Saturday, May 29, 2010

Shapiro Cartoon; an artist's response.

Anon., pub. William Peake, text by John Vicars. The pope seated on the seven -headed beast of Rome 1643. (Carey F 2000. The Apocalypse. London. The British Museum Press.)

The pope is represented as the Whore  of Babylon or 'Rome's Whore' uttering Babylonish blasphemies', riding the seven-headed Beast of Rome. Though the Pope is the ostensible subject it would have been read, in this early stage of the Civil War, as an attack on the court and Church of England. This high-quality print shows knowledge of earlier German and Netherlandish prints, and may have been made by a Dutch or Flemish engraver.    

Our democracy as endorsed by our liberal and inclusive constitution, came about through the endeavours and sacrifices of many of its citizens, not just because of international sanctions, lengthy prison sentences and the murders of political activists (martyrdom), but for the purpose of this blog entry, all the creative endeavours of artists, photographers, musicians, playwrights, graffiti artists, authors and last but not least, the role of cartoonists and satirists such as Peter Dirk Uys .

There are few places on this continent and in the rest of the world, that every citizen, irrespective of his or her sexual orientation and or cultural belief, can live side by side (as neighbours) on equal terms. Religion has for many years in this country prescribed to all its citizens, their moral obligation, as part of the education and legal system, irrespective of the citizen's religious affiliation and or cultural and personal spiritual belief (Christian education). Change does not occur by virtue of  complacency. Individuals with the courage and creative tools in every discipline, continue to play their part, ensuring a thriving and developing democracy. Each and every citizen can however rest assured, for now, that they are protected by the constitution. Any effort by religious fanatics and or fundamentalists trying to enforce their particular moral and cultural beliefs on others, in any form whatsoever, will be considered a violation of basic human rights.  We have fought hard and long for our democracy – long shall it live.

Not just one cartoon, but thousands upon thousands of cartoons, paintings, songs, plays, documentaries, photographs and sculptures including murals and graffiti contributed to the  struggle; the freedom we enjoy today.  This blog entry is therefore a reaction to the issues raised in the following news paper articles, written in response to Shapiro’s cartoon. Below are extracts of the articles, followed by further comments by the artist .

Matthias Gerung (c. 1500-70) Pope and Turk as demons drag their followers into Hell, c. 1545-8. Woodcut, 234 x 164mm.

Insulting other people’s religion only causes hurt. Article written by KC Bening as cited in the Star Tuesday May 25  2010.
The Mail and Guardian and Zapiro have crossed the line of decency this time with the publication of a cartoon depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad, something which is deeply hurtful and offensive to Muslims. Relgion is the embodiment of many people’s very being which all decent folk should respect, and being a world-class satirist doesn’t give Zapiro carte blanche to desecrate a religious order with what that grouping considers blasphemy.
There is no such thing as absolute freedom of expression. Everyone has their boundaries which we learn on our parent’s knees. As small children we learn to respect other people’s cultural and religious sensibilities and to be respectful of society’s mores concerning such things as profane language.
No political, religious or social order should be able to skulk under veil of privileged protection when their actions contravene common or international law, violates the SA constitution, or impinges on the safety of other citizens. Anything else, such as the insensitive insulting of other people’s religions, when they have not broken any laws, should be considered in the same vein as hate speech. It achieves nothing, except to inflame and cause more hurt in our already volatile society.
Cartoon was in good taste. Article by S Manjra cited in the Star Tuesday May 25  2010.
Unlike the Danish cartoons, Zapiro’s was in good taste and without the degree of irreverence that Zapiro has shown other communities.
Today our world is defined by images, and it is difficult imagining anyone using Zapiro’s image as an object of worship. It is simply a representation meant to make a larger point – one which seems to have been largely lost in the current furore. But there is no arguing against those who lack an appreciation for various art forms and whose interpretations of texts is based on literalism and Manichean dichotomies.
With religious fanatics stoking the flames and with willing masses at their disposal it will just be a matter of time and a sad day indeed when the predictable death threat will be made against him. We should rally behind and defend this national asset. Zapiro, you owe no one an apology, and power to your pen. 
Protest in a constructive manner, Article written by Abdullah Saeed, as cited in the Star in the Star Tuesday May 25  2010.
Freedom must be used with respect and it must be curtailed at a certain point before it becomes unacceptable. I think cartoons that ridicule and insult some of the most exalted personalities that have graced this earth demean the importance of our right to press freedom or freedom of speech.
Anything – be it an article or a film, book, caricature or statement – that hurts someone else’s religion or cultural beliefs and sentiments should not be allowed. The hallmark of civilisation is to have mutual respect and courtesy for our diverse cultures and religions.

