Zak Benjamin
Vliegtuig en Krygers, 2001
Acrylic on board
Collection of Etienne and Willemien de Villiers
"I love this painting – nobody in the world paints like this – it is undiluted, pure Zak: a combination of all his varied stylistic eccentricities." Etienne de Villiers
We own a few of Zak’s works, but this one is my favourite. It is difficult to remember what drew me to this painting in the first place, when it was still on the easel in Zak’s studio. I think it was the quality of the light, and how it colours the scene: quiet, yet theatrical. The light is soft and gloomy – the quiet before, or after, a storm – creating a dramatic sense of waiting. Something important has just happened, or is about to happen.

The three men wait, each in their own martial uniform. Once they were opponents, but now seem on the same side and at peace with themselves and each other. Their expressions are deadpan – ready and willing to accept whatever might still magically appear from the two empty containers in front of them: an African burnished coiled pot and an European cupboard with a skeletal fold-up bedstead. These containers represent their different cultures: once filled with enough to provide for a continent, now both empty begging bowls.

Is the big and looming cargo plane behind the men (from a different culture and era) filled with aid or loot? Is it bringing or taking away? Building or destroying? Or both, one after the other, centuries apart, united by the artist's vision?

The three men are standing in an abstracted landscape, painted in flat, hard-edged colour. Viewed from a distance, the African Warriors’ woollen attire seem so real that one wants to touch its soft fuzzy edges, and the play of light and colour on the Boer’s pants brings its shape and the texture beautifully to life. Yet, as one moves closer, it becomes clear that the entire surface is painted in exactly the same way, each area meticulously divided into Zak’s characteristic “worm-like” shapes. Moving away from the painting again, each object, and the spaces between them, fall back into their (pre-destined?) place and become once more “real”; evidence of the artist's masterful visual trickery.

Etienne de Villiers
9 May 2007
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