Walter Oltmann


Walter Oltmann (born 1960, South Africa) is a practicing artist who lives and works in Johannesburg. He obtained a BA Fine Arts degree from the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg (1981), and an MA Fine Arts degree (1985) and PhD in Fine Arts degree (2017) from the University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg. He taught in the Fine arts department at the University of the Witwatersrand from 1989 to 2016. Oltmann has an extensive record of creative work produced since the early 1980s, including a number of public commissions. Since the 1980s he has developed an interest in the relationship between fine art and craft. In his own practice he employs hand-fabricated processes of making and has researched wire craft traditions in southern Africa. His sculptural works are executed by way of weaving in wire and using handcrafting methods that reference African and Western traditions of weaving. He is deeply interested in the influence of craft traditions in contemporary South African art. In his artworks Oltmann makes connections to domestic textile practices and explores such forms of making in evoking fragility and the passage of time. He often combines aspects of decorative ornament with subject matter that seems somewhat contradictory or disturbing in relation to handcrafted embellishment. 


Artist Statement

My main area of creative focus is on sculpture, and more particularly in fabricating woven wire forms which sometimes reference local craft traditions. My drawings are also based on and explore similar references. I have researched and written on the use of wire in African material culture in this region and am deeply interested in the influence of these traditions in contemporary South African art. While I exhibit my artworks quite regularly on group and solo exhibitions, l have in recent years also been involved in large-scale commissions, In my sculptures I use images of natural phenomena (human, plant and animal) and play with the idea of mutation, hybrids and reconfiguring the familiar. Through dramatically enlarging and/or transposing features of one to the other, I play with the paradox between vulnerability and the monstrous. Using the language of craft, my artworks are always a product of labour and time.