You are so right Saeed, in an ideal world – we need to relay your message to those leaders of countries (political and spiritual) where gays are imprisoned and or killed for expressing their love for one another. So much for your views on mutual respect and courtesy for our own diverse cultures and religions.

The freedom I enjoy, as a gay citizen of South Africa, bears testimony to those who not only published cartoons but stood in the firing line and paid with their own lives to expose and communicate the truth (Ken Oosterbroek – journalist photographer killed) - lest we forget.

It is the responsibility of all creative cultural practitioners, representing our diverse cultural and religious beliefs and groupings, to continue to play their part, and collectively help shape our changing society’s views on issues on all levels. Cartoons, music, books and documentaries, every creative discipline and object, is a vehicle through which, we as artists, can express our views in a constructive and creative manner/ endeavour on a diverse range of relevant topics and causes (cultural palaver). Tolerance is required on all levels, and the freedom to be heard, if we are to continue to enjoy an all inclusive democracy such as ours. The more complex the issue, the more diverse the expressed views, the greater the dialog required to find a solution or an acceptable practice - hence the fact that we refer matters to the constitutional court. 

God forbid that we are to remain silent and afraid to speak out, in case we cause hurt  or pain. Blood, sweat and tears were shed by many to help create this young democracy. Its all part of the process to define what is best practice and in the interest of all SA citizens and not just a small often conservative minority. Let us continue to build it together, every step of the way, in an open and transparent manner. 

The new media transcends barriers, fences, borders and governments and religious leaders’ attempt to stem the present tide of cultural transformation and reform; the promotion of democracy and basic human rights on all levels on a global scale – thank god for that.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Best Ceramic Books; my choice.

Best Ceramic books; identifies my personal choice of ceramic publications that are most influential, inspiring and informative from a conceptual and creative angle. They are books that I have personally purchased and constantly refer to. They are reference material that I believe every ceramist should have close at hand, when writing papers about ceramics from a historical and contemporary perspective. But more importantly they are publications that provide insight into cutting edge ceramic statements; a collection of ceramic works and or views that provide insight into recent ceramic developments that are both innovative and creative.  

Magazines, online and or hardcopy, are always the best way to gain insight into cutting edge ceramic statements, but well illustrated books with insightful and well researched and documented text, often brings together ceramic art, craft and design statements within chapters; a well researched  and documented publication of current issues, trends and inspirational works. 

The first book I recommend is Confrontational Ceramics. 

Confrontational Ceramics is written by by Judith Swartz. I did a comprehensive review of this publication for Ceramics Art and Perception the accredit ceramic magazine. The review is available at On line library follow the link. This particular publication is most suitable for ceramists specializing in expressive ceramics (Fine Art approach). The publication covers a broad range of ceramic sculptures, murals and installations from all over the world. Curated exhibitions related to the publication has had an enormous impact on the viewers perception of the role of ceramics in a changing society.    
The second book I recommend is titled Fragiles.
This well illustrated publication mainly showcases utilitarian ceramics and glass produced by contemporary designers, designer makers and or ceramists, embracing ceramic ornament and or the  utilitarian function of products to express themselves. With Fine Art increasingly conceptual,  the Design Fraternity has capitalized on the gap in the market for one-of-a -kind inspired, 'couture like' design statements. They have turned to the out of work artisans and craftspeople, and in co-operation with Ceramic Factories, to produce their 'couture like' inspired 'Neo Sculpture' products - imbued with meaning and significance (work featured on the cover is by Hella Yongerius). This publication showcases a wide range of designer products embracing, for instance, ceramic transfers in a variety of design styles to compliment the innovative ceramic forms and shapes. 

