Walter Oltmann

Walter Oltmann is a quiet, gentle man. He has the calm of a happily cloistered monk, his serenity seemingly placing him above the messy concerns of the material world. Born in 1960, he went to school and completed his Fine Arts Degree in Kwa-Zulu Natal. His father worked as a civil servant and the family moved from one remote area of Kwa-Zulu Natal to the next. This migratory lifestyle exposed Walter Oltmann to the rich craft tradition of rural South Africa.

Walter Oltmann’s work can be divided into two main areas of practice: drawing (pencil, ink and bleach) and sculpture (wire work). He is a master at manipulating both two-dimensional and three-dimensional line. A thread runs through the prints that he has made at The Artists’ Press: “While I have dabbled with lithography, this is my first real adventuring into it. The thread of the pencil line moves into wire which moves into polymer plate and then is transferred onto paper. Mark helped me to find a way to translate the delicacy of lace and wire work into a suitable print media via letterpress. This was unexpected, a nice discovery!”

The embossed quality of the letterpress printing gives an added tactile dimension to the work. The spirit of the wire work has translated well into print. The hand-made quality of the woven and knotted wire sculptures objectifies the aspect of time passing - the viewer grasps time as a tangible quality embodied in the material.  Walter is often asked:  “How long did it take to make that?” This aspect also carries over into the drawings and prints that Walter Oltmann makes. 

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Lithographs 2020

"My latest prints are closely related to my wire sculptures and wall hangings where I employ hand-fabricated processes of weaving and knotting to create intensely worked surfaces and detailed images. The process of making such wire nets is slow and emphasizes time as a tangible quality embodied in the material. I try to allow my chosen imagery to resonate with this quality in evoking fragility and the passage of time. There is a very definite textile sensibility to my work and I often make connections to domestic textile practices and decorative ornament in African and Western craft traditions".


Title: Night Garden
Medium: Two colour lithograph
Paper size: 56.5 x 71.4 cm
Image size: 48.5 x 63.4 cm
Edition size: 35
Price: R 8 000  (excl. VAT)

"Night Garden depicts an interwoven nocturnal scene of plants, insects and reptiles in bluish tints. With a hint towards Paul Klee’s enchanted garden artworks, I wanted to create a sense of bristling energies, movements and textures within a patch of cactus garden". 

Below is a detail of Night Garden.




Title: Spread
Medium: Single colour lithograph
Paper size: 56.5 x 76 cm
Image size: 56.5 x 76 cm
Edition size: 30
Price: R 8 000  (excl. VAT)

"Spread plays on the double meaning of the word: ‘Spread’ as in a textile covering (e.g. bed-spread or table-spread) and ‘Spread’ as in the notion of spreading outwards, scattering and disseminating. Various flying insects and airborne seeds radiate outwards from a central dandelion form to suggest dispersal and an extension by growth. I have tried to give dynamic visual expression to an unfolding that suggests an increase or multiplication outwards".


Title: Sungazer
Medium: Single colour lithograph
Paper size: 45 x 67 cm
Image size: 35 x 57.4 cm
Edition size: 25
Price: R 4 500  (excl. VAT)

"Sungazer depicts a girdled lizard, commonly known as the sungazer lizard (scientific name: Smaug gigantus). The lizard is endemic to the Highveld grasslands in the interior of South Africa and is under threat of extinction due to habitat loss from agriculture, mining and related land transformations. It is often seen basking on the ground or on termite mounds, looking upwards to the sun. The lizard will feature prominently in my next exhibition where I intend to explore mutations between human, insect and reptile to reflect on conflicts of power and changes occurring in the natural environment".

Walter Oltmann 2020


Cradle lithographs

CRADLE

Cradle (noun):

1.   A little bed or cot for an infant, esp one mounted on rockers or swinging.

2.   Any bed or place of repose.

3.   fig. The place in which a thing begins or is nurtured in its earlier stage; the beginning.

Cradle (verb):

1.   Lay in, or as in, a cradle; rock to sleep; hold or shelter as in a cradle.

2.    Nurture, shelter, or rear in infancy.

[Shorter English Oxford Dictionary]

In his Cradle prints Walter Oltmann focuses on a series of human skulls, notably those of children and young adults, (photographed from the Raymond Dart Collection of human skeletons, School of Anatomical Sciences, Wits University) and selected photographic images of South African landscapes taken at rock engraving sites. The wide-open, rocky landscapes evoke a harsh geography and in relation to the images of the skulls they carry a sense of absence and immutability.

