One of the many pleasures of having grown-up children is being able to observe them (from a safe distance) negotiating life as independent adults. I often marvel (and admittedly, sometimes despair) at the surprising choices they have made, the habits and interests they have developed and pursued, and the people they have become. This is true not only of my own offspring, but also of their friends.
One such individual is Kosie Thiart, who I got to know as an endearing boy with mischievous eyes and a mop of unruly dark hair. Both a rebel intent on bucking the system and a beloved member of a tightly-knit group of friends, Kosie marched to his own drum throughout his high school years – and it was almost impossible to predict the direction his life would take.
Kosie, whose parents have lived in Hermanus for four decades, is as local as they come. He grew up here, attended Babbel & Krabbel, Hermanus Primary and Hermanus High School. Never much interested in artistic endeavours, that all changed when Kosie was knocked over by a car while dashing across the road to the primary school. He sustained serious injuries, including a fractured pelvis, and was bedridden for many weeks. Thoroughly bored – he was after all only eight years old – he started drawing to pass the time.
Art became one of his favourite subjects (with well-known local artist, Shelley Adams as his teacher) and after matriculating, he studied Fine Arts at the Free State University in Bloemfontein. Here Kosie made a whole new set of friends and he readily admits that they not only worked hard but partied hard. During the four years he was away, his occasional visits were always a highlight.
Returning to Hermanus after his graduation, Kosie’s life started to unravel in a rather alarming fashion. He was battling alcohol and drug abuse, depression, anxiety, paranoia, OCD and, finally, psychosis. “When I came back to Hermanus, I felt like a complete outsider,” he recalls. “It struck me what an insular community this is and I didn’t feel that I fitted in with any of the ‘clicks’.” Yearning for a sense of belonging, of purpose and direction, it was only after a stint in a psychiatric hospital in Cape Town that Kosie started to turn his life around.
“I found that illness can be a trigger for creativity and a catharsis for illumination,” he muses as he recalls the first artwork he started working on after his release. “It was the skull of a wolf and I remember how I tried to just finish one tooth a day…” On some deep level Kosie identified with the wolf, the common ancestor of all domesticated dogs, as he buckled under the pressure of society to be ‘tamed’ and domesticated.
When he wasn’t working in his studio in the backyard of his family home in Northcliff, Kosie went on solitary excursions to the Drie Damme, to Grotto Beach, Klein River Estuary, Fernkloof Nature Reserve. “Nature was my saving grace,” he says. Drawn to images of ruin, chaos and decay, one of the places that still holds a morbid fascination for him, is the deserted De Mond Caravan Park.
“Walking among the debris left behind when the residents had to evacuate, I feel like the last survivor in a post-apocalyptic landscape, which resonates with my feelings of being an outcast living on the periphery of society. There is also a tangible sense of the passage of time, almost like being in a time machine, as you are confronted both with what is and what was – and what could have been.”
While he may at times feel like some romantic character rejected and banished from society, Kosie experiences these images of ruin and decomposition as something sublime, from which a new Garden of Eden is arising. “Chaos is not necessarily bad and I see it as a benign, even positive, force. Too much order, security and predictability can not only be stifling but actually be the cause of anxiety. Too much order is what I can’t cope with!”
Kosie’s preferred medium is charcoal which he uses for drawings of natural objects, including the dead animals and fossils that he collects. The painstaking detail in his work reflects the high degree of structure and assembly that characterise living creatures. Although most of his subjects are presented in some stage of decomposition, he says he does not have a fascination with death, but rather with the various shapes that life takes on.
“By drawing these creatures I celebrate the rise of organic form, structure and pattern, but also its disintegration as molecular structure yields to chaos. I find beauty in the repetition of pattern, and in its demise,” he says.
At the age of 30, the ‘feral’ Kosie’s private life may have settled down to what he calls “mundane chaos”, but he remains fascinated with the concept of universal chaos, and the unifying principles of physics, chemistry and biology. “We have lost touch with chaos and decided to give it a bad name,” he says.
Although the second law of thermodynamics concerns itself primarily with the dissipation of heat, Kosie explains that it also implies that the universe is constantly moving towards disorder, and that entropy (often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in a system) forever increases with time. “Entropy can never be undone,” he says.
“In my work I want to argue that anomalies ensure evolution. Progress in nature is achieved by the development of more complex biological structure made possible by the small random changes in the DNA’s arrangement. Chaos provides the climate from which pattern originates in an abundance of form.”
Due to entropy’s mysterious nature, Kosie says he approaches it in the tradition of romanticism. “I observe and draw my subjects as if they were imbued with the divine, emphasising quasi-religious themes such as transience and the passage of time.”
Although he is still flying under the radar in Hermanus, Kosie has taken part in several group exhibitions hosted by galleries in Cape Town. The latest exhibition, entitled ‘Ludicrous Emporium’, was his second one at the Youngblood Gallery in Bree Street, which curates monthly exhibitions with the aim of providing new and upcoming artists with a professional environment in which to show and sell their works directly to the public.
For ‘Ludicrous Emporium’, Kosie joined forces with four of his friends and former fellow students. In their statement, this group of young artists said: The world is a strange place – things seldom make sense and finding your way through life is perplexing, bemusing and often ludicrous. Many utopian ideals exist that proclaim a true answer to the complexities of existence and… art is definitely not immune from the temptations of ideology, but when approached with a degree of scepticism it can be an effective way to explore the vicissitudes and confusion of life in a more nuanced way than other modes of thought…
This enigmatic young man has not only found solace in his art but also purpose and direction. Watch out for him, he is going places. Contact Kosie on 083 601 6439 or follow him on Instagram – Kosie Thiart Art.