Following Clive Van den Berg’s recent survey at the KwaZulu Natal Society of Arts, Goodman Gallery is pleased to present Underscape, a cross-section of paintings by the artist that considers the “distemper” of our lived experience in relation to landscape.
On the nature of this theme in his work, Van den Berg notes:
“A swelling of earth, a hollow or dispersed pile of stones that once marked a grave or embattlement, are the grammar of my landscape vocabulary. These vestigial mutterings of geography are the prompts that I respond to in making my work, a kind of interstitial speech, connecting the remnant to its repressed or forgotten source… I grew up in Luanshya, a small mining town in Zambia and now live in Johannesburg, one of the largest of all mining towns. Perhaps it is the occasional shaking of the land, its stuttering as a shaft collapses or a plate realigns, or indeed the sudden appearance of sinkholes, those most compelling of negative spaces that first made me curious about that other landscape, the underscape.”
For Van den Berg, land serves as a powerful marker for the anxieties contained in both the personal and the political. The artist seeks to unpack this by separating the idea of land into the spheres of ‘above’ and ‘below’ ground. Using this dichotomy the artist is able to differentiate between what we idealise on the surface, and what exists unresolved below. Historical depictions of land, which were primarily filtered through Western perception, sought to possess the territory by recording its surface image. In turn, Van den Berg confronts the tradition of South African landscape painting, by peeling “the surface off the land and mak[ing] the landscapes porous”.
Van den Berg sees the body and the landscape as sites that carry memories and scars. In turn, these symbols evoke desires, which the artist aims to reveal, often through the illuminating power of light. Van den Berg does this by presenting a new kind of visual language, one that attempts to break syntax without relinquishing its necessity. In this sense, the artist darts between allegory and abstraction in his works, creating tensions and polarities that simultaneously arrest and excite the viewer when encountering them.
Clive van den Berg (b. 1956, Zambia) is an artist, curator and designer, who works on his own and in collaboration with colleagues in a collective called trace, whose primary activities are the development of public projects. He has had several solo exhibitions in South Africa, and his work is regularly exhibited abroad. His public projects have included the artworks for landmark Northern Cape Legislature and, since he has joined the trace team, museum projects for the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Constitution Hill, Freedom Park, the Workers Museum, The Holocaust and Genocide Centre and many other projects.
Van den Berg has much experience working on large-scale institutional projects with teams representing diverse constituencies: urban planners and policy makers, architects, landscape designers, museum curators, historians, community liaison officials and representatives of local and national governments. In the Northern Cape, for example, where he worked with the Luis Ferreira da Silva architects, he pioneered a new strategy for integrating forms of the local landscape and indigenous aesthetics into the overall building design, while also training local artisans as part of a skills transference project aimed at long-term sustainability. The result is a world-renowned and uniquely South African state edifice: a monument to the people of the Northern Cape.