99 Loop Gallery, Cape Town
26.09 – 26.10.2019
The first time I heard of Fanie, it was through a very chic friend who’d commissioned a piece from him. “He’s the absolute best,” she said, “I can’t believe you haven’t heard of him.” Soundly scolded, I followed him on Instagram; effectively tagging on for the next of his artistic journey. A journey, it turns out; that is filled to the brim with pop-culture, memes, zodiac updates and an unapologetic openness to the madness of the world; one he navigates with a startling sense of humour that I adore.
In my experience with art it’s always been a part of the viewing process to disengage from the impression of the artist when viewing their work. The symbolism thrives when we reassociate the narrative with ourselves, or dissect the subject matter to the point of it’s necessary abstraction. With Fanie’s work, his presence permeates the art in a way that elevates the narrative; contextualising his renditions of public figures and icons, as well as his gravitation toward reinterpreting the notions of tradition, observation and society.
99 Loop described his latest exhibition ‘Happy Birthday Jesus!’ as something, “the artist has picked out and savoured [of] his favourite ingredients of the holiday: dressing up, precocious children, failed gastronomy and underlying tension.” This mutuality between Buys and his art creates a portal to something spectacular and honest in the execution, setting him apart.
Considering the Christmas theme of the exhibition and the date of the opening of the show, it gives pause with the commentary that results within this space of incorrect timing. The preemptiveness of the celebration strikes me as a slight against the timing and design of the holiday; giving the audience the space to have perspective as their habits, conventions and behaviour are presented to them in such a familiar, nostalgic manner that transcends both them and the artist with its universality. Taking Christmas out of Christmas gives the viewers an opportunity to view it in isolation and make the appropriate interrogations presented within the frames of Buys’ works. Great examples of this are: Rituals are most beautiful when we fail to recognise them and The only thing more stressful than giving birth in a stable is being in a play dramatising said birth (also being 5).
When I asked Fanie about his relationship with colour, he said, “My strategy is to consider an image for a while and think of which colours I want to push. Then I do a flat colour before I begin painting. I try and skew all colours to a complimentary pairing. Other times it just works by accident. Depending on my energy levels I approach this exercise with either a ‘Dr. Frankenstein’ zeal or a ‘Zorba the Greek’ stoicism.”
There’s a freedom and a fanfare in his work that is thankfully inescapable. He goes on to say, “Bringing neon colours into my process has been great as well. I feel like that gives me a greater scope of luminosity to play with.” When talking about the evolution of his colour use, Fanie says, “I think that I’ve learnt a lot about using new pigments. I keep my palette very constrained so that I learn to mix colours as opposed to relying on premade colour.”
His art manages to encompass both the attraction of creation, as well as mirror the spectacle of society’s keen eye, by turning that same eye on itself. When identifying his favourite part of his creative process, he said, “I have been feeling quite constricted by working naturalistically lately, and I have been receiving great feedback on works that aren’t realistic paintings of people. I do take great pleasure in getting a painting “right”, but I feel that there is more to do with figurative painting than making big, glossy, renaissance artworks. My favourite part of my creative process, I think, is when a risk pays off.”
The show consists of a range of festivities. There is clay that’s been moulded into an extravagant dinner table, a series of Christmas cards hung on trees in front of a golden wall, which immortalise moments between celebrations. There are larger works presented as a collection of familial memories lining the walls in clusters; something I saw as a commentary on our closeness with those we follow, and how we absorb celebrities into our lives, families and subsequent traditions. Some of my favourites are: If you really spend time at my art show you may encounter a moment of tenderness, Look if this painting doesn’t speak for itself then you need to ask yourself what you’re doing here and Me in drag thinking about Edward Hopper, Hopper’s own style being something I can see Fanie’s used as a point of reference.
When choosing subject matter, he jokingly gives a ouija board credit, but goes on to site influential texts such as Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp, as well as a volume titled Kitsch! Cultural Politics and Taste by Ruth Holliday and Tracey Potts.
“So the gist of what I want to say with that academic name drop is: a) I read and b) I draw a lot on camp and kitsch. The idea is to evoke a slightly sinister deja-vu in the viewer. I have a folder on my computer titled ‘pictures’ and a lot of junk gets put in there. I screenshot tv shows, I save ads I like, or phrases. I’ll make a tweet every now and then saying things like, ‘I want to paint a picture of a swan next week, could someone please remind me?’. From that initial excitement I try to filter out what has kept my interest.”
Fanie harnesses that ephemeral, fickle-thing and uses it in a way that becomes the process, the means and the world in which his genius lives, long enough to share it with the rest of us. Bearing witness to that is something I’m very grateful for, and also something that will keep me loyal to both his personal adventures and the artistic results.When asked what he’d like to leave the audience feeling after ‘Happy Birthday, Jesus!’ Fanie responds: “I would like it to be something people are glad they left their house to see. This is a bit of a reach, but when friends speak of going to the late Barend de Wet’s shows their faces light up; it was an experience which gave them joy. I want people to be happy, not just smug, that they went to my show.”