Archive: Issue No. 72, August 2003

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Colin Richards

Colin Richards
Veronica: The First Stone (Bronze State)
Work in progress

Colin Richards

Colin Richards
Veronica, Head of a Frightened Man
Two States (2002)
Inkjet Print on Archival Paper
Work in Progress.

Colin Richards

Colin Richards
Veronica, Dark Conceit, Two States (2002)
Inkjet Print on Archival Paper
Work in Progress.

Colin Richards

Colin Richards
Head of a Frightened Man (2002)
Watercolour on paper

Colin Richards

Colin Richards
White Headstone (2001)
Watercolour on Paper
Pen and Ink on Paper.

Colin Richards

Colin Richards
Veronica, White Headstone, Two States (2002)
Inkjet Print on Archival Paper
Work in Progress.

Colin Richards

Colin Richards
Blood from a Stone, Two States (2002)
Inkjet Print on Archival Paper
Work in Progress.

Colin Richards

Colin Richards
Homunculus, 1998
14 X 21cm

Colin Richards
by Andrew Lamprecht (August, 2003)

"Curating ... offers a tangible bridge between the impulses that inform creativity and critique, between art making and writing about it" notes Colin Richards. South African art is noted for individuals who are capable of wearing more than one hat and establishing reputations in different fields. It would be difficult to find anyone who is as highly respected in as many different domains as Colin Richards.



Colin Richards operates in a number of spheres. He is a curator, with such critically acclaimed shows as the Second Johannesburg Biennale's 'Graft' (1997) behind him, a theorist who is the acknowledged expert on conceptualism in South Africa, an art historian, and critic. As a professor at the Wits Art School, he teaches theory and studio practice to senior students. As an artist, Richards is known for his sensitive and detailed drawings, watercolours and prints, often drawing iconographically on his earlier career as a medical illustrator. The development of professional art therapy in South Africa can be largely credited to him. He has done extensive development work on this front, and has co-founded an art therapy service in Soweto, as well as lecturing widely on the subject locally and internationally.

"The things which animate my writing are not so different from those which animate my art making. My deep interest in the power of images attest to this, I think. Clearly, to grapple with the unruly dynamics of power - the power of seduction, exclusion, coercion, complicity, liberation oppression - requires a willingness to abstract and generalise in the moment. In tandem with this willingness goes an open but sure sense of history.

"That ancient European art critic, Charles Baudelaire, wrote something which I have never really forgotten. To be in focus, criticism proper, for Baudelaire 'must be partial, passionate, political, that is to say it must adopt an exclusive point of view, provided always the one adopted opens up the widest horizons'. The last proviso actually undoes the point it provides for. This seems to me right... criticism is an active, paradoxical, crucially necessary exercise. This applies as much to artists as to writers.
When I write I need to have and develop (change) strong opinions about my subject (or object), and also to operate out of some sense of a larger, coherent project.

"In my art-making, certain abiding interests have continued over the years. I am interested in labour, especially when it is useless or pointless, as it seems increasingly so in our fast developing technologically mediated world. It seems to me that this process of work has something deep to do with the specific humanness of creative work. Actually making, fabricating, reproducing remains central to my sense of purpose as a creative person.

"So are the large and messy questions of meaning. Art is a relational affair, and it seems to me that the increasingly seamless semiotic packaging of the worlds in which we live sets limits on our horizons of ways of being and doing. In my creative work I am energised by puzzles of power and powerlessness. My preferred mode of expression has always involved strong pictorial illusionism (which is still magical to me, as it is to all children), and also in reproduction and repetition. In matters of power my focus tends to be on formal religion and its iconographies, on family, especially fatherhood and boy childhood, and on the cultivation of 'nature' (rocks, trees, animals, insects... mothers, fathers).

"Language - usually in the form of found texts (newspapers, books etc) - figures in much of my work. Sometimes it is a primary focus, as in recent work where I have taken proverbial statements and literalised them pictorially. The idea and practice of 'illustration' - which remains a negative terms in a good deal of current artistic discourse - is the conceptual and material pivot upon which I hang a good deal of my practice. Illustration is a hinge between the linguistic and the visual, and it can turn many ways."


