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The power
in paint
 
Art that disturbs. Art that moves. Art that ommunicates. Censored pornographic comic anthology forbidden in the 1990s. Criticism and mocking of the traditional, South African, white-male image. Colorful, creative Conrad Botes evolved from being a graphic design student to being one of South Africa’s most recognized, opinion-leading artists. We met him in his backyard studio at his home in a Cape Town suburb.
 
 
On a sunny afternoon, Conrad met us in sandals and a pair of paint-stained chinos topped with a T-shirt. A middle-aged man whose body language conveys confidence and tranquility. He certainly doesn’t look like a rebellious insurgent. An illustrator whose work the South African government condemned. There’s no resemblance to anyone who stirs up strong emotions with illustrations and paintings. Work that mocks the classic image of a strong, white Boer* – and depicts him as small, scared, and impotent. But that’s exactly the person Conrad was in the 1990s.
 
 
In the wake of apartheid abolition, he studied graphic design in Stellenbosch. Conrad and Anton Kannemeyer, his best friend, illustrated a comic anthology with quite explicit drawings. Much nakedness with highly pornographic content – on the surface. Hidden messages were always there: deep criticism of the society they grew up in. And that wasn’t permissible . . .

While apartheid was officially abolished in 1991, many old politicians were still hanging around in government. Pornography had been strictly forbidden since the 1993 elections. So the comic anthology called Bitterkomix was banned, and the friends were prosecuted.

Of course, this didn’t stop Conrad, who continued to illustrate – but he also started to paint more. He put his studies on the back burner, and painting and illustrating occupied all his time. He had a hard time choosing between art and comics, so he started to combine the two – and a distinctive style emerged in his work.
 
 
“When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to study fine arts,” he said. “My parents didn’t think there were any opportunities for an artist. But I’m living on what I love to do – and I guess I’ve created my own kind of fine art from language and expression that’s all mine.”
 
“Of course my work must
move me in some way.
If the subject isn’t disturbing,
then I can’t really engage
in it and it’s not great work.”
 
 
Several large, meters-wide canvasses were hanging in the studio. Some were somewhat finished; others were barely started. Work in progress for his forthcoming exhibition in 2019. Its tentative title? The Goliath Protocol.

It’s about violence. About the relationship between David and Goliath. The exhibition is based on one of the most repulsive events in contemporary South Africa – when in 2012, a mining company more or less executed striking miners. The event was called the Marikana massacre. The many miners represent Goliath, the few policemen who killed them represent David.

Stimulated and engaged – that’s how Conrad works – with symbolism and depth in his art.
 
 
“I try to work allegorically,” he said. “To take a theme or myth and reinterpret it – and relate it to political issues like I did in my Cain and Abel exhibition in which I communicated the origin of violence and placed it into today’s society. I want to create art that is simultaneously appealing and disturbing. I want viewers to be engaged in some way. Being pulled in and pushed away at the same time. I want to confront people with images, so they must deal with them. It’s a way to force people to make up their minds – to make them start thinking about things.”

We looked at the half-finished paintings with fresh eyes after being told the story behind them. We watched Conrad’s calm figure as he painted on the big canvas – with sweeping brush strokes – and we realized that there are many ways to create change. This withdrawn, somewhat shy man has inspired so many people through his art and has spotlighted so many contemporary problems in South Africa.

We watched with respect how he lets the stories grow on the canvas, where brushes are the only tools needed to change the future and affect people’s lives. “Do you still want to provoke with your art?” we asked.

“Of course,” he replied. “My work must move me in some way. If the subject isn’t disturbing, then I can’t really engage in it and it’s not great work.”
 
 
The Goliath Protocol exhibition opens in April 2019. If you can’t go there, and want to see more of Conrad, he still illustrates Bitterkomix, which is sporadically published. He creates it with the aforementioned Anton and usually 4–5 guest artists.

We leave Conrad in his studio, where he goes back to work. Back to disturbing, provoking and engaging. While we drive away from Conrads house, we realize how much power there actually can be in a can of paint.
 
