Dulux Pierneef wins Sasol prize

The smart red and blue Rea Vaya buses line up at their specially built stations
Pierneef goes Dulux, Maryke van Velden’s
R60 000 first prize-winning artwork in the
2009 Sasol New Signatures competition.

Take a colour-by-numbers landscape, the Dulux wall paint range, public participation and a jigsaw and what do you get? Pierneef goes Dulux, Maryke van Velden’s R60 000 first prize-winning artwork in the 2009 Sasol New Signatures competition.

Van Velden, a student from Stellenbosch, created her work using a paint-by-numbers drawing of South African master JH Pierneef’s 1925 landscape Scene and a list of Dulux paint-names she considered to be “most arbitrary” to the colours they represented.

She then asked others to select specific colours at random. The drawing was transferred onto 12mm sheets of supawood and systematically carved up with a jigsaw and then individually painted according to the chosen colours.

“This three-dimensional landscape painting is a system-based work made according to a predetermined work-plan, exploring the arbitrary relationship between colour and language,” Van Velden said of her piece.

Now in its 20th year, the Sasol New Signatures competition is open to artists aged 18 and older, giving them an opportunity to exhibit their work and get an entry into the professional art world. It is both the longest running and most prestigious competition for emerging South African artists.

The runner-up prize of R15 000 went to Amita Makan from Pretoria for her hand-embroidered silk work, Loose Ends: A Story About My Mother. Makan’s mother Vasanti is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

“This hand-embroidered work is Bollywoodish, somewhat kitsch, with its vibrant colours, beads, brocade and crystals. On inspection, the disintegrating halo and hanging threads intimate a sombre reality,” Makam says.

“It explores the impact of the disease on our psychic landscapes since the diagnosis was made 12 years ago. Alzheimer’s disease is insidious and nearly impossible to diagnose. It manifests in plaques and tangles in the brain, causing progressive dementia as it gradually ravages the body and mind. There is no cure.”

According to Franci Cronje, chair of the New Signatures competition, selecting the winners from the 122 finalists was a task both difficult and subjective.

“We faced a tough choice deciding on the final seven winners,” Cronje said. “One of the judges, in fact, commented that art is so subjective that we would have made completely different choices if we were judging another day or time.”

The 2008 New Signatures competition sparked controversy when first prize went to Richardt Strydom for his Familieportret 2 (Family Portrait 2), a photograph of a banally semi-naked couple, the woman holding a baby, standing next to a forlorn washing line in a back garden.

The controversy didn’t only come from the nudity. It later emerged that the photograph had been taken eight years before, and that the man in it – touching the breast of the woman and with his genitals showing – had not given his permission for it to be publicly displayed.

Nonetheless, Cronje said this year’s competition had seen an increase in both the quality and quantity of works submitted.

“This year’s high standard became obvious as soon as the regional selectors started reviewing the entries.”

“All finalists were selected according to three strict critique guidelines: conceptuality, excellence of execution, and the emotional value of the specific piece of art.”

This year, Cronje said, the judges “noticed a significant increase in entry standards”. The number of entries also rose, from 519 works in 2008 to 794 in 2009.

The five merit awards, with prize money of R5 000, went to Poorvi Bhana, Peter Mikael Campbell, Angela Vieira de Jesus Abri Stephanus de Swardt and Jeanine Visser.

The Sasol New Signatures exhibition runs from 27 August to 20 September 2009 at the Pretoria Art Museum.