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David Brown

The first Helgaard Steyn Award for Sculpture was presented to Cape Town artist David Brown in 1989. He received this for Voyage II, as it was regarded by the judges as the best work that was produced in South Africa during the previous four years.

David Brown was born in Johannesburg and studied design and photography at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town. Cecil Skotnes introduced him to sculpture in 1975. He won the Johannesburg Centenary Sculpture competition in 1985 and the AA Mutual Life Vita Art Now Award in 1989. The exhibitions Dogwatch (1993) en Dialogue at the Dogwatch (1995) included his biggest and most ambitious sculptures at that stage in his career.

His sculptures feature in many public collections, including the Iziko SA National Gallery, Cape Town, Durban Art Gallery, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Pretoria Art Museum, Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg, and in the permanent art collections of the University of Cape Town, the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Stellenbosch University.

The ship of Voyage II is of corten (rusted) steel and bronze figures portrays a world of violence and pathos where the under- standing of “civilisation” has been thrown overboard. The figures in charge are masked, occupied with aimless activities and have lost control over all the chaos.

David Brown is not given to lengthy theorising about his life or his art: he would rather be at work in his studio and allow his powerful combinations of steel, rusted corten steel and bronze to speak for themselves.

“And indeed, the image of the decaying ‘ship of fools’ on wheels, peopled by distorted and vicious puppet-like humanoids, is a metaphor for a brutal power-hungry world gone mad.”

Elsa Miles states in the Pretoria Art Museum Bulletin of 1989 that the world of the rusted ship is doomed to fail and all the activities of the crew (also a few female figures) are aimless and even tragic in the futility and pain that overpower it all.

The different ships in the series Voyages “are destined to sail to no new destination, there is no hope for their human cargo, yet they contain the destruction, as if Brown were symbolically packaging the horror and holding it up for our scrutiny”. “The artist has made a powerful statement on the inhumanity of man to man and a world in which man is a helpless victim of the forces of unreason”. (De Villiers 1990)

Voyage II (1987), corten steel, stainless steel and bronze, 223 x 273 x 182cm Pretoria Art Museum, City of Tshwane

Photos courtesy of Helenus Kruger –
Communication, Marketing and Events, City of Tshwane.