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Drawing a fine line between order and chaos

Chris Roper

To tell you what Neil Le Roux's monochrome work means appears to need a paradoxically massive vocabulary.

Sometimes the act of art criticism is very much like my surname. One of the meanings for “roper” is someone who acts as a decoy to lure suckers into a gambling establishment, or who brings the mark, or victim, to a con game.

This is the transactional position I am forced to occupy in this review. I need to get you, the reader, into the world of Neil le Roux, to become a victim to the tricks of his representation.

I would prefer just to remain the sucker, happy in experiencing the organised chaos of Le Roux’s art and enjoying that gamble that is at the centre of every encounter with the new. Because I really like the work (is one still allowed to say “I like it” in an art review?) and I think you will too.

The studied, rigidly random whorls and woofs of the pieces make me happy and thoughtful and content to not know what the hell is going on. So let that be my first point: you will enjoy this show.

At a pinch, I would even play the role of the person who knows, who can explain the intricate patterns, drawn randomly and painstakingly with cheap ballpoint pens. But to tell you what Le Roux’s monochrome work means appears to need a paradoxically massive vocabulary and the cheap ballpoint turns out to need a studied calligraphy of concepts to give it meaning.

I will give you some examples from the catalogue, the prolix barker to Le Roux’s deceptively simple black-and-white carnival.

Chaos theory
According to Wilhelm van Rensburg, Le Roux’s “drawings map land mass such as the contours and ‘content’ of South Africa, or Eurasia and recently, such diverse phenomena as the patterns of sunflowers seeds. He calls these deterministic chaos drawings. Any attempt to explain his drawings by ascribing oxymoronic features to it is futile. Randomness is not a feature of his art. Rather, it can best be accounted for by invoking chaos theory.”

Some of you will be seduced by these sorts of explanations.

Others will feel slightly befuddled and prefer to know that Le Roux sits down with a stack of ballpoint pens and starts drawing a line. He keeps going until he is forced to stop by a blotch, or a cul de sac, and starts another line.

I do not even know whether I have described this accurately. I am freely translating the artist’s explanation. “My aim is to conceptualise simple, rule-based behaviours that, when acted out and maintained, produce emergent behaviour that is not always predictable.

“The broader patterns can sometimes be anticipated, but never the specific intricacies of details. There is subsequently a prominent aspect of relinquished control and thus minimal interference in how the artwork ‘grows’.”

It is an interesting concept and has pleasurable results.

There is, apparently, a “land art meets vittles” offshoot of this, which is the way the artist is growing crops on his farm outside Stellenbosch.

According to the third essay in the catalogue, by Francis Burger, “the plot appears as a scrubby patchwork of strategies. Understood as an equivalent set of procedures to the drawing exercises, this repertoire of simulation intensifies from a further step back. Propelled by loops of performance, observation, reflection and adjustment, Le Roux’s practice as a whole submits every day to the same ‘rhythm-analysis’ as each mark, outline, seedling or furrow.”

This is such an impressively head-up-arse explanation that it actually works.

It either means that Le Roux lives his art every day, or that it is incredibly boring being a farmer.

But it brings me to my second point: you could approach Le Roux’s art intellectually, or you could approach it viscerally.

On the day I was there, a small blonde child was dancing dreamily in front of the works—and that is probably the best way to think about them.

Neil le Roux’s Self-Organised Systems is on show at Gallery Art on Paper, 44 Stanley Avenue, Braamfontein Werf, until May 12


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