The work of art I have selected for this critique is the lithographic piece titled Secret Language II by Conrad Botes of South Africa. The artwork is currently hosted at the Museum of Modern Art as part of the exhibition titled Impressions from South Africa, 1965 to Now. It has been done using a combination of etching and ink illustration.
The contrast between the black and white background etched image and the blue ink illustrations makes it easy to see for the viewer to pick out the elements that the artist fixed in the piece as part of his hidden message. The red lines spreading around the background also contribute to reducing the dullness that would otherwise have been presented had the artist chosen to leave it plain. Balance has been attained by consciously ensuring that the elements on one side cover the same amount of space as those on the other.
The lithograph depicts the body of a bare-chested man with various images etched on his skin. A closer look reveals an image of a sword going through a heart, a skull smoking what appears like marijuana, the representation of a white man smoking a pipe, a skull wearing a crown of thorns, a man burning a cross and a snake among other depictions of what can be defined as evil.
It is immediately clear, that Mr. Botes was trying to show just how much evil had penetrated society and how varied its manifestation is. The knife going through a heart for instant could represent the pain of betrayal. This comes from the saying to drive a knife through the heart, which basically reflects the pain that one goes through when something unexpected has been done by someone he/she knew very well.
Snakes and skulls are generally regarded as representations of evilness in society and by having the skull smoke a roll of marijuana, the artist could be trying to send home the message that moral decadence eventually leads to death. The image of the man setting a cross on fire could be presenting the message religious persecution which was common in most societies especially in the 1960s.
Finally, the skull with a crown of thorns could have been a direct representation of the death of Jesus-from the Bible and in this instance the image could be illustrating the suffering of the righteous. From the outset, it is easy to see that the artist is a religious person, probably a Christian, because of the use of elements that can easily be interpreted by practitioner of the faith.
When I first looked at the image, I was more drawn to the image of the man and the two hands on the side of his head. It was, however, after a critical evaluation that I could see that the gist of the message that the artist wanted to communicate was hidden in the ink sketches.
The artwork has actually made me see the human being as the source of all evil in the world. This, to me, is a clever way of packaging a message as it essentially gives the artwork a certain air of mystery. I would definitely borrow some of Mr. Botes style for use in my own art and I would actually recommend this to any artist venturing into sketching and etching.
Botes, Conrad. Secret Language II. 2005. The Museum of Modern Art, White River,
South Africa. Artists’ Press. 26 January 2011