A monthly feature on an artist currently in the public eye
Willie Bester in his studio
The outside of the artist's house which he built himself at Kuils River near Cape Town
Bench for Mr Semikaze
The truth and reconciliation
Installation on "Thirty Minutes" (1997)
The rise of Willie Bester from unknown artist holding a first exhibition (1988) to one internationally in demand a few years later has been meteoric.
Bester paints, often on extremely rough surfaces like sacking or crushed tins, and makes large assemblages, cutting and welding together found materials from the junkshop and the street, and incorporating objects of all kinds in order to make layered comments on aspects of South African history. The titles of some of his pieces reveal his concerns: Apartheid Laboratory, Ox Wagon, Death Machine
"What I try to get behind is why it is so difficult for people to change from their old ways. It hasn't worked out the way I imagined. People who thought they were superior before haven't really changed. I try to find out through studying history what gives people the right to think that way. I try to find a solution, not to be disappointed, to reach an understanding. The Truth Commission seemed to be one of the answers, but now I find that even the Truth Commission is a trap. It has done more damage than good, because the ANC was favoured over the Afrikaners. I want to do a series about it."
At a recent auction at Sotheby's in London of contemporary African art from the Piggozzi collection, (see News) Bester's painting Semikazi (1993) reached the astonishing figure of almost R110,000 - more than twice the pre-sale estimate. Jean Piggozzi is one of the major collectors of Bester's work. In Europe, Bester's piece Death Machine can be seen on the exhibition [[Rewind. Fast Forward. ZA]], at the Van Reekum Museum of Art in Apeldoorn, Holland. In Washington, he is on the exhibition at the National Museum for African Art, "Claiming art/Reclaiming Space: Post-Apartheid Art from South Africa".
Earlier this year, an act of generosity turned sour for Bester when he decided to donate Head North, an ox of welded metal and a metaphor for Afrikanerdom, to the South African National Gallery in Cape Town. The piece, recently back in the country from a round of international exhibitions, was attacked by local critic Lloyd Pollak, writing under the name of Fabrizio von Grebner, as being "tritely literal" and "preachy". The controversy was complicated by the fact that because of budget restrictions limiting storage space, the SANG was supposedly not accepting donations of work. Director Marilyn Martin defended the Gallery's acceptance, lauding the work and expressing the gratitude of the Gallery.
In September and October of this year, Bester will be showing at Studio Raffaeli in Trento, Italy.
And after that:
Long one of the staple artists of Johannesburg's Goodman Gallery, Bester will be showing on the Linda Givon curated show, "Artery", which will spread across a number of Cape Town galleries in December .
Bester is well represented in most of the major art institutions in the country, and also abroad.