Russell Kaplan Presents our first ‘Wunderkammer’ auction cycle for 2022 with highly collectable artists, both local and international. The art sections of the auction will be split over two consecutive weekends beginning today, March 11, with a delightful, rare books and decorative art sale of affordable pieces with which to enrich your mind and your home’s visual texture. Bidding begins online at 9 am, so visit rkauctioneers.co.za now to register and start bidding!

Our March auction cycle concludes the art sales with a second and final session on Saturday 19 March with an offering of highly collectable and valuable artworks, by Esther Mahlangu, Speelman Mahlangu, William Kentridge, Diane Victor, Deborah Bell, Norman Catherine, Christo Coetzee, Hussein Salim and more. Rare international artists make an appearance too, including Louis Toffoli and Rene Carcan amongst others.
Read on for some introductions to our headline artworks:

Speelman Mahlangu, The Concertina Player

Speelman Mahlangu once said, “(My artworks) often describe things that one cannot see but can only feel. My themes include an exploration of spiritual and mythical ideas of the world to come. The role of music in African life and traditional rituals, African pots, human figures, calabashes and drums emerge from semi-abstract shapes. A dream dreaming us. I work and draw on ancient mythology and African folklore to create an end product which focuses on communication rather than confrontation. A real African heritage is depicted in my work through the use of many symbols resulting in a penitent look at the faces of mankind.”

Many of these sentiments can be seen in Mahlangu’s sculpture, The Concertina Player. This sculpture showcases the artist’s dynamic marriage of traditional and modern symbols and ideas into a cohesive and compelling whole. There is the spirit of old songs remembered and relived through modern instrumentation. The solidity of bronze contrasting with the ephemeral nature of the musician – perhaps mournful, perhaps celebratory – lost in universal song where music is history, community and ‘home’. The figure here presented is seated, head tipped back and eyes closed, lost in the rhythmic pulsing of the instrument and the flow of the song. The push and pull of the hands, balancing and cradling the instrument, to create the music of the concertina, echoing the tidal push and pull between ancient and modern traditions and stories, and the timeless pulsing of heartbeats, voice and song connecting generations through time and across space.

Diane Victor, All the Books She Had Planned to Read

In Japanese there is a word, “Tsundoku”, that has the meaning of buying reading material and piling it up, with plans of future reading. This act of acquiring and surrounding oneself with history, culture, and narratives is a human practice across all cultures, but in this particular work Diane Victor gives this concept a poignancy.

First exhibited at the Goodman Gallery in 2010 as part of the artist’s exhibition Transcend, this work – All the Books She Planned to Read– was created at a time when Victor was experiencing almost total failure of both her kidneys. This technically-accomplished large-scale drawing portrays the artist as subject, lying nude in bed with eyes closed and hands folded in repose, surrounded by all the books that it seemed she would never have a chance to read, and books that often provide the inspiration and source material for much of her works in printmaking, charcoal, graphite, smoke and ash. Victor portrays herself with an unflinching physical honesty, and a quiet dignity and acceptance, in the face of her situation, her body as much a document of time and experience as the publications surrounding her on her “death bed”. It is a meditation on time and history, physicality and impermanence, grand narratives and personal stories.

Norman Catherine, Timeshare

Norman Catherine’s sculptural figures – both standalone sculptures, and the ‘cabinet’ works like the present example – were birthed in his paintings of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and allude to the West African tradition of painted colon figures which represented either European or African subjects in occupational attire. These popular tourist objects trace their lineage to divination figures produced by the Baoulé peoples of Côte d’Ivoire. The talismanic quality of Baoulé figures is key to an appreciation of Catherine’s cabinet figures. “Through these figurines, I try to capture as many of the characteristics and pathologies of human nature that I have come across and to expose the taboos behind different cultural superstitions.”

Where often Catherine makes extensive use of intense colours and wild patterns within his sculptural works, Timesharestands in contrast and delves into a darker, more sinister, territory of blacks, greys, dirty whites and reds. Where an undertone of violence regularly courses through the artist’s work, here it seems closer, ready to breach the surface of the psychological landscape.

In the central recess of the cabinet stand three figures. Central is a besuited figure with downcast eyes, sombre expression, and bearing a large clock atop his head. Through a kind of nightmare-logic the multiple clocks in the artwork are permanently fixed at 12:21, time stopped with the brutal force of nails hammered into the clock’s face and hands. This downcast human figure is flanked by twin beings with the heads of beasts, bodies wrapped in bandages, and seeming to wear a fetish of the central figure upon their chests, standing beneath spotlights. The panel surrounding the central recess is covered in carvings – as if scratched into the cold grey walls of a prison cell – of many of the archetypes and avatars that form part of the recurring iconographic menagerie of Catherine’s oeuvre.

Timeshareis a brooding, purgatorial work that captures many of the darker characteristics of Catherine’s practice, leaning more to the grimace than the giggle, and unmistakable in its execution and style.

Deborah Bell, Little Morals

From the mid-1980s through to the mid-1990s, Deborah Bell, Robert Hodgins, and William Kentridge collaborated on a series of projects inspired by European art and literature that addressed the artist’s personal perspectives of living and creating art in South Africa in the years between late apartheid and the transition to a new democracy. Beginning in 1986 with Hogarth in Johannesburg, 1990s Little Morals, and finally Ubu Tells the Truthin 1996.

