Main work: etching on paper (edition of 4)
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This etching was produced in February 2011 during a residency at the Nirox Foundation. At the same time British land artist Richard Long, also in residence at Nirox, created a stone circle on a hilltop overlooking the gently undulating landscape known as the Cradle of Humankind. ‘Circles were in the air’, comments Willem Boshoff.
The circular form has manifested continually in Willem Boshoff’s work, signalling his rootedness in African thought and its cultural expression. Walking around the quarry near Belfast in Mpumalanga, where he sources black granite for his large sculptures, he once rescued a flat discus-like stone, which had straight ridges running through its centre. This became ‘Dwelling’ (2009): the original 4.5 ton stone was lightly engraved with concentric circles after an archaeologist’s drawing of a circular prehistoric umuzi or or Nguni kraal.
In 2000, at the main entrance of the University of Johannesburg ‘Circle of Knowledge’ was installed. The work consists of 11 massive stones arranged in a circle. Each stone is engraved with spiralling texts, including all 11 official South African languages.
Equally significant to Willem Boshoff has been the ancient world to the north of Africa. He explored fifteen ancient stone circles in the United Kingdom, out of which emerged works such as Annuloid (1993-1994). He would collect small bundles of twigs and vegetation before sunrise at each site, often circling the stones a few times in the process. Annuloid contains bundles of twigs inside a wooden circular form. Along the circumference of its base descriptions of each bundle and its origins are encoded in metal studs of Braille. “Those who are able to see without seeing, have the truly special gift of intuitive power”, commented the artist. A related work, Tree of Knowledge: Druid’s Keyboard (1996-1997), consists of fifteen species of wood carved to resemble exactly a circle of pebbles placed on a square base.
Because he writes dictionaries, ancient Greek and Latin are key, though unspoken, languages for the artist. The words ‘Noli turbare circulos meos’, spoken in Latin by the great mathematician of ancient Greece, Archimedes, seconds before his death at the hand of a Roman captain inspired a work in black Belfast granite. Translated the words read: 'Do not disturb my circles'.
Among Archimedes’ mathematical discoveries are the ratio of the radius of a circle to its circumference and formulae for the surface area and volume of a sphere and of a cylinder. He was drawing circles, pored intently over his diagrams as he came close to figuring out an answer that had eluded him for some time, when summoned by a Roman general. His defiant words: 'Do not disturb my circles' were his last. Boshoff chose impenetrable black granite to bring homage to Archimedes in the work ‘Noli turbare circulos meos’(2009). On the two halves of a smooth rectangular granite surface he sandblasted in concentric circles, like the caused when a pebble drops in a pool of water, snippets of unresolved mathematical philosophy. Some are barely perceptible geometric lines, the 'lines of tragedy, intersect the concentric circles jarringly by cutting across the ‘ripples’ on both granite 'pages'.
Writing on to an etching plate requires one to write in reverse, as left and right are reversed during the printing process. This activity, combined with the artist’s miniscule writing of phrases of Yoga philosophy gives the etching ‘Circle’ of 2011, completed at the Nirox Foundation a meditative aspect. His exploration of the circle as cosmos, with reference to Yoga art and Eastern symbolic systems, brings to Boshoff’s work what art historian Miranthe Staden-Garbett describes in her analysis of the sculpture and etching series ‘Children of the Stars’ as a worldcentric consciousness - one that transcends ethnocentric boundaries and includes all human beings.
(Staden- Garbett, M. ‘The worldcentric art of Willem Boshoff: an analysis of artefact and discipline in Children of the Stars’ (2009). In:South African Journal of Art History. Volume 24 Number 2 . (Ed) Maré, E.A.)