What resonates at a point of urgency are clearly ‘misplaced’ signs, whose function is disguised through visual diagrams of the floating rafts. Follow these and you are heading for a crash of visual and national identities. Chameleon like, these structures have developed the adoptability that floats through murky waters of Modernism, changing colours and flags in order to secure its future and meaning. Herbst’s painterly precision is used critically to assign ‘otherness’ to the instructiveness of signs. There is a flip side to its address, just like the word ‘otherness’ no longer assigns the state of being the other. Herbst understands this more than most. After his relocation to Europe, the history of his native South Africa took on an altogether different identity that informed his painterly practice through different visual, iconographical and contextual histories and languages. The question of cultural tradition in relationship to otherness is a pertinent one to observe. The modernist ‘motifs’ that float the waters of Herbst’s paintings are familiar, even iconic. Malevich‘s gray and black compositions inform the structures of the rafts that teeter between cultural collapse and hegemony. The revolutionary ideas of the Avant Garde so brutally abstracted under the guise of newness and formal purity are now just a prototype for the theoretical musing about the revolutionary resistance. Malevich’s infatuations with the forms of ‘new’ propelled by the binary ideology of politics and religion, nature and culture, underline the rhetoric of Modernism that, in its progressive structuring of time and future, fails to extract the unified perspective in spite its claims to homogeneity. – Andrea Medjesi-Jones (extract from The Absence of Myth, catalogue essay 2015).
Günther Herbst was featured in Contemporary Art Society’s ARTfutures 2007 held at Bloomberg SPACE, London and John Moores Painting Prize 24, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. His work is held in collections including Cambridge University; The Durban Art Gallery and Johannesburg National Art Gallery, South Africa; Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design; New Art Gallery Walsall’s Permanent Collection and numerous international private collections including William Kentridge.
My studio-based painting practice involves a continued engagement with histories, be it fictional or non-fictional and to further explore the artist’s complex relationship to the environment and the human presence in it. Modernist symbols are used as the signifiers for our current times, fragmented and rearranged to suggest a continuous re-examining of modernisms legacy and the functioning and the status of the constructed idea of landscape in contemporary painting. – Gunther Herbst, 2015