By Andre du Pisani Art is a form of healing. It helps us in interpreting our own lives through a process of creation and re-creation. Jung and Nietzsche, despite their very different philosophical points of departure agree on one thing: getting involved with art enables one to constitute oneself as a work of art. Or to put it differently, engaging in the interpretation of visual texts, opens the prospect of contributing meaningfully to one’s own narrative or text as a person. Etymology – the meaning of words and their derivations – is a concurrent theme among others, characterizing John Sampson’s work of the past two decades. As an artist, Sampson is ever open to the subtleties and nuances of words – alert to the possibilities of mapping forgotten memories and hidden histories. In an oeuvre that encompasses collage, sculpture, painting, assemblage and printmaking, John Sampson finds inspiration in Life, Nature and the cryptic texts of language. This retrospective exhibition, with its complex interplay between form and colour and the use of natural material – sand, grass, sticks – not only renders textures meaningful, but brings about new meaning to the works. These materials become representations of experiences that extend beyond the artist’s own life. Some of his works speak to communities living on the margins of life. The monoprints with their arresting colours, as in Paris the City of Love (here represented by a red heart and images from the Pompidou Centre) are representations not only of the artist’s personal experience in those cities, but at a deeper level they represent a commentary on the mendacity of contemporary politics with its alienating and unwelcoming face. Symbolically and politically much of the world has indeed come to a crossroad powerfully portrayed in his work French Fax with its corporate imagery and homophobic message. The work entitled Amsterdam on the other hand bristles with spontaneity with a sign from a train. This image successfully evokes the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam with its healthy promiscuity and seemingly inexhaustible energy. The artist’s Chinese works transform language into mystical codes and artistic symbols – an enduring theme in the work of Sampson. The powerful work entitled Night Falls over Gibeon (with a lamp glowing providentially over it) is insinuated with a more spiritual essence. Gibeon, lying in the embrace of a stark landscape, transforms from an abstract representation towards a spiritual essence. Sampson’s smaller works – influenced by the celebrated Japanese artist Hokusia – are mildly erotic and strongly playful. The use of text forms an integral part of the works and invites the viewer to explore the delights hidden in them. Sourcing images from the mass media, the artist constructs narratives that owe much to the formal language of the graphic novel while still being visually composed as unified compositions. The evocative work tilted Song of the Broken String not only resonates with other works such as Genesis with its circle that represents the circle of Life, but speaks of the sacred power of Bushmen folklore and the destructive force of European colonialism, particularly at the Cape. This theme is also present in other works, notably in Goro with its biblical imagery of a loaf of bread. The work entitled Encroachment with its starry quality of light embedded in a parched landscape speaks of the conflict between nature and human greed. The work Suffering with its sacred imagery was inspired by a movie. It speaks of suffering, redemption, love and forgiveness. On a different plane, the work Macho is a playful commentary on testosterone gone mad. In the work entitled Namutoni we experience Sampson at his very best. Here the white patch in the work signifies Fort Namutoni, while the blue represents the Etosha 1’an. Natural material renders textures more meaningful. In the brilliantly coloured work that shows the island of Cuba from the air, the viewer is transported into a landscape of mystical beauty.
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