The Absence of Myth
13 June - 4 July 2015
Opening Saturday 13 June at 14:00
Exhibition catalogue available. Download link below, printed version available from the gallery
Günther Herbst made an indelible mark on the South African art scene in the late-1980s and early 1990s before he left the country to advance his artistic career, first in Berlin and then in London. GALLERY AOP is proud to mount his second solo exhibition in South Africa in almost 25 years. In this time Herbst has attained a phenomenal international reputation as an oil painter, receiving the highest accolades in the art world’s most prestigious magazine, Artforum (October 2009). His work deals with the perennial subject matter of homelessness and diaspora.
“After moving from Berlin to London in 1995” Herbst says, “I started photographing the makeshift barges on the Thames in London, noting the colourful way in which the boat people decorated their rafts. In 1998 I gradually developed a way of painting them that could also comment on the bleak social issues involved. I work slowly, on several paintings at once, and often in series. The multi- layered images are steeped in hints and references to other artists – from Patrick Caulfield to Piet Mondrian. I am using these different art languages as a kind of a systematic code in order for the original subject matter to operate more poignantly. My past and present work is an attempt by me as an artist to deal with issues relating to transience and ephemeral structures, and is meant as a reminder that human habitats are built upon the wilderness and that our occupation of them is still precarious.”
In an incisive essay for the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, Andrea Medjesi-Jones writes: “In Günther Herbst’s painting Magnetized Space, an active volcano gushing smoke points to a geological tableaux whose function is compromised within the environment it is placed. It has no role to play in the overall scale of events. We are invited to reconstruct Herbst’s careful harmonizing of unrelated territories that are equally natural as they are fabricated. Strangely, they draw us to the Dysonian paradox; a chemical reaction so versatile, it can act on the most absurd of relations that are perhaps better contextualized through the phenomenon of culture rather than nature.
The strength of Herbst’s work is, precisely, in drawing our attention to these relations. Taking the landscape format informed by the history paintings of William Hodges, the flotilla of painterly Modernism is placed in the context that marks not only its own end, but the end of history itself. Certainly the historical chronology that, in Herbst’s visual vocabulary considers its consequences and effects, marks a critical departure from the carefully constructed narratives a tradition of landscape painting is eager to adopt.
That is because, in Herbst’s paintings, there are no ulterior motives. What resonates at a point of urgency are clearly ‘misplaced’ signs, whose function is disguised through visual diagrams of the floating rafts. Follow these and you are heading for a crash of visual and national identities. Chameleon-like, these structures have developed the adoptability that floats through murky waters of Modernism, changing colours and flags in order to secure its future and meaning. Herbst’s painterly precision is used critically to assign ‘otherness’ to the instructiveness of signs.”
Günther Herbst was born in South Africa where he obtained his first degree in Fine Arts at the University of Johannesburg in 1991. He moved to Germany in 1992 and studied under Professor Karl Horst Hödicke at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin. In 1995 he relocated to London to continue his practice and study at Goldsmiths University of London where he obtained his Masters Degree in 2002. He won the prestigious Jerwood Contemporary Painters Award in 2008. Herbst exhibits widely, most notably in the UK, Europe and the USA. His work is represented in all major public collections in South Africa, as well as UK public collections and international private collections. Günther Herbst lives and works in London.