Goodman Gallery Johannesburg presents THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT, a solo exhibition by Johan Thom.
Thom is a multidisciplinary artist, frontrunner of a New Generation of South African practitioners drawing on dramatic histories while creating self-reflexive journeys. His work encompasses two disparate elements: dark humour and light tragedy. It deals with the dividing line between the self and the other where the former fulfils the role of a crazy loner seeking agency, while the latter is a real life arbitrator of reason and knowing. The irony of his work lies in the artist’s prejudice against the self, and in his act of looking outward towards something materially positive. Thom works across a variety of media including sculpture, video, performance, drawing, printmaking and photography. As protagonist Thom places himself in different contexts where he is set to endure often-painful outcomes.
But pain is incidental, and although the audience may perceive that the artist is consciously using his art to liberate himself from ordeal, that is not so.
Thom calls pain, ‘more a basic material requirement of the art work. It’s a game of perception. I enjoy making my viewers squirm or getting them involved via empathy. In that sense I am a real bastard.’ His work has involved the act of physically entwining his face and chest with fishing gut (in Bind/Ontbind2, Venice, 2003), licking sand off anthills (in Licked Colony, SA, 2011), painting his face with gold leaf, honey, flour and oil while defacing a gallery wall (in Figurehead, Rotterdam, 2010), and having sump oil and milk poured into his outstretched hands containing Buddha statuettes sewn into his skin (in Thank You, Bodh Gaya in India, 2011).
The forthcoming exhibition at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg sees Thom casting himself as a new, yet classically familiar, character in the evolving dramatis personae of his oeuvre. Doctor Faustus is a known type in the history of world drama. A seeker of knowledge at a price, Faustus is also a popular signifier with a familiar personality, and image, in European culture that has enjoyed undue dominance, even in Southern Africa.
The exhibition will consist of a series titled ‘Faust the African’ made up dozens of heads cast from a 19th Century ceramic bust of Faust, in builder’s foam, and inlaid with found objects making a macabre and carnivalesque gallery of types . These include an explorer, a gambler, a musician as well as the well-worn men one would find on a travelling vessel, taking an epic journey of exploration. A variety of found objects including books, tools, pieces of furniture and cast bronze artifacts complete the hellish depiction of a semi-fictitious person seeking out dangerous territories.
Thom was born in Johannesburg in 1976. In 2008 he relocated to London to pursue a PhD on ‘Materiality in contemporary fine art’ at the Slade School of Fine Art on a Commonwealth scholarship. His works have been included in exhibitions His works have been included in exhibitions at the Venice Biennale (2003); the Canary Islands Biennale (2006); the Palazzo delle Papesse (2008); the Johannesburg Art Gallery (2004, 2005); and at the Iwalewa Haus (2010) in Germany. He is an active presence in the art research community and has participated in conferences and workshops at dOCUMENTA (13) (2012); the University of Cambridge (2009); GradCam in Dublin (2010); the Finnish Academy of Fine Art (2010); the Slade School of Fine Art (2010, 2011, 2012); ‘Real Presence’ at the Venice Biennale (2005); the University of Bayreuth (2010) and elsewhere. He is a lecturer in Fine Art at the University of Pretoria. In 2013 his work was included on the group show [Working Title] at the Goodman Gallery.