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Heyns’s drawings, in particular, bear witness to his pure feeling for line. They are exquisitely and comprehensively developed, and the large, white, negative spaces are as meaningful as his sparse line work.
The triptych Gekruisig (Crucified), reads like a threefold Shroud of Turin, with negatives of the holy Veronica in female (left) and male (right) form, with an androgynous central panel. There is a teasing quality in the depiction of drowning in the left-hand panel, in comparison with the man with an archaic pair of doves in the right-hand panel. Equally strange are the stigmata on the hand in Boodskappe van my Lyflikheid (Messages of my Corporeity). The tracing of suicidal hands, Om vry te sterf (To die freely), lends an intentional shock dimension to the collection. The choice is still the viewer’s.
It is not only the visual impact of the works that the viewer remembers, but also the content thereof. Even when the first impressions fade, a feeling for the artist’s soul remains.
In Michael Heyns’s work, there is a striving for the metaphysical, towards the creation of the prototype, which results in intensely personal imaging. The unforgettable Swartbok (Double Black) reminds us of the intensity of feeling of Judith Mason’s early paintings. A volumetric Houtmannetjie (Wooden Man), isolated and archaic, is shown as both a front view and in profile, as though Heyns – like the ancient Egyptians – would have wanted to capture the essential.
This painting reflects the subtle dialectics between reality and art in his work: based on an existing image, the wooden man is changed into a timeless icon.
Once again Heyns, one of Pretoria’s better-known painters, shows that his work is technically of a high standard. The visual reference points he uses are very limited. His use of the same figure and head forms over and over again makes the viewer realise that all the forms are being used symbolically.
His work is emotional, but when you look at it more closely, you recognise the total mastery and skill with which everything is executed. He sometimes makes use of a fibre or textile print, such as in Granaattyd (Pomegranate time). Nothing is left to chance, and even where he washes the paper to obtain a certain texture, this is done according to plan.
Furthermore, Michael Heyns proves that the intuitive growth process, to which he unconditionally subjects himself, cannot be checked. There is no sign of any slavish following of fashion trends in his art.
One rather becomes strongly aware of his individual experience and the inherent honesty of visual and emotional impulses that remain in the subconscious and are redirected into paintings.
Certain constant elements emerge from this variety: the almost unbelievable range between playful emotion, in which the lyrical and ethereal alternate, contrasted with rich, earthy sensuality. It is when these extremes are reconciled, as is the case in the best floral paintings on view, that Heyns rises far above the ordinary.
Works such as these are comfortable in the company of flowers in South African art history. The fact that this has not yet been noticed by curators of flower and plant exhibitions, is perhaps due to the fact that the judges’ eyes may be blinded by the more sentimental elements in Heyns’s work.
Sounds of solitude
Michael Heyns: 19 Feburary 1996
by Lucia Burger
When looking at Michael’s work, we need to look horizontally. First of all, the work is poetically visual. Like a poet, Michael strips humans of all pretence and exposes the truth of solitude, the pain of ageing and the sigh of life. He finds metaphors in pomegranates (symbols of resurrection, spring and unity), butterflies (denoting the restored soul and freedom) and the heart (life itself and love).
It is not always possible for everyone to write about these things. It is here that we need the artist’s hand and the poetic touch of an artist such as Michael Heyns.
Heyns is skillful with both brush and words
Sounds of solitude
SA Arts Association, Pretoria
Titles always form an important part of Michael Heyns’s work. Titles such as Beskerm my teen myself (Protect me against myself), Ek stuur vir jou as groetekaart my lyf vol rose (soms maak dit littekens toe) (I’m sending you as greeting card my body covered in roses (sometimes it hides scars)), ‘n Nag wat nie dag wil word nie (And the darkness remains) and As ek kon droom (If I could dream) lead us to suspect that this artist is almost as dexterous with his words as with his brush. This is also a reminder of previous exhibitions, where he wrote pieces of poetry into his canvases and offered them as a sort of collage along with the work.
