PAUL DU TOIT Modern Primitive OCTOBER 2021
Modern Primitive Curator Ilse Schermers Griesel
Ashraf Jamal If an artist’s legacy matters, it is not merely because we continue to remember them long after their death, but because they possess a currency that exceeds mortality. This first posthumous solo show celebrates the durability of Paul du Toit’s art and vision, his humour, vitality, instinct for play, utter lack of pretension and canny grasp of the foibles and quirks that make us human. There is nothing high-minded about Du Toit’s oeuvre, no grand nod to the Greek classicism that has dominated Western sculpture. Instead, Du Toit interpreted the world otherwise, and revealed to us that our humanity lies not in the narcissistic replication of ourselves, but in art which long predates the Greek Classical ideal – 30 000BC to 300AD – which we deem ‘primitive’. Why? Because, unlike the Greeks, it never supposed ‘Man’ to be the measure of all things. In Good Spirits Painted bronze Height 705mm Private Collection 2007 It is Du Toit’s utter lack of vanity, which should never be mistaken for humility, which allowed him to resist sculpture as a mirror of the ego, and, so doing, access worlds less self-regarding, more profoundly worldly – primitive. His genius lay in his ability to connect the dots between ancient forms and modernist experimentation – namely the works of Dubuffet, Giacometti, Miro and their Pop off-spring Keith Haring. There are many other sources of inspiration. However, what matters critically is Du Toit’s fusion of ancient and modern idioms which spoke to the Id, or psyche of being, the unconscious libidinal forces which shape not only our instinct but our minds. In other words, Du Toit’s oeuvre is as rational as it is felt, a product of a hyper-active mind and body which refused to put things in boxes – openness and experimentation is his driving force.
looking. Its purpose is not to reflect on the past, but to embrace the present and the future. This, after all, was Du Toit’s mantra. He lived because of novelty, because of wonder and tireless curiosity. By placing his ‘primeval characters in a future form’, Du Toit announced his gamble and wager – that the modern world was far more attuned to primitive instinct, and that art, to have a purpose, needs to tap into our most base and most elevated life forces. This is because the primitive is also the most sublime. Realism, and the verisimilitude it endorsed, is merely a glitch in the greater scheme of things, despite its continued dominance today. By refusing its dogma, by producing a synergy between the ancient and modern, and by placing brute experimentation at the core of it, Du Toit gifted us a vision which, paradoxically, still awaits us, because there are many who remain blinded, or ascribe unthinkingly to received values, beliefs, or orthodoxies. If Du Toit’s sculptures contain an irrepressible vitality, it is because they have never been checked by custom, because – in the moment of their making – they allowed for life’s greatest elixir – wonder. Their comic turn may seem to be a nod to Pop art, however, their root lies not only in modern humour, but in an age-old instinct for the fallible. Therein lies their deceptive humility, therein their understanding that weakness, if deployed astutely, allows for a greater grasp of what makes us human. Laughter, wit, irony, play, are the mechanisms Du Toit used in order to gift us that which makes us profoundly human. The lessons his sculptures relay are always buoyant, uplifting – lite. It is never the burden of living that concerned him, but art’s ability to transform that burden and inspire us. A new generation of art lovers will now encounter Paul du Toit’s deceptive playfulness and acute intelligence.
Resin sculpture Height 2230mm Private Collection 2004
Bronze edition of 8 Height 510mm 2001 Notebook 1, Paul du Toit archive
Bronze edition of 8 260 x 565 x 20mm 2001 The Band was inspired by the relief work of Marino Marini. Its visual signature is reminiscent of Paul du Toit’s paintings, which he referred to as “blueprints for my sculptures”.
The Zanzibar Series was strongly influenced by a trip to Zanzibar in 2002. Paul du Toit reflected: “We stayed on a small island called Chapwani, east of Tanzania and Zanzibar. Every morning and late afternoon, sailors with their ancient vessels (dhows) would sail past the island to destinations in the Indian Ocean. The way the sails were controlled fascinated me. The countless shapes of wind-filled sails and rigging were etched out against the beautiful surroundings. I started drawing and reworking these images, turning these shapes into abstract figures based on the human form. The idea of turning them into sculptures came later when I figured out that I could use iron rods to draw these shapes. The gaps are filled with a solid compound and this gives a surreal three-dimensional form with certain primitive qualities. These forms provide endless viewpoints with inexhaustible and infinite possibilities.” Zanzibar Series Mixed media Du Toit Collection 2002
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