I have spoken about Aitch being an art connoisseur before, here and here. I have also referred to the possibility that I might have philistinian tendencies; or plebeian judgement.
Some months after she died in July 2011 I found a parcel very well wrapped up and secure; cardboard, brown paper, parcel tape and well bubble-wrapped inside.
Inside were two beautifully framed botanical prints by an artist I had never heard of – Ha! of course I hadn’t. But Aitch had! . . and an invoice.
I gasped: HOW MUCH?!!
Just two and a half months before she died she was still investing in things she considered were beautiful; and would go far and grow. Given time.
Trying to sell them not so easy. So far I’ve had an offer of R1000; no reply from the gallery she bought them at; another art gallery said “try an auction house.” I’m gonna keep them for when I get a new place one day. Then I’ll hang them up and ignore them again.
More on Sibonelo Chiliza here and here and here and pictures of a few of his works here.
I’m rich. I have an early Willie Bester, complete with crushed Mainstay Cane spirits bottle top and torn-off piece of an Omo packet, framed in cheap SA pine, painted with pink primer.
Read this from Smithsonian Libraries and weep:
Contemporary African art from the Jean Pigozzi collection / foreword by Mark Gibourne; [day of sale, June 24, 1999]. London: Sotheby’s, 1999. 132pp., 57 lots. illus. (color).
The 1999 Sotheby’s auction of works from the Jean Pigozzi collection was the first major sale of modern African art by a top auction house.
Remarkably, all the works sold. Most fetched more than the estimated prices. Realized prices ranged from £2,000 to £7,000. The top price was a Willie Bester mixed media work going for £10,000 (pre-sale estimate, £4,000-£6,000). Not bad. The sale was billed as a benefit for Unicef and to establish the Jean Pigozzi Prize for Contemporary African Art.
Confession: When Aitch bought it in Kaapstad one early holiday while we were rich and child-free, I raised my eyebrows and thought Hmmm . . .
~~~oo0oo~~~ Sent: Thursday, 17 November 2016 Subject: Willie Bester art
Aitch’s Willie Bester artwork is looking even better – again. One was sold at an auction of David Bowie’s African art collection. Admittedly there’s a “David Bowie factor” which one art dealer reckoned added 50% to the prices.
Willie Bester’s “What Happened in the Western Cape?” fetched R358,000.
She’d have done this if she was still around, so here goes:
“Remember how you said ‘Are you mad?’ when I bought it in Cape Town, Koos?!”
**mumble** Well, I didn't say 'mad'. I'm sure I said "Are you sure?" **mumble**
It was January 1993 and Aitch paid R2660 on budget over six months on her credit card. She pinned the slip to the back of the painting. What an investment! Note how they still used the old shook-shook credit card machine back then.
More about Willie:
Born in Montagu, Western Cape in 1956. He began painting murals as a child, and it was also then that he first developed an interest in recycling industrial and waste materials. As an adult, Bester worked for 15 years as a dental technician’s assistant before rekindling his love for art. His first solo exhibition, held in Cavendish Square in 1982, was mounted without the assistance of a gallerist. Bester went on to study part-time at the Community Art Centre in Cape Town where he was exposed to the idea of art as a political tool.
Following this encounter he had a meteoric rise to fame in the early 1990s, exhibiting at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg before taking part in exhibitions in Dakar, Senegal, and in numerous centres in Europe, including Africa Remix, which was mounted at the Hayward Gallery in London in 2005 before travelling to the Pompidou Centre in Paris and thereafter to Johannesburg.
Bester has received numerous prestigious awards including South Africa’s Order of Ikhamangu (Silver). Most recently, Bester exhibited at the Changchun Sculpture Symposium in China where he was voted the most popular artist and honoured for his innovative use of materials.
Bester’s mixed media works have frequently included passages of painting that have contained strongly naturalistic elements. Continuity is also evident in Bester’s sustained preoccupation with apartheid’s legacy, and the empathy and dignity with which he represents the dispossessed.
Training – 1986: Community Arts Project, Cape Town.
1982–2003: Eleven solo Exhibitions in South Africa.
1988–2001: Five solo exhibitions abroad – Dakar, Senegal; Trento, Rome and Turin, Italy; and Brussels, Belgium. 1989–2004: Participation in approximately thirty group exhibitions in South Africa.
1991–2005: Participation in approximately forty-six international Exhibitions in thirty-five cities and towns in the UK, Italy, The Netherlands, France, Switzerland, USA, Cuba, Germany, Canary Islands, Spain, Austria, Senegal, Brazil, India, Malaysia, and Ireland. This includes several biennales and high profile exhibitions.
Iziko SA National Gallery, Cape Town; Johannesburg Art Gallery; Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, Port Elizabeth; Durban Art Gallery; Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg; Pretoria Art Museum; University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg; University of the Western Cape, Bellville; University of South Africa Art Gallery, Pretoria; Department of National Education, Pretoria; Department of Foreign Affairs, Pretoria; South African Broadcasting Corporation, Cape Town and Johannesburg; Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town; Contemporary African Art Collection, Paris; Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC.
1991: Merit Prize, Cape Triennial.
1992: Prix De L’Aigle, 4th Grand Prix International D’Arts Plastiques de la Vlille de Nice, France.
2003: Honorary medal for promotion of Fine Arts: Suid Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns.
2004: Order of the Disa, Members Class, Government of the Republic of South Africa.
Aitch knew a doctor in PMB who “did up” Land Rovers. That got me thinking . . .
To my amazement my partners Lello, Yoell & Stoute were NOT HUGELY ENTHUSIASTIC as I twisted their arms to go in as equal shareholders! Even when I told them that, besides the good doctor, it had only one previous owner (strategically omitting to say that owner had been the old KwaZulu Homeland Police Force).
But eventually they saw the light and agreed, good partners that they are, and we became the proud consortium owners of a handpainted 1979 hole-in-the-floor manual 4X4 long wheelbase Series III station wagon-type 5-door Land Rover. White. It was fitted with a Ford Essex V6 three litre engine on new birdshit-welded mountings and painted white with an old brush. The wheel rims were painted red with the same brush, from which its name Redfoot. Did I mention handpainted?
Well, we ended up putting three engines into ole Redfoot, and it went up Sani once, to Ladysmith once as 8-seater transport (Prem took it to a wedding), Yoell used it once and never again; Soutar used it once or twice.
Andre vd Merwe from PE thought he’d buy it but his wife Sue made him turn back NOW after only a few km’s and said he would buy it “Over Her Deceased Corpse.” A Canadian optometrist used it to get to a clinic where he did a volunteer stint in the Valley of 1000 Hills in KwaZulu Natal. He brought it back smoking – he didn’t really get the “stick shift” thing, nor the “clutch” thing. That was one of the new engines.
Spent a total of R25 000 on it in all and sold it for R5 000 – with relief! Not a runaway success story was Redfoot, but I think my partners exaggerate when they say I promised them an ‘investment opportunity’!
BUT never forget: When we went up Sani with an Isuzu 4X4 pickup and a Toyota 4X4 pickup and a Nissan 4X4 pickup, what happened? They all very boringly flew up the pass with ease, while Redfoot had to pause for breath and a radiator top-up, BUT!! – Where did everyone have their photos taken? – Next to Redfoot!
See, driving a pickup you look like you’re going to work; but driving a Landrover you look like you’re going on an expedition! From which you might not return!!
Slightly disconcerting: As Redfoot was catching its breath and airing its brakes halfway down, two nuns breezed past us, chatting gaily, in a 2X4 bakkie, and waved at us. Bitches.