The third book I recommend is titled Manufractured; The Conspicuous transformation of Everyday objects, by Steven S Holt and Mara H Skov. As our concept of luxury shifts, we pursue products with not just a utilitarian function, decorative function and or ritualistic function but also a one-of-a-kind expressive function. The question being asked is, "did the globalisation of the 21st century finally vanquish what the great machines of the previous century could not do to the crafts" The answer is no, the emphatic response is captured in the introductory chapter of this particular publication. 
Crafts has found a new purpose, to a select group, in a variety of creative fields - from art to design, music to theatre and cinema including literature. (Steven Skov Holt, Manufractured, page 11). Expounded throughout the publication in carefully selected chapters is the work of contemporary designers showcasing their latest innovative and creative responses to form follows a variety of functions, including; Ornamentation, Fabrication, Dissection, Infection, Fusion, Manipulation and Perception to mention a few. 
The designers and artists included in this publication capitalized on the discarded spoils, including cheaply manufactured products and services to imbue their creative sollutions with a new found meaning; far beyond what our material specific disciplines and traditions could ever have imagined. They realised their creative concepts in direct response to the same challenges we as designer makers and studio ceramists had to face. 

The fourth book I recommend is titled Breaking the Mould. This publication provides insight into new Ceramic directions, concepts and trends. Products of ceramic beauty have to function within a changing world - numerous Ceramic academic departments are closing down whilst the big manufacturers and brands are under serious threat. "Change is not an issue of morality but one of inevitability. One cannot cling to the romance of the past eras and expect to make a fresh comment in one's own time" states Garth Clark and his partner Mark Del Vecchio (quoted by Karen Weiis at Change is occurring on all fronts, in an ever growing knowledge economy. This publication provides aspiring ceramic artists with insight into cutting edge ceramics from a conceptual perspective. From installations to murals, including ceramic ornaments; embracing every conceivable technique and process to achieve the creative intent. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Immortality attained

Riding High (1984). 210 x 145 x 145 mm.  Private collection of the late John Nowers (ceramist and my mentor.)

This series of 5 ceramic works portrays the journey of the soul towards a spiritually pre-ordained destiny. These works draw strongly on Babylonian mythology and spiritual texts referring or alluding to the resurrection and the rapture as mentioned in Revelations in the Christian bible.

Imagery Riding High (image above) all photographs by Jac de Villiers.

This sculpture portrays a woman riding the crest of a wave on an inflatable dolphin. The dolphin, usually symbolic of a saviour and a guide, is paradoxically spotted like a leopard. This dolphin, however, represents a false friend.  The woman is portrayed in a moment of self-assurance oblivious to treachery. 

Slab constructed and modeled in red and white stone ware clay and porcelain. Painted with stained earthenware slips and underglaze colours and bisquit fired to 900 degrees Celsius. Transparent earthenware glaze (dipped). fired to 1060 degrees Celsius. 

Transit of the soul to the Blessed West (1984). 195 x 180 x 155 mm. Private collection.

Transit of the soul to the Blessed West (1984):
With reference made to the story of Jonah and the whale and its connotations of the resurrection, this sculpture represents the embarkation of the soul to the new Jerusalem. The soul awaits 'her' ascension on the back of a whale endowed with the gift of flight, indicated by the substitution of rotor blades for its soul.

Slab constructed and modeled in red and white stone ware clay and porcelain. The base was constructed from red stoneware . Painted with stained earthenware slips and underglaze colours and bisquit fired to 900 degrees Celsius. Transparent earthenware glaze (dipped). fired to 1060 degrees Celsius. 

Journey to the underworld secured (1984)310 x 160 x 145 mm. Private collection.

Journey to the underworld secured (1984). Imagery:
This sculpture portrays the Mortal's endeavour to reach the highest realms of heaven. With aid of an eagle and a pillar of cloud , she soars upwards as the world shrinks below. The eagle is a symbol of mediation between heaven and earth, and the pillar of cloud is an indication of God's guidance to the people of Israel lost in the wilderness.

Slab constructed and modeled in red and white stone ware clay and porcelain. The base was constructed from red stoneware . Painted with stained earthenware slips and underglaze colours and bisquit fired to 900 degrees Celsius. Transparent earthenware glaze (dipped). fired to 1060 degrees Celsius. 

