"Pervading the paintings of Vivian van der Merwe is a sense of living order - imperceptible, mysterious in its complexity, flexible and yielding. Van der Merwe is a painter with a profound respect for the technical, formal and aesthetic aspects of painting. To some extent the exquisitely sensitive distribution of elements, their delicate balance and gentle vibration in pictorial space can be recognised, analysed, and thus understood. But the process that transforms the media and elements into beautiful paintings which are capable of stirring unplumbed depths of feeling is far more mysterious since, it is informed by the artist's spirit."
[Benita Munitz; art critic, Cape Times]
"Far from being detached from moral issues Vivian's art is a confirmation of the power of painting to move the spirit in its own unique way, without the aid of topical imagery, and is the all the more admirable because it was developed in a milieu where there was very little faith in art's ability to stand on its own feet. He is one of the finest painters at work today."
[Deon Liebenberg; author and art theorist] Translated from Afrikaans
"Vivian van der Merwe investigates the language of visual form and in doing so creates a visual poetry. Call it l'art pour l'art - a reality that exists on the canvas and from there engages the viewer. It is a central point of departure of twentieth century fine art and yet it has fallen into disfavour on account of the avant-garde's fierce attempts at unquestioning progress. In the face of the contemporary trends of solipsism and pseudo-political posturing, van der Merwe's kind of art is all too easily overlooked.
Through his investigation of the still-life he focuses attention on three issues which concern the contemporary artist. In his catalogue van der Merwe describes them in the following terms as the need to:
- rediscover the true meaning of form
- transcend the dogma of contemporary semantic consciousness
- affirm criteria which are relevant to painting
Van der Merwe addresses and actualizes these issues on canvas with brilliance. He reworks, reconstitutes, recreates and composes simple objects like a bottle, a jug, a dish on a table until an "other" reality appears. Every chromatic plane, texture, shape and painterly mark is brought together into an independent new reality. It is as if the bottle ... begins to move into a dimension other than our familiar three dimensions. It is as if it exists on a paradoxical threshold, where it could disappear into total abstraction or reappear as an everyday object. It is a pure sublime moment, brilliantly handled.
Van der Merwe minimalizes so intelligently and with such an intensity that one discovers more and more the longer one looks at a painting. He nowhere denies the physical nature of his medium. He does not mislead the viewer by wanting to show something where there is nothing. There is no conceptual diversion or semantic gimmickry. The purity, the complexity, the sublime moment, all are there - in the subtle tonalities, reconstitution of structures, and textures. It is not conceived out of nothing."
[Deon Viljoen; art critic and gallerist] Translated from Afrikaans
"Those who attempt to align Vivian van der Merwe's art within a particular stylistic mould do so mistakenly and superficially. His art has assimilated, and now transcends, the structures of Modernism, confronting the viewer with new painterly truths. In this context Vivian van der Merwe makes an important contribution to the art of painting in our time."
[M.A. Nolte; art critic, Die Burger] Translated from Afrikaans