Wayne Barker has, over the years, built up something of a reputation as the 'black sheep' of the contemporary, South African art world. His antics, on many occasions, have outraged the art establishment : yet it has reluctantly had to admit that he is one of the country's most talented artists. His work is represented in all major museum collections and is sought internationally.
In a recent critique of his latest exhibition in Durban, entitled 'LAND AND DESIRE' Carol Brown - head of the Durban Art Gallery - has written:
'His art has never been about eye candy, yet one's first reaction to his latest work is that his paintings are hauntingly beautiful'.
'What happened? Has Barker finally settled down? But look a bit closer - the colours may be rich and seductive, but there is an underbelly. The exhibition was called LAND AND DESIRE, and the play on words follow many themes that have preoccupied him since the 1980s.'
'South African history cannot be separated from these two words, because it is about the desire for land - a land that the European settlers viewed as virgin territory'.
'Histories are always layered and underpin present realities - Barker has expressed this by drawing the viewer into a darker level of the canvases. At first glance,we take in the seemingly decorative surfaces. Bubbles of silver and gold float alongside splashes of rich primary-coloured oil paint, interspersed with realistic portraits and images from popular culture, such as toys, targets and the ever popular image of a bleeding heart'.
'But behind all these is the background of Barker's digitally manipulated copies of the well-known landscapes of the South African artist, JH Pierneef, who was commissioned by the South African government in the 1930s to paint those much admired views that sell for a fortune today.'
'Pierneef represented a country that appeared uninhabited and waiting for the settlers to grab, and, in many cases, destroy - not to speak of the people used and abused for commercial ends. In Pierneef's world-view, the black people, who often lived in makeshift dwellings, were non-existent. The white man's conquest of the land was the only view they wanted to see.'
'Barker's landscapes which, unlike Pierneef's, have superimposed images of people, as well as overlaid images of pop imagery, indicating material desire, also contain cartographers' signs and route markers. They bring to mind the subordination of the land under colonial control. Marking and mapping imply possession (and dispossession) and, as we look deeper into his paintings, we see how possession and desire are linked.'
'Barker also uses words to emphasise his theme, and these worlds, which are scattered sparingly across the compositions, tease out ideas. "Worlds", "apart", "desire", "land", all come together in a relationship of control and commerce that runs through the exhibition'.
'Barker states: "I am interested in how the media, through popular images, inform, confuse and rape the African continent. For the past two decades, I have also been dealing with land, which is quite trendy now. My approach has been to deconstruct the icons of South African painting, particularly works by Pierneef".
'This new exhibition is undoubtedly built on his own artistic history, where he has, in one way or another, pursued the same ideas. Sometimes this pursuit has been outrageous and symptomatic of a man who is angry with a complacent society. These works veil that anger with attractive surfaces, but their strength lies in that passion, which is the quality that lifts Barker's work above the ordinary".
- Carol Brown, The Sunday Independent, 12 October 2006
Born in Pretoria in 1963. Lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.