Sunday, July 6, 2014

Into Stillness

I was introduced to Hermann Niebuhr by a mutual friend and was glad to be making a connection to South Africa, my country of birth. When Hermann and I spoke on skype, it fast became apparent that a residency would be rich in potential outcomes. 

Hermann's work examines the phenomena of life through the lens of landscape. His latest series of work was examining stillness - one body of work being developed with observation of the landscape in the area around his Cape studio, and the other having been explored on an extended bike tour through the Himalayas. Joshua Tree and the Mojave would inform the third part of the series. 

Hermann's Cape studio is located in the Karoo, a semi-desert area that echoed aspects of the Mojave. Hermann is involved in a permaculture practice on his land there and I saw the opportunity for an exchange of ideas/practices with local practitioners. Hermann was also considering how to develop his Cape property into an artists' retreat as he spends the majority of his time in Johannesburg and his studio there. I saw the potential for some form of exchange and cooperation in this regard.

When Hermannn arrived in May, he took to the environment immediately and was soon off on his daily 10km runs which served as a source of discovery and connection with the landscape. He also set to making the studio his - a rapid reorganization that quickly had the space humming with readiness for his oil painting process. This is one of the emerging points of interest for me - watching how artists transform the space to make it work for their medium, practice and habits.

Pretty soon a series of color studies and abstract works inspired by the surrounding desert began to emerge. These were followed by a delivery of canvas and stretchers that then set the stage for larger paintings made by reference to key images. Hermann drove off on several exploratory trips including a one day marathon to Amboy, Death Valley, Johannesburg, CA and back. Phew. Some rich material quickly flowed from these bursts of energy. On the night following the full moon, we undertook a moonlight bicycle ride in the National Park which sparked the inspiration for one of the large canvases.


Discussions on permaculture were held, including an evening spent with Jill Giegrich who was instrumental in starting our local Transition movement and leads the permaculture team. A possible link to the Karoo property was also explored. I look forward to future developments on these fronts.

Hermann worked steadfastly over his three week stay and there was lots to show for it. Beyond the canvases, he created some triptychs painted on vertical slivers of board as well as 50 small works on paper. His open house was a complete exhibition and was well received by the local audience. The next day, Hermann was to be off on his next adventure which included hiking part of the Appalachian trail.

Following several weeks in Joshua Tree, Hermann made the statement that he had not found stillness as expected in the local area. Rather, he found the surrounds to be resonant with a stirring energy - likely what he tapped into to propel the body of work that emerged from his brief stay here.


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