met Willem Boshoff a number of years ago when he was ‘resident’ at Arts on Main, and had set up ‘home’ in one of their galleries. A few days later he invited me to join him on a walking/documentary investigation of Main Street, reputed to be one of the longest roads in the world during the early days of Johannesburg, joining the mines across the Reef. However, today it’s fractured, broken up by the developments of that part of town.Main Street has been home to the city’s mining headquarters ever since Johannesburg was founded 130 years ago. Back then it was little more than a dusty mining camp filled with fortune hunters and prospectors, but in the space of just three years it became the biggest settlement in South Africa.

His CV is quite impressive: 1970–74 Johannesburg College of Art (now University of Johannesburg, FADA), National Art Teacher’s Diploma; 1980 Technikon Witwatersrand (now University ofJohannesburg, FADA), National Higher Diploma in Fine Art –Printmaking; 1984 Technikon Witwatersrand, Masters Diploma in Technology in Fine Art – Sculpture. Study visits to Austria, Germany in 1982, and again in 1993, to England, Wales and Scotland. 2008 Honorary Doctorate, University of Johannesburg. He really is a man of this world, but firmly grounded in South Africa. 

SMAC Gallery said this of Willem; “He is one of South Africa’s foremost conceptual artists with a career spanning more than thirty years. Boshoff works in a variety of media which includes; sculpture, installation, performance and printmaking. His extensive oeuvre reflects his interest in languages, words, plants, nature, materials, science, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy and politics. Boshoff’s practice has been described as an encyclopaedic obsession."

In defining his approach to art, he hasb een described as “primarily creates using language/text-related art referring to a social context in the form of large installations, visual poetry, concrete poetry, sculpture. He uses wood, stone, objet trouve, mixed media and various graphic media.”

His main areas of ‘exploration’ are dictionaries, botanical gardens and nature, medieval and early music, avant-garde music, ethnic music, philosophy.” Boshoff is generally classified as a conceptual artist. 

Further descriptions of his works "Boshoff is a word artist, playing with letters and meaning. He has created large works using single words to conjure universes – PIG (a work made out of what looks like handmade paper interwoven with human hair, and enmeshed within it fragments of religious texts that all have a view of the unclean pig) and BULL(which brings to life the idea of a bull market and the bullshit of a capitalist system that underpins it.”

Since the mid 80s has been a judge on theVita Art Now panels that select the most promising artists in the Johannesburg region. Frequent judge of ABSA Atelier (previously Volkskas Atelier), New Signatures and Rembrandt Triennale competitions. Advisor to the Standard Bank Visual Arts Committee and currently art advisor to the Sanlam Collection. Trustee and advisor to the Ampersand Foundation, an organisation that awards fellowships to artists for cultural enrichment in New York. Member of the Fine Art Advisory Committee, University of Johannesburg.

These days, he devotes most of his time to research in preparation for artworks and talks. This includes the drawing up of botanical checklists at major botanical gardens of the world, and the writing of dictionaries. 

Find him on www.willemboshoff.com


Aug 12, 2020

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