black oxide with a faint sparkle, appear to float in front of the adjoining wall. Black medicines are purgative, white are calming. Natural products like clays and oxides have long been materials of choice for Wafer.
Opposite, a series of small photographs laid out in a cruciform arrangement record the crossing of two paths worn into the grass where Wafer was walking, photographed from above. The artist has an eye for small and subtle variations on the natural, and an understated way of recording these minor natural phenomena.
And on the fourth wall, a series of black-on-black drawings entitled Cutout presents a surface so inscrutably glittering it is hard to distinguish the architectural objects they portray.
For Wafer, this current exhibition has allowed him to revisit some earlier themes. Arch recalls Low Wax Wall (1982) a tri-partite piece in which the artist bolted yellow beeswax to concrete. Rather like Doreen Southwood's Curtain (2005), a sheet of stainless steel decorated with thousands of nuts and washers held in place solely by magnets on the reverse of the panels, the removal of any one of which would have destroyed the design, Wafer's curve gains much of its authority by the perceived element of risk.
The hardness and toughness of the steel seems even harder and tougher contrasted with the softness and whiteness of the wax, with its sharp, cast right-angled edge which would be forever sullied by a single knick from a knife.
Wafer's use of materials is considered yet poetic, and the bolting together of these two unlikely materials in a curve which stretches away from us suggests a difficult journey which must be taken, whether one wishes to or not.
'Jeremy Wafer: Recent Work' is a show which should be seen in an international arena. One hopes that this might be possible.
Opens: September 22
Closes: October 13
Goodman Gallery Cape
3rd Floor Fairweather House, 176 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock
Tel: (021) 462 7573
Fax: (021) 462 7579
Hours: Tue - Fri 9.30am - 5.30pm, Sat 10am - 4pm