‘All profound art is ugly at first,’ said Clement Greenberg, a notion which described my initial experience of Bevan De Wet’s recent, ‘Drawing on Entropy’ exhibition at Maboneng’s Hazard Gallery. This body of work is a departure from the norms of an artist whose creations I had developed a comfortable visual understanding.
My expectations of this printmaker was another captivatingly detailed figurative body of work. What is presented, instead, are a series of meditative abstracted works which seemingly place most of their artistic importance, not in grandiose notions of revealing a meticulously crafted finished art work, but rather, in the rediscovery of processes and materiality. It is this shift in Bevan De Wet’s visual language that not only puts his audience in a realm of the unfamiliar, but is also a revelation of new aspects to De Wet’s process. This sees him embracing aspects of chance and errors more freely in the works as a counterpoint to the much more familiar reliance on representation.
De Wet’s latest artistic explorations manifest themselves predominantly as experimental drawings and paintings on paper. These journeys of discovery into the unknown also find him pushing the limits of even the substrate he chooses to work on; which can be seen in his hand-made sisal paper Undertow installation, where one is confronted with the fragility of the artist’s process. This installation of draped sheets of handmade paper conveys two ideas: The first being that of the nature of uncertainty and discovery of the artistic process, and the second being a drive to experiment with the materials used. In this installation the viewer is confronted with thin free-hanging unframed sheets of paper, that call out to be touched and engaged with. This becomes a tactile invitation that informs the readings of the rest of the works. This transforms the substrate of paper into more than just a surface element on which artistic expression rests.
This interrogation of medium and substrate is developed in Tarrying with the Negative, a drawing done in ink, charcoal and pigment on distressed paper. Soaking the paper in layer upon layer of painted washes seems to be a test of the paper’s capacity for punishment. After having found a point where the paper could not absorb any more liquid, De Wet then gouged into the paper; stripping its layer in an effort to disrupt its surface and discover untainted subdermal layers. This interplay between mark-making and the substrate are further investigated in works like New Prospects I, II & III which are ink and pigment works on handmade sisal paper with the addition of a collage element layered into the into, similar to the watermark sandwiched in the paper we use as money.
When glimmers of the familiar printmaking mode are discovered in works such as New Reflections of Commonality I, an etching and chine collé, it becomes evident through inspection that the much more recognisable plant-like forms informed the abstracted forms. In these works De Wet’s investigation of substrate moved to the brass etching plate which he tarnished and denatured for months prior to printing with it. In this process the seeking out the perfection of form in its representation has been replaced by a search for the unrecognisable. This affinity to seek out the abstract in contrast to the more recognisable is evident in his, This is not a man, it’s a tree I, II & III ink which were created using his non-dominant hand after an injury. These works of trees, are created not by distorting the trees themselves, but by envisioning that which is simultaneously isn’t there; namely, the spaces between leaves.