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God of small things

In a world awash with an endless stream of calculatingly cool and clever posturings in the postmodern fast-lane, few on the fashionable bandwagons have anything left to say, their own emptiness some kind of statement about the emptiness around them. Yet, while most artists seem to be intent on becoming supermodels or rock stars, others concentrate upon the one thing that will always separate those worth their salt from those worth their sucrose: work.

In this department Michael Croeser is a beautiful anomaly. His large, agonisingly-rendered charcoal drawings represent the kind of painstaking manual labour dismissed as irrelevant by the avatars of conceptual art, yet there is a conceptual dimension a mile wide in Croeser’s work that makes it all the more enthralling and perplexing.

Take Economically Viable Chinese Birth-Death Paradox, an enormous black-and-white tableau featuring a flock of toy plastic sheep being vomited into space by a giant supernova. From afar, the work looks like a gigantic photostat. However, upon closer inspection, you realise with shock and astonishment that the whole thing is hand-drawn, every tiny detail rendered perfect with obsessive attention. Though the primary subject of the work is arbitrary and banal — cheap plastic farm creatures bought at Checkers — Croeser’s loving, laborious depiction of each animal breathes poignancy into them that verges on the tragic.

When questioned about the title, he just says: “Well, the sheep said ‘Made In China’ on them…” but his understated response belies the quiet power and passion he brings to his work. The radical juxtaposition of the ultra-quotidian nature of his subjects with the devotional attention he pays to them is a fractured ballad to the singular pollution of our age: in another time and place Croeser would have been a Van Eyck or a Rembrandt, yet in the 21st Century his adoration is captured not by princes and palaces but by the abject remnants of a culture in helpless overdrive.

Each of his works requires the commitment, effort and concentration of a Swiss watchmaker. This, allied to the fact that each takes as its subject some whimsical piece of disposable detritus culled from a magazine or supermarket, shows that Croeser has somehow stumbled into some kind of post-ironic post-modernism. His is a place where the smallest, most inanimate and insignificant things are loved with all the intensity of the flesh.

Recent Works by Michael Croeser is on show at Durban’s NSA Gallery, 166 Bulwer Road, Glenwood, until March 17. Tel: (031) 202 3686

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