This artist produces work which is often difficult to categorise because she works across many different disciplines and media. The eclectic and diverse approach presents the same problems of classification as that of work by Anselm Kiefer. Often the one common denominator is the same as in his work; that of fascination with surface qualities, materials and the emotive vehicles of meaning which these provide in exploring important visual images.
All these surfaces and materials are as densely layered as the deeply personal meaning which lies encoded and disguised within them. Alta Botha exists physically, emotionally and psychologically within the actual creation of her works. As she uses her hands to layer her materials intuitively, she incorporates her life experiences, exposing herself and then hiding these secrets under the next layer and the next until each work becomes rich and moody. Revealing and concealing, searching, finding, rejecting and accepting what happens on the surface is a great part of her process. Even her paintings have a sculptural sensibility because of this layering.
Words,numbers and symbols play an important part in this artist’s work. In most cases her work is created within a dark range of muted colours and the text in some mysterious way creates the ‘colour’ and excitement which one would otherwise possibly find lacking. The mood is both restrained and augmented by scratchings and stampings of letters. Often one dominant colour becomes a key factor but is also diluted and integrated with the surrounding textures. For example, in the sculptures from the Angle of Repose’ series, she used the ochre colour of photos on acetate in a limited way within the earnest grey of concrete. Lettering was red enamel and authoritative, painted on rusty cast iron beams - seen but also subtle.
As with all serious artists who evolve and continue to uncover new and important personal preoccupations, Ms Botha’s iconography changes fluidly and significantly depending on the time and task in hand. Certain images have become very important to her and reappear in some form in many of her works. The most notable one is probably that of a funnel. The metaphors resident in these objects and shapes continue to fascinate the artist and add considerable meaning to her work. The central concepts of control, force, flow, energy, changing matter, flux and fragility as well as serious instability are all key and found in most of her works.
An interesting fact in this artist’s work is that although she is unafraid of working in a large format and makes dramatic visual statements, she is not drawn to the landscape format. Most of her work is either in a small intimate or vertical/ portrait format. This indicates the deeply personal, and sincere quality of the meaning and message. The viewer somehow recognises this sincerity even without knowing the full context. The discerning viewer recognises some collective consciousness, much like the experience of looking at a Rothko (who also interestingly mostly worked large but vertical.) This then becomes an intuitive understanding of something which is buried but universal. It is this recognition which makes a viewer accept and love an art work. The secret qualities, the soft gentle touch combined with the strong, energetic manipulation of substance makes this artist’s work unique, sincere and very satisfying.
Written by Judy Moolenschot BA Fine Art, Unisa.