Andrew Nair is an artist whose ability to create incredibly detailed photo-realistic images using a humble pencil is remarkable, as is evident in the featured drawing above titled Home Alone. Nair has exhibited his work in many exhibitions and his drawings are part of several collections, including that of the Tatham Gallery and Durban Art Gallery. In 2011, he held his first solo exhibition titled ‘Withdrawings’.
Andrew Nair (born 1961) is from Isipingo, a small town in Durban. He obtained a BA in Fine Art at University of Durban-Westville (UDW) graduating in 1983. He was an art teacher at various schools in Durban for over 30 years. He was also the chief marker for Matric students practical Drawing examinations for six years. He has been very influential as a teacher, and the artist, Sharlene Khan remembers that it was Nair that persuaded her to continue studying art after school.
Nair’s favored medium are graphite pencils which he uses to create subtle or dramatic tonal effects. In the drawing above, The African Renaissance, he produces a faithful reproduction of the Durban City Hall. Nair was strongly influenced by artists of the past such as Vincent Van Gogh, Pieter Bruegel, and Giorgio De Chirico. Here the influence of the Renaissance master, Raphael’s School of Athens, can be seen in the rendering of the arches and columns, as well as the arrangement of the people on the stairs. Raphael’s painting included great intellectuals and philosophers, while Nair has shown a more ordinary group of people.
The African Renaissance refers to the idea that with self rule, Africa would see a revival of cultural, scientific and economic growth. Thabo Mbeki tried to promote this concept when he became President of South Africa (1999 – 2008). Nair’s work shows the reality of the post- apartheid experience by juxtaposing the beautiful architecture of the building with hawkers, vagrants and gamblers. The rise of poverty, crime and government corruption are some of the stumbling blocks on the path to the dream of an African renaissance. “Nair presents a stark contrast between the squalor of contemporary Durban and the rich architectural heritage of the city” (Moodley).
In The Weeping Cathedral, Nair captures in painstaking detail, another iconic building in Durban- the Emmanuel Catholic Cathedral. The drawing includes the old Parish Centre which has recently been rebuilt and renamed the Denis Hurley Centre after the outspoken Archbishop who fought against apartheid. Alongside the Cathedral are street vendors and a taxi rank indicating the inner city squalor which surrounds this area. In recent years this place is mostly frequented by those who are either homeless, or unemployed, or who struggle to eke out a living on the margins of society. The storm clouds against the dark sky create a sense of gloom and menace. Nair’s use of ‘weeping’ in the title could allude to his sense of despair at the deterioration of the building and perhaps of the city. As a Catholic he may also be commenting on the suffering and poverty that increasingly characterises our country and which this church in particular deals with daily.
Andrew Nair, This Dream is Driving me Crazy, graphite pencil on paper
The drawing above is, as the title suggests, Nair’s attempt to come to terms with a ‘dream that was driving him crazy.’ The image features two houses, a turbulent sky and in the foreground, a man’s contorted face. The houses are typical of the type of architecture seen in old Durban houses and seem to be abandoned. The doors are boarded up, some windows are broken and the grass/bush has grown around it. An unnatural swirling sky reminiscent of Van Gogh’s paintings adds to the eerie mood of the picture. The man in the drawing appears to be shutting his eyes in order to rid his mind of these images. For the artist, though, the way to deal with the problem is to commit it to paper…
“this image is a faithful reproduction of a recurring nightmare. The two buildings, …are symbols of hopelessness, for all the doors and windows are solidly bricked up” (Nair)
Taken at face value, Andrew Nair’s drawings can be seen as faithful records of places that those of us that live in Durban can easily identify with. On closer inspection they also reveal a subtle commentary on the state of our nation, on those who suffer from abject poverty, and on the neglect and degradation of our cities. His works like ‘This Dream is driving Me Crazy’ and ‘Vainly I Try to Get a Grip on Things’ are self reflective and reveal Nair’s attempts to deal with his own personal issues (Moodley). In many ways these are universal problems that all of us face whether they concern our own psyche or the spaces we inhabit making it easy for us to identify with these images.
Valentine-Khumalo, Z. Marie Claire March 2008
Moodley, N. Unpublished Dissertation.