There are not many artists who would draw a hand as a self portrait. For Willem Boshoff this is the perfect expression of who and what he is – a modest person who produces extraordinarily crafted works, using multiple media.
His exhibition, “Willem Boshoff – word forms and language shapes, 1975-2007”, opens at the Standard Bank Gallery in the Joburg CBD this week, and it provides a valuable insight into this amazing artist’s mind and modus operandi.
“From my very early years I was constantly working with my hands,” he says.
Boshoff has no limit to his vision – he creates large installations, visual poetry and sculpture, using wood, found objects, and graphic and mixed media.
His vision includes creating fantastical dictionaries like the Dictionary of Colour, the Dictionary of Manias and Phobias, the Dictionary of Morphology, the Dictionary of -ologies and –isms, the Dictionary of Beasts and Demons, the Dictionary of Winds, the Dictionary of Obscure Financial Terms; Unmentionabilia; the Oh No! Dictionary, Beyond the Epiglottis, a dictionary of extraordinary terms of rhetoric. Ten years of researching 200 dictionaries resulted in a dictionary of perplexing English.
There can’t be many artists in the world who work with the kind of meticulousness, patience and discipline that characterise Boshoff’s work.
Boshoff’s interests are vast: botanical gardens, medieval and early music, avant garde music, ecology, and language systems that subvert traditional thinking.
He is a morphologist – someone who studies the form and shape of objects – whose objects take the shape of a variety of things: pebbles, discarded library cards, toys, sand, jigsaw puzzle pieces, scrap paper and words. Boshoff’s wooden works are almost other-worldly in their ingenuity.
Boshoff, who says he first discovered art when he was five years old, watched his carpenter father work lovingly with wood. “By the time I was about six years old I knew that wood can be crafted and formed into objects of great beauty,” he says in the catalogue produced for the exhibition.
He grew up valuing “beautiful things”. “It was from my mom and dad that I learned my love of plants and trees.”
Curator Warren Siebrits, who compiled the catalogue, talks of Boshoff’s humble beginnings, his master carpenter father and nature-loving mother. “Little did they know that their son would go on to become one of the most significant and influential artists of his generation, or that his work would remain focused on the things he loved so dearly as a child.”
Boshoff started picking up art awards in 1971, and in 2005 was still receiving accolades for his work. His first exhibition was in 1981 and he has subsequently exhibited around the world. He has had some major commissions and his work resides in universities and galleries around the country, in the Constitutional Court, and in the UK, Europe and the US.
He has been a teacher and lecturer, art judge, examiner and became a full-time artist in 1996.
This exhibition illustrates his beginnings, from his birth in 1951 in Vereeniging, his art scrap books from school, cross referenced and indexed; his college projects, done twice as a learning experience; and his rewriting of school textbooks when he started teaching.
Some of his major works are on display at the exhibition: the Blind Alphabet; Tafelboek; 370 Day Project; 32 000 Darling Little Nuisances; Far Far Away; Skatkissie; Bankboek; Kleinpen 1; Skynbord; Library Cards; and Abamfusa Lawula – the Purple Shall Govern.
You just have to look at this tall man with his unruly, grey-flecked beard to know that he is someone close to the earth. There’s absolutely nothing pretentious or egotistical about Boshoff – his quiet presence at the press opening of his exhibition this week just serves to enhance his works.