Richards is in the process of cementing his reputation as an authority on conceptualism and conceptual art in South Africa. His survey, 'The Thought is the Thing' published in the second issue of Art South Africa, his review article "Working the White Cube" in the June issue of Artthrob and other recent publications have demonstrated that he is a sophisticated and knowledgeable theorist in the area. This is not to say that his views are without their critics. University of Cape Town art professor, Malcolm Payne, exhibited a butt plug, entitled "Colin Richards - Red - Slim Medium subtitled R. Butt" for the first Galerie Puta show. Some have suggested that Payne may have been moved by Richards' description of him as a "Crypto-conceptual artist" and various other comments in the Art South Africa article, or more likely with a general disagreement over issues relating to the theorising of conceptualism and Conceptual Art. Colin Richards serves on the editorial boards of the two major international academic journals addressing contemporary art of "the South", Nka and Third Text.

Many commentators noted that the only all-South African show at the Second Africus Johannesburg Biennale (1997), Graft, was one of the strongest shows on the festival. As curator, Colin Richards was concerned with addressing the word "graft" in three specific definitions that can be attached to it: as a cutting and joining exercise such as the botanical process of grafting; as work ("to graft hard"); and as a form of corruption. The South African National Gallery was host to a show of younger artists, many not well known at the time but today reading like a "who's who" of contemporary South African practice, including Alan Alborough, Tracey Rose, Moshekwa Langa, Siemon Allen, Candice Breitz, Sandile Zulu, Johannes Phokela and Angela Ferreira. Richards' ability to spot emerging talent and develop it through strong curatorial and theoretical support has been demonstrated in several of the exhibitions he has curated or been consultant to.

In 1995 he became a Doctor of Philosophy with a thesis entitled Drawing on words: Jasper Johns' illustrations of Samuel Beckett's Foirades/Fizzles. This was a culminating point to a long study of Becket, a writer on whom he is an acknowledged authority. Since 1985 he has worked in the Fine Arts department at Wits, progressing to his full professorship and personal chair in 2002. During this time, he has had numerous writings published. Concurrently he participated in dozens of academic conferences and was invited as a visiting artist and lecturer to, among others, the Universities of Glasgow, Leeds, Umea in Sweden, South Florida (Tampa), and Cape Town.

From 1977 until 1985 Richards was a medical illustrator in the Department of Medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand. One can still see the evidence of this discipline in his recent work, with its careful observation and attention to detail. In late 1977 he was presented with a bundle of photographs by Hillel Shapiro, a forensic pathologist at Wits Medical School, who required him to label them in a particular way, a common task for Richards at the time. What he only came to understand a little later (although he could see that they were visually different from the usual photographs he got) was that these images were the post-mortem photographs of Steve Biko. This experience was significant for Richards and he has written about the effect it had on him as causing him to feel "confused, compromised, implicated, and ultimately angry." This experience served to inform his participation on the Faultlines: Inquiries Around Truth and Reconciliation show at the Castle of Good Hope and its surrounding discourse.

Richards is preparing for a solo show at Art on Paper, in Melville, Johannesburg, later this year. Incredibly this is only his second solo show, the first being held in 1981 at the Gertrude Posel Gallery at the University of the Witwatersrand. That exhibition was of medical illustrations, when Richards was not really part of the fine arts establishment, so in many ways this show, which will incorporate an iconography not always far removed from those days as medical illustrator, has a pleasant circularity to it.

Colin Richards was born in Camps Bay, Cape Town in 1954. He studied at the University of South Africa, Goldsmiths' College (University of London) and the University of the Witwatersand. He is a registered art therapist both in South Africa and the United Kingdom and is actively involved in professional bodies in art therapy. Along with Mamatlakeng Makhoana, he has established an art therapy service in Orlando, Soweto. Currently a professor the University of the Witwatersrand, he lives and works in Johannesburg.

Solo Exhibitions:

1981: Solo exhibition, 9-27 March, Gertrude Posel Gallery, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

Selected Group Shows:

