Cobus van Bosch
Johannesburg, 2008, Oil on canvas, 38 x 228 cm (tryptich)

CITY

Oil paintings by
Cobus van Bosch

34 LONG, CAPE TOWN, 15 APRIL - 17 MAY 2008

The cityscape has never figured prominently within the history of South African art. That has always been the territory of American art which glorified structural views of New York - and French art with its romanticized depictions of Paris. Not surprisingly Cobus van Bosch's current exhibition of cityscapes at 34 Long, includes a number of views of Paris. But what is surprising is that many of the works evocative of New York urban landscapes are actually paintings of Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Van Bosch is interested in pattern topography of cities. According to his press release, he explores the "geometric elements of cities [which] seem to repeat themselves, regardless of scale". This is particularly evident in one Parisian nightscape in which van Bosch has moved back his viewfinder to show the lights of Paris forming an abstract composition against a black background.

Paris I, 2008, Oil on canvas, 38 x 76 cm

What comes across here, however, is van Bosch's mixing of art historical attitudes. This exhibition in fact reads like an art history lesson in the transition from modernism to post-modernism. First there are van Bosch's views of Paris painted in the expressionist manner of the early modernists. But on the far wall of the gallery is a large canvas, a cityscape of Cape Town, painted in the cool detached post-modernist posture of 1970's New York cityscapes. Next to it is a suite of nine small highly abstract cityscapes painted in the visceral and volatile gestures of the abstract expressionists. Ironically it was in reaction against this type of modernist painting that early post-modernists sought to paint in a new detached attitude, producing cool impersonal cityscapes like van Bosch's view of Cape Town.

Townscape, 2008, oil on perspex, 14cm x 14cm

Cape Town 8, 2008, Oil on board, 101 x 202 cm

Aside from this rather academic thread, two main factors hold these works together – van Bosch's use of strictly black and white, and of course the subject matter. Although not painted with the precision of 1970's sharp-focus realism, van Bosch's referencing of that stream in his paintings of Cape Town and Johannesburg (which dominate the exhibition) creates an overall air of detachment. This quality is accentuated by not only the absence of colour, but also by the absence of people and activity. According to Richard Estes, the master of the super-realist urban landscape, a figure in an urban landscape "changes one's reaction to the painting and destroys the feeling of it... The painting becomes too literal, whereas without the figure it's purely a visual experience."

Cobus van Bosch's City is an exploration of formal concerns. In creating these works clearly van Bosch aligns himself with Richard Estes who noted, "The great artists of the past never let their feelings intrude"

 Sanford S Shaman