Hein Botha – approach to image making
You have a passion for San, particularly their complex relationship to the world around them. Where did that passion come from, and how has it influenced your work as an artist?
Some time ago, during a trip through Namibia, I decided to overnight next to a Sandstone monolith perched on the seemingly endless horizon of that ancient desert.
I lay back on the roof of my seasoned LandRover and stared into space watching the stars being ‘switched on’ as the desert slowly turned its face away from the sinking sun.
That must have been the first time that I truly felt at one with my surroundings and closeness to the universe of the San.
It dawned on me that staring back in time could be viewed within an astrophysics context, or could simply be seen as a vast stage for ancestral spirits to play out their timeless stories.
The San’s lives where intertwined with their stories. Their beliefs, myths and visions where left behind as rock art and engravings throughout Southern Africa.
My interest and fascination with San rock art started long before the evening that I lay on the roof of my trusted Landy. I have since visited rock art sites featuring their layered imagery. The San believed that the rock face on which they depicted their visions and myths was a veil between this world and a spiritual realm. A rather inspiring way to view the surface of a canvas on which you depict ‘form’ that informs ‘content’ residing behind the canvas!
The more I delve into their spirit world through research and reading, the greater the inspiration – left by the first people of this land.
Their freeform cosmology and seamless interconnected world informs the way that I like to approach image making.
The San’s trance dancing and shamanic visions of altered states of consciousness resulted in rock art imagery that defies linear logic.
Their approach has taught me to shake off the shackles of logic and rely to intuitive sensibility and primal coding when painting.
It is not my intention to idealize their time or spiritual orientation. They were simply coded to survive, without compromise, in harsh and unforgiving conditions.
Their cosmology and complete adaptation to their environment, physically and mentally, allowed them to survive from day to day.
The San’s eternally fresh imagery and childlike playfulness has taught me, what I like to refer to as ‘cosmic clowning’.
Their stories are often ambiguous, idiosyncratic and layered in symbolism.
All characteristics that lie at the roots of innovative artistic expression.
Do you see yourself as continuing the legacy of San, or do you see yourself as an artist who is trying to reconnect with that legacy?
The San spoke about the ‘strings’ that connect them to ancestors, animals, their stories and the stars.
In 1870 a San held in captivity said that he does long for his people but now that the ‘strings to his stories’ are broken, his soul is dying.
This account touched me deeply and I think, made me realize that my work connects me to my sense of being.
When I am immersed in meditative mediation with regard to the concept of time I somehow feel I might be able to reach beyond my brief time on earth through art.
At the same time I feel that the process of image making should echo the ongoing shifting and shaping ot thoughts and constantly refresh our understanding of ourselves and fellow beings and life forms with which we share this precious planet.
The beauty and powerful presence of geological marks and myth left by the passage of time in the wake of the original people of this land forms the inspirational basis of my work.
Do you see art, and the artist in particular, being able to help reconnect ourselves with the natural world around us?
Art is arguably totally non-utilitarian. It has been said that the role of
art is to make the invisible, visible and to refresh our worldview.
In essence, art facilitates human need to re-connect us to our inner being, surroundings and place in the universe.
Do you feel as an artist that you are independently creative, or do you feel more like a creative vehicle?
I believe even Einstein’s space/time continuum discovery was in essence conceptual art. Creative thinking can manifest itself in many forms and often plays a vital role in modifying and restoring our relationship with our environment.
Creative expression is rooted in exploring and revealing that which was not part of our conditioned thinking. Creative thinking broadens and expands the perceptual framework that informs our sense of reality and subsequent response or behaviour.
Hence the reason art could be viewed as today’s myth and magic made matter –reminiscent of San cosmology finding expression through rock art.
Is there still room in our contemporary world for the power of magic and myth, and if so how do you think those elements would change the world?
Academic, second hand thinking, after all, don’t have the lure of freshly imagined or timeless myth.
Even contemporary fiction and graphic novels sometimes carry a message of hope and good overcoming evil.
Animals often feature as goodwill companions, particularly in children’s stories. That’s a wonderful foundation for entrenching a holistic worldview.
It’s very clear that our physical existence is surely less important than our thoughts and the stories that live on after we’re gone.