1986: 'But This is Reality', Market Gallery, Johannesburg.
1987: 'Culture in Another South Africa (CASA)', the CASA Foundation and the Anti-Apartheid Movement, Netherlands (AABN), Oosterkerk, Amsterdam.
1988: '100 Artists Protest Detention', the Detainees Parent Support Committee (DPSC), Market Gallery, Johannesburg.
1989: 'The Little Big Show', miniature serigraphs by artists at the Caversham Press, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg. Travelled nationally.
1991: 'Hand-coloured Graphics', Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.
1992: 'The Processed Image',Newtown Galleries, Johannesburg.
'Art Meets Science', July, Standard Bank National Arts Festival, 1820 Settlers Monument, Grahamstown, and travelled nationally.
1994: 'Displacements: South African Works on Paper, 1984-1994', Block Gallery, Northwestern University, Evanston, United States of America.
1995: 'The Presence of the Curator', Market Gallery, Johannesburg.
'Objects of Defiance / Spaces of Contemplation', MuseumAfrica, Africus Johannesburg Biennale, Johannesburg; and South African National Gallery, Cape Town.
1996: 'Faultlines: Inquiries around Truth and Reconciliation',The Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town.
1996-1997: 'Contemporary South African Art 85-95: From the South African National Gallery Permanent Collection', South African National Gallery, Cape Town.
1997: 'Collecting Ourselves', Gertrude Posel Gallery, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
'The Lost Wax Show', Department of Fine Arts, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
'Printmaking in a Transforming South Africa', Johannesburg Art Gallery, Joubert Park. (Travelled from the Grahamstown Festival, 1997).
1998: 'mem?rias ?ntimas marcas', curated by Fernando Alvim with Sussuta Bo?, The Electric Workshop, Johannesburg. (Travelled internationally).
'Bringing Up Baby' curated by Terry Kurgan, Standard Bank Festival of the Arts, Grahamstown (Travelled nationally).
'Holdings: Refiguring the Archive', curated by Jane Taylor. Graduate School for Humanities and Social Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand.
1999: 'Truth Veils', Gertrude Posel Gallery, curated by Penny Siopis, University of the Witwatersrand.
'Emergence: 25 years of South African Art', curated by Fiona Rankin-Smith and Julia Charlton, Albany Museum, Grahamstown. (Travelled nationally).
'The Wedge', staff show of the Department of Fine Arts, NSA, Durban.
2000: 'memórias íntimas marcas' , Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen (MUHKA), Belgium.
2001: 'No 1 Jan Smuts Avenue Exhibition', Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg.
'Re-Constitution: An Artists' Collaboration' , Rhodes Arts School Gallery. Curated by Professor Mark Hayward, School of Fine Art, Rhodes University as part of the Standard Bank Festival of the Arts, Grahamstown.
2002: 'Ground Zero: Works in Progress', annex to Contemporary Art Museum (CAM), University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida
'Sublimation', Klein Karoo Arts Festival 2002, Oudtshoorn
2002-3: 'The Field's Edge: Agency, Body and the African Lens', Tampa, USF Contemporary Art Museum (CAM), University of South Florida.

Select Publications (since 1997):

1997: 'Mister Tito Zungu's Art of the Middle Smile', catalogue Mr Tito Zungu: A Retrospective Exhibition (Durban, Durban Art Gallery)
'The Secret Agent: Subjectivity and Subterfuge in the Work of Durant Sihlali', Art Objects in a Postmodern Age, edited by Toni Patel (Mumbai, Mohile Parikh Centre for the Visual Arts).
'Graft', in 2nd Africus Johannesburg Biennale [Catalogue]
'Peripheral Vision: Art Criticism in South Africa' in Art Criticism in Africa, edited by Katy Deepwell (London, Saffron / Eastern Art)
'April Fool's Interview: Alan Alborough and Colin Richards in Conversation, 1 April 1996' Nka: Journal of Contemporary Art
1999: 'Bobbit's Feast: Violence and Representation in South African Art' in Grey Areas, edited by Brenda Atkinson and Candice Breitz (Johannesburg, Chalkham Hill Press)
'The Wake of Words: A Response to My Lovely Day', catalogue/pamphlet for Penny Siopis (The Artists Press)
'Sandile Zulu: Incendiary Devices', Liberated Voices: Contemporary Art from South Africa (catalogue), The Museum for African Art, New York
'About Face: Aspects of Art, History and Identity in South African Visual Culture', in Reading the Contemporary: African Art from Theory to the Marketplace, edited by Olu Oguibe and Okwui Enwezor (London, Institute of International Visual Arts, Cambridge Mass, MIT Press
2001: 'Curating Conflict', catalogue for 'Head North: Bildmuseet, Umea, Sweden.
'Hector Petersen / Mbuyisa Makhubu', two illustrated texts for publication funded by IFAS (The French Institute of South Africa)
2002: 'The Thought is the Thing: Conceptualism in Contemporary South African Art', Art South Africa Vol.1 Number 2

Select Curation:

1995: 'Taking Liberties: The Body Politic', University Art Galleries, University of the Witwatersrand. 1st Johannesburg Biennale.
1995-96: 'Siyawela: Love, Loss and Liberation in South African Art', Gas Hall, Birmingham City Museums and Art Gallery, Birmingham, United Kingdom.
1997: 'Graft', for the 2nd Africus Johannesburg Biennale, South African National Gallery, Cape Town.

