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Hayn, Walter - by Gert Swart

Key to the Murmuring Deep

A brief introduction to three significant artworks by Walter Hayn

by Gert Swart

For Walter's remarkable parents, Eberhard, whose Heimat lies ever before Walter, and Glenys, his lodestar!

Someone once said that everything you do as an artist is a self-portrait. If this is the case, and I believe it to be so, then Walter's three artworks that I briefly discuss here must have turned Walter inside out, being so powerfully revealing.

In this inside-out state the artworks can begin to interpret the artist which can scare an artist to henceforth only produce mediocre art: art that doesn't challenge the status quo. However, if artists can persist in this vulnerable state, having shed their false personas, their artworks will become all the more powerful because they are sincere! In the three works discussed here Walter has done just that. He has unflinchingly pressed on and only meaningful works can follow or, sadly, he could face total burnout – such is the lot of the committed artist.

The works I will discuss here are The Bemused Whale, The Murmuring Deep and Revolution. All three were conceived around the same time, with The Murmuring Deep taking a lot longer to complete as Walter grappled with it over time.

The Bemused Whale, 2013, watercolour. Collection: Carolyn & Ralph Tayler-Webb

In The Bemused Whale Walter paints himself seated at a desk trying to find his reason for being in the vaunted realm of cyberspace, much to the bemusement of a whale. There is a surreal quirkiness to this painting, but no atmospheric drama to speak of. Everything seems far too tame for comfort! Curiously, the painting tends to keep you at a respectful distance while at the same time it draws you in. This push-me, pull-me state that Walter has conjured up represents a liminal space of sorts, a threshold that needs to be negotiated somehow. There is an unnerving feeling of having reached land's end and that there is no way out except by some supernatural act, but certainly not by way of being caught up in the internet's World Wide Web! Because of Walter's faith and affinity with the Jonah story, without a moment's hesitation he plunges himself into the scary unknown murmurings of his 'deep'.

The Murmuring Deep, 2013-8, silicone rubber. Collection: The artist

And here, in The Murmuring Deep, he finds himself not unlike Jonah in the belly of a benevolent whale, actively forging a key on an anvil. With every determined blow of the hammer Walter implores the obliging whale to dive deeper and deeper. All their efforts are in concert with an inbuilt cosmology in the tail end of the whale, acting like a rudder. Walter's key-making suggests that he will be unlocking hidden things lodged deep within his own psyche, that will, when released, charge this sacred space with a fusion of things past and future possibilities, becoming a mysterious well-spring that I'm sure will sustain him.

In this 'submerged' state of one's own murmuring deep it is possible to encounter old familiar stories and see them in a different light, as if through new lenses. In this charged space it was inevitable that Walter should link the biblical story of Jonah fleeing and ending up in the belly of the whale with his father's plight in his formative years, as he had to flee the ravages of WWII and then, some years later, experience a dramatic, life-changing escape from the menacing ideology of Communism.

Walter's father, Eberhard, was born in 1936 into Nazi Germany. At the tender age of 8, in February 1945, while living in a tenement building on the outskirts of Dresden, he watched the destructive and senseless fire-bombing of his mother city. (It is strangely coincidental that at that time my father was a POW in Stalig 4B, not that far from Dresden, as the crow flies.)

Photo: The destruction of Dresden in WWII

Shortly after this, with Germany's fate in the balance, Eberhard Hayn's family decided it would be best to flee the advancing Russian forces and seek sanctuary in Lengenfeld, placing themselves at the mercy of the more amicable American forces there. To achieve this they, together with others, hired a horse-drawn wagon (on which a few meager possessions were loaded) and trekked for 11 days. This perilous, circuitous journey saw them cross the Erzgebirge mountain range and a part of Czechoslovakia, then return to Germany to reach their destination.

As fate would have it, Lengenfeld was handed over to the Russians in keeping with the agreement the Allied Forces made as to the division of post-war Germany. Thus, at the end of the war Walter's father and his family found themselves behind the Iron Curtain in the newly constituted communist East Germany. Eberhard's formative years in a communist country were not altogether unpleasant but, at the age of 17, there was a strong possibility that he would be coerced into the Communist Armed Forces. This was unthinkable. Once again, with only one suitcase between them, the family had to flee an untenable situation, and this they did by fleeing to a familiar, but now newly designated, democratic West Germany. From there, ironically, they ended up in New Germany, South Africa, where Walter was eventually born.

Labouring in the belly of the whale, Walter would have been reminded of his own formative years in Apartheid South Africa, a country fraught with tension as the liberation struggle gained momentum over the years. However, three years after a new democracy came into being in 1994, Walter left for England with the possibility of settling there. He was 30 years old. To some extent, I am sure, Walter is now able to identify with his father's plight during his formative years and how soul-destroying it must have been for him to leave his Heimat behind.

Revolution, 2013, watercolour. Collection: Gert and Istine Swart

Walter's Revolution painting epitomises all that he was able to glean during his delvings into his 'murmuring deep'. In Revolution Walter finds himself standing resolutely at an easel, painting in what can only be described as a bland landscape. His inspired state is so intense that the easel and canvas have burst into flames. Firemen, presumably under orders from some unseen authority, are actively going about extinguishing these flames of passion. A powerful jet of water neither douses the flames nor knocks things flying. Instead, the deflected water begins to pool at Walter's feet as if to sanctify his efforts, forever connecting him with the unforgettable rite of passage that he underwent in the belly of the whale, which will encourage him despite circumstances to keep making relevant art.

6.6.2020 (Remembering  D-Day, June 1944)

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Walter Hayn. For more information about Walter Hayn's art making there is an interview with Walter by Jorella Andrews of Goldsmiths, University of London, titled In The Studio with Walter Hayn and Jorella Andrews in the latest edition of The Big Picture (edition 3) published by the Kirby Laing Institute of Public Theology. https://kirbylaingcentre.co.uk/the-big-picture/. Artist´s website: https://walterhayn.com/  

Gert Swart lives and works as a sculptor in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. He and Walter Hayn have been friends for over 3 decades.

*In a strange bit of synchronicity, when Walter, around 17 years of age and undergoing his compulsory two years of military service in the South African Defence Forces' Signals Corps, found himself stationed on the border of Namibia, in an ongoing conflict zone. One day he heard over the radio that East German tanks were amassing on the border!