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Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks. Simonides

Henk Serfontein

"Henk Serfontein´s paintings have received widespread acclaim and he is one of South Africa´s most recognised contemporary artists. He holds a degree in Fine Art (cum laude) and has also studied at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris. He has lectured art at a tertiary level, adjudicated national art competitions and is an accomplished curator of exhibitions.

In 2010 he was selected as one of 36 finalists for the prestigious international Guasch Coranty Painting Award and exhibition held in Barcelona, Spain. He was also invited in 2011 to become the international resident artist at the Piramidon Centre of Contemporary Art in Barcelona for three months (

Serfontein´s places of resting and waiting evoke a certain romantic nostalgia, a hopeful intimacy, a place for the traveller to rest his weary bones. Yet they undeniably also contain a more sinister dimension. They are places of wariness, heightened suspiciousness, in which the viewer could be both welcomed guest and unwanted intruder. Most importantly, you know you are alone here, it is dark and there is silence."


"Serfontein’s work shows his particular interest in the road movie genre, more specifically the films by German director, playwright and photographer Wim Wenders. Wenders’ stories are of average people on journeys of discovery, exploring the routes of the world in search of love, wealth and happiness, or simply themselves. These narratives have a direct influence on Serfontein’s work, where his paintings evoke the grittiness and nostalgic framing so apparent in these movies.

It is through the representation of his own visual journeys that he creates a personalised other worldliness, his own private Paris, Texas or anywhere between there and the Karoo. Continuing a rich South African tradition of landscape painting with specific reference to contemporaries Walter Meyer, Adriaan van Zyl and Johann Louw, Serfontein’s work also relates to the American Realists and Dutch Vanitas painters. The socio-political photographic work of David Goldblatt and Guy Tillim is also of specific interest to Serfontein, though he refrains from attempting to reinvent this tradition in the avant-garde. He quietly continues to add his personal voice to the contemporary arts through reticent ingressions of the personal narrative into the public domain.

Serfontein’s most recent body of work entitled “Travelling the Margins” shows atmospheric nightscapes. They document the artist’s journeys into small town South Africa. Places such as Merweville, Pofadder and Aberdeen constitute his intriguing visual diary of places long forgotten and yet deceptively familiar. Serfontein’s experimentation with painting as a contemporary medium is what has led him to go out alone along long, dirty tracks and formidable streets in order to extract inspiration for new works. He searches for moments of transition that he first captures through the lens and then unfolds into iridescent, contrasted works on canvas. Sustaining subdued emotion in his works and by saturating mood he blurs the boundaries of reality with a lucid, luminous palette. Through the South African rural and urban landscape he documents places and spaces in time that are stuck in-between. Places stuck between night and day, day and night are surface euphemisms for the emotional explorations in his art. The psyche is a place of constant transition, with which Serfontein readily identifies and explores in his process. His work deals with imminent solitude, as well as the inner rooms of the psyche. Moving in and out of relationship to these spaces he re-interprets a constant emerging nostalgia with complexity of observation that accumulates as a residue after his journey. Captured through the lens of his own eye, the places he visits affect him on a deeply personal and subliminal level. Transcendental and archetypal, his images act as a catalyst to collective memory.

"I am intrigued by the transcendental, that silent and mysterious moment when actual place becomes psychological space." (Henk Serfontein)

The transcendence of the existential through the process of painting is of special interest to Serfontein. His paintings are contemplative of the mystique and reminiscence evoked within the viewer, with less emphasis on the specifics of location. It is also imperative for one to reflect on Serfontein’s intimate engagement with the visual language of cinematography in most of his work, however his nostalgic approach to travel is also deeply inherent and personalised. Remembering the frame of the car window from where he saw the world when he was a boy on family travels, the longing captured by the scenes depicted in his paintings preserve an ephemeral moment and memories that are his own, yet are also not limited to the artist alone.

Stylistically deceptive, at first glance Serfontein’s paintings appear to be glowingly realistic and could easily be mistaken for photographs. In the studio, these journeys captured on film are edited, reconstructed and choreographed. Through a very complex layering process he engages with the alchemy of painting until the desired illusionary effect is achieved. It is on the canvas that the shifting of the image takes place, where it becomes something mystical and poetic infused with intensity and atmosphere. Much of the visual effect in his work is assigned to his masterful use of specifically the chiaroscuro painting technique. It is through his accentuated use of light and dark that he accomplishes the visual drama in his work; as images dissolve into darkness, the edges of actuality begin to obscure.

