Young Boy With Red T-Shirt
Oil on board in hand-made and painted metal frame
Image size: 20.5 x 14cm
Framed size: 38 x 28cm
In the course of the 1990s, Western Cape artist, Willie Bester, witnessed a meteoric rise to international fame, through his distinctive interpretations of life in the townships, his extraordinarily moving commemorative portraits of struggle leaders and the more recent, monumental salvage sculptures and installations, focusing on the complex realities and ironies of life in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa.
Bester's principal concern in his art has been to record events in South Africa in visual terms. While his works have always had strong social and political content - reflecting and mirroring a society well known to him personally - he is never judgemental nor does he apportion blame. He simply comments on life as he knows it, and, as such, his vibrant, poignant and essentially compassionate artworks can be seen as visual documents of history in the making - articulate, accurate and highly challenging. He creates his unique iconography by using found objects and waste materials, mostly gathered from the very townships which he depicts in his works - mainly Crossroads. These are combined with topical newspaper texts, graffiti, political slogans, his own, photographs, as well as richly painted areas and figures in oils and enamel - all of which are incorporated in the works to make layered commentaries on aspects of South African history.
In his article, 'In the Bester's Dump' (from the Catalogue "Willie Bester: Opere Recenti", 1999), Alberto Fiz writes:
"this South African artist works on the society debris, digging into the history dump, with the same method applied by those who bring to light past civilizations. To Bester, archaeologist of the present time, the most important thing is to reconstruct the connective tissue of history, taking again possession of the hidden sites of the township, where black people are mostly marginalized".In the last few years, Bester has also made small oil studies, mainly of the daily activities of communities living in informal settlements. (An example of these small works can be seen in the current exhibition: 'Farm Labourer'). In the Catalogue, 'Willie Bester: 15 Years' (2002, noted Cape Town art historians, Sandra Klopper and Michael Godby, comment:
"Surrounded by frames made from salvaged metal, most of these scenes are seen independent of the context of urban degradation, on the one hand, and overt political expression, on the other. In these works, Bester celebrates the morality of ordinary life, in some cases by underlining the continuity in urban situations of rural traditions…In others, he focuses on portrait studies. While many affirm the dignity of people, struggling to support their families on meagre incomes, others, like those depicting elderly people, also serve to underline the resilience of men and women who have survived lives marred by economic hardship and racial abuse".