Unusual blend of influences / by Natasja De Wet

4 January 2009 - Weekend Argus - review by Veronica Wilkinson

Natasja de Wet makes subtle use of the combination of her heritage and the global village around her

Artist Natasja de Wet reveals some of the complex facets of an enquiring mind in her works, which include objects like a chair encrusted with silicone rubber extensions that resemble strange, inert anemone tentacles in her lounge. 

A large wooden cabinet with glass drawers also arouse curiosity rewarded by contents like colourful resin “books”, ceramic “roses” (her mother works in ceramics, so De Wet has had the opportunity to experiment with the medium), and an assortment of found objects that range from dried snake-skin shedding to a tiny crocodile claw brought as a souvenir form Thailand many years ago. 

Add to these items printer’s trays, fossils and vintage bric a brac and the interior of De Wet’s home resonates a museum-like atmosphere. Little wooden replicas of kitchen furniture vie with ammonites and vintage striped-enamel bread and sugar tins to create a unique South African feel that is reinforced by her collection of Consol glass containers, in one instance ingeniously screwed into a ceiling fitting as a lampshade. 

In the bedroom her headboard is made from an old message board at Valkenburg Hospital: the source of many of her curious-collections that include a wall-mounted glass cabinet containing a pile of rusted old-fashioned keys with stamped and coded metal tags attached. The items were acquired during the period when she rented a ward as studio space at Oude Molen near the old psychiatric institution. 

These days her garage doubles as a studio where her creative impulses are articulated into two and three-dimensional artworks stimulated by literary sources like Brazilian award-winning human rights author Paulo Coelho who believes that it is possible to understand oneself through work. De Wet also relishes author Charles Nicholl’s fusion of scholarship and storytelling, avidly awaiting his update due in 2009 on Vasari’s Lives of the Artists, originally written by Italian painter and architect Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century. In fact Italy is beckoning De Wet this year when she hopes to visit Venice and thereafter participate in Florence Biennale in December. 

Her most recent show was held at the Association for Visual Arts in November with earlier participation in a group exhibition Afrovibes in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in September. Entitled Thicker Skin the AVA exhibition consisted of a straight, horizontal row of clear square acrylic boxes, each containing an object that had been moulded, folded, pleated or crumpled into shape. Different materials like fabric, latex, gauze, bandages, rubber and paper were used in De Wet’s quest to “refer to issues such as camouflage, hiding, insecurity and sexuality”. 

Following the emotional and practical adjustments after her divorce, De Wet feels she is reaching a level of emotional fulfilment that is freeing her to embrace change without fear. Feeling more focussed on her art, she finds processing her creative responses spiritually nourishing and psychologically rewarding. As an aside, she tells me that her sign of the zodiac is Aries, saying she gets bored easily but also pointing out that ever since the age of three she kept a shoebox under her bed filled with objects; her wide ranging interests have included natural fossils and manufactured miniature toy utensils. 

Hers is an unusual blend of Afrikaans heritage and the embrace of a modern global visual language that manifests itself in assemblage and expressionistic acrylic layered compositions hung on the walls of her home. Some of these have been sold to people like Max Wolpe and collectors overseas following a show at Joao Ferreira Gallery in Cape Town in 2004. 

De Wet has participated in numerous local and overseas shows since she studied for a national diploma in fine art at the Technikon in Pretoria and intends continuing studies through Unisa. 

Her first solo show at the Chelsea Gallery in Cape Town in 2001 was opened by renowned South African artist Judith Mason. Cape Times art critic Benita Munitz wrote of this exhibition:”De Wet’s artworks come across as intimate reflections of intense experience –journeys into depths most of u would prefer not to plumb”. 

Informed by art history and paying homage to excellence in craft De Wet promises to delight even more as her oeuvre develops in the years ahead. Moving between mediums she creates paintings, mixed media works, three dimensional assemblage and installations in work that has been described elsewhere as an almost voyeuristic insight into the inner character of humankind.