It can safely be said that all good contemporary art refers in some way to 'the human condition'. While Natasja de Wet does not set out deliberately to make profound statements about any specific aspect of this topic, the perceptive viewer should quickly realise that all her works, in some way, reflect the 'angst' connected with being human.

Also in keeping with contemporary trends, she does not allow herself to become trapped in a single medium or discipline, but moves freely between painting, mixed-media drawing, three-dimensional assemblage and installation.

Her best-known works are her oil paintings, in which she applies paint in thick, rich brushstrokes, often on acrylic sheets. These [may be seen as] informal portraiture in which images and faces emerge from a seemingly chaotic darkness. Her use of traditional chiaroscuro is enhanced by the layering of several sheets of acrylic, through which visual information is concealed and revealed. All these artistic devices serve to enhance the energy, pathos and vulnerability of the human faces.

Likewise, her drawings and mixed-media works are energetic and dramatic, sometimes linked to her three-dimensional assemblage, which are constructed from found objects. These works appear to entail a system of gradually 'excavating meaning' from objects collected in an intuitive and seemingly random manner.

An example of this modus operandi (2004) includes detritus collected from a local mental institution. (De Wet rented studio space in an old unused building belonging to this institution). A rusty bed base with exposed springs, old keys with stamped and coded metal tags, a burnt-out gas heater, all became powerful metaphors for a section of society that is marginalised because it evokes fear, anxiety and unease in so-called 'normal' people. When drawn on extra-large formats with a mixture of inks and charcoal in a spontaneous style, they also became portraits of the spiritual presence of unknown, afflicted persons.

All De Wet's work could be seen as portraiture of some kind. Just as a superior portrait painter gives the viewer an almost voyeuristic insight into the nature of a person, so De Wet instinctively strives to reveal something of the inner character or soft underbelly of humankind.

Written April 2005 by Judy Moolenschot BA Fine Art (Unisa)