Robert Slingsby has established his relevance and his place in the history of South African art through his unique assimilation of Southern African rock art with a contemporary interpretation into his art. He incorporates the modern idiom of them being images generated through processes such as trance, interwoven with current socio-political commentary. These observations have not only given local geographical significance, but allowed his art to interface cross-culturally and internationally. It is after all this form of non-figurative petroglyphic rock art which is found universally.
2011 saw the start of a new series which has been titled as 'Just Injustice'. While at first glance it may appear a departure from what may be perceived to be quintessentially Slingsby, all the hallmarks of Slingsby are there. His sophisticated technique which emphasises the line incised into an impasto surface, carefully crafted remains. The change is where he has directed his cutting socio-political commentary.
Robert Slingsby has been exposed to the gate keeping syndrome which plagues South African art. Stephan Hundt, curator of the prestigious corporate SANLAM Collection, made the accusation that there is neither an independent voice, due to an impotent, penniless National Gallery, nor Biennales to attract fresh curatorial input. These sentiments were echoed by senior academic, Ruth Simbao, at a conference recently held at the South African National Gallery. This status quo was harshly criticised as having a gatekeeper effect facilitating a tiny handful of commercial galleries to hijack opportunity and the media in both the commercial and academic arenas. Ashraf Jamal went so far as to label it the canonization of certain artists.
While causes and means of implementation may vary the symptoms are not unique to the South African art industry. With greed, nepotism, cronyism and power struggles being a common human failing where inadequate democratic processes exist, these are not unfamiliar to either the art world or to national governances. However, the relevance to the arts was beautifully captured in an essay titled "Beyond the bathtub' by George Wiley, a Scottish artist, in relation to the observations of Sir Richard Demarco, convenor of the Edinburgh arts Festival for over fifty years. The metaphor of being either in or out the bathtub, with those in, scrubbing one another's backs, beautifully articulates this concept.
Slingsby has rotated his gaze towards these inequities. Using this as backdrop, he broadens his commentary to socio-political inequities, directing his attack at dictatorial regimes, be they institutional or national governances. There are several paintings from this series informed by this metaphor. However, he does not limit himself, plying his both cutting yet witty gaze to megalomaniacs in all forms. To illustrate, there is a painting of a bear, a metaphor for Russia, about to hurl a rock at a 'sleeping beauty'. There is a canvas with four figures, with emotionless gazes, scrubbing each others backs, while the leg of one has been savagely amputated by a shark which represents Robert.
Slingsby has used a 'take no prisoners' approach. He has dared to express that which has become the 'elephant in the room'. From the art of privileged artists, dictatorial regimes, greed and materialism, subversion of Middle Eastern women, all claim his attention which he treats in an almost humorous fashion using classic Slingsby technique.
Each painting is complete, individual and quite capable of standing alone despite being part of the 'Just Injustice' series.