Walter Oltmann (born in KwaZulu-Natal in 1960) is an artist of line. Although he draws in other media, too, what most know him for are his complex and intricate three-dimensional “drawings” in wire.
He has been influenced by crafters – weavers and wire-workers – and talks of the contradiction inherent in his process, between industrially-produced wire, and the hand-made laboriously worked nature of his pieces. He says: “My sculptures and drawings often reflect and acknowledge the crafts of Africa.”
His subject matter is wide-ranging. He plays dramatically with scale. He has depicted exquisitely minute creatures – some of the tiniest things in nature (like fishmoths, or parts of flowers) – at a monster-like scale. But conversely, for example, for the Origns Centre, Wits University, he created an arching, three-dimensional map of the world – that graphically conveys the centuries of migration of early humankind, from Africa into the rest of the world.
Oltmann combined his interest in creatures of all sizes, in a series of “larva suits” or “caterpillar suits” – like human insects. But, like much of his work, their meanings and allusions are not simple. These are also reminders of illustrations of the regalia worn by European conquerors and early explorers during the time of the voyages of discovery.
Does this sculpture invite you to touch it? Or the contrary? Why? Where have you seen these materials before? What does this artwork seem to say to you?