Bester Characterisation

Free Preview
  • Characteristics and Themes
  • Materials
  • Technique

He became known for his signature mixed media creations, using scrap materials – acquired from local dumps – combined with the use of oil paints and photographs, often taken by himself. Over the years, Bester enlarged the scale of his compositions and started using a greater range and variety of discarded material to build up surfaces and increase the sense of spatial extension. These technical developments were accompanied by a growing concern to record the complex experience of township life and his own history within it.  His works are all linked, because their subjects, if they are not themselves set in the environment of the Western Cape townships, are invariably represented in that context.

Bester’s conscious use of these materials is a homage to his past, and the many compatriots who find creative ways to house themselves and to survive. With these, he expresses the textured themes of his work, which include forced removals, township life, gender oppression and the brutalisation of South African society. (Ref)

He uses the leftovers of the society he depicts in order to retrace the political history of South Africa. Like an archaeologist, Bester reconstructs the fabric of this history to reveal the hidden faces of the South African township. His works are vivid collages, juxtapositions of odds and ends, of rubbish found in the townships: shoes, bones, tin cans, newspaper clippings, pages of books, scrap metal. (Ref)

People have built up a resistance to anything that addresses the psyche of mankind or people or themselves. I believe that we must protest against that which is wrong. There is no form of escape; remaining apolitical is a luxury that South Africans simply cannot afford.(Ref)

 

In more recent years, Bester has explored contemporary themes arising from the challenges of post-apartheid South Africa such as crime, greed, poverty and corruption. For him, resistance to apartheid was fundamentally about humanity and human rights, which he continues to be vigilant about.

 

What I try to get behind is why it is so difficult for people to change from their old ways. It hasn’t worked out the way I imagined. People who thought they were superior before haven’t really changed. I try to find out through studying history what gives people the right to think that way. I try to find a solution, not to be disappointed, to reach an understanding. The Truth Commission seemed to be one of the answers, but now I find that even the Truth Commission is a trap. It has done more damage than good, because the ANC was favoured over the Afrikaners. I want to do a series about it.

 

Over the last decade Bester’s focus has shifted to combine fresh conceptual directions with familiar themes and materials. His latest works consists mainly of waste metal and other debris of industrial, agricultural and domestic activity. His art fuses new ideas into works that comment powerfully, occasionally humourously, on diverse socio-political issues, some global, some uniquely South African.

Bly Uit Oortreders Sal Geskiet Word, 2004

Bester for example uses a technique of creating see-through constructions in order to magnify inner worlds which is exemplified by Bly uit Oortreders sal geskiet word. A galvanized petrol can is flayed open like an anatomical model. An intricately wired interior world suggestive of an electrical station, a computer or a petrol pump is contained and exposed by a glass barrier. This inner world is guarded by a doll dressed as a watchman, obviously Caucasian, probably made in China for consumption by children in the so-called West. It stares at the viewer through an ominous threat in Afrikaans, as a comment on the global oil-based technology and its social impact. Through this work and other works in his ‘Metalized’ (2005)  exhibition, Bester examines some of the power dynamics that are currently at play in the new South Africa. He questions the state’s concern with maintaining a balance between freedom and security in works that are conceptually dense, while presenting us with intimate depictions of people struggling to be free. (Ref)

Bester, Security Guard

Small metal tiles and objects are fused into a remodelled and reshaped “skin .” Utilitarian objects are re-contextualised into relief works or monumental freestanding figures with forceful messages, for example, the  Security Guard so familiar to anyone accustomed to the South African urban life. While the figure’s uneasy stance, sideways glance and partially exposed skeletal frame of cogs and bolts convey an underlying tension, indicative of profound and complex paradoxes in capitalist society.

Bester is a strongly intuitive colourist whose painting remains as clear and incisive as ever. He still works in a grass roots environment where, in many ways, little has changed. This is why his comments on society’s ongoing injustices, like abuse of women and children, continue unabated. Metal is a powerful medium conveying a powerful message. His painted panels, contrasting so strikingly with the galvanized metalwork, combine almost seamlessly in the constructions, adding a world of socio-political inquiry. His unique way of combining painting with sculpture acts as a silent metaphor for the unique ways in which Willie Bester straddles the worlds of high art and every day life, never losing sight of socially sensitive concerns.

A major part of all Bester’s works to date are the found objects he gathers from townships near his house and includes in his collages. The discarded materials are rich in symbolic meaning, and Bester creates an original iconography from the most varied and unlikely sources. He uses a motley array of objects such as machine parts, old sacking, sticks, various tin cans, sheep bones and wire netting. These objects are chosen not only for the way they convey the texture of the townships, but also for their symbolic significance which he discovers within them

Kakebeen (1993), Wood, bone, metal, lether, oil paint and newspaper on board

The materials themselves are very significant. Bester often includes newspaper photographs and text to illustrate a work. However, because the photographs and text are from a newspaper, they also illustrate that what is depicted is a newsworthy event. Bester also often includes photographs that he has taken himself. The meaning of these pictures is more representational, but they show that the artist was present in the environment, and shows his personal identification with the events photographed.

Domestic Worker

Bester pays minute attention in equal measure to conceptual visualization, selection of parts, physical construction and final finishing of his works. Current political or social incidents provide the impetus for him to visit his “art shop “, a local scrap yard, where he spends days selecting every detail for the “anatomy ” of his planned subject. Back in his studio in Kuilsrivier the pieces are carefully laid out on the floor before building begins, usually from the feet up, ensuring a strong substructure. As the work proceeds, balancing metal forces, dictated by the laws of gravity, unite into form and idea. (Ref)

Current political or social incidents provide the impetus for him to visit his “art shop “, a local scrap yard, where he spends days selecting every detail for the work

Willie Bester Security Guard (detail) 2005, recycled metal

When a sculpture is complete, it is transported to an industrial galvanizing plant where it is galvanized to prevent future deterioration. Having worked in the international art world and dealt with major museums and collectors around the world, Willie is aware of conservation concerns for artworks in collections and therefore expends much time and care on the final finishing of his works.

Back to: Socio-political Art > Willie Bester

This is a unique website which will require a more modern browser to work!

Please upgrade today!