Rapture (1984). 355 x 225 x 225 mm. Private collection. Collection Bruce Arnott (professor and mentor)

Rapture (1984):
The woman symbolises the bride of Christ, who is propelled into the heavenly kingdom. The volcano signifies an entrance into Hades, the realm of the dead and damned in the centre of the earth. Hades is where death takes place, prior to rebirth and illumination. The bride rises ecstatically of her own spiritual volition and through the forces of her expulsion from Hades, from which she has been redeemed.

'Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o'er His foes; he rose a Victor from the dark domain, and He lives for ever with His saints to reign' (Anglican hymn)

Slab constructed and modeled in red and white stone ware clay and porcelain. The base was constructed from red stoneware . Painted with stained earthenware slips and underglaze colours and bisquit fired to 900 degrees Celsius. Transparent earthenware glaze (dipped). fired to 1060 degrees Celsius. Oasis Road (1984). 215 x 320 x 210 mm. Private collection.

Oasis Road (1984) Imagery:
This sculpture portrays the church awaiting the long-expected return of the Messiah. The saints carry their travelling-bags, in the shape of a fish, indicating their predestined journey to resurrection and immortality. They sit on a playground rocking-horse situated in a wasteland. This situation recalls Noah's ark, containing the chosen people who awaited the deluge, God's punishment of s sinful world.

Slab constructed and modeled in red and white stone ware clay and porcelain. The base was constructed from red stoneware . Painted with stained earthenware slips and underglaze colours and bisquit fired to 900 degrees Celsius. Transparent earthenware glaze (dipped). fired to 1060 degrees Celsius. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pierced and Tattooed Rats; first attempt.

The self-righteous and the prowler. Slip cast and bisquit fired to 900 Celcius. Painted with Amaco velvet  underglaze colours and fired to 1220 Celcius.

The prowler (front view). Slip cast and bisquit fired to 900 Celcius. Painted with Amaco velvet underglaze colours and fired to 1220 Celcius.

The evangelist and the pervert. Slip cast and bisquit fired to 900 Celcius. Painted with Amaco velvet underglaze colours and fired to 1220 Celcius.


active-passive /action-passion. Group of pierced and tattooed rats scheduled for an exhibition, titled Art with a Pulse in England -details to follow.


Slipcast Rats with piercings ready for painting.

Moulds for the piercings below.

Modelling the piercings with C Clay (neck above and tail below). C Clay is purchased from Advanced Materials Technology in South Africa - It softens with heat. I use  two a spotlights. One directed at a deposit of C Clay, to keep it in a semi-molten state (not to soft and too hot - just  the right consistency to work with. The other spot light provide general heat; directed at the prototype - that I am modeling. It ensures that the prototype remains a workable state - the clay that is (slightly softened). Holding the prototype in your hand also retains the general heat and ensures the right consistency of the clay is maintained throughout the modeling phase.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Horse and Rider

Horse and Rider (1985) 500 X 490 X 250 mm, collection Carl Landsberg. Photograph Jac De Villiers

This piece marks the beginning of the final series of ceramic sculptures produced for my masters degree program at UCT (graduated in 1986), derived from an investigation of myths pertaining to eschatology, i.e. the science of the four last things; death, judgement, heaven and hell. The sculpture represents and androgynous figure of Hope, which draws together related heroes from the traditions of western European and Mediterranean mythology; Christ the Messiah; Isis, Venus and Mary as the Queen of Heaven; Apollo who slew the serpent, and Bacchus the promote of civilization.

The figure of hope is riding an animal that can swim like a fish, fly like Pegasus, and is striped like a tiger. The fusion of these aspects enables Hope to confront dangerous, elemental forces.

Press- moulded and handbuilt with red and white stoneware clay, and bisquit fired to 900 degrees Celsius. Painted with oxides, stained slips and underglaze colours and fired to 900  degrees Celsius. The 'horse' was wax resisted. Glazed in a transparent earthenware glaze (sprayed). Fired to 1060 degrees C. Painted with coloured lustres and fired to 720 degrees C. 

Series of drawings to refine the final shape and form of the sculpture.

Friday, May 14, 2010


Initiation (1984), 360 X 210 x 160 mm (detail). Collection Peter Amm. Photograph Jac De Villiers.