The power in paint
 
Art that disturbs. Art that moves. Art that communicates.
Censored pornographic comic anthology forbidden in the 1990s.
Criticism and mocking of the traditional, South African, white-male
image. Colorful, creative Conrad Botes evolved from being a graphic
design student to being one of South Africa’s most recognized,
opinion-leading artists. We met him in his backyard studio at his
home in a Cape Town suburb.
 
 
On a sunny afternoon, Conrad met us in sandals and a pair of paint-stained chinos topped with a T-shirt. A middle-aged man whose body language conveys confidence and tranquility. He certainly doesn’t look like a rebellious insurgent. An illustrator whose work the South African government condemned. There’s no resemblance to anyone who stirs up strong emotions with illustrations and paintings. Work that mocks the classic image of a strong, white Boer* – and depicts him as small, scared, and impotent. But that’s exactly the person Conrad was in the 1990s.

In the wake of apartheid abolition, he studied graphic design in Stellenbosch. Conrad and Anton Kannemeyer, his best friend, illustrated a comic anthology with quite explicit drawings. Much nakedness with highly pornographic content – on the surface. Hidden messages were always there: deep criticism of the society they grew up in. And that wasn’t permissible . . .
 
“When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed
to study fine arts. My parents
didn’t think there were any
opportunities for an artist.”
 
 
While apartheid was officially abolished in 1991, many old politicians were still hanging around in government. Pornography had been strictly forbidden since the 1993 elections. So the comic anthology called Bitterkomix was banned, and the friends were prosecuted.

Of course, this didn’t stop Conrad, who continued to illustrate – but he also started to paint more. He put his studies on the back burner, and painting and illustrating occupied all his time. He had a hard time choosing between art and comics, so he started to combine the two – and a distinctive style emerged in his work.

“When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to study fine arts,” he said. “My parents didn’t think there were any opportunities for an artist. But I’m living on what I love to do – and I guess I’ve created my own kind of fine art from language and expression that’s all mine.”

Several large, meters-wide canvasses were hanging in the studio. Some were somewhat finished; others were barely started. Work in progress for his forthcoming exhibition in 2019. Its tentative title? The Goliath Protocol.
 
 
It’s about violence. About the relationship between David and Goliath. The exhibition is based on one of the most repulsive events in contemporary South Africa – when in 2012, a mining company more or less executed striking miners. The event was called the Marikana massacre. The many miners represent Goliath, the few policemen who killed them represent David.

Stimulated and engaged – that’s how Conrad works – with symbolism and depth in his art.

“I try to work allegorically,” he said. “To take a theme or myth and reinterpret it – and relate it to political issues like I did in my Cain and Abel exhibition in which I communicated the origin of violence and placed it into today’s society. I want to create art that is simultaneously appealing and disturbing. I want viewers to be engaged in some way. Being pulled in and pushed away at the same time. I want to confront people with images, so they must deal with them. It’s a way to force people to make up their minds – to make them start thinking about things.”

We looked at the half-finished paintings with fresh eyes after being told the story behind them. We watched Conrad’s calm figure as he painted on the big canvas – with sweeping brush strokes – and we realized that there are many ways to create change. This withdrawn, somewhat shy man has inspired so many people through his art and has spotlighted so many contemporary problems in South Africa.

We watched with respect how he lets the stories grow on the canvas, where brushes are the only tools needed to change the future and affect people’s lives. “Do you still want to provoke with your art?” we asked.
”I want to confront people
with images, so they must
deal with them. It’s a way
to force people to make up
their minds – to make them
start thinking about things.”
“Of course my work must
move me in some way.
If the subject isn’t disturbing,
then I can’t really engage
in it and it’s not great work.”
 
“Of course,” he replied. “My work must move me in some way. If the subject isn’t disturbing, then I can’t really engage in it and it’s not great work.”

The Goliath Protocol exhibition opens in April 2019. If you can’t go there, and want to see more of Conrad, he still illustrates Bitterkomix, which is sporadically published. He creates it with the aforementioned Anton and usually 4–5 guest artists.

We left Conrad in his studio, where he went back to work. Back to disturbing, provoking and engaging. While we drive away from Conrads house, we realize how much power there actually can be in a can of paint.
 
 
 
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