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David Brits

Sketches for the Cathedral of Johannesburg

9 September — 2 October 2016 


Hazard Gallery presents David Brits’ Sketches for the Cathedral of Johannesburg. This is Brits’ fourth solo exhibition and the artist’s first with the gallery. The exhibition runs from 9 September to 2 October 2016.

In this show, Brits presents a set of designs for a fictional basilica in South Africa’s economic capital. These include sketches and maquettes of stained glass windows and chasubles, the embroidered robes worn by priests.  Works are in the form of large silkscreen prints and glass wall hangings. The series is a synthesis of two modes of working. Here Brits blends his signature use of abstract snake forms and of halftone pattern. Born with partial colour blindness, it is the first time the artist exhibits works using colour.

Sketches for the Cathedral of Johannesburg takes inspiration from a number of aesthetic traditions – from the pre-Columbian art of Central America, to serpent carvings found in Hindu temples of Northern India. In particular, it draws from encounters with great cathedrals in cities such as Rome and Cologne, and the interventions therein by old and modern masters; a line that runs from Michelangelo and Bernini, up through Henri Matisse and more recently, Gerhard Richter.

This body of work is deeply conscious of its own futility – an experimental draft for a grand architectural project that will never be realized. Yet for Brits it is an opportunity to do what only the greatest artists of their time get invited to do; dream up images for a building dedicated to divinity. In this show, Brits contemplates the role of the artist, not only as a translator of personal and inherited history, but as a custodian of the tradition of art itself.

This series will be exhibited alongside two films from the archive of Brits’ late maternal grandfather – John Wood. Wood was one of South Africa’s most prominent reptile experts, snake catchers and snake show-men. Over a period of sixty years Wood caught thousands of snakes, spiders, scorpions, lizards and frogs for both medical research and the development of snake and spider anti venoms. He was a prolific poet, photographer and filmmaker.

During the exhibition, Brits will utilize one of the gallery’s rooms as a studio in which to work and to execute a series of murals.


David Brits was born in Cape Town in 1987, and grew up in a 265 year old Cape Dutch Homestead that has been in his family for 6 generations. He graduated from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT, in 2010.

Working across a diverse range of media, including printmaking, drawing and painting, as an artist Brits explores what it means to be a young man living in South Africa today. Inspiration for his work draws predomi­nantly from archival material, taken from sources as wide-ranging as family photograph albums and ancestral records, to second-hand books and the Internet. Past projects ad­dressed themes that include masculinity, the military, and pre-democratic South African history. Each body of work is underscored by in-depth research, stemming from both Brits’ lively interest in history and his professional experience as an audiovisual and photographic archivist.

Brits made his curatorial debut with Not My War, an exhibition held at the Michaelis Galleries, UCT. This acclaimed show brought together works by significant South African artists that have reflected on their country’s involvement in border wars in Northern Namibia and Southern Angola during the 1960s to 1980s.

In 2014 Brits was awarded a residency at the St. Moritz Art Academy, St. Moritz, Switzerland, where he was mentored by Marcel van Eden and Daniele Buetti. Recent group shows include From Whence They Came at SMITH in Cape Town, Nevermind the Mass, at A SPACE, Helsinki, and Kindergeburtstag 2015, held at the Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris. His first solo show, VICTOR VICTOR was held at Brundyn+ in 2011, followed by, 1969 at Grande Provance Gallery, Franschoek, in 2013. At the end of that year, having never sailed before, Brits boarded a small yacht with two other sailors and crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The crew sailed from Cape Town to St Martin, a small island in the Caribbean – a journey of 43 days and 6000 nautical miles. Snake Man, his third solo show, was held at SMITH Gallery in 2015. 


Early next year Brits make his debut in theatre production, co-directing a play commemorating the 100th year anniversary of the sinking of the SS Mendi. The SS Mendi was a troop ship that sank on her way to France during WW1. 646 of those on board were killed, most of whom were black troops of the South African Native Labour Corps. The performance will feature music by Xhosa Isicathamiya and Cape Malay choirs, and will take place at the South African Slave Church Museum in Cape Town in February 2017.



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