With Reference made to the story of Jonah in the whale and its connotations of death and rebirth, this sculpture depicts the soul diving from the mouth of a cat. The cat is a symbol of darkness and death and depicts the entrance to Hades situated at the bottom of the mountain. The woman represents the soul, delivered and redeemed from darkness, and initiated into the light of salvation.Two versions of this sculpture were produced.

Initiation (1984), 360 X 210 x 160 mm. Private Collection. Photograph Jac De Villiers.

Two versions of this sculpture were produced. The first (image above) was press-moulded and handbuilt in red and white stoneware clay. The cotton material was dipped in a stained earthenware slip and draped over the base. Stained slips and underglaze colours were painted and flicked on with a toothbrush at the leather-hard stage. Bisquit-fired to 900 degrees Celsius. Additional underglaze colours were applied with an airbrush. The figure was glazed in transparent earthenware glaze (dipped). Entire piece fired to 1060 degrees Celsius.

Initiation (1984), 360 X 210 x 160 mm. Collection Peter Amm. Photograph Jac De Villiers.

The second version was also press-moulded and handbuilt in red and white stoneware clay but included a porcelain figurine. The burnished base was glazed with a raku glaze and fired to 1000 degrees Celsius - cupric sulphate was painted on the burnished areas heated slowly with a blowtorch. The cat was fired in a stoneware reduction kiln whilst the porcelain figurine fired to 1250 in a oxidation firing. The various parts were attached with adhesives.

Drawings for Immortality gained series (1984).

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Ouroboros (1985), 320 X 385 X 190 mm, Collection of Riana Du Preez, Photograph Jac De Villiers.

This sculpture represents Psyche, the soul, in a deep sleep on a bed in the form of a lustful tail-biting creature symbolising the alpha and omega, Ouroboros, or the beginning and the end of a souls pilgrimage from earth to heaven. The swan, as a symbol of purity and the righteousness of God, is an extension of Psyche's right arm which lies on her breast as a gesture of her submission to the will of God and the gift of eternal life.

Milton refers to the story of Cupid and Psyche in the conclusion of his Comus:

'Celestial Cupid, her famed son, advanced, Holds his dear Psyche, sweet entranced , After her wandering labors long, Till free consent the Gods among Make her his eternal bride...'

Thomas Bulfinch writes that the story of Cupid is commonly considered allegorical. He notes  that the Greek name for a butterfly is Psyche, and that the same word means 'soul'. Therefore he concludes that Psyche is the human Soul cleansed by trials and tribulations.

Press-moulded and hand built in white stoneware clay and bisquit fired  to 900 degrees Celsius. Painted with manganese oxide and a blue under-glaze colour. Brushed with a wirebrush to reveal the clay body. The figure was glazed in a transparent glaze (painted), and fired to 1060 degrees Celsius. Painted with yellow lustre and fired to 720 degrees Celsius. 

Below is the drawing for the ceramic series based on myths pertaining to immortality.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mother of Prostitutes

Mother of Prostitutes 1985. (side view), 380 X 500 X 210 mm, Private Collection. Photographer Jac De Villiers.

This sculpture represents the epitome of greed, lust and power. The main figure is Mother Earth exploited. The lustful creatures are her offspring. They rape, burn and devour her. The tail is the counterpart of male domination.

Revelations in the Christian Bible 17; 1, 2, 5, 16 & 3.

Mother of Prostitutes (1985) (side view), 380 X 500 X 210 mm, Private Collection. Photographer Jac De Villiers.

Press-moulded and hand-built with red and white stoneware clay and bisquit fired to 900 degrees Celsius. Airbrushed and painted with oxides, stained earthenware slips and under-glaze colours. A graphic approach to colour application was established. This was achieved by sacrificing through the painted slips and under-glaze colours to reveal the various layers. The body of the figure was wax -resisted. Glazed in a transparent earthenware glaze (sprayed). Fired to 1060 degrees Celsius. The 'flames' were painted with onglaze colours and fired to 780 degrees Celsius.

Final Drawing in Ballpoint pen for the sculpture titled Mother of Prostitutes.

Preparatory Drawing in ballpoint pen; Mother of Prostitutes.