Lawrence van Niekerk (1976 - )
‘Portrait of Patrick Nkosi’, 2004

oil on linen, 160 x 120cm

signed bottom right

This painting is a continuation of Lawrence van Niekerk’s series of portraits of people living in the industrial coal-mining town of Witbank in Mpumalanga. The artist describes traveling through the town while still a student at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, and recognising it as the embodiment of William Blake’s ‘dark, satanic mills’: ‘It is the most evil environment you’ve ever seen. Everything in Witbank is burning; the earth itself is literally on fire.’

The subject, Patrick Nkosi, is a retrenched coal miner, now earning a living breaking up metal during the day and working nights as a bouncer in a nightclub. Van Niekerk is intrigued by both the extraordinary circumstances of the individual – living above the burning coal mines, surrounded by factories belching smoke and fire – and the way he and other Witbank residents get on with their lives and experience ordinary types of problems. Nkosi is painted standing in the doorway of his house, sunlight illuminating his features, yet the right side of the painting is dominated by shadows that convey a dark sense of place.

Van Niekerk has commented that, ‘Portraiture is meaningful in that you engage directly with other people and learn something of their lives and circumstances’, but at the same time he observes that ‘painting portraits is very abstract – how much can you really know about somebody?’

Two earlier portraits from the Witbank series were included on the exhibition Three young painters at Michael Stevenson in June/July 2004.

© 2005 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved.