by Cara Snyman (July, 2008)
Gerhard Marx is a director, set designer, video animator and artist, and he always carries two sketchbooks. He studied Fine Art before embarking on a career in theatre and these two interests still run concurrently.
Marx makes drawings by cutting up and reassembling already existing images and structures. By cutting and pasting layer upon layer of tiny fragments, he uses the existent lines and features of the found material to create his image contours. Topographical and star maps, as well as actual roots and stems of plants, have been used by Marx who reconstitutes them in varied images. In his earlier work, the finished collage is a seemingly spontaneous drawing, where roads are made to run around his central image in a continuous and smooth line, framed by map leftovers. Later works are more abstract and their origins less obvious, the marks are also more tentative and exploratory, tracing many contours, emerging and disappearing in a thicket of line.
Of late, Marx has begun introducing new techniques. Composite images made up of star maps and root systems copied on to acetate become negatives from which contact photographic prints are exposed. For another series, using paint for the first time, Marx pushes weeds into a mixture of black watercolour and glue to build up images of skulls. The thick tar-like base that he uses in these works naturally evokes embalming processes. Sanding these aggregates down to a beautiful polished surface exposes the tiny skeletal structure of the plants.
Marx's method and the content of the work are closely related and while the theme of mortality was touched on by his very first drawings of his ailing grandparents rendered in map fragments, it has come to define his output. The image of the skull, for example, is central. As Marx points out, both are self-effacing: their existence points to something other than itself, which emphasises an absence.
Making his reconstituted images is an intensive process and completing a single work can take months of concentrated effort. The labour with associated time passing is a Saint Jerome-like contemplation of mortality. Marx states that drawing '... creates time, the space for thinking or reminiscing, for losing your way' and that 'the amount of time, energy and focus that one puts into something, clearly manifests in the presence of the artwork... '.
Marx's work, in the reinterpretation of set structures, also questions the idea of a singular truth. If maps are trusted to plot a steady course, the destruction and reassembling of them in a clearly fictional way, can be seen as a symbolic action particularly pertinent to post-Apartheid South Africa. As Marx puts it, growing up in the 80s in South Africa, he, like many others, received 'a peculiar map' by which to live.
'When you draw, you linger on a line or on a shape, and there is a slowness involved which is important to your thinking and the consideration of the person you are drawing. On the contrary, a photograph captures an image instantaneously. Drawing therefore creates time, the space for thinking or reminiscing, for losing your way. Similarly, the line of a road on a map is a curious combination of familiarity (it is the space which is known and plotted) and the unknown. The road has to negotiate natural terrain, which gives a beautiful uncertain quality when used to draw with. I am a firm believer that the amount of time, energy and focus that one puts into something, clearly manifests in the presence of the artwork in its completed form.'
'Since the map always points elsewhere, it negates itself as object by pointing at a separate "implied" territory. I like to think that my map drawings work as evocation rather than depiction.'
'Primarily I dislike working from a point of knowing. What is a lot more challenging is to create works around something I don't understand. These works attempt to visualise aspects of things I don't but need to understand, and death would certainly form part of that spectrum.'
Interview with Warren Siebriets, October 2005.
'The skull (as object) is self-effacing in the same way that a map is: it is an object that points away from itself. The map points to the territory and the same applies to the skull, which serves primarily to evidence a passing. The same applies to the light seen emitted from stars (which might not exist anymore), as well as to an uprooted plant. Certainly the photograph works along these same lines, in that it always refers to that which has already passed. In a strange way, all these objects are very hard to see as the objects that they really are. It is this quality that attracts me to these objects - the fact that they deny their own objecthood by referencing something else, something bigger, something that was transient, ephemeral, something on a scale that is incomprehensible. It also interests me that these objects function in relation to a need for certainty: photographs (historically) as evidence; stars as coordinates and directional guides; the skull as relic and as an aid in forensics and facial reconstruction; the plant as a specimen in botany.'
Interview with Warren Siebrits, October 2007.
Paul Edmunds, selecting Marx as one of the three most interesting artists of 2005 on ArtThrob:
'Describing drawings composed of map fragments does no justice to the shifting colour fields and wandering lines of these works which are as personal as they are universal.'
Marx is the current recipient of a fellowship from the Sundance Film Festival Screen Writers' Laboratory in Utah, USA, and is working towards his next solo exhibition at Warren Siebrits Modern and Contemporary in 2009.
In 2007 Gerhard Marx presented 'photo-' at Warren Siebrits Modern and Contemporary in Johannesburg. The body of work is concerned with drawing with light and was inspired by the conceptual and material possibilities the photograph has to offer.
In the same year Marx directed Rewind, a Cantata for Voice, Tape and Testimony composed by Phillip Miller, and along with his wife, Maja Marx, contributes film material to the production which tours to the US. In 2006 his work is included in Fiona Rankin Smith's 'Figuring Faith' at the Standard Bank Art Gallery, Johannesburg and Grahamstown National Arts Festival. Marx also directs the The Collision Project composed by Clare Loveday at The Substation at the Wits Theatre Complex in 2006. He also designs the set for Truth in Translation, directed by Michael Lessick (NY), which toured internationally.
Gerhard Marx's 'Maps to get lost by' opens at Warren Siebrits Modern and Contemporary in 2005. He also co-directs Hear and Now with Lara Foot Newton, as well as managing the scenography. The production tours internationally. In 2003 Marx does the scenography for Tshepang, another production written and directed by Lara Foot Newton, which also tours internationally.
Marx is preparing for a solo exhibition at Warren Siebrits Modern and Contemporary in 2009.
2007 'photo-', Warren Siebrits Modern and Contemporary, Johannesburg
2005 'Gerhard Marx', Warren Siebrits Modern and Contemporary, Johannesburg
2003 'New Works', Outlet, Pretoria
2000 'Drawing and Animation', Open Window Gallery, Pretoria
1999 'You are here', Civic Gallery, Johannesburg
Selected group exhibitions
2006 'Figuring Faith', Curated by Fiona Rankin Smith, Standard Bank Art Gallery, Johannesburg and Grahamstown National Arts Festival
2004 'Ten Years of Democracy Exhibition', Klein Karoo National Arts Festival, Oudsthoorn
2004 and there in the dust, co directed by Gerhard Marx and Lara Foot Newton, animated by Gerhard Marx
Selected theatre projects
2007 Rewind, a Cantata for Voice, Tape and Testimony, composed by Phillip Miller, directed by Gerhard Marx, film by Gerhard and Maja Marx, tours to USA
2006 The Collision Project, directed by Gerhard Marx, composed by Clare Loveday, The Substation, Wits Theatre Complex
2006 Truth in Translation, directed by Michael Lessick (NY), set design by Gerhard Marx (tours internationally 2006 - 7)
2005 Hear and Now, written by Lara Foot Newton, co directed by Lara Foot Newton and Gerhard Marx, scenography by Gerhard Marx (tours internationally 2005 - 6)
2003 Tshepang, written and directed by Lara Foot Newton, scenography by Gerhard Marx (tours internationally 2003 - 2006)
2004 Ampersand Fellowship, New York
2007 Sundance Fellowship, Sundance Film Festival Screen Writers Laboratory, Utah, USA