Conrad Botes

With its hybrid animal human figures and visual allegiance to pop art and the comic book idiom one can’t help pegging Conrad Botes as Norman Catherine meets Roy Lichtenstein.

With its hybrid animal human figures and visual allegiance to pop art and the comic book idiom one can’t help pegging Conrad Botes as Norman Catherine meets Roy Lichtenstein. It’s a glib comparison, one that probably flattens out the personality of his art; nevertheless, it proves useful in not only grasping his art’s visual character, but helps in contextualising its ideological persona too. Certainly it goes some way towards grasping how stylisation operates in the depiction of human misery. Granted, the two seem unlikely bedfellows for the simple fact that a flat rendering of subject matter tends to deny emotional engagement. In Crime and Punishment, an exhibition which attempts to explore the duality of the self and its capacity for good and evil – an emotively charged theme – Botes’ vocabulary suppresses the anguish and distress. His art implies a state in which the depiction of trauma or torment is the new pop. It’s not just the viewers of popular culture who are detached; the creators are too. Employing a pastiche of vocabularies, Botes is interested in creating dynamic imagery to capture his audience’s fickle gaze. The humour implicit in Botes’ work further advances an ironic reading of weighty themes such as immortality and the battle between good and evil, albeit that in this exhibition it is a struggle that appears to play out within the self (a very Norman Catherine-ish proposition).It is the layered artworks that draw from different idioms that are perhaps his most satisfying, such as the lithograph Haunted (2009), which presents two detailed representational figures of men in prim frocks. It’s a postmodern palimpsest, a kind of cut-and-paste approach to rendering gender ambiguity. Uniting incongruent visual markers guarantees the work’s humour, undercutting the unease that belies its flat surface. The lithograph Beggar (2009) is also composed of multiple layers: an Anubis, a half-man half-jackal Egyptian god, is layered over a coloured photographic image of a skull. The pixels of the background image are visible, recalling the Benday dots so characteristic of Lichtenstein’s work. By using the predictable iconography of death it becomes a deliberately unfulfilled engagement. Botes doesn’t assume this fanciful idiom to lighten the tone but rather to underpin his, and our, sense of detachment.In his Stolen Shadow installation, which consists of childlike drawings, a blackboard, desk and an Anubis figure, Botes conjures a macabre and surreal classroom, where pupils are presumably inculcated into the workings of the world, albeit that myths are used to help them grasp the truth. But there is a sense here, particularly in Botes’ cartoon-style lithograph Children’s Story (2009), of a world that has been turned upside down, where the sun is a wilted sunflower and moon has turned into rotten wood. The young and the innocent no longer possess a naïve or childlike sense of optimism.
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