STEVENSON is honoured to announce The 81 ways of letting go a late self, Breyten Breytenbach’s first solo exhibition with the gallery. The exhibition is the result of a conversation that started more than five years ago and has unfolded across Cape Town, where Breytenbach spends a few months each year, the Spanish countryside, his primary residence, and Paris, the city his wife calls home. It follows a solo booth at the 2017 Joburg Art Fair, where Stevenson showed a selection of historical work dating between 1962 and 1995.
While a South African audience might be more familiar with Breytenbach as a writer, he initially studied at the Michaelis School of Art, where he remembers Lippy Lipschitz as a particular influence. Breytenbach held his first solo exhibition of paintings in 1964, the same year he published his first volume of poems (Die Ysterkoei Moet Sweet) and his first book of prose (Katastrofes). This exhibition took place at Galerie Espace in Amsterdam, where Breytenbach shared the roster with Karel Appel and Francesco Clemente, among others.
In a 2017 interview he observes: I prefer to paint. Painting is more satisfying and relaxing than writing. It's physical, you can smell it and feel it. And when you accomplish something, it is immediate. You have something to build on the next day. That is harder to do with a poem, those belong to a particular moment. Writing poetry is intense and poets tend to burn up early. You are building a labyrinth that often leads to illusions, disturbances and pathological dead-ends. If you only write poetry, you go mad sooner or later. Painting has kept me from that madness.
The 81 ways of letting go a late self consists largely of works on canvas painted over the last few years, in addition to a few earlier paintings of similar scale and subject matter, such as Autoportrait masqué (1990), which combines a self-portrait with the recurring motifs of the window and the bird. The most recent painting in the show is also the largest – Light dream (2018) is a 300 x 120cm canvas, painted in the Spanish summer, that reflects on love and loss. In addition to the paintings, the exhibition includes a selection of five Gongshi drawings (2017), named after the Chinese tradition of scholar’s rocks, as well as a selection of smaller works on paper ranging in date from 1970 to 2012.
Breytenbach was born on 16 September 1939, in Bonnievale, Western Cape. He left to travel Europe at age 20, and in 1961 settled in Paris, where he married a young woman of Vietnamese ancestry. Legislation against mixed marriages prohibited his return to South Africa, which solidified his opposition to apartheid. On a clandestine trip to South Africa in 1975, he was arrested and sentenced to nine years' imprisonment for terrorism. Upon his release in 1982, he returned to Paris, where he was granted French citizenship. His awards include the Alan Paton Award for Literature, the Mahmoud Darwish Award for Creativity, and the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award. For an in-depth profile of Breytenbach, see The New Yorker.
The 81 ways of letting go a late self will be accompanied by a catalogue featuring a new in-depth interview between Breytenbach and gallery director Joost Bosland.