Melvyn Minnaar review in 'Die Burger' 19 September 2013


A sense of compelling intrigue drawing one into an almost unreachable innermost aesthetic realm - this is one of the most rewarding experiences a visual artist can share with the viewer. Vivian van der Merwe's art is about art; there is nothing in this expansive and partially retrospective exhibition that allows one to escape this awareness.

The fact that he also makes the most beautiful paintings is proof of a dynamic that can still be conjured from the classical - by an individual who, in the studio, brings virtually all aspects of the art of painting into play, literally and figuratively. What pleasure it is then to give oneself over to this game.

Short, powerful and significant, the exhibition title “Form|Stilte (Form|Silence)” provides an effective key with which to engage your own imagination and thus aesthetic pleasure. Van der Merwe quotes George Steiner pertinently in this regard, referring to where the “shores of silence ” transcend the bounds of language - and become Form.

As evidenced in various works sharing the same motifs, the artist leads the viewer through the processes of the “creation of Form” and the “silence” which eventually plays out as objects against the wall. But without skilful composition (the intuitive golden rules of all visual play and pleasing construction), a sensitivity to the nuances of form, colour and proportion, and naturally, a dynamic and rigorous technique, the viewer would not remain engaged.

The exhibition title alludes to the essential painting and art-making process itself. In Van der Merwe's case it leads inevitably to the classic theme of the still-life. He infuses that “form|silence”, delicately poised, with metaphysical presence. Paint, collage and construction on the surfaces lends a material tangibility to this presence. Behind the artist's way of working the viewer perceives the dense history of painting itself; Matisse-like motifs such as exuberant planes, the metronome and serpentine balustrades are fleeting references. Sometimes the sensitive layer-upon-layer demands probing, reminding one of the academic concept of the pentimenti (the concealed yet partially visible traces of underlying drawing or painting that provide art historical clues about the painter's process) revealing the history of working and reworking.

But at the same time, we as viewers are acutely conscious of the fact that we are observing new and original visual truths. It is then that we transcend those shores of silence with deep pleasure and delight in pure form.

Melvyn Minnaar (Translated from Afrikaans)