Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hennie Stroebel’s turquoise Levant – art sans frontières

Ceramist Hendrik Stroebel grew up in a young country and yearned for antiquity. So when travel restrictions in South Africa were lifted, he headed for the Levant in pursuit of ancient ruins and relics imbued with the present, and for places like Samarkand and Ardebil whose names lie like jewels in the mouth. The embroidered recollections of this personal odyssey synthesise the Apollononian and the Dyonisian; here are the responses of both Narcissus the priest-monk and Goldmund the wanderer and artist. Austere temples, towers and statues compete with lush fruit, sensual flowers, veiled women and strong men. Ethereal turquoises juxtapose visceral reds.

Silhouette with Tiles, 2007
Detail, Between the Euphrates and the Tigris, 1999

Russell Hoban says if you put certain words together, how the thunder rolls. One can say the same for Stroebel’s seductive choices of images, fusion of craft and art (the materiality of the wooden and ceramic frames are a great counterpoint for the delicate embroideries), and fine blend of colours. I have loved Stroebel’s embroidery for more than a decade so this is not a review of his recent exhibition in Durban which spanned 17 years of work, but a tribute to his patience, keen observations, and exquisite rendering of detail, place and (bygone) time. A tribute to this ‘paint on a string applied with a needle’, as he calls it....

Silybum Marianum (Milk Thistle) Turkey, 2011

What is it that draws Stroebel to Biblical cities, the crossroads of  Egyptian, Greek, Ottoman, Byzantine and Roman empires, the silk roads of Uzbekistan and beyond?  He loves the largeness, he says, which takes your breath away, and the fact that what is left over in the ruins is still enough; the unembellished restraint in statues washed clean by time, the purity of stripped essences. He reveres both the complexity and simplicity of these cultures so different from our own and yet so close in space and time. And then there is the ‘godly colour’ turquoise which in Islam symbolises the union between heaven and earth. Stroebel uses it with incandescent effect as in my personal favourite, The Remains of Tamerlane

Remains of Tamerlane, 2001- 2002

Camel Pot, Esfahan, intimate in scale, invokes the monumentality Stroebel responds to, as well as that of his own ceramic pots. This monumental/intimate play ranges over many pieces: from arches to niches, from marble pillars to thistles and buzzing bees.
Camel Pot, Esfahan, 2009

And now a number of significant pieces (Remains of Tamerlane is one of them) are migrating back to the Persian Gulf as part of a private art collection; back to be reabsorbed in the culture that inspired them. And here at home a detail printed on the inside of the catalogue cover has inspired a number of Zulu women to imitate the design in beadwork. The turquoise dialogue continues....

What next? Stroebel wants to go and see the glazed turquoise lions in Babylon of course. And travel though Iraq, if possible.


*Also read Marily Martin’s excellent essay, Hendrik Stroebel – Recollect, in the exhibition catalogue.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely blog Fran. Thank you for reminding us of Hennie's stunning show. The Thistle is an absolute favourite of mine.