"Presenting images of skulls in relation to landscapes under the title ‘Cradle’ inevitably reminds one of the “Cradle of Humankind,” a name given to the Sterkfontein area in Gauteng where fossil discoveries were made of early hominids. In his introduction to the book A Search for Origins, Science, History and South Africa’s ‘Cradle of Humankind’, Philip Bonner (2007) notes: “The Cradle […] provides a lens through which to view and comprehend a series of absolutely pivotal and formative moments of South African prehistory and history.” Adopting this idea of ‘cradle’ as a ‘lens through which to view’ histories, Oltmann presents wire woven landscape images in circular formats that allude to views seen through a telescope, underscoring the process of looking and examining. Being images of sites that carry evidence of human presence from a very long time ago, the landscapes also introduce the prism of time. Laboriously incised and pecked into rocks, we know very little about who the creators of these engravings were, why the images are there and what they are all about. Similarly, and more closely related to our own time period, the wire woven skulls of anonymous children reflect on the ‘formative moments’ of individuals who once lived here but whom we have little or no knowledge about. ‘Cradle’ presents a melancholic contemplation on these lives and the character of trauma that their histories assume. 

Archeological images (such as skulls and skeletons) have featured in several of Oltmann’s recent works that have engaged with notions of geological time, change and evolution. In these works he draws on correlations between images of fossils and woven forms such as lace and crochet work. He is interested in archaeology in that it stems from a discipline that is concerned with what Simon Calley in Sculpture and Archaeology (2011) describes as “examining our relationship to time and our place to its continuity … It is an activity concerned with the present [and] with projecting ourselves into the past … Archaeology is ordered and structured to record and interpret evidence of past human activity, but it is driven by contemporary questions.”

Oltmann’s new works also invoke the memento mori and vanitas genre in European art: scenes where the skull reminds the viewer of the fragility of life. The skull is the last effigy of the living face and is an iconic reminder of the passing of time. The skull of a child is a particularly emotionally loaded image that hauntingly underscores tragic loss and innocence in the face of trauma and catastrophe. In their often broken and eroded states, the depicted child skulls further reflect this traumatic character. The sleeping child is another common image used by artists to depict the innocence and serenity associated with sleep, but it has also frequently been used to evoke death or to suggest death as a form of sleep. Since the nineteenth century, images of the sleeping child have frequently served as grave markers. The slumbering face with closed eyes evokes stillness and a sense of transition". Walter Oltmann, 2015

Title: Cradle
Medium: Two colour chine collé lithograph
Paper size: 57.5 x 69 cm
Image size: 42.5 x 53.5 cm
Edition size: 40
Price: R 7 875  (excl. VAT)


Title: Cradle 1
Medium: Single colour chine collé lithograph
Paper size: 38 x 38 cm
Image size: 30 x 30 cm
Edition size: 25
Price: R  5 040 (excl. VAT)


Title: Cradle 2
Medium: Single colour chine collé lithograph
Paper size: 38 x 38 cm
Image size: 30 x 30 cm
Edition size: 25
Price: R 5 040 (excl. VAT)


Title: Cradle 3
Medium: Single colour chine collé lithograph
Paper size: 38 x 38 cm
Image size: 30 x 30 cm
Edition size: 25
Price: R 5 040 (excl. VAT)


Title: Cradle 4
Medium: Single colour chine collé lithograph
Paper size: 38 x 38 cm
Image size: 30 x 30 cm
Edition size: 25
Price: R 5 040 (excl. VAT)


Title: Cradle 5
Medium: Single colour chine collé lithograph
Paper size: 38 x 38 cm
Image size: 30 x 30 cm
Edition size: 25
Price: R 5 040 (excl. VAT)


Title: In Amber
Medium: Five colour lithograph
Paper size: 35 x 42 cm
Image size: 27 x 34 cm
Edition size: 35
Price: R 5 750 (excl. VAT)


Title: Residuum
Medium: Single colour lithograph
Paper size: 35 x 42 cm
Image size: 23.5 x 32 cm
Edition size: 30
Price: R 4 950 (excl. VAT)


Title: Sleeping Child
Medium: Single colour lithograph
Paper size: 35 x 42 cm
Image size: 21.5 x 28 cm
Edition size: 25
Price: R 4 200 (excl. VAT)


Title: Child Head
Medium: Two colour lithograph
Paper size: 54 x 47 cm
Image size: 42 x 55 cm
Edition size: 35
Price: R 4 900 (excl. VAT)


