Walter Oltmann’s solo exhibition In the Weave: 30 years of making art opened last night at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg. The show, curated by Neil Dundas, celebrates Oltmann’s prolific artistic output over the last three decades. It charts the evolution and development of recurring themes in his work and the honing and refining of techniques and practice. The exhibition reveals the carefully considered conceptual underpinning that has been formulating and solidifying over the last thirty years, and which imbues the artworks with their meanings. It reveals the layers of thought, which are literally and metaphorically woven in the artworks themselves to make real the pervasive archeological notion of digging downwards, to uncover and extricate meanings.
The artworks in this exhibition range across mediums, including drawings, prints, paintings and most notably wire sculptures. The name of the show, In the Weave, relates to the literal medium in which Oltmann most often works, as well as reiterates the importance he places on the act of making; the processes of weaving something into creation, whereby visceral meanings begin to emerge.
Oltmann’s artworks make you look again, to examine minute detail, in awe, and to shift your perception. His sculptures endeavour to make the familiar strange, as in the case of his enormous insects that take on terrifying proportions, and about which he says that it “impels us to identify with the familiar through the shock produced by the unfamiliar enlargement. In this way it forces us to identify with the other and to consider why we create the divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’”.
Oltmann’s work has a pervasive intellectual as well as intuitive resonance. His practice erodes the divide between art and craft, and his subject matter draws off our most primeval notions of self and existence.
His artist’s statement that accompanies this show reads:
I manipulate industrial materials in a way that contradicts their prefabricated nature by emphasizing hand-made processes. Hence I use the linear qualities of these materials to create various forms and surfaces through techniques that parallel handcrafts. I have become deeply interested in the interchange between different cultures in southern Africa, and my sculptures and drawings often reflect and acknowledge the crafts of Africa.