by Carol Brown (May, 2007)
Although best known as a painter, Andrew Verster is also a writer of short stories, articles and radio plays (winner of the BBC World Service Playwriting Competition in 1992 with the play You May Leave, The Show is Over). The second,Future Past with Janet Suzman, was commissioned by the BBC. Another, When in Rome Don't Drink the Water, was shortlisted, as was his latest play Love and Marriage. A short story was broadcast by the BBC, Aileen, Marjorie, Arthur and Me. He designed the sets and costumes for Opera Africa's Faustand for their new opera based on the life and music of Princess Magogo, as well as costumes for The Coolie Odyssey, La Traviata, Rigoletto and I Capuleti e I Montecchi for the State Theatre, Pretoria and forThrenody and Dances, a chamber opera performed at the Women�s Festival in August 2002. He also designed costumes for Greg King's production of Private Lives, and for the adult pantomime Sinderella.
In addition to this he presented a range of eight outfits for the Durban Designer Collection in 2002.
He is on the Film and Publication Review Board and is a Trustee of the Durban Art Gallery, the Arts Work Trust, Very Special Arts, Artists for Human Rights Trust and the African Art Centre. He also sits on the committee of the Grahamstown Festival. He has had over 40 solo exhibitions, is represented in many major public and private collections, and has been awarded two retrospective exhibitions organized by the Durban Art Gallery.
He has produced numerous public and private commissions, including sculpture and tapestry.
His first solo show was in 1967 and 40 years later he is still pushing the boundaries of art and life. His work is characterised by its astonishing variety and an openness to try new things. Looking over his incredible output it is noticeable that he keeps on exploring and discovering although there are clear threads which run throughout. These include the Durban environment and the male figure.
He is not one to linger too long over one work - his mind and hands are too fast and he has a need to complete projects due to his immense enthusiasm which finds excitement and thrill in the discovery of the new. This has led to the variety of his output. His travels to places such as Japan, Paris and India have all informed his work.
He has published several articles about India, amongst them, one in StyleMagazine, A Very Happy Seduction about a visit to the Taj Mahal, and two in Indigo, From Varanasi to Calcutta, a train journey, and India, An Affair of the Heart about his Indian experiences and inspirations.
'There are, in the various clans of my family, farmers, journalists, broadcasters, a bookkeeper, chemist, butcher, miner, social worker, hotelier, singer, pianist, linguist, jewellery designer and two optometrists. My brother is clever with electrical things and lives in a Spanish house in a new suburb of Benoni. My house is Edwardian and in Durban. I was born in Johannesburg, spent my art school years in London and have lived for longer than anywhere else in Durban.
'If I had to choose one label for myself and only one it would be painter.
'And painting means oil on canvas. Acrylic is useful for certain things, but it does not have the luminosity of oil, does not blend as well, does not feel right and looks dead. I have used it and hate it.
'I, of course, work in a lot of different media too.
'Drawing - I love ink and use a Rotring technical pen with a variety of points of different thicknesses. My recent exhibition, 'Mendhi' was drawings based on henna patterns on hands. I love the danger of ink. You cannot rub it out. You can only go forward. I don't draw in pencil first but attack the paper immediately with ink. It makes one decisive.
'Etching - drawing on zinc or copper plates through a film of wax and then etching in acid, gives a line similar to pen and ink. I used to have my own etching press but now work with Malcolm Christian at his Caversham Press studio. He has wonderful facilities and equipment. I have done prints in silkscreen with him, aquatint and drypoint - the last two being cousins of etching. Also woodblock and lino.'
'There are two Indias in my life - Little India, the Durban that has been my home for over 40 years - and the other one that I got to know recently.
'Coming to Durban in 1963 to take up a lecturing post at the Indian University meant that from my first day I was part of the culture. Years later, going to India completed a circle. It did not feel exotic but ordinary. "It must have been an influence on your work," people said. "Yes, but I painted my Indian pictures before I went," and that prepared me for what I was to experience and what I wanted to see.'
Verster is currently organising the art component of the Grahamstown Festival, as well as the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for 2008.
In the studio he is working on a series of monumental tattoo nudes in oil, some of which have already been exhibited at the KZNSA Gallery and also producing a linked series of life-size works on the same theme. Tissue paper is stained with inks and a number of separate fragments impregnated with melted wax which acts as adhesive and gives transparency, making skin-fine, parchment curtains. This series returns to a previous one - 'Tea Paintings 1988' involving stains made from different teas, tissue paper and melted wax.
Verster is also preparing for a 10 year retrospective exhibition at the Grahamstown Arts Festival, on the occasion of his 70th birthday.
Verster also works a lot in tapestry with Marguerite Stephens in Johannesburg. Their last commission was for three large tapestries for Rhodes House in Oxford to celebrate the centenary of the death of Cecil Rhodes and the start of the new Mandela Rhodes Foundation. Rhodes House is the home of the Rhodes Scholarship.
For the Constitutional Court Verster competed for seven of the commissions for various art works. He did the carpets for the court chamber, the entrance doors which are eight-and-a-half metres high, three flourescent chandeliers, and a pair of steel security gates for the judge's chambers.
