(b. 1942, Bloemfontein, South Africa)
John Meyer studied at the Johannesburg Technical College School of Art before joining an advertising agency. In 1967, Meyer settled in London, where he carried on his studies in art while working as a freelance illustrator.
Meyer is regarded as the leading figure in the realist movement in southern Africa. Decidedly contemporary in his unique vision and as a student of modernism in all its guises, Meyer has maintained a considered commitment to representational painting. Concerned with the complexities of visual perception and their solutions, his paintings are not mere representations of existing places and things, but exist as indelible retrospection, like total recall.
Meyer describes his paintings as being ‘made’. Each layer of tension or emotion is built up over a mental and physical process, creating a credible, charged and tangible event in each of his paintings. He presents us with strikingly real illusions, all distinctly familiar, yet ultimately invented. They are imagined archetypes rather than specific events. His most recent narrative genre, exploring the complex currents of human relationships, captivates his viewers. Few other artists inspire such commentary. Rarely are interpretations the same. Everyone has their own judgement and somehow the relationships continue to change with every inspection or even passing glance. There is fluidity, an evolving drama, a very real atmosphere.
He later developed these into a series of separate but related views of the same reaction. These ‘Sequential Narratives’ explore the nature of intimacy between men and women. The series reflects his interest in compositional interaction rather than conventional realism and displays his traditional visual hallmark – a tight theatrical control of the painted surface. Meyer is a master of staging, plot and lighting and there is a quality to the paintwork that reinforces the themes of emotional ambiguity between the protagonists in the paintings.
Building on this process, in recent years Meyer has concentrated on several series, his own take on celebrated lives and historic events.
He completed a body of fifteen works set during the Anglo Boer War, titled Lost in the Dust. The exhibition offered an intimate and compelling look at how war affects the lives of those swept up in it. The paintings are not historical, but a collection of completely fictitious, imaginative narratives, woven into a multi-layered realm that deals with the tragedy of war. The collection combines Meyer’s talents for landscape and narrative in a unique body of works.
The entire collection, owned by one collector, was exhibited in Cape Town and Johannesburg in 2015. Thereafter it toured the United Kingdom, where it was shown at Bonhams in London and in Edinburgh at the festival.
Lost In the Dust was followed by a collection of sixteen works on the life of Nelson Mandela title Mandela, a Life’s Journey. Being such a celebrated life, Meyer avoided the obvious, and showed us what might have happened behind the scenes, from his childhood and as a young man, before he became the icon we all came to know. With the collaboration of the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the private collector who owns the entire series, the exhibition opened in Johannesburg and Cape Town before travelling to the Melbourne Museum and in Eden Park, Aukland.
More recently, and in a similar vein, Meyer has completed a collection of eleven paintings on the remarkable life of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II titled, Elizabeth, A Sovereign’s Journey. It explores her life from childhood to Sovereign and beyond, focusing on her love of country, family, corgis and horses and her dedication to her duty. The collection was exhibited at a private opening at the Saatchi Gallery in London in May 2018. Future plans for the series will be announced in 2022 by the private collector.
In 2019 Meyer completed a series of fifteen large works titled Migrations, exploring the journeys of the various migrating peoples and immigrants that created the South African nation. The collection is privets owned. Plans for the opening will be announced in 2022.
Currently Meyer has completed a new series of eighteen large paintings titled, Protect-Our-Planet. The works highlight some of the most beautiful places on earth under threat from climate change. It is Meyer’s intention to add his voice to the looming crisis before it is too late.
‘One could say I’m obsessed with the magical properties of paint, with the process that allows for and unlocks the magic. It all depends on where you direct your energy.
‘Generally, because one’s not witness to the private process of an artist’s creativity, we are not party to the experimental nuances and resulting struggle in the painting process, and that prevents us from completely understanding the artist’s intent. If we accept that we see the world around us in various tones, shapes and patches of colour, rather than their defining contours, we realise that a single brushstroke can be anything it may suggest to us. The complex layering of painterly tones, placed in apparently random order, creates the stage for a personal search. Here I indulge my need to escape from an increasingly intrusive world.’