The realism and subtle distortions of colour that Serfontein uses to create a hyper-reality is the means used to interpret the inner state, the inner dialogue, the inner exploration of the artist. The mind is in a constant altering of its state, the experience depicted is stagnated and motionless, allowing an ambiguity to manifest itself. Juxtaposing what is there and what is not there, what is seen and what is unseen. Abandoned petrol pumps and stations; solitary cars in downtown streets; deserted houses in empty roads, the person behind the lens remains unseen in the company of his isolation, yet the viewer becomes more aware of him and his mood. The paintings identify a distance reflected in relationship to things around; a calm and reflective contemplation. One does not find oneself asking where all the people are, because the person is there unseen. The subject and object in regard is an indication of our self that is no more unique than that of the next person. Serfontein creates this revelation with his imagery.

Expressing the experience of the middle-class South African and what that means: a sense of isolation as a minority, the duality of distance from and confrontation with a threatening environment, the contemplation of an other-worldliness, the delving into the sub-conscious and the psyche, the loss of culture through the separation from ones original homeland and the fragments collected from cultures outside of ones own create a new world.

One senses that through his paintings Serfontein abstracts himself from the real journey that he undertakes and thereby re-invents and re-interprets it through his own deconstruction and reconstruction of his own understanding:

Tackling his own identity as an Afrikaaner and the pressure to act as a contemporary artist confined to a traditional medium, Serfontein shows a conscious awareness of the complexities of the unique social networks and dynamics that make up his past and present history of South African. A history that is blemished and scarred, a culture that constantly struggles with its past mistakes and lies embedded in its memory. A sense of marginalisation, non-acceptance and of recurring interrogation are reminiscent in his memories of being a youth who was sensitive to that which was happening around him. The similarity to, and influences from, American realists like Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth show a like-mindedness in the viewing of the exterior, of engaging with the outside and, by doing so, interpreting and simultaneously revealing the inner landscape. The context of the South African landscape becomes universal – it could be anywhere. That is what makes Serfontein’s work universally accessible and unanimously obscure – there are so many unidentifiable subtleties that remain understated in the works that one can only sense.

Sensing a life emerging from seemingly dark and solemn spaces on or in the canvas, Serfontein’s work touches the immediacy of the viewer. Seeing the hyper-real interpretations of ordinary spaces through his cutting edges, lines and angles, the works exude everything normal and yet abnormal. His paintings allow the viewer to experience fragmenting moments of time, evolved moments of time, time that makes sense when you contemplate transition. The works are lost in translation, in a cliché expression that we remember from somewhere, but from where exactly? We cannot place. It lies somewhere out there on the margins, those margins he has traveled.

Henk Serfontein travels the margins and makes his silence heard whilst everyone sleeps. After dark is when it all happens."

National Higher Diploma, Fine Art (Cum Laude), Tshwane University of Technology
B. Technologea Degree, Fine Art, (Cum Laude), Tshwane University of Technology
1997 & 1999
Studied at the Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris
Winner of the Santam Student bursary competition.
Winner of the Student section, Kempton Park Fine Art Competition.
Merit award Rolfes Impressions Art Competition.
Nomination Sasol New Signatures Art Competition.
Winner of the Dr. I.F Anderson award for the most outstanding final year art Student Tshwane University of Technology.
Presented with a Silver Rectors Medal for outstanding academic achievement,Tshwane University of Technology .
Merit award, Absa Bank Atelier Competition. Winner of the Reginald Turvey Painting bursary competition.
Winner of the Sasol New Signatures Art Competition. Winner of special merit award, Sasol New Signatures Competition.
Official representative of South - Africa at the Sixth InternationalCairo Biennale, Egypt with fellow artists Trevor Makhoba, KeithDietrich and Gordon Froud.
Top 10 finalist ABSA Atelier Art Competition.
Finalist Kempton Park/Tembisa Competition

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