Tuesday, August 3, 2010

African dream machines continued; Divination I, II and III.

Ballpoint pen drawing, Divination III (1998). 
The ceramic sculptures featured here, are the last in the series of sculptures based on African Headrests (Dream machines). The work combines elements of Africa and Asian cultures, in particular the Zen minimalist, Japanese based aesthetic. African headrests typify this aesthetic in it's design sophistication and splendour. The ceramic statements featured below are based on the sculptural forms, shapes and surface decoration of the following african headrest.  
Headrest, wood, pokerwork, 14,6 x 36,3 x 8,2. Swazi/North Nguni,
as cited in the Catalogue Art and Ambiguity; Page 78.
Nettleton Drawing; Headrest Illustration 345.
African headrests and or dream machines. 
The design of the African headrests are best appreciated for their striking, yet simple and sophisticated forms and shapes. The carver's  innovation is best realised in their creative use of positive and negative forms and shapes. Any designer and or individual that appreciates fine design and has style, will acknowledge their unique and creative qualities. They are arguably the finest examples of three dimensional objects, representing our indigenous African cultural heritage. No wonder the researcher Anitra Nettleton, an authoritarian on African Headrests, their style, identity and their meaning, as captured in the publication titled, African Dream Machines chose to render them by hand, rather than photograph the pieces to compliment the text.  
Nettleton Drawing Headrest Illustration 315

These are not just simple sketches, but rather a manifestation of careful observation and passion for her research subject matter (15 years in the making). The drawings were as a result of copyright issues and refusal by museum authorities to photo-document the work in collections. The end result however is truly a remarkable feat, a reflection of her dedication and fascination with the art objects. The drawings aided the research process as explained by the author in the preface, 'The process of drawing then became a tool of analysis as much as it was a means of presenting visual information' (page viii)  They are on par with botanical studies (drawings). Anitra Nettleton, however executed drawings of each and every headrest she encountered. I stand to be corrected, but that adds up to 435 drawings. 
Divination III (1998)Collection Alfio Torrisi (Spain)
Press-moulded with hand built extensions in Porcelain.

This series of ceramic sculptures, Divination I, II and III incorporates a variety of symbols attached to the same headrest (photographed and documented above), referenced for the form of the frame-like structure (see enclosed ball point pen drawings inserted below). This structure forms the unifying element in the series. 

Each ceramic statement is a methaphor for the meaning of life - man's precarious position balanced between the security of the past and the uncertainty of the future. The difference between the works are visible in terms of the various symbols attached to the press-moulded main frame, further enhanced by the choice of clay and surface development options (Porcelain, terra-cotta and high-fired underglaze colours.  

Divination II (1998), (Collection Neil Lovegrove)
Press-moulded with hand built Extension
The ballpoint pen drawing is inspired by the well known image in the woodblock print by the Japanese Artist Hokusai. The image represents a tidal wave, a symbol with a dual expressive function; that of destruction and regeneration. It therefore posses a question amidst great uncertainty; the wave is poised before it releases it's devastation and or regenerative and cleansing force. The symbol takes centre stage in the frame-like structure of the ceramic sculptures above and below.
The gourds on the left form part of divination procedures; these rituals are used throughout Africa to establish the cause of misfortune and to bring about a peaceful social relations and success in various activities and natural processes. Tsonga and Ndau diviners use gourds containing various medicines appropriate for various clients. Each gourd has a long stopper, with the end carved in the shape of a human figure, which is used as an applicator for the medicines during divination. Reference was made to these objects in creating the figureheads for the two ceramic sculptures above and below. 
The drawing on the left is preparatory ball point pen drawings referencing the divination gourds mentioned above, they are symbols of healing for the nation. The pot-like ceramic figure hovers above the individual works; a reminder of our cultural roots, healing, ancestral communication and the need for steadfastness and trust. The headrest structure is a metaphor for great uncertainty in the form and shape of extreme tension - the wave bursting through a narrow and confined space, adds to the unfolding drama.

Divination II (1998),
Press-moulded with hand built extensions;
 terra-cotta clay, stained with tea.
Ballpoint pen drawing for Night Howler III below. 
Night Howler III (1996),
Press moulded with hand built extensions.
Fired to 1250 degrees Celsius 


jim said...

wonderful post eugene. when i first glanced at her renderings i thought of botanical studies drawings. i have a friend whose father (deceased now) spent most of his free time in his adult life making drawings in the field of wild plants of kentucky. when he died, my friend got them and he was just shy of 1000 drawings... all very accurate and lovingly executed. i really like the idea of the book being illustrated as opposed to photographed. i think that maybe some day a book about you would be excellent, sprinkled with your beautiful drawings throughout. i love the night howler with the hand and the heart... beautiful

Andi said...

Beautiful...impeccable art, sir!