Bell’s portfolio of etchings for this project was created at Caversham Press and was inspired by the etchings and engravings of the eighteenth-century Spanish artist Francisco de Goya, and the overall series takes its title from Theodor Adorno’s book of the same name Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life(1951) in which Adorno depicted the contradictory relationship between the individual’s search for an orderly and compassionate life and the corruption and inhumanity of society at large.

According to Bell, “each image is its own ‘little moral’, the titles of which are based on Goya’s etchings, chosen for the poetic resonance between image and word”.

Louis Toffoli, Les Ramasseuns de Chataignes (The Chestnut Gatherers)

Louis Toffoli was a French modernist artist best known for his colourful, layered figural and landscape paintings. Toffoli’s work is fascinated with transparency and transience, often fracturing his figures down into various overlapping parts to facilitate a ghostly, dream-like appearance that addresses the transitory quality of life and the world.

Born in 1907 in Trieste, Italy, the artist spent his early life in World War II-era Italy, which had a marked impact on his work and outlook. He had studied art at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Trieste, and began producing Constructivist paintings and exhibited several of these early works at the 1928 Trieste Biennale, which subsequently garnered attention from Mussolini’s Fascist regime. Fearing for his safety, Toffoli fled to Paris, where he attained significant popularity in artistic and intellectual circles. During the Second World War he sought refuge in the countryside of Touraine and worked for the French Resistance. After the war he returned to Paris and received his French citizenship in 1947. After his death he was awarded the Knight of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 1996.

Lucy Jane Turpin, Abstract Composition in Greens, Blues, Purple and Yellow

Lucy Jane Turpin is a Johannesburg-based artist. Her work is characterised by intentional, intuitive and impulsive mark-marking. Each stroke of the brush suggests the next through action and reaction. The weight of the paint, the movement of the brush across the canvas, the dynamic reaction of tone and texture where an image emerges organically, informed by unconscious process of emotion and memory. Each work becomes a dialogue between the artist and the creative process. Of her practice, she has said, “The nature of my practice is to experience. It is responsive to the immediate environment I find myself in. Experience in the sense of life-world. What my memory encapsulates. A conversation I may have. Something I may see. The mind and body are not separate through making and what results is an action of an all-encompassing relationship.”

Christo Coetzee, Rosey

Christo Coetzee has inscribed on the reverse of this painting, describing its medium and method: “13 misaligned segments, mounted and collaged in expanded image, in sliding linear scale to re-image a different angled image of same.” This technique of creation and recreation of an image was at the heart of Coetzee’s artistic practice, where fragments of ‘destroyed’ images were combined with existing images, or a recombination of the fragments into new images. The most public example of this occurred in 1975 after the opening of Coetzee’s solo exhibition in Cape Town, where the artist returned to the gallery a day later and cut-up twenty-three artworks in an act he described as ‘construction’, rather than as ‘destruction’ as had been reported in the media. The new works created from this intervention were later exhibited at the Rand Afrikaans University’s Gencor Gallery in Johannesburg. Coetzee presented a lecture soon after this event at the South African Association of Arts, Cape Town, where he contextualised his ‘destructive’ act in the conceptual framework of the works he had begun creating in the 1950s, following his contact with the theories of Michel Tapié, and with the avant-garde Japanese Gutai Art Association (whose focus was on experimental art forms where painting was combined with performance, conceptual, interactive, site-specific and installation art, often in unconventional spaces and highlighted the act of creation alongside the object created).

Rene Carcan, Selection of Works

Rene Carcan was a Belgian artist who worked primarily in printmaking, having studied intaglio techniques in the workshop of Johnny Friedlaender.

In the early 1950s, Carcan received a UNESCO grant which allowed him to travel to Italy where he first encountered Etruscan history and art. The Etruscan funerary frescoes he viewed proved to be a long-term influence on his artistic vocabulary and palette. His works are characterised by the use of sun-kissed reds and oranges, splashes of lemon-yellow, mossy greens, azure blues, and the earth tones of sienna, realised in the printmaking through a combination of gentle washes and streaks of spitbite aquatint and drypoint lines delineating his dream-like, imagined landscape scenes seemingly always in a state of eternal summer. Alongside the organic compositional elements of slender, sinuous Etruscan-style trees and branches, sprays of leaves, the Sun, flowers, and blossoms, Carcan often incorporated faint geometric patterns underlying the primary image, providing contrast and an illusion of depth. His works convey a sense of timeless calm wreathed in gentle surrealistic elements.

Hussein Salim, Selection of Works

In an interview with Mary Corrigall on the occasion of his 2021 exhibition, The Garden of Carnal Delights, Hussein Salim noted on his early life in Sudan: “I grew up surrounded by emptiness. Total emptiness. I never saw an apple until I was seven years old. I knew they existed but didn’t know what it might look like. Is it square? Does it have stripes? That kind of emptiness and poorness allows us to imagine things because we don’t have it in front of our eyes.” This upbringing, alongside his embrace of ‘a peripatetic existence’, saw him embrace abstraction very early on in his artistic development.

Salim’s works on canvas and paper are layered in symbols and motifs, rich colours and vibrant forms, patterns and shapes that often recall the familiar (such as letters, animals, wheels, fish, and figures) but married with complete abstraction. He is inspired by diversity and multiculturalism. His journey takes him from his birthplace in Sudan, through Europe – Germany, Belgium, Norway, and England – before settling in South Africa, where he creates work that not only evokes memories and contemplation of the loss of home, but it also encounters the present and shapes the future, regularly returning to themes of time, birth, love, and death.

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