Monday, 09 January 2006 20:13

Comments on 4 works

By  Vivian van der Merwe

muslimFrancois' art has always been driven by visual simplicity. His art is simple, but never simplistic. He distills and refines colour to within exceptionally fine degrees, and his work is therefore never achromatic (without colour). Upon closer inspection, a work such as this abounds with extremely muted, yet fine, variations of complimentary colour, the subtlest interactions of warm and cool hues, and subtlest tonal modulations. It is this quality of highly refined naturalism that sets Francois' work well apart from the generic school of "digital" illustration that has become alarmingly common in published media today. And it is this quality, along with the conceptual resonance of his imagery, which allows Francois to elevate the muchmaligned genre of illustration into an artform that is able to function, unapologetically, as visual art of the highest order.

- Vivian van der Merwe

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smellPostmodernist art is well known for employing visual and stylistic references to "other art". This device is often referred to as historicism and appropriation, and should never be mistaken for plagiarism. It is this quality of appropriation that gives Postmodernism its so-called eclectic quality. In a visual culture saturated with media imagery and competition for attention that operates with an increasingly indiscriminate "cut-and-paste" mentality (smelly or otherwise!), this work stands out like a "breath of fresh air"!

One of the most intriguing qualities of Francois' vision is his ability to work with surprising and incongruous subject matter. His juxtapositioning of a universal, and often potent, iconography leaves the viewer intrigued, slightly disturbed, and always smiling. It becomes like Chaucer, or Cervantes, but without the text or words, evoking deep and pre-cognitive responses in the viewer. It is precisely this quality that sets Francois apart from most other visual artists. Whereas most visual artists working illustratively would tend to work from a conceptual premise (the narrative, the meaning, the story, the idea) and then seek "appropriate" imagery that either "reveals" or "conceals" (or sometimes a bit of both), Francois has always understood the primacy and potency of visual intuition. His idiosyncratic imagery always triggers some or other recognition of the human condition, either in its fallibility, its absurdity, its profundity, its beauty, and sometimes even, it's incredible simplicity.

While this image confronts us with a many layered parody, deliberately incongruous stereotypes, and an arresting tableaux of art historical innuendo, it also functions as a visually compelling artwork. Formally and technically, Francois leaves nothing to chance. His use of form and counter-form, ground-figure relationships, compositional devices, and the overall spatial construct, express a mastery of the medium that obliterates any notions about digitally conceived art being inferior to "great paintings".

- Vivian van der Merwe

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koreabibleAt first glance, this image confronts us with a seemingly ordinary, somewhat austere still life: a simple rice-bowl with chopsticks on a printed sheet. The Korean text and small white crosses (substituting the rice) provide clues as to the content and scope of the accompanying article. Closer visual interrogation reveals a heightened austerity with ambient colour having been drained from the sheet containing the text. This severe austerity, and icon-like symmetry were redefined and refined repeatedly until Francois had achieved the subtlest balance of formal elements, along with an intense feeling of extreme exposure. By contrast, the background is occupied by a naturalistic rendering of an oppressive and turbulent sky, filled with cumulus storm clouds. It is this intentional juxtapositioning between a harsh yet subtle simplicity, organised with the eye of a Flemish still-life master, and the Wagnerian background with its naturalistic sturm und drang, which gives this work its peculiar intensity.

Much of the power of Francois' art derives from the fact that he conceives his unforgettable mythography, both in spite of, and because of, the given text. This is a complex process that cannot be "explained", and one that too many artists avoid. Herein lies the unceasing paradox of visual metaphor, and a clue to the compelling magic of Francois' work.

- Vivian van der Merwe

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americanfearWith the overwhelming prevalence of so-called Conceptual Art, many new theorists suggest that figurative or representational art is a spent force in the contemporary artworld, implying that the human imagination has to seek new or alternative modes of expression.

And yet, a work such as this, using seemingly conventional pictorial techniques and devices, presents us with a dream-like vision that seems both "real" and unquestionably "original". Francois has always had an uncanny ability to turn the world upside down and inside out, especially when least expected, but he never leaves the viewer doubting the pictorial integrity of his vision. He never uses gratuitous devices or predictable tricks. Between the Rembrandt-like chiaroscuro (the dramatic flashlike contrast between light and dark), the superbly accurate rendering (slightly distorted) of recognisable elements, and the "surreality" of this visually disconcerting "event", he confronts us with a world that us at once strangely unnatural and yet compellingly real.

As with all of Francois best works, one senses his unique visual alchemy, which shifts uneasily, yet intentionally, between intense humour, bizarre theatricality and riveting beauty, which always combine in a profound seriousness and sincerity. If forced to classify or describe Francois' work, one feels that we're looking at a Postmodernist re-invention of the medieval morality tableaux, where Francois is at once the jongleur-joker, the mythographer, and most importantly, the utterly serious master of his visual craft.

Francois' work is a powerful reminder of the fact that the artist's imagination will never rest, regardless of medium and method.

- Vivian van der Merwe

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