Title: Child Skull B
Medium: Four colour lithograph
Paper size: 35 x 42 cm
Image size: 27 x 34 cm
Edition size: 35
Price: R 5 250 (excl. VAT)


Child skull and infant prints

In 2007 Oltmann was invited to participate in an exhibition titled Skin to Skin (Kaunas Textile Biennale, curated by Fiona Kirkwood) under the sub section “Skin and sexual relations”, addressing the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa. The artwork he made for this exhibition was of a skeletal pregnant mother and her baby. It was woven in fine wire to resemble lacework that could be read as permeable ‘skin’, suggesting the insecure barrier between an HIV infected mother and her unborn. “I wanted to convey the qualities of intimacy and fragility that lace holds in rendering the figures in fine wire weaving. The human skeleton and skull are emotionally loaded images, and the skull of a child even more so. The iconography of mother and child is central to art history across many cultures and in the interpretation of this theme one usually expects sentiment. In these works I aim to counter the sentimental reading of a mother and child, hence the skeletons. “It is an “x-ray” line, the transparent fine wire weave has an x-ray quality to it and allows me to present the internal structures of a figure”.

In the four letterpress prints Oltmann depicts three child skulls and an image of a baby. The lacelike quality of the images recalls domestic doily and knitted craft work. The fragility of babies and small children is affectionately captured by Walter in these beautiful prints.

Oltmann respects and admires the mastery seen so often in items of African domestic craft work. Finely woven baskets, hand woven fabrics, wire work and the iconography associated with these objects are a source of inspiration. Here is a man who takes women’s work seriously!

Insects and hand bones.

Walter Oltmann is interested in the interface between humans and animals, notably insects. In recent works he has explored ways in which insect adaptations can combine with human features, for example in woven wire suits of armour reflecting the exo-skeletons of beetles. Insects evoke notions of threat (especially when encountered in swarms) but are also vulnerable in the face of humans.  They feature extraordinary sensory adaptations and undergo spectacular transformation through a process of metamorphosis. Oltmann references explorers’ books and the records of the first meetings between Africans and Europeans. He is fascinated by the written and visual observations that were made by each of the other and comments that “in a way, insects are our most extreme other”. The European obsession with taxonomy, collecting and ordering interests Walter, as does the nostalgia that we attach to explorer's illustrations.

In the lithographs “Collected I & II” the relationship between humans and insects is explored. Human hand bones are carefully arranged among a collection of insects. The composition recalls the collections of entomologists or museum displays.  The image of the human hand as tool or as instrument of human contact has often featured in Oltmann’s work.  The print titled Chafers presents a collection of fruit chafers. Here Oltmann plays with the word “chafe” and its connotations of irritation, a lack of comfort and the potential of threat.

"I manipulate industrial materials in a way that contradicts their prefabricated nature by emphasising hand-made processes. Hence I use the linear qualities of these materials to create various forms and surfaces through techniques that parallel handcrafts. I have become deeply interested in the interchange between different cultures in southern Africa, and my sculptures and drawings often reflect and acknowledge the crafts of Africa”. Walter Oltmann 2013

Title: Infant
Medium: Chine collé/letterpress
Paper size: 50 x 63 cm
Image size: 29 x 42 cm
Edition size: 30
Price: R 5 560 (excl. VAT)


Title: Child Skull I
Medium: Chine collé/letterpress
Paper size: 44 x 38 cm
Image size: 42 x 29 cm
Edition size: 30
Price: R 4 350 (excl. VAT)


Title: Child Skull II
Medium: Chine collé/letterpress
Paper size: 44 x 38 cm
Image size: 42 x 29 cm
Edition size: 30
Price: R 4 350 (excl. VAT)


Title: Child Skull III
Medium: Chine collé/letterpress
Paper size: 44 x 38 cm
Image size: 42 x 29 cm
Edition size: 30
Price: R 4 350 (excl. VAT)


Title: Collected I
Medium: Seven colour, chine collé lithograph
Paper size: 60 x 51 cm
Image size: 44 x 38 cm
Edition size: 25
Price: R 7 250 (excl. VAT)


Title: Collected II
Medium: Seven colour, chine collé lithograph
Paper size: 60 x 51 cm
Image size: 44 x 38 cm
Edition size: 25
Price:  R 7 250 (excl. VAT)


Title: Chafers
Medium: Single colour lithograph
Paper size: 58 x 77 cm
Image size: 54 x 73 cm
Edition size: 20
Price: SOLD OUT