Mark Rautenbach – Splendid


I will begin this short introduction to the exhibition in a slightly unusual way – not by immediately talking about the artworks, but with an explanation of the name of the artist, as this will provide access to the conceptual underpinning of his art.


The artist, Mark Rautenbach, has adopted the name Splendid for several reasons one of which is very specific to his work.  The initials of his original name, M R spell Mr.  Mark Splendid on the other hand makes Ms and Mark Rautenbach Splendid makes Mrs.  Mark’s name thus becomes symbolic of his attempts to cross boundaries and unfix categories, even those as seemingly fixed as gender identities. This attempt to undermine polarities provides a clue for the viewer’s approach to the ‘splendid’ art works that you see around you. 


I would like you to look closely at the works themselves and notice how many layers of visual materials there are.  In the smaller works you can see paint and collaged paper from various sources, often including maps that could refer to our destructive interaction with the earth and the necessity to heal and mend our ways.  In the larger works there are diverse materials woven together, pinned, stitched or layered with paint, and integrated into more than the sum of their parts, including waste objects and craft materials such as thread and string.   


Mark wanted to emphasize the craft aspect as handwork has traditionally been undervalued in the contemporary western art world,  and ‘craft’ has been regarded as a pejorative term, indicating works in specific (non art) media such as sewing or ceramics. The sewing and pieces of coloured thread in these works would therefore refer to ‘women’s work’ or ‘craft’ as opposed to ‘high art’ which is elitist, expensive and hung in galleries.   Feminists in the 1960s and 70s started to re-introduce craft as part of so called ‘high art’ to undermine the inherited hegemonic values of a patriarchal system.  


Mark is also using craft references to blur categories and reclaim wholesomeness and domesticity as a legitimate part of the art making process.  He even uses the feminist notion of disrupting the controlling, mastering gaze, by creating a work that reveals its complex intensity of sewn thread work, most intriguingly, when looked at from the side, whereas the forward gaze almost misses the sewn marks in the canvas. 


The mastering gaze speaks of patriarchal structures such as science and culture, it is forceful and direct, in opposition to nature and intuition or feelings which are seen as softer feminine traits.  The indirect mode of looking required for a full appreciation of this work is what Mark calls the ‘soul mode’ of viewing, which requires the viewer to tap into their soul rather than their intellect by moving to the side to discover alternative ways of seeing.


The sewn and crafted areas are symbolic of regeneration - stitching things together, piecing things into a whole or darning and mending something so that it can be used again.   The waste materials are also included to reclaim and reinstate what was once devalued by society.  Mending and healing thus emerge clearly both in the works themselves, and through Mark’s creative process, as he views his work as a therapeutic digging into the murky depths of the unresolved emotional issues of people.  This journey is difficult and unpleasant, but the end result is a self discovery that reveals truth, healing and ultimately catharsis.   


There is a clear spiritual emphasis in these works based on the inclusion of Tibetan Buddist mystic deities as well as the Serenity prayer which is printed on most of the works in a Tibetan font.   Tibetan iconography has a sacred geometry, Eastern artwork has repeated images for centuries to convey a sense of spiritual purity and permanence.  These are not Buddist works, however, the interventions made by Mark, through paint or thread, have disturbed the original meaning without obliterating it, thus creating a new visual vocabulary while maintaining a link to the spiritual continuum.  


This merging and melding of visual clues creates a complex web of possible meanings that each person must discover for themselves.  Mark is not a prescriptive artist, and even for him the initial concept develops and alters during the creative stage, so that the end result is very far from the original idea.  The names are a clue to discovering meaning, however.  For example the series entitled Old patterns, new continents and seas, speaks of the continuum of Eastern spiritual purity, the preservation and development of the earth, and life as a voyage of discovery where old boundaries (or continents) are continually broken down and reformed.   


As you can see, not only are these works very beautiful, but they provide dense layers of resonance that each person will respond to differently.  They have one thing in common, however, they all express a positive energy that hopefully promotes the renewal of one’s psyche and a renegotiation of the limitations imposed by rigid social parameters.  These are pictures for the home – they are made to be lived with, so that their meanings can unfold as we transform.


Introduction to exhibition at Amoeba, 3 November 2006

by Karen von Veh

Senior lecturer (History of Art)

Fine Arts Department

Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture

University of Johannesburg

Tel (w): 011 406 2388