But he has very little to say about his work. A conversation with him gives you insight into the reasons why he has been able to depict subjects such as fear, loneliness, transience, self-alienation, pain and death with so much more conviction than other artists of his time already since the eighties.
While on the one hand his subject matter has varied and changed somewhat through the years, the underlying messages of the beauty and frailty of life, the destruction of pain and death, have stayed the same, and so has his very spontaneous creativity and the obvious joy he finds in the process of painting and creating. From a technical point of view, his work has improved a lot over the years.
On this exhibition, Michael Heyns is showing once again that he is one of a very few artists who can be commercially successful without being shallow or commercial, and without producing works of a minor intellectual quality – Fransi Phillips
South African Art Times
The Artist's Diaries
by Fransi Phillips
Michael Heyns, famous mostly for his paintings, has over the years illustrated a surprising versatility and an exhaustible urge to create.
Apart from his paintings he has done some sculptures, pottery and has over many years designed an extremely artistic and unique lifestyle and living environment for himself.
But even those who has never heard of the name Michael Heyns would, with the very first introduction to the set of three leather bound diaries bound by Norman Lees and printed on computer with the assistance of Heyns' wife Susan, realise that they must be regarded and appreciated as works of art in themselves.
Written in the artist's own very decorative handwriting, scanned with the computer on hand made paper and decorated with his own photos and paintings he creates, with these books a unique visual and sensory experience demonstrating the love of beauty that makes his otherwise often difficult and harsh life worth living, and at the same time compensates for the lack of understanding by galleries, critics and members of the public for his unique aesthetically abilities.
Apart from the visual satisfaction created by these beautiful works, they are a significant reminder of the powerful and universal processes of life, death and new life, as well as the way in which the threat of destruction is countered by the spiritual experience of the process of creation.
South African Art Times
Michael Heyns: a master in conversation with his medium
by Fransi Phillips
Critics often determine the greatness of a novel by its exploration of universal themes like birth, love, fertility, life and death.
While the creation of beauty might be the central concern of artist Michael Heyns, these themes occur time and again in his creative oeuvre which includes paintings, drawings, clay tiles, clay figurines, handmade steel doors, books, posters, invitation cards, handmade diaries, video films and an aesthetic environment filled with exotic plants and animals that apppear as objects of his work.
Apart from Heyns' love for and preoccupation with aesthetic quality, his impeccable design and intricate, distinguished technique and the indisputably decorative quality of his work, the above-mentioned universal themes occur in many forms in his subject matter.
One of the most typical themes in Heyns' work is the melancholy beauty of the fragile human body, and his awareness of his own fragility and approaching death. His diaries, revolving around a heart condition that has plagued him for most of his adult life, describe his fear in the face of an open heart operation and the pain of trying to recover some of the former beauty of his body and the harmony in his life. Whereas his earlier self-portraits depict a healthy and beautiful body, portraits made after the operation often depict the body cut up into disjointed parts that no longer match.
In other works, he escapes the pain of this experience by turning the body into a work of art covered in old fashioned wallpaper flowers, indicative of a form of identification with flowers. The faces accompanying these bodies are often simplified and filled with the abstract melancholy reminiscent of the mask of a clown.
In addition to his obsession with interiors and his garden, Heyns' diaries also mention the joy he derives from his Japanese Koi. The fish is a symbol on the unconscious, and the depiction of black Koi sleeping in the water in some works evokes a feeling of pre-birth, death and burial.
Although the depiction of flowers is often associated with purely decorative art, in Heyns' work, flowers become the symbol of an ongoing cycle of life and death. At the same time their beauty serves to rescue the artist from personal feelings of futility and destruction. Aesthetically, Heyns' flowers remain the most pleasing, recongnisable and successful of his works.
Technically, Heyns is a master who has obsessively pursued aesthetic perfection over many years, while always allowing for an ongoing and deeply intimate conversation between himself and his medium.
Website of South African Artists