Wessel van Huyssteen

Wessel van Huyssteen is a full time practising artist based in the Free State. van Huyssteen matriculated in 1980 at Voortrekker High School, Bethelehem, Free State. In 1985 he graduated with a BA Fine Arts (Cum Laude  for Painting & Drawing) from the Free State University, later graduating with a BA Honours in Art History at Johannesburg University (1990). In 2017 he received his Master of Arts in Fine Arts with distinction from Wits University.

Artist Statement

This series is a continued exploration of non-place and an engagement with the landscape and the patterns imposed on it by humans.

The predominant medium used for the paintings is watercolour on cotton paper. For the most, the works consist of three paint pigments, two of which are metals namely Cobalt (blue, green) and Cadmium (red, yellow, orange). The third is Ivory Black. These pigments have sticky associations. Cadmium and Cobalt are toxic to humans. However due to their stable and inert character and their brightness they are popular with artists and used extensively outdoors as signage to regulate human behaviour. Most cobalt deposits are found in the DRC and is mined under questionable conditions of child labour and worker exploitation. Here most of the cobalt is mined by artisanal miners who tunnel into the earth to create a labyrinth of underground caves. The primary use of cobalt is not for paint but in the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries for smart phones, drones, electric cars and solar power systems. Its use is therefore associated with progress and technological advancement. It is the metal that’s increasingly driving the global economy. The colour Ivory Black (Bone Black) is derived from the carbon remains of incinerated animal bones and its origin harks back to colonial era when ivory was burnt to create the pigment.

Inspiration for the series was also taken from subterranean termites, the Woodworm and the Western Australian White Ant. These insects are known to destroy interiors while leaving exteriors intact. The only sign of their presence are circular holes on the surface area. The saying white anting is often used to illustrate the hollowing out of institutions and the eroding of foundations, especially political ones. However, it must not be forgotten that if it was not for the White Ant the digeridoo would never have existed. In Julian Barnes’ book The history of the world in 10 ½ chapters, the Woodworm, without ever being mentioned in The Scriptures, hitches a ride on Noah’s Ark (the second creation myth recorded in the Bible) and from then on remains the bane of many a land and seafaring adventurer intent on conquering, understanding and ruling the world.

Image: Courtesy of the artist


The works presented here are part of the series The stitch and the din. They predominantly consist of machine and hand embroidered textiles mimicking the painterly. The series explores the relationship between body and earth.

The fashion industry currently contributes 10% to global warming and have a very exploitative relationship with land. Textiles for ‘the poor’, like Rayon and Viscose, are produced through toxic wood pulp extraction and are a leading cause of deforestation. Most cottons are genetically modified and nylon is a by-product of crude oil, to mention a few.

To create these works the selected textiles are repeatedly cut and sown to create, what could read as, topographical maps or tilled landscapes. Under the stress of the needle the elasticity of the textiles transform expressionistically into marks I could not have foreseen, but have to embrace. When I buy fabric I am conscious of how colour, thread count and quality reflect regional identities. The colours bought in the Eastern Free State, where I reside, are often bright and vibrant echoing an aesthetic that can be seen as joyful, but also garish. The colour restrictions and textures of the textiles often challenge and subvert my aesthetic preferences and result in paradoxes and puzzles which I consider as a central to these works.

These works are visual but I would like to encourage the viewer to imagine the monotonous, persistent and ever changing tone and rhythm of the machine as my hand guides it across the textiles.