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Gallery features show by Afrikaans artist Andries Fourie

This is one of the art pieces from South African artist Andries Fourie.

“A Continent for the Taking” Mixed Media, 36″x48″ Andries Fourie, 2006

"The Immigrant's Cage" Mixed Media, 60"x42"x29" Andries Fourie, 2009

“The Immigrant’s Cage” Mixed Media, 60″x42″x29″ Andries Fourie, 2009

By Jennifer Spring

“For the longest time, I made purely abstract work because I knew that if I dealt with meaning, I knew which meaning I would have to deal with, and I wasn’t ready to.”

That’s how Andries Fourie, an Afrikans artist, describes his work, which is currently on exhibition in the Gretchen Schutte Art Gallery in Bldg. 3 through Oct. 31.

The show is titled Fabrications.

The South African-born Fourie appeared at the gallery in early October for a reception and gallery talk, meeting with a standing-room-only crowd.

Fourie shared several personal stories with gallery visitors.

He said that as a young child, playing in his grandparents’ suburban backyard, he would crawl into and get stuck inside a huge pile of steel that had once been a bridge.

“Lying there, looking up at the sky … it’s the strangest thing, but I am convinced that my experience with this structural thing mad me a sculptor,” he said.

“I was given a gun and told to go out and shoot birds. The idea is that we’re all being raised to be good soldiers when we grow up. We had to wear our army uniforms to school once a week.”

Fourie was 21 when moved to the United States after was conscripted and served in the South African Army.

“I wanted very badly to forget where I was from and become an American,” Fourie said.

Fourie said that his professors suggested that the sometimes poignant, sometimes shocking stories that he told of his life and the struggle in South Africa during apartheid could be an important source of inspiration for his art.

He told them instead that exploring apartheid was not something he wanted to do.

Several important considerations made Fourie commit to a new direction in his artwork.

“You become very homesick,” he said. “It becomes almost a physical thing because I did not go home for 16 years.

“I had a lot of things to sort out, to process before I did, and I’m glad that I did because I could go home and things had a different context. I wasn’t looking at things as an American, but I also wasn’t looking at them through the eyes of the person I was when I left.”

Fourie drew on his experiences to develop his craft.

“Slowly, it became obvious that making work was a way of coming to terms with what happened there; it could be a means of investigation. It could be more than a catharsis. It could be about what had happened and how it had affected me, affected my family, and what the history of my country was really like.”

That was important to him because “the history that I was taught wasn’t history. It was mythology; it wasn’t rooted in reality. It was a lie, an elaborate lie concocted to justify what my people were doing to the majority of the country’s population. And so you end up, almost by necessity, having to reexamine even the most fundamental things that you thought you knew about yourself or about your culture.”

The exhibit contains 11 large wall pieces and two standing sculptures.

One mixed media piece, titled “The Birds of South Africa,” is divided into three unequal sections.

The largest is distressed metal, silkscreened with the silhouettes of local birds and their names in the native language.

A smaller section holds painted, curving lines of dots on an ochre background. Beneath it all is a mounted shotgun.

Michelle Jayne FitzHenry, a gallery assistant who is working toward a degree in museum curating, attended the artist’s reception.

“I found a parallel between Mr. Fourie’s stories about the violence in South Africa and the violence right here in our back yard with Native Americans and the way they’ve been treated and shunted away, and how bad it is on reservations,” she said. “We as a people do not take time to visit those reservations and become aware.”

Gallery coordinator Debra Trousdale said the Chemeketa community was lucky to have an exhibit by an internationally recognized artist.

“Fourie shows our students the breadth of experience that is possible,” she said. “I hope the exhibit encourages students to go live in another part of the world where the view is different.”

Fourie is the head of the Art Department at Willamette University, where he teaches sculpture. He exhibits his work locally and around the world.

The Chemeketa gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday.

You also can see his work online at http://www.andriesfourie.com/.

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