The misfortunes and wonders of Wopko Jensma


“I hope to live until the age of sixty

I hope to leave evidence

that I lived in this world

that I felt my situation

that I created something

out of my situation

out of my life

that I lived

as a human


Excerpt from “Spanner in the what?” Works ”- Wopko Jensma

In 1993, artist, writer and poet Wopko Jensma left his home, then the Salvation Army Men’s Home in downtown Johannesburg and never returned. It was also the last time he was seen; no remains or bodies were ever found.

Jensma was 54 years old, six years from his “goal” of sixty, which he mentions in the poem “Spanner in the What?” Works. ”His disappearance remains one of the most puzzling mysteries of South Africa, which at the end of its life lost its creative identity and its ability to write or create art.

Although not as well-known as his peers such as Breyten Breytenbach or Walter Battiss, Jensma is considered one of South Africa’s multi-faceted creative forces. He worked in several visual mediums and creative disciplines – he was a poet, sculptor, graphic designer, translator and “vernacular conceptualist”.

Wilhelm van Rensburg, senior art specialist at auction house Strauss & Co, says that although Jensma is better known as an avant-garde resistance poet of the 1970s than as a fine artist, the Apartheid monstrosities that feature so vividly in his poetry, also transcend the evil shadows he portrays in his graphic print work.

“We are delighted to offer three of his works at the next online auction in November. ”

The works all encompass Jensma’s organic and primitivist style, with her amorphous subject matter and abstract forms. All three lots are reasonably priced and offer budding collectors the opportunity to own one of South Africa’s most enigmatic and multifaceted designers.

Not to be cataloged

Lionel Abrahams, in the Rand Daily Mail, observed: “At a time when people are more aware of their color than ever before, even in the arts, Jensma is the only South African artist in any medium who has transcended barriers. . His work is neither English nor Afrikaans, black or white.

Jensma’s visual and poetic language was as impenetrable as his identity, researchers and critics recalled their surprise upon meeting the artist or seeing his photo for the first time, only to discover that he is white, of Afrikaner descent. and Dutch.

“Before seeing his photograph, one might imagine him as Cape Malay, or a Tswana from a township where everyone speaks African-American slang, or an Afrikaner who has broken with Afrikanerdom, or a South- English-speaking African who spent his childhood among blacks. Yet it is white! French writer Jacques Alvarez-Pereyre remembers.

Poet and writer Peter Wilhelm proclaimed him “the first South African”

“Some have expressed uncertainty as to its racial / religious / political origin: after all, in the separated developing country, to have no official identity, not to fit into any Orthodox groove, is a very strange and disturbing thing. . He’s a terrifying new kind of human.

Art historian and critic Sean O’Toole writes that Jensma’s work easily rivals Battiss’s fake popular primitivist work of the same period. O ‘Toole is of the opinion that Jensma’s work shows him as someone ecstatically immersed in the spirit of his time,

“His multiple prints, many of which feature his oddly proportioned human and animal figures, come in small and large, in impassive black, and in primary colors rivaling Battiss. “

Visual myths

The creatures in his prints are wild and phantasmagorical creatures that range from the comic to the fanciful.

“I have the impression that my graphic work proclaims the myth of the animal, the bird and the human. I am inspired by extinct art from Africa and South America, ”Jensma explained.

“My work, however, is not an imitation of this type of work, but rather an interpretation of it seen through the prism of our time, of angst and neurosis. It is embodied by the abstract representation of the figures above.

His linocuts echo the monochrome plans of Russian Constructivism, but the mythical creatures and amorphous forms are also a nod to Jean Arp Dadaism and pre-Columbian art – his prints are reminiscent of the Nazca lines in southern Peru, a group of pre-Columbian geoglyphs carved in desert sands.

Sadly, the artist has been plagued with mental health issues his entire life, he was a certified schizophrenic, a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relationship between thought, emotion and the behavior, leading to misperception, inappropriate actions and withdrawal from reality.

In his Afrikaans poem, the word ‘Klop en vir julle sal toegemaak’, he claims a provocative royalty with such creative forces as South African journalist Nat Nakasa, French Symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire and Paul Gauguin, who also suffered from mental illness.
In his work, he displays both an acute awareness of those with whom he shares this disease, and through his work, we detect a subconscious pride in sharing a pathology with literary and artistic giants.

Yet illness would rob him of his ability to create and write and make him homeless and in poverty, his last days at the Salvation Army homeless shelter, before disappearing into the ether, no leaving only his art and his words.

Next 3-part Strauss & Co online sale opens for auction on Monday 22sd November and visible on

Part I – closes at 8 p.m. on Sunday 28e November

Session 1: works on paper

Session 2: Prints and Multiples

Session 3: Books, Portfolios and Sculpture

Part II – closes at 8 p.m. on Monday 29e November

Session 4: Guest curator: Sam Nhlengethwa

Session 5: The fabulous spectacle of images

Session 6: For the generations to come: Andile Dyalvane

Session 7: The Rose Korber collection

Session 8: Landscape paintings

Session 9: Wine: Italy and Spain

Part III – closes at 8 p.m. on Tuesday 30e November

Session 10: Choice of Strauss & Co personnel

Session 11: Paintings

Session 12: Decorative arts

Session 13: Birds, Butterflies and Botany


Comments are closed.