99 Loop, Cape Town
Fanie Buys, a misbegotten lad, hails from a rural, ultra-conservative, NG Kerk upbringing, and his work revolves around his own queer identity and his unresolved struggles to come to terms with it. The word queer describes Buys, as to me, this implies a combative exceptionalism and non-conformative apartness, and is entirely devoid of overtones of a cruising gay lifestyle. Buys aspires to this but can’t manage it until he has downed a few double-vodkas. This crippling inhibition is the show’s principal weakness. Buys holds his cards too close to his chest, and all too often this extreme reticence neither engages the viewer nor generates intrigue. The titles I call myself Candy Warhol now, and Every time a private schooled white boy wants to deconstruct Kanye West lyrics to me (seminar style) at a social gathering I lose 2-3 years of my life expectancy, express a delightfully witty camp humour but sadly this is confined to the words not the images.
‘This Man’ is never in-your-face, cheeky, provocative or celebratory. Instead, Buys applies a highly sensitive, delicately nuanced and elusive approach to the agonizing doubts, shame, guilt and fear of the child who knows he is gay, and the tortured adolescent enduring all the agonies of coming out and the panic he has to overcome before that primal rite of initiation –sleeping with his your first partner– is over. Buys’ defers the subsequent ecstasies of robust gay sex into an uncertain future. The show principally consists of male portraits, and its title ‘This Man’ is riddled with his ambivalence. Fanie proclaims ‘this is a man I hate … because I find him incredibly attractive.’
If Buys encounters difficulties with verbal passes, his brush, by contrast, attains a silver-tongued painterly eloquence. In Anyway this is Wonderwall, an image of Liam Gallagher, the lead guitarist, singer and songwriter of the rock-band Oasis famed for their track Wonderwall and heavy drinking, drug-taking and ruffianly fisticuffs. This is no portrait, but a tender fantasy, an exquisitely dreamy romantic lyric with a deep undertow of sadness. Buys strips Gallagher of his brashness, pugnacity and vicious appearance, and exacts revenge by reducing him to someone as vulnerable and confused as himself. Buys’ Gallagher is a young dreamboat brooding inconsolably over some heartache, and because the picture is so diminutive, the viewer is impelled to come up close, and commune with both the painting, and the melancholy Adonis within it. The long lashed blue-grey eyes carry their burthen of sorrow and communicate it with such lacerating intensity it arouses immediate empathy. The hint of an open mouth suggests hopeless yearning, the tousled hair conveys abandonment, and the blue shadows that fall over his immaculate white skin and black background suggest suicidal temptation. Unfathomable mystery is Buys’ forte, and the possibilities are infinite. Is Gallagher lusting after someone? Has he been jilted? Or experienced a bout of unsatisfactory love-making for the trail of white paint running down his cheek clearly suggests sperm? So highly idealized is this paragon that any physiognomic likeness vanishes, and the resultant image becomes a poignant, purely anonymous expression of wistful infatuation and unassuaged libido.
The artist favours the small scale and applies the oils thinly, or alternatively sloshes them down in boisterous impastos that stand proud of the canvas where they reveal the perfect judgement that belies the appearance of wild spontaneity. LSD-Lunatic Surfer or Destiny depicts four nude young men acting out masculinity on some sunny beach. It is a study in bonding. Although one fellow tousles his mate’s hair with that rough matey tenderness through which heterosexual men express affection, an erotic malaise is implicit in the group’s simulation of normalcy which reveals their inability to express their love, or perhaps merely friendship, except through the usual crude macho repertoire of hearty smacks on the back and pats on the knee. Are they gay? About to come out? Or subject to that metaphysical wanderlust that drives youth to attempt to attain a deeper insight into the universe and themselves though hallucinogens. It could mean all or none of the above. Buys is a master of mood and atmosphere, eschewing the explicit in favour of the suggestive, inducing a mood of memorious reverie in the viewer.
Certain images assume a sinister flavour and hint at the mutually exploitative relationships so common in the gay world. I am not sure what champagne papi means but I know that I want to invite it into my life seemingly addresses the gay boy’s eternal quest to find a sugar daddy. The set-up with the two glasses on the table, implies the venal youth is sitting opposite the shady older man gazing at him through his tinted glasses in explicit sexual appraisal. He raises his hand and points his finger upwards – hopefully to order another bottle of Veuve Clicquot. The ageing pederast is seated against fingery-looking palm fronds that hint at eely delvings.
Although daddy’s legs are anatomically disastrous, Self-Portrait with father (painting with emotional insight) conveys such acute psychic distress it still continues to haunts me. This is a self-portrait of a five or six year Fanie standing next to his seated progenitor. Dad wears a cheesy smile while his intensely discomforted son intuits he will disappoint his parent – a regte mansmens who wants a champion Springbok as his son, and Buys already anticipates the parental and societal rejection that awaits him. For me these were the four highlights of the show, eclipsing all else, so I shall waste not another word.