Select Curation:

1995: 'Taking Liberties: The Body Politic', University Art Galleries, University of the Witwatersrand. 1st Johannesburg Biennale.
1995-96: 'Siyawela: Love, Loss and Liberation in South African Art', Gas Hall, Birmingham City Museums and Art Gallery, Birmingham, United Kingdom.
1997: 'Graft', for the 2nd Africus Johannesburg Biennale, South African National Gallery, Cape Town.

Also an adjudicator for the visual arts fellowships of the Civitella Ranieri Trust, New York.

Public Collections:

Durban Art Gallery, First National Bank, Johannesburg, Billiton Art Collection. Johannesburg Art Gallery, King George VI Gallery, Port Elizabeth. Michaelis School of Art, University of Cape Town. Rupert Art Foundation, Cape Town. South African National Gallery. Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg. Telkom Art Collection. The Beckett Archive, University of Reading, Reading, England. University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. University of South Africa, Pretoria. William Humphreys Gallery, Kimberley.


Alan Alborough
(July 2000)
Jane Alexander
(July 1999)
Siemon Allen
(June 2001)
Willie Bester
(Aug 1999)
Willem Boshoff
(Aug 2001)
Conrad Botes
(Dec 2001)
Andries Botha
(April 2000)
Wim Botha
(April 2003)
Kevin Brand
(June 1998)
Candice Breitz
(Oct 1998)
Lisa Brice
(Jan 1999)
Angela Buckland
(March 2003)
Pitso Chinzima
(Oct 2001)
Marco Cianfanelli
(Aug 2002)
Steven Cohen
(May 1998)
Leora Farber
(May 2002)
Bronwen Findlay
(April 2002)
Kendell Geers
(June 2002)
Linda Givon
(Dec 1999)
David Goldblatt
(Dec 2002)
Thembinkosi Goniwe
(Oct 2002)
Brad Hammond
(Jan 2001)
Randolph Hartzenberg
(Aug 1998)
Kay Hassan
(Oct 2000)
Stephen Hobbs
(Dec 1998)
Robert Hodgins
(June 2000)
William Kentridge
(May 1999)
Isaac Khanyile
(Nov 2001)
David Koloane
(July 2003)
Dorothee Kreutzfeld
(Jan 2000)
Terry Kurgan
(Aug 2000)
Moshekwa Langa
(Feb 1999)
Chris Ledochowski
(June 2003)
Kim Lieberman
(May 2003)
Mandla Mabila
(Sept 2001)
Veronique Malherbe
(June 1999)
Mustafa Maluka
(July 1998)
Senzeni Marasela
(Feb 2000)
Santu Mofokeng
(July 2002)
Zwelethu Mthethwa
(April 1999)
Thomas Mulcaire
(April 2001)
Brett Murray
(Sept 1998)
Hylton Nel
(Feb 2002)
Karel Nel
(Oct 1999)
Walter Oltmann
(July 2001)
Malcolm Payne
(Nov 2002)
Tracy Payne
(Mar 1998)
Peet Pienaar
(Dec 2000)
Jo Ractliffe
(Mar 1999)
Robin Rhode
(Nov 1999)
Tracey Rose
(Mar 2001)
Claudette Schreuders
(Sept 2000)
Berni Searle
(May 2000)
Berni Searle (update)
(Jan 2003)
Usha Seejarim
(May 2001)
Penny Siopis
(Sept 1999)
Dave Southwood
(Mar 2002)
Doreen Southwood
(Sept 2002)
Greg Streak
(Feb 2001)
Clive van den Berg
(Nov 1998)
Hentie van der Merwe
(Mar 2000)
Strijdom van der Merwe
(Jan 2002)
Minnette Vári
(Feb 1998)
Diane Victor
(Feb 2003)
Jeremy Wafer
(Nov 2000)