Herman van Nazareth’s Primordial Forms

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Herman van Nazareth’s Primordial Forms

Herman van Nazareth was born in 1936 in Evergem, East Flanders, Belgium, and his reputation as avant-garde painter and sculptor is recognised internationally. Having made South Africa his second home from the mid-1960s, Van Nazareth occupies a significant position in the art history of this country. The work that van Nazareth produced from 1965 to the early 1970s defines his place within South African art, and has been hailed among the earliest examples of ‘protest art’ to be made in the country. Unafraid to present candid depictions of the exploits of the ruling class, the sculptures produced during these years mark a radical break with the work produced by his South African contemporaries. Through a calculated economy of means, his figurative bronzes captured the dehumanisation of both aggressors and victims. From the last decade of the twentieth century, Van Nazareth returned to the human and animal subject and the medium of bronze, and it is works from this period which are currently seen at the NIROX Sculpture Park. These primordial human and animal forms, simplified and seemingly corroded by time and history, dwell most suitably in this birthplace of mankind. Their coarse yet sensual surfaces are the result of the artist’s application of an erosive material to the surface of the bronze, giving them the appearance of fossilised life forms. Standing outdoors, the sculptures are continually changing as their surfaces are beaten and burnished by the elements. Positioned in the soil, van Nazareth’s bronzes rise and crawl from the very earth that it seems they were made of. His faceless figures and primeval mammals can be seen as transitional forms, embodying both a distant past and the potential of further transformation and renewal. The spaces created between these monumental forms provide for dialogue, quiet reflection and play: activities fundamental to human society for millennia.

Annemi Conradie

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