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WALTER OLTMANN WINS SASOL WAX (article first published : 2007-09-9)

Walter Oltmann is the recipient of the Sasol Wax Art Award ™ 2007, which represents a prize of R130,000 for his installation entitled Unearthing. The Sasol Wax Art Award™ is South Africa’s most prestigious accolade for established artists. It is the only industry benchmark that recognises artists who have achieved professional maturity and are on a par with the best internationally.

Five of South Africa’s top contemporary artists - Usha Seejarim, Wayne Barker, Sue Williamson, Walter Oltmann and Andrew Verster - were selected from over 150 nominations to participate in the second Sasol Wax Art Award exhibition.

Walter Oltmann is a senior lecturer for the Department of Fine Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He holds a BA degree in Fine Arts from the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg and MA degree in Fine Arts from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He regularly exhibits his work and is noted for his public and private commissioned sculptures.

His work for the Sasol Wax Art Award exhibition employs the lost wax process. This method refers to a procedure that first entails modelling an object in wax. The wax model is then covered in a plaster mix. When the plaster has set, the wax is melted out. The hollow plaster form then acts as a receptacle for the molten metal. Finally, the plaster is removed to reveal the finished cast.

Walter Oltmann has employed the process of wax casting for his installation of hands holding dowsing objects. Dowsing refers to practices which some people claim enables them to detect hidden water, metals, gemstones or other objects, usually obstructed by land or sometimes located on a map.

“I would say that the compulsion to dig or uncover is driven by a need to rediscover who we are. Reflecting on an earlier historical moment gives us perspective on our current situation, forcing us to question the impact of our legacies,” says Walter Oltmann. “I chose to call the exhibition Unearthing to underpin the notion of uncovering or bringing to light by digging, searching or discovery. It reflects the post-apartheid era impulse to uncover our history. In a literal sense, the hands with dowsing tools suggest practices associated with finding water and settlements as much as digging and mining, both as a means of survival as well as exploiting the land for its riches and denying access and agency to others.“

The Sasol Wax Art Award Exhibition will be open to the public from September 6 to 29 at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. It forms part of the Arts Alive Festival. Daily walkabouts and a dynamic workshop programme are on offer for the public.




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