In 2005 Verster had a solo show at the KZNSA Gallery. 'History' involved ink on paper drawings.
Verster worked on a mosaic commission for Melrose Arch in Johannesburg and number of commissions for the new Hilton Hotel in Durban in 1996.
He was one of 23 people appointed by the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology to serve on the Arts and Culture Task Group (ACTAG) to research and draft a report on the arts. The Draft White Paper was published in May 1996.
Verster was awarded a retrospective exhibition called 'Mapping Terra Incognita' by the Durban Art Gallery in 1997 to celebrate his 60th year. This show toured the country.
Working as a fulltime artist for 25 years meant that he Verster has had to be versatile and develop a lot of other skills so that he could take on a variety of commissions. This does not mean that he is necessarily skilled in the media in which he works - such as tapestry, or carpet making or wood-carving - rather that he collaborates with people who DO have the skills. But he has to know enough of the possibilities of each of the processes in order to be able to design in them.
Verster is preparing a touring retrospective exhibition of the last 10 years of his work which will start at the Grahamstown Festival in 2008 and end in Durban before transferring to Delhi. He says: 'We have made a decision to feature the last 10 years as I have had two retrospective exhibitions and feel that my work in the last 10 years has taken a shift particularly after my visits to India and involvement with the theatre. Democracy of course has changed so much and freed us to work and think differently, so the exhibition intends to reflect this.'
AND AFTER THAT
'I hope I'll be surprised to be doing something unexpected, like designing postage stamps for the country, a dance drama for the Flying Fish or breeding strange dogs and be as amazed as I am now to be designing beadwork for the African Art Centre, things for Durban Fashion Week and costumes for opera' says Verster.
Born Johannesburg 1937
Studied Camberwell School of Art, London 1955-1959 and at Reading University
Settled in Durban in 1963
Lectured: University College (later University of Durban-Westville now University of KwaZulu-Natal) and at Natal Technikon until 1976. Resigned to paint full-time
1979 Joined architectural firm of Hallen, Theron and Partners
Art critic for Daily News for 12 years until 1985 including a weekly arts column From The Backwater
Selected Solo exhibitions
1967 First solo exhibition, Lidchi Jhb and Walsh Marais Durban
1972 Goodman Gallery Jhb
1975 Natal University 'Fifteen years of People, Places and Things'
1987 50th retrospective - Durban Art Gallery and toured South African museums
1988 Homage to Seferis, NSA
1996 Opening exhibition of NSA Gallery and Artist in Residence Grahamstown Festival
1996 'New Paintings' Artpreciation Gallery, Hong Kong
1996 'Thirty Five Small Paintings', South African Consulate Mumbai and Delhi
1997 Sixtieth retrospective 'Mapping Terra Incognita', Durban Art Gallery and toured South African museums
1997 'We are Bricolage', Goodman Gallery and Pretoria Art Museum
1997 'Ragini', NSA Gallery, Durban
1997 'New Work', Pretoria Art Museum
2000 'Indus', João Ferreira Fine Art, Cape Town
2001 'Bandhini', KZNSA Gallery, Durban
2001 'Recent Paintings', Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
2002 'Recent Paintings', The Dorp Street Gallery, Stellenbosch
2003 'Mendhi', Tamasa Gallery
Selected Group Shows
1963, 65, 67 and 69 'Art South Africa Today'
1973 'Fireball Suite', Ansdell Gallery, London
1987 'Tributaries', Johannesburg and Germany
1991 'Basel 22', Switzerland
1999, 2000, 01 02 03 04 05 06 'KZNSA Members exhibitions', KZNSA, Durban
2005 'Court Painters', Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg
2003 4 5 6 'Small Works', artSPACE, Durban
2002 'Summer Exhibition', Bell-Roberts, Cape Town
2006 'Satyaghara', Kizo Gallery, Durban and Travancore Gallery, Delhi
2006 'Bodyworks', KZNSA Nivea Gallery, Durban
2007 'Portrait and Landscape', Bell-Roberts, Cape Town
2007 'Marks on Paper', KZNSA, Durban
2007 'Marklyn Govender and Andrew Verster @ Thirty', KZNSA, Durban
Selected Public Collections
Museums and galleries:
Durban Art Gallery; Johannesburg Art Gallery; SA National Gallery; Tatham Art Gallery; Durban Institute of Technology; Unisa; Pretoria Art Museum; Sandton Municipal Collection; Margate Art Gallery; Pietersburg Art Museum; SASOL Collection Stellenbosch; Mobil Collection; Nelson Mandela Museum, PE; William Humphries Gallery, Kimberley
Public buildings and institutions:
Constitutional Court, Jhb; Office of the Premier KZN, Pmb; The International Conference Centre Durban; Malherbe Library, University of KZN; Reserve Bank Durban; Playhouse, Durban; Rhodes House, Oxford University England; Durban University of Technology Office complex, Mangosuthu Technikon; Brenthurst Library Jhb; Monument for Alan Paton outside the Ixopo High School; Absa Bank Jhb; Metro Mall development in the Newtown redevelopment scheme.