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WALTER OLTMANN EXHIBITION (article first published : 2001-06-30)

This yearís winner of the Standard Bank Young Artist award for visual art is Walter Oltmann and, like his predecessors before him, he is commissioned to produce an exhibition for the Standard Bank National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Coming from a German family, Walter Oltmann grew up in what was then Northern Natal and the Zululand area. For my money, his exhibition is one the most exciting Iíve seen from the Young Artists in the 15 years Iíve been attending the Festival.

The main gallery at the Monument is subtley lit to give the works a surreal quality. When I went, apparently one of the lights illuminating Larva Suit was faulty but its non-presence worked for me. This huge and impressive piece Ė R45,600 if you have the money to buy it Ė looks like some futuristic knight in armour with rays of energy exploding in clusters of slim tin rod from its surface.

On the opposite wall is a life size drawing of the work which is, in itself, is larger than life size.

Dissarticulated Flower of aluminium and copper wire is an elegant streamlined piece while Sleeping Serpent coils itself around itself, entwined in brass wire.

Mask has the image of a face Ė like a death mask mounted on a scarab or some kind of six-legged beetle. Each leg ends in a snailís head and feelers. Antennae extend from the maskís eyebrow area. Sounds horrendous but, rather it presents a calm, sleeping dignity.

Net Suit is a gleaming wisp of brass netting, seemingly so light it would drift away if it wasnít attached to the wall. Centrepiece provides the main focal point with its astonishing pillar of tightly woven brass wire from which protrude large flowers of aluminium wire, copper and brass. Mantis of aluminium wire, is a heavily meshed gloved hand with a praying mantis in the middle.

Thereís a feeling of air and lightness in the exhibition, despite the massive scale of the pieces. Walter Oltmann does his own knotting and twisting and the works are highly intricate and impeccably constructed. Those who knit or work with more friendly threads such as wool or crochet cotton will appreciate this work and its muscular material.

Somewhat incongruous in all this wire work are three large moths in pastel and charcoal, beautifully executed nevertheless.

Make this exhibition a firm date in your